Sunday, September 5, 2010

Work; 9-5-10

Village life is filled with many idiosyncrasies (if that is the correct word; right now I'll go with it 'cause I really don't have the time to look it up); the concept of "work", or "working" among them.

Some village residents have "regular jobs". You know, typical employment that resembles what you find elsewhere; going to work year-round,  long term, etc. But most work only seasonally, or even not at all. Sounds kinda weird, but there are people I know who basically just don't work.

Others will seek work every year during the summer season; usually in construction or firefighting.

And then there are those who will only work if the right conditions exist. By "right conditions" I mean:

-a job that essentially comes to them, so they don't have to go looking for it,
-a job that pays well, especially in relation to effort required,
-a job that requires little in the way of skills or previous employment history,
and, quite often,
-a job compatible with a substance using lifestyle.

This summer our community has a lot of "work".

The city water / sewer system is being expanded. Our dump is getting something of a facelift. Most of the homes are being improved and made more energy efficient. And our runway will be getting an overhaul.

So there is a lot of "work" this year. Even people "who never work" have jobs, or at least, they had jobs. The last round of U.A.s (drug testing) knocked out a number of workers. Plus there are always those who work until they get a paycheck or two, then hit the liquor store and never return.

It always amazes me how people can take employment for granted. Relatively good paying jobs (18-25 dollars an hour) available for people with little or no skills, and an employment history to match, can end up unfilled before the project is completed. Incredible!

I was basically the last person to get a job. That was by design. I always try to give others the opportunity first; those who really need to work. Then, if no one wants to take advantage of it, I consider the possibility. I have a part-time job already (I got that one years ago because no one wanted it).

So right now a lot of people in this small, remote village are "working". Some have already quit. Some have been fired. Some will quit or get fired in the coming weeks. And some will hang in there until the very end, when the opportunity to earn much needed cash has gone. Those will be the smart ones; the ones who appreciate the opportunity to work.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Super Veggies; 8-7-10

Check out the broccoli. We all know about Alaskan size vegetables, but it's way more fun when they grow in my own garden. I think I'll eat it tonight.

(I have large hands)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hands; 7-4-10

This post will NOT be related to the 4th of July; in spite of last night's "fire cracker".

While walking up the trail to my house late last night, a gun was fired nearby. As my friend and I had passed three parties in a space of about 100 yards, we naturally assumed the gunshot was alcohol related. Neither of us were injured and we did not hear anything to indicate a party-goer was hurt, so we continued on our way. This morning I got a report of two brothers quarreling at that location (one has stabbed the other before) but no blood was spilt last night.


They come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Some are young, eager and full of potential. Some are old, withered and wasting away. Some are attractive (for hands, at least). Some are bruised and battered, scarred and scabby. Some don't even possess all the digits they started out with.

Some are equipped with long, slender fingers. Some attached to stubby, chubby ones.

There are handsome hands, homely hands, hairy hands and "horny", calloused hands.

Hands can tell a story about their owners. A simple handshake may convey personal information. A working man will usually respect a firm grip from a hand with a rough feel. The same would be put off by a handshake from a tender hand with a limp grip.

A doctor would naturally have different hands than a carpenter, as would a piano player, rancher or pro basketball player.

I notice hands because, among other reasons, I spend a considerable amount of time looking at hands. I play cards at a teen rec. center several nights a week, so I typically have 5 or 10 other hands nearby by for a couple of hours each night.

I know who has stubby fingers, who has long ones, who needs to cut their nails and who needs new polish (because the remnants of the black polish has been chipping away for weeks now).

And I know who never, ever washes their hands. I see the fresh dirt, the old dirt, the grease from working on the car, the stamp on the back received after paying the admission to last week's dance. While playing cards I see it all.

Some homes in our community do not have plumbing. In such cases the Alaskan Honey Bucket serves as a toilet. That's just how it is here. A honey bucket means no running water, and vice-versa (if a home had water service they wouldn't need the bucket, right?). So home owners without water/sewer service must haul all of their water to their home. This in turn puts water at a premium and none is wasted.

And this, usually, leads to a lack of personal hygiene. Honey bucket users often have the unwashed hands; I know this from countless hours of personal observation. Scarey thought, isn't it. This is a cause for the high rate of hepatitis throughout rural Alaska.

One pair of hands is always dirty...always! The owner likes to play cards too, which can make it interesting. Subtle suggestions to wash them are usually ignored (and in this culture the subtle suggestion is the appropriate way to communicate; embarrassing confrontations should be avoided).

The excuse of "Why? They'll just get dirty again." has been used, repeatedly.

So what to do? Sharing cards with hands that literally have not seen water for days at a time (I know; I recognize yesterday's dirt; and dirt from the day before, and the day before that...) is not desirable, but excluding the owner from playing cards is not culturally acceptable. Hmmm?

