Saturday, August 30, 2008

"In your face and up your nose!"

They are out there, somewhere, plaguing man and beast. They torment, torture, punish and persecute. They are tireless, unmerciful and totally devoid of feeling. And they are relentless. They never stop, not until they get your blood.

If you've never met them, get down on your knees and thank God, because He used them to break a nation. They humbled the world's greatest power, yet are tiny themselves. They are....GNATS!

In Exodus, the plague of gnats was the third in the series. If I had been Pharoah, I think it would have been "three strikes and you're out!"; gnats would have been enough. It's interesting that gnats were the first plague the Egyptian magicians could not duplicate, causing them to humbly proclaim "This is the finger of God". Yeah, gnats can do that.

You already know they are small and you may know they bite, but did you know their bite is much worse than that of the notorious Alaskan mosquito? They don't exploit a pore (like the mosquito); no, they chew a fresh hole through your skin. The resulting wound gets inflamed and swollen, hurts and itches, and can take weeks to heal. These are definitely the bad boys of the north.

Standard insect repellent doesn't work; since they prefer to work in secret they often bypass exposed skin. They land on your clothing, then begin their search for an opening. And they often find one. Typical wound sites are under your socks, around your waistband, in your hair, etc. They'll get under your watchband, around the collar, in your shoes. Many of the places you would think sacred and safe from mosquitoes are fair game for gnats. A gnat bite in the earcanal is a real bummer.

Yet the greater torment comes from the places where they don't bite. Two of them come to mind; in your eyes (during gnat season you have them swimming in your eyes all the time) and my personal favorite...up your nose! Seriously! Happens every day. If you spend much time outdoors in gnat season you get 'em there on a regular basis. I know, I know; "why don't you wear a headnet?" Sometimes I do, but rarely. Headnets are a real pain if you're trying to get some work done.

So you just live with them, and wait until the onset of cold weather. That's when they'll get what's coming. 'Till then, they must be endured, with great patience.

(I would have posted a picture, but as you know, they are tiny)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

unwilling moose hunter

The old man was pretty grumpy the other day. Not really sure why; but does an eighty-something-year-old man really need a reason? I'm fifty and some of my parts aren't working all that great; by the time I'm his age I expect a lot of stuff will be rusty, worn down or just plain broke. I might be even grumpier. Anyway, he was not happy.

He was standing beside his nephew's boat, obviously loaded up to go hunting, so I started the conversation.

"Where you off to 'S---'?" I asked, and boy did I get an ear full.

For the next fifteen minutes I heard all about how his nephew was taking him out moose hunting, how he is "too old" to be going, how tired he gets, how he can't help butcher the moose, or help pack meat, how he even gets tired just riding in the boat, and more...much more.

At one point when he was coming up for air, I quickly shot in the obvious question.

"Why don't you just tell him you don't want to go?"

"He don't listen! Says he wants me to go; I don't know why! I can't do nuttin'. I'm too "bleeeeep"-n old......................" and he was off and running again. Whew! Was I ever in the wrong place at the wrong time. It sure seemed to me he could just stay home, but no; that's too simple.

I saw him again today. He was back from hunting so I thought I'd ask him how it went. I was a little gun-shy after the auditory abuse I got two days before, but why not jump right back in there?

"How was your trip?"

"We din't see nuttin'. Don't know why he went out there. Too early. Moose are all layin' down. Burnin' up gas for nuttin'..........(etc. etc)"

So I think to myself ("Yeah, well, I could have told you that. Everybody knows it's too early and the moose will be hard to find. That's why I wait until September") But I don't say anything; it wouldn't be appropriate for a younger man to speak that way to an elder. Even if the "younger man" is fifty and has lost that new-car smell.

Monday, August 18, 2008

recycle firewood?

My friend?, boss?, role model?...whatever he is, would be proud of me. While reading the post about "Blondie" the bear, he was...well, how should I put it?... shocked! Not shocked that the bear might be killed (I don't know how it fares with Blondie, in case you're interested); he was shocked to read I was planning to "ring" some trees. The thought of intentionally killing trees for firewood, while understandable to him personally, was a bit much. What can I say, he lives in Oregon, where people would string you up for such a heinous crime.

So I wrote him an email...

(Sorry, I just got a call to help with a med-evac. I was gone for a while)

...I wrote him an email expounding the virtues of wood heat; no nukes, no oil spills, much more compatible locally than solar (short winter days) and geothermal (permafrost), etc., etc.. The point was, wood heat is relatively affordable and environmentally friendly here, in this context.

But he got me to thinking, which most of us (myself included) don't do enough. Living where I do, and living the lifestyle that comes with the territory, I kill a lot of stuff. Sorry, that sounds kinda rough, but it's true.

Here you need affordable food, so you shoot a moose, or you catch fish. You need affordable energy so you get firewood. It would be nice if all the wood you needed was right next door...but it's not, sorry. So you can either drive around on your snow machine looking for "dry wood", burning up gas ($$$), or you can figure out another way (i.e. the "woodyard"). And that's where ringing trees comes in, creating a ready supply of drywood in a convenient location. But you have to kill living trees. There's the dilemma.

