Monday, December 21, 2009

"The long and short of it"; 12-21-09

So that was it; the shortest day of the year? Today was a short day? Really? Well then, thank God for that! But it didn't seem like it.

My day began long before sunrise (OK, the sun comes up really late right now, like 11:37am* late, but still). I knew a mountain of white had descended upon my humble home and village equivalent of my "yard" during the long December night. About a foot of it was waiting patiently for me to begin my struggle to rearrange the pretty snowy blanket into crumpled piles, strategically located in out of the way places. I ruined the lovely Christmas scene, but it makes walking a lot easier.

(My buddy just called from a "neighboring" village. He's on the phone right now, wondering if we got snow? He didn't. For real? Hard to believe. We got buried!)

The snow was so bad I even brought my old plow back out of retirement, and it performed wonderfully, saving a lot of back strain. I still shoveled my porch roof, the back room and the wood shed, which = a lot of hard work. Whew! To say I perspired a fair amount would be an understatement.

In addition, I had to move a lot of snow around the dog-yard also. Slogging my way around the yard in a foot or more of fresh snow gets tiresome.

All in all, it was a very fatiguing day. Seemed R-E-A-L-L-Y long to me.

So tell me again, why exactly was this considered the shortest day of the year?

*according to (a goofy site called "cityfinders tried to tell me the sun came up at 9:32. I don't want to be disagreeable but it looked real dark at 9:30 this morning)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Mushing into the sun"; 12-13-09

Why do they call it "mushing"? And who are they, anyway?

Mushing Running a dog team can be...well, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially if they don't actually RUN. Over the years I've had more than my share of leader problems. Without an adequate leader you don't have a team. What you do have is a tangled mess. But enough of that.

This year I have a TEAM. And I have good leaders. One in particular, who's name is "Mouse". She is much more than the name implies (well, she does kind of look like a mouse, sort of). This dog has changed my whole world, as far as dogs are concerned (my deepest, heartfelt gratitude to Aily Zirkle will remain for years to come).

Running dogs is the ONE thing I do for me; to unwind, to forget about the stresses of living where I do, to just get out and have fun...

...and fun it is! If you like animals (dogs in particular), if you appreciate the cooperative effort of humans and animals working together (those guys in India and S.E. Asia riding on their working elephants are the extreme example), or if you like skiing and the idea of roping up a bunch of animals and hanging on for dear life seems appealing, dog mushing may be the sport for you. It's the sport for me, that I can tell you, and yesterday was a blast.

Today should be more of the same.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More sled; 12-11-09

Another couple of hours spent ripping birch for the sled. Saw dust is piling up as the second birch log gets chainsawed into rough lumber (and I'm talkin' R-U-F-F).

Now the pieces are in the shop to dry a while before the skilsaw and planer turn them into stanchions and crosspieces (vertical and horizontal structural members of the sled)

The sunrise / sunset pics are included just for fun. Think of them as dessert. The great thing about living at a "high" latitude is the prolonged fun you get when the sun makes its first and last appearance every day. Today was special; real special!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Fighting the Constitution"; 12-9-09

I was at a community meeting last night. Assemblies such as this are not uncommon in small, rural communities; a lot like the "Town Hall" meetings that are stylish among politicians serving on a much larger scale; except our's really takes place in our "town hall".

We discussed a number of issues but the most popular topic was the drug and alcohol theme, directed at the three Alaska State Troopers who were on hand for that exact purpose.

"Conditions of release", "probation violations", "bootlegging", "closing the local liquor store when temps drop below minus thirty", etc., were some of the conversational "threads" we pursued.

Importation of drugs / local drug dealing was a topic I wanted to discuss. Around here (as most everywhere) drugs are very easy to get. And, this being a small community, everyone knows who the dealers are. We usually know when they have brought in a new supply too (the steady stream of vehicles and visitors to their house is unmistakeable).

So it should be easy to catch them...right?

Not right. There's just one problem; the "C" word.

I was talking with two of the Troopers after the meeting. I basically said, "We know who they know who they are...they board airplanes in Fairbanks to fly out here...why not just apprehend them at the airport, send them to jail, and we all live happily ever-after.

But there is a centuries-old document that stands in the way; the Constitution. I was reminded we are all protected from "unlawful search and seizure", so "you'll have to change the Constitution." was the man in blue's reply.

"There's a lot of stuff in the Constitution I love to change."

"Yeah, me too. But actually doing it is the hard part."

So there we are, in upside-down America. A land where the document itself is valued more than the people it was written to serve. Where criminals have abundant freedoms to victimize the law-abiding population.

A couple of inconsistencies came to mind.

#1: Border Patrol. They apparently aren't crippled by the same "probable cause" impediments. I've crossed in and out of Mexico many times. Thankfully, the Border Patrol guards at the port of entry can search anybody. They don't have to wait until they see contraband falling out of some one's pocket. They can use dogs. They can detain people. If they don't like the way you look, you get searched. Sure, it slows down the process of crossing, but we all recognize it's necessary.

Why don't they do that in Fairbanks, Anchorage or similar locations?

#2: Rural communities can pass local ordinances to limit or totally prohibit importation of alcohol. They are usually referred to as "dry" communities. With such and ordinance in place, peace officers, Tribal, even local governmental representatives may lawfully search baggage and passengers entering their village.

...but you can't do this to prevent the importation of drugs...which are not legal...anywhere???

"Well, maybe we can just pass an ordinance prohibiting the importation of marijuana and cocaine?" I sarcastically said to the Trooper.

"Yeah. Wouldn't it be nice if it was that simple."

Only in America; where you can legally search people, without probable cause, to stop the importation of alcohol, a legal substance, but not weed and crack!

I'm thinking the Constitution needs to be changed. Who wants to help?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Sled; 12-2-09

Another day of progress on the sled. Today I trimmed/planed the runners a bit more, then I cranked up the steamer.

As you can see, the "steamer" is nothing more than a "modified" empty 55 gallon barrel. (These things are everywhere around the north, and they get used for everything. I've made woodstoves, a dog food cooker, this steamer and who knows what else). Actually, I'm using half a barrel for the fire and another one for the steamer. Versatile objects, to be sure.

Get everything ready to go, dump in about 15-20 gallons of water (hint; using hot water will save time and firewood), put in the runners, plug the holes with rags and steam away. After an hour or two I put one on the bender and gave it a try. It seemed a little stiff so I steamed them another 30 minutes +/-.

End result; the runners are now bent. I will move the bender into my shop so they can dry and cure, enabling the wood to hold its shape.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Sled; 12-1-09

Another day working on the sled runners. Drawknife, planer, chainsaw and circular saw all seeing action this afternoon.

Both runners are ready for bending. The video shows the runners laying on the bender.

The "bender" was made from a spruce log/stump. I shaped it following the natural curve of a large root coming off the stump, using copious amounts of chainsaw and axe.

After a lengthy steaming process, the runners will be bent and fastened to the bender, left to dry and cure before actual sled construction begins. More when it happens

OK, the video wouldn't load, so check out the pics (hope they'll load)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"The Sled"; do-over; 11-29-09

Yesterday I wrote a post about the historical role of the dog sled in northern culture...and then the computer monster came and ate my post. An hour's hard work was swallowed up right there at my finger tips. Imagine my dismay, or even my anger and frustration. I went outside and stood on the porch in my Hawaiian shirt and shorts to cool off; the temp was a brisk 12 above, so the cooling effect was rapid.

(my wife just admonished me, "Save, save, save", so I will. There, I did it)

Anyway, dog sleds were basic transportation for decades; even centuries. Today they have been replaced by snow machines, a.k.a. "snowmobiles" or "sno-gos", but sleds are still the staple for the official Alaskan State sport; dog mushing (does your state have an official sport?)

In a wild country, lumber yards are hard to find, so the would-be sled maker must obtain his materials from the natural surroundings. Birch is the standard ingredient in any rural sled  recipe, and it's readily available. You just have to go out there and get it.

But not just any birch will do.

Yesterday, as I was beginning my own sled building project, a guy looked at my stack of birch logs and asked, "How can you tell good birch?"

("Good birch" is used in sled making; "birch" is just any old birch wood, used for firewood.)

My response, though somewhat lengthy, is an extremely and deceptively condensed version of what real-time birch hunting involves.

"You have to look for a very straight tree; one with no bends, and no punk growing on it either" ('punk' is a fungus commonly found on birch trees). Look for one with no branches on the lower trunk. Not too big or too small. And it can't have a bunch of lumps on it; it needs to be real smooth.

"Then you hew it with your axe. Chop off the bark in an area and then cut into the wood. You have to get a piece that will peel down the tree. As you peel it, make sure it peels straight down with no twist. (Many trees grow with a twist, a little or a lot, and twisted wood will warp, making it unusable).

"If it peels good, then you cut into it with your chainsaw and remove a wedge (this wedge will be the undercut for falling the tree). Make sure there isn't too much brown wood, and make sure it's not rotten inside.

"If it still looks good, drop the tree. Then cut a piece off the end (the stump/butt end) and split it to make sure it splits very straight. If it doesn't it's no good. If it does it's probably 'good birch', so bring it home and start working on it".

And that is about where I am now. After collecting a few logs before Thanksgiving, I began work yesterday. As you can see in the photos, I put a log up on blocks, ripped it in two with the chainsaw, then began peeling bark with a drawknife. In the days ahead I'll use more of the chainsaw, a circular saw, the drawknife and a planer.  If you can't tell already, a lot of work goes into making a sled, as they are transformed from a living tree into a usable hand.

The work begins with the runners. Runners are the hardest pieces to make and they are the backbone of the sled, so they are a priority. Once they have been cut, planed and  shaped properly, they will be steam-bent and put on a "bender" to dry. Then they will possess the upsweep at the front necessary for smooth traveling over rough terrain.

More on that later.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Cold weather and the stove"; 11-19-09

This is the first "cold weather" of the season. Twenty and thirty below (Farenheit) really isn't all that cold for around here, but the first time you face it each winter it seems pretty chilly.

This morning, while making coffee (a decent cup of Guatemalan/Costco beans; not very fresh, but in the wilderness one must make do), my dear wife made a wishful request, to no one in particular.

"I hope this cold weather breaks soon".

At that exact time I was turning the valve on the stove, watching expectantly to see if the propane would ignite. A modest burst of blue flame followed by a slight drop in pressure and a sustained flame meant the 90lb. propane bottle outside was cold, but not too cold. The stove was working and the coffee on the way.

"It's really not that cold; I use the stove as my guide"; an opinion I shared with the stove, the kitchen and a wife who probably wasn't interested. "If the stove works, I figure it's really not that cold. When the stove quits's COLD!

I'm told propane in the bottle is compressed and in a liquid state (lpg); a natural condition for propane at a temperature of around minus forty (much like water below its boiling point). So as northern temps are dropping and the chill approaches minus forty, the propane wants to stay put.

Minus twenty usually means the stove will work; not at 100%, but it works. Minus thirty means it's very questionable; probably won't work due to insufficient pressure, (the liquid propane doesn't want to expand and take on a gas form, forcing it through the line to the stove). And forty below is just out of the question; plan on cooking in the microwave or on top of the wood stove.

So the stove is working and life is still good. Let's hope it stays that way :)

(The guy in the photo doesn't complain; his food is cooked over a wood fire. His main complaint right now is the insufficient snowfall; another good storm and he and his team mates will hit the trail)

Monday, October 5, 2009

My garden is DEAD!; 10-5-09

What a sad time. A wave of grief washes over me each I time I look out the window. The same thing happens when I look in my fridge. Even more so when when I walk past the grave site. The annual tragedy has struck again, leaving me to pick up the broken piece of my culinary life and move on.

For a carnivore, life in rural Alaska in a dream. Mammals, birds and fish are always nearby. One or more of the unsuspecting creatures may be slain and feasted upon virtually any day of the year. The hungry resident needs only to follow the advice given to Peter so long ago; "Arise...kill and eat".  A bounty awaits. All who are willing to get off their couch and head outdoors may "bring home the bacon" (or beaver, ptarmigan and black fish).

But life for a vegetarian is another matter entirely. Northern grazers are plentiful so we offer an extensive salad bar. The hungry may nibble on willows or munch on moss. Seeds, grass, bark or berries; even tree roots, aquatic plants and spruce needles are all on the menu (seasonal restrictions may apply). You may need to dive under water or burrow through the snow, but the industrious vegetarian can find a wide assortment of produce available.

Boreal vegetarians come in every shape and size, from the plump little vole to the massive bull moose, but whether they are furred, feathered or finned, they all seem to have one common denominator...four legs (OK, not the finned ones, well...not the feathered ones either, but you get the idea).

"What? Are you telling me there are no human vegetarians in Alaska?"

Well, there are now, but if you back up a few years, before the onset of modern technology, arctic vegetarians were all crawling around on four feet. In fact, humans were very, VERY carnivorous. Think about it; How much of your produce do you keep in the freezer? And the northern growing season is very fickle (it can snow up here ANY day of the year).  All this to say human vegetarians may exist only within reach of a Safeway store.

So...when my garden gives up it's final breath, my stomach sheds a symbolic tear. Gone are the salads I cherish so much. Gone are the broccoli; fresh and delicious. Gone are the cauliflower that failed to develop. Gone are the tomatoes which only my wife enjoys. Gone are the squash which I don't like, and didn't really grow this year anyway. Gone is the fresh basil which I used to make pesto...twice. Gone are the lemon cucumbers, which enticed me with hope, then broke my heart, failing to exceed an inch in length.

But, saddest of all, Gone is the cilantro; that essential Mexican herb I savor so dearly. Farewell my friend, even though all my many attempts at growing you failed this year; well...except for the 3 or 4 plants that showed real promise...until the visiting summer missionaries pulled you from the earth...unable to see you for what you really are...their eyes were clouded, they thought you were a weed, and cast away the jewel of the season. A gaping whole will my stomach...and on my tongue, until you return.

Alas, my garden is dead! I'm left to gaze upon my frozen flowers and think of better days.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

What a breakfast!

Wow, that was tasty!

Guess what I had for breakfast. It's a really strange concoction of things; makes me wonder who came up with it.

I'll give you the recipe, just in case you want to try it.

First you gather a bunch of seeds from a very tall specie of grass. Smash these seeds into powder and set them aside.

Then, find a cow with a nursing calf. You must chase the calf away and steal a portion of the milk from the lactating mother. This can be tricky!

Let's see, what else?

Oh yeah, Find some other seed grains, smash those up too and save the oily stuff you get.

OK, that's enough to start. You will need some white mineral, usually found below ground or in dry lake beds, but I'll let you worry about that one.

Take some of the powder from the first grass seeds, mix it with water, then let it sit around 'till it ferments and starts to smell. This may take a while; be patient.

Once it gets smelly, mix in more smashed seed powder and some milk from the angry  cow, stir it up and let it sit overnight. Sorry, but you have to wait. I never said this was easy.

The next morning, take your smelly, bubbling mix and add the following: -one unhatched chicken (the mother chicken will be about as happy with you as the mother cow was), -some more oily stuff (I used some squeezed from a certain mediterranean tree fruit, you may use what you like), -another white powder (You'll probably have to buy this one; I have no idea what it is. They call it "baking soda" and I think it's found laying around volcanoes).

Mix it all up and pour into a hot skillet. The skillet needs more of that oily stuff, or you could just melt a hunk of fat from a pig. Either way, pour it into the hot oil and leave it there until it looks like it's starting to burn. Flip it over and partially burn the other side too. Then remove and put on a plate.

Before eating, pour on some tree sap. Make sure you use sap from the proper tree or it will taste like...well, it will taste like the tree. Since you are not a beaver, you want it to taste like...well, like the smelly, smashed seedy, stolen milky, white minerally, unhatched chicken-y thing that you're after.

This was a lot of work, so enjoy it!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"She's packin' heat"; 8-30-09

Only in a village.

Last night I was at my usual Saturday evening location; in our local teen center. I man the helm of a sometimes erratic ship. My "crew" is not always focused on performing their "duty", so I continually bark out orders. "Don't throw stuff!", "Quit swearing!" and "You guys settle down!" are some of my more frequent commands. I wish I could say the crew is always compliant, but alas, there is rebellion in the ranks.

This is why the "captain" (myself) maintains a vigilant eye, continually scanning the decks for rule infractions or developing situations requiring the proverbial "nipping in the bud". Even with my middle-aged decline in eyesight and somewhat impaired hearing, I'm able to detect an "F-bomb" from across the noisy room, or pick out a kid in a crowd in possession of some forbidden contraband. I regularly impress the kids with my acute perception/detection abilities, and I even amaze myself on occasion.

So what did I think last night when the woman came into the crowded room with a pistol in her jacket pocket? What was my initial reaction? Fear? Panic? A sick feeling in my stomach? Despair and helplessness, knowing we have no useful 911 service?

No, actually I was wondering what kind of pistol it was; obviously an auto, but was it a 9mm, 40 cal or perhaps the classic 45? Fear and panic never entered my mind.

The gun toting "Annie Oakley" is the wife of our newly employed "law enforcement officer"; in quotes because the new local sheriff is not a real sheriff, cop or anything similar. He's basically a curfew enforcer and animal control officer; which means he chases kids home at night and shoots loose dogs (sounds politically incorrect, but what can I say; this is a village in a wilderness , not a suburb)

She had just returned home from an aborted trip to Fairbanks after getting her bag stolen. With the bag went her ID, cash, credit cards; the usual. It's no surprise that the incident was upsetting to her, so maybe that was why she was packing a pistol last night. That helpless feeling of being violated was now receiving treatment...firearms treatment! Weakness and victimization begone! She is now empowered, with an "equalizer" at the ready.

Am I correct in this armchair assessment or am I stretching it a bit? Who knows, but I've never seen her with a pistol in her pocket before. The next guy who messes with her better watch out; she's packin'!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Old hunting stories; 8-23-09

With the onset of cooler days, the end of the bug war now in sight, and real darkness a part of every evening, my thoughts naturally turn toward the best of all seasons...Fall.

A few leaves are already turning color. The eager show-offs are willow; displaying the early effects of autumn's Midas touch, and a little shrub who's name I do not know; blushing crimson, as if embarrassed by the thought of the coming winter.

This morning is similar to one I experienced years ago; cool, foggy and quiet.

I was laying in my friendly sleeping bag; warm and comfy, drifting wonderfully in that place between unconscious sleep and fully awake, my mind ruminating on the events of the previous evening.

A wolf had been howling somewhere in the vicinity; no doubt attempting to assemble his team and begin a nocturnal hunt. The remains of the campfire flickered it's dying light through the wall of our canvas tent; the popping and crackles long gone. A mouse rustled around in our make-shift kitchen, harvesting a bounty dropped by sloppy hunters. A more pleasant lullaby is hard to find. But this is not a tale of that night. Rather, it is a story of the morning after.

My cot was roomy, my sleeping pad soft and my bag delightful. The cool, frosty air had kept me under cover for hours with only my lower face exposed for breathing. All else was snug and slumbering. And then I heard it.

The sound is unmistakeable once you know it. It is the essence of why I was there, in that bag, on that cot, in that tent, on the bank of that river. It was the grunty-cough of a bull moose, and a more effective alarm clock has never been invented; for moose hunters at least.

Throwing back the top of the bag, I opened my eyes.

"Did I just hear what I think I heard?" I wondered to myself, but it was a wasted thought. There, in the back of my mind, I knew I had heard it.

I lay there, still and quiet, straining to hear. For long minutes all I heard was the rhythmic sound of my friend's deep breathing, lying on the cot next to me.

There it was again, unmistakeable this time. A bull was in the grass lake right behind our camp, within 100 yards of where I lay.

I waited to see if Robert would hear it and wake up, but he just kept on snoozing.

The third was more than I could bear. "Robert, are you awake?" I knew he wasn't but I had to wake him anyway.

"HMMMmmmmm?" The deep breathing stopped.

"Are you awake?"

"I am now."

"There's a bull right back here in the lake."

No response. Clearly, Robert did not have enough faith in my hunting abilities to justify getting out of bed. The sun had not yet peeked over the horizon, the coffee was not ready and his bag was probably just as cozy as mine on this chilly morn.

We waited, in silence; me knowing, him questioning. It was a stand-off, with my limited moose hunting expertise on one side and the comfort of his bed on the other. Obviously he would have to hear it for himself. We were at an impasse. But the impasse was a short one.

With the fourth grunt he was moving.

"I guess you heard it that time?" I commented, with a silent chuckle. It was rare for me to be a step ahead of him where hunting was concerned, or anything else for that matter. He was a master at moose hunting, trapping, fishing, camping, well, basically everything pertaining to life in the Alaskan wild, so this rare moment I would savor.

"You better get Clay up."

Clay was a teen age boy in the next tent; one of several we had brought out here to learn the skills of fall hunting and camping.

"Actually, I'd rather you took him".

"Me? Why me?"

"Because if you take him he's more likely to get his moose. I might mess it up."

He saw the wisdom in my humility, bringing a quick end to the discussion. I quietly roused the boy while Robert dressed and assembled the tools of his trade; rifles, ammo, hunting knife and a roll of bright pink surveyor's ribbon.

Soon they were off, silently making their way through the woods to the grassy meadow behind our camp. A cold drink of water would have to suffice in quenching my thirst; the coffee was temporarily on hold. I sat by an imaginary campfire and waited.


I smiled.


I frowned.

More shooting meant a miss and a running moose; not the way it was supposed to happen. In frustration I started the fire and put the coffee on, disappointed that Clay had not succeeded in getting his first moose.

"Too bad." I grumbled to myself as I fed the little fire. "I hope Robert isn't mad at him".

About the time the coffee was ready I heard them coming through the woods; the breaking of sticks heralding their return. Then voices. It was more conversation than I expected from two unsuccessful hunters. Well, at least they were still on speaking terms. I soon learned how wrong my assumptions were.

As Clay excitedly told the story, with Robert interjecting important points now and then, I learned there had been a cow with two bulls. One was very large, the other younger and smaller. The first shot dropped the big bull and the other shots killed the younger bull. The cow was now headed north in search of a new boyfriend.

Clay's bull measured 67 inches; a tremendous trophy, a mountain of meat and certainly larger than any moose I have ever shot. Not surprisingly, Robert's best was in the seventy inch range.

It remains a hunting memory I will always treasure.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Whatever you do, DON'T LICK YOUR LIPS!"

Procrastination always seems to have its way of getting you, even when it's not your fault. Sometimes we are lazy and put things off, but other times we are just too busy and can't get everything done. Things like...cutting the grass.

Alaska sun in the summer is NOT normal; there's just a whole lot of it. And it does some crazy things to weeds, grass and wildflowers. Well, vegetables too, I guess. Doubtless you've seen pictures of the legendary Alaskan cabbages, soon to be on display at the State Fair.( For an outstanding example, check out Gale's Blog [click on Gale's photo on the right/followers, then Gale's Blog] and scroll down a few posts until you see it; Awesome photo!) Well grass and weeds grow with similar enthusiasm as they make the most of our short growing season.

A power trimmer (aka "weed wacker") is a good friend to have around. A little gas, a whole lot of line, and some regular time will keep the green stuff under control. But if you fall behind it can be hard to catch up. The grass will just keep going and going; like some kind of lawn from "Jack and the Beanstalk".

Well, as you may have guessed, I got behind. The grass around my house is getting pretty tall, as I have been feeling poorly for a couple of weeks and then I was gone for another. But a bigger problem was waiting for me in the dogyard.

I have a team of sled dogs. Twelve to be exact. I love mushing. I love my dogs. Sometimes I just love hanging around the dogyard; the lot where they live. I cut fish there, make fires and cook their food there, and of course that's where all the dog mushing begins. It's half a mile from my house but it's kind of like my second home. And that home was overgrown with grass, so today I spent a few hours making it look respectable again.

While I'm working alone I have a habit of talking to myself. Hey, I talk to the dogs too. If that makes me psycho, what can I say? (probably nothing I haven't already said to myself anyway). I talk to God too, so if you see me off by myself mumbling, you'll never know if I'm praying or just engaged in a totally one-way conversation. Either way, remember, it's not polite to interrupt.

So I was running the grass cutter at high speed, buzzing through foot high grass like an inverted helicopter, when all of a sudden...WHAP! I just ripped through a considerable pile of very fresh...wait for poop!

Yeah. Oh yeah!

You know the crude saying about "when the [stuff] hits the fan"? Well this is the real thing, and I felt it splatter all over me. Now, when I say "all over me" I mean "ALL OVER ME!" Especially the most vulnerable, unprotected part of my entire existence; MY FACE!

Cheeks, nose, chin; every part of my face is thoroughly splattered. My safety glasses saved my eyes, but they are now fairly hard to see through.

Not good. Time to plot a course of action. What to do first? Attempt to wipe my face? No, it will smear. Go back to the house and wash up? No, I've got to finish. Hmmm. Just keep going?

And that's when I said it. You do remember the title of this post don't you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"Imagination in motion"; 8-12-09

The weasel. An absolutely amazing creature! If you have never seen one moving in high gear, you have missed one of life's memorable moments.

A weasel appears to be a rare combination of different animals. He has all the flexibility of a snake, blended with the 3-dimensional agility of a falcon. He also possesses quickness found in no other animal. Add it all together and you have a near-miracle of creation.

This morning while I was frying some bacon, positioned in front of my stove/kitchen window, I was severely distracted. Mr. Weasel was in a playful mood, practicing his gymnastics in my yard. Thankfully I did not burn the bacon. However I did get a number of mosquito bites when I went outside to get his picture. Clad only in my "pajamas" (shorts and a T-shirt), I spent considerable time squatting by the woodpile, making squeaky noises as I coaxed him into posing for a photo op. If you plan to photograph a weasel you'll need a fast camera and faster reflexes, 'cause he won't hold still for long. He's harder to catch than a young child.

A couple of thoughts always come to mind when I'm watching a weasel.

-Athletic ability. Imagine what an NBA point guard or NFL running back could do with similar speed and agility. Mr. Weasel will make 180 degree turns and airborne flips just for fun. A human athlete with similar capabilities would put on a show that would humiliate opponents in a way seen only in Disney movies. The star would be completely untouchable, incredibly fast and able to score on virtually every