Incentive! When "Dirty Hands" wanted to purchase several cans of soda ("pop") I made an offer.

"I'll throw in a free one if you go scrub those hands."

"For real?"

"Yep; but I mean really scrub them; get them clean!"

Several minutes elapsed before "Dirty Hands" emerged from the bathroom, having changed his name to "Clean Hands".

For a day, at least. By now he likely has assumed his old alias.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Long Days; 6-30-10

Last week was the summer solstice; the "longest" day of the year. Personally, I've had days that seemed much longer; felt like it, anyway. This morning my back is still complaining about yesterday's assortment of activities; crawling around on the ground, climbing ladders, etc. Half-century vertebrae seem as much like an assembly of disgruntled employees as they do a column of bones. Whatever.

There is no darkness now, at least not in the usual sense. The sun will hide for a few hours below the northern horizon, but it's barely out of sight and continues to illuminate the landscape. It will be another month before we have any semblance of "night".

King salmon fishing has begun. I will not be involved; busy with other things, but much of the village is focused on harvesting the run. Fewer fish than normal so far, but looks to improve.

A large run of "dog salmon" (summer chum) is expected, in excess of 1-2 million fish. I will try to catch and dry a few hundred of these, to be used for winter dog feed. That means I need to prepare my fish rack and mentally gear up for war. Everything from bacteria to bears will attempt to spoil  the fruits of my hard labor. Last year a black bear and a grizzly were particularly annoying.

Grass and weeds, flourishing in the continual light, need to be cut.

The garden needs more attention.

My firewood supply (or lack of) calls out to me all summer long. But this year I have a "secret weapon" to unleash upon the stubborn logs. Pics will come when it happens.

And the flowers are lovely. Numerous wildflowers are blooming; wild rose, dandelions and a host of others, and our imported petunias, pansies and violas are stunning.

sure beats this...

So enough dawdling. Time get this unruly backbone in line.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Ignore the iceberg picture at the top /title page. The ice is long gone. The current spell of "hot" (70-80), dry weather, accompanied with the appropriate wildfire smoke, make the ice photo look quite refreshing. Entirely inaccurate, but refreshing.

Last winter provided half the usual snowfall, so now the run-off is all gone and the river is low...way low! Looks like fall before freeze-up. Until we get significant rainfall the river will stay low and the smoke will continue.

All of which fuels my mood to work on the sled. Really, who builds a dogsled in May? Me, I guess. My shop was congested with snow machine repairs (and the snow machine "repairers") all winter, preventing me from making any progress. Now it's all green lights and I'm cruising through every intersection.

Last time I was working on the "stanchions"; the upright supports attached to the runners.      Each stanchion has a "tenon" (male element) which fits into a "mortise" (female element) that has been cut into the runner. Actually, I'm using "false runners", which are another piece of wood that lays on top of the actual runner, but you get the idea. If you don't, check out the photos.

The mortise / tenons are all cut by hand using a drill, a hand saw, a chisel and a file.

Once the pieces fit, the stanchions are lashed into place (this is where I was loosing skin in the previous post; today I was smarter and wrapped my pinkie fingers with duct tape)
Then the stanchions in turn are mortised and fit to accommodate the "cross pieces", which space the runners and support the "basket"

So, as you see, progress is being made. I should point out that a lot of work is being omitted here; work that involves this...

...and this...

More to come in a while.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Break-up; The Finale'

The water level is dropping steadily, the river has crested, the peak is past and break-up 2010 will soon fade into a foggy memory. Or in my case, it will be forgotten entirely.

In a few days the trailing remnants of last winter's ice will clear and boats will spring into action. The river/highway will support travel once again; only the vehicles will have changed. For the next half a year we will enjoy watching it flow by our little village on its way to the sea.

In the coming months driftwood will be collected (by those with the time and foresight to prepare for the inevitable season of frost), and several runs of fish will pass by. The fish, like the firewood, will be sought, harvested and put away. Life in a wilderness is always dictated by the changing seasons. As in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything.

So then why exactly am I spending my days working on a dog sled? Not really the time for dog mushing, is it? If you remember, last winter I began the project (see posts dated...probably...December?) but time constraints forced me to shelve it. My plan is to get it done now before I'm consumed with all the usual summer stuff. The plan appears to be working.

Today I was finishing the stanchions and tying them to the runners. My fingers started shedding some skin, so I had to quit for the day. Next time I'll try to post  some current photos. 

Monday, May 10, 2010

Break-up; 5-10-10; and a weird thing

The ice broke last night, ran for a while, then stopped.

Still stopped, 24 hours later. Getting kind of boring, but better than flooding I guess.

The muskrat notice was posted at various locations around town. A dangerous muskrat? Seriously?  I know they get a little "wild" this time of year, seeking mates and claiming territory, but c'mon. Just step on it or kick it or something. It's only a rat!