The recent flooding hundreds of miles upriver offerred something of an alternative. High water always flushes out the drainage, sending debris downriver, which we call "drift". Drift would be sticks, an occasional barrel (the 55 gallon drum is part of the rural Alaskan scene) and logs. The drift logs can be cottonwood (never good for firewood), birch (rarely usable as drift; birch is good firewood when you get it "standing") or spruce. Spruce is the preferred firewood, as long as it's dry. A dry spruce drift log makes very good firewood.

I usually get my driftwood in the spring, after break-up; when the high water brings down lots of drift after the ice, as do many other locals, and after a few weeks all the good wood is usually gone. But this summer we had flooding way upriver, sending down a second "pulse" of drift. Seeing the usable wood floating by, thinking of killing trees in the woodyard, and ignoring the fact that lots of villages out on the coast depend upon driftwood, as they have no useable timber nearby, I decided to go out and get more wood. Others here were doing that as well.

The more wood I get, the less oil I'll have to buy (heating oil is $6.75 per gallon), and the more driftwood I get, the less trees I'll have to kill. It's not really "recycling" firewood, but it is using an available resource that has minimal environmental impact (the trees are already dead), and it beats cutting live trees. Too bad for the coastal villages though; I guess everything is a trade-off.

Today I even picked up a barrel that was laying along the bank across the river. It was about half full, of what I don't know yet, probably gas or oil. My "greenie" daughter would be proud of me...well, proud of that atleast. She's not too thrilled about all the killing I do here, but, like I said, it comes with the territory.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Sitting in my old, lumpy, very familiar easy chair, watching the Olympics. The current menu consists of a steady diet of swimming and diving events. An interesting thought comes to mind.

How very different must be the lives of these young, vibrant athletes from that of kids around here. (Phelps is getting ready to go for another one). No doubt nearly all of the athletes have come from reasonably wealthy backgrounds. I suppose some, like the Chinese, have come up through a state sponsored program (Phelps just won again; more golds than anyone now), but it must be a certainty the U.S. and Europeans grew up in affluence. Kids from early childhood growing up in a swimming or gymnastic culture. Many/most/all? have well educated parents.

They've spent their childhood focused; working unbelievably hard, year after year, moving ahead to this moment. They are likely the product of uncommon opportunity combined with committed (obsessed?) parenting.

Now it all comes together; years of lessons, thousands of dollars (euros), gallons of sweat. For some of them, this is the payday for a childhood filled with work and dedication; lacking play. For others...disappointment. A very big page in their lives must now be turned; time to move on. It is really, really amazing to me how focused these young athletes are; how disciplined.

(women's gymnastics now)

But not in my village.

Here most kids grow up should I say it? In poverty. Many don't live with their parents. A college education is a rare thing in rural communities. Swimming pools and gymnastic centers are as plentiful as unicorns.

(that girl just did about a zillion flips while flying through the air)

Many kids here are lacking positive parental input. They usually fail to learn the connection between hard work and payoff. Most have no focus of any kind. Some entered the world already behind; missing the developmental ability needed to succeed in the educational system. Other just never have it developed.

I wonder how much potential resides here that will never be realized. I see everyday the way things are; I often wonder about the way things could be??? Guess that's why I'm here. Not that we'll see any Olympians come from our village, but it's nice to know you have the chance to make a difference.

(p.s. the announcer just said the Chinese girls start at three years of age. Wow!)

(p.s.s. Phelps just got another; he's not even human)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Back in town

I'm back in the village after a week absence, attending a conference in mountains out of Anchorage. The photos were taken there. (What an awesome place!)

We came back on Friday, welcomed home by the wild and woolly combination of both a wedding and a baseball tournament. People from all the "neighboring" villages, as well as from Fairbanks and elsewhere, have come to celebrate. The general lack of law enforcement (we have no resident peace officer) makes our village a favored place to "celebrate", and therefore, a favored wedding destination. Behaviors which are commonplace here (such as DUI, fighting, etc.) will usually get you into trouble (and jail) in more civilized places where the law resides.

No doubt there is much "celebrating" that is relatively harmless, but it's the alcohol and drug related "celebrating" that gets my attention. That would include two kegs of beer for the bachelor party, four more for the reception, and an untold quantity of other intoxicants ingested in one way or another over the course of 3-4 days (and nights; let's not forget the nights).

This day started early with a couple of phone calls; wrong numbers, the result of celebrants "dialing under the influence". Hours later, a drive "downtown" revealed the presence of two Troopers (always a welcome sight at times like these) giving a field sobriety test to a local woman (who is well known to drive under the influence, especially on the weekends). There were people enjoying the games, people walking around, people partying in boats tied up along the bank (the boats were tied up, not the people), and people enjoying the unusually fine August weather (complete with an unusually fine number of gnats pestering the people).

Tonight will be interesting. Hope all goes well, but with this many people celebrating, you never know.

Wild weekend aside, it's good to be back. There is driftwood to be gotten (the flooding upriver is sending a lot of potential firewood our way), subsistence fishing to be done, a fourwheeler that patiently awaits my attention, and lots of other late summer/early fall work to be done. Time to get to it. As a good friend often said..."we've got the talkin' part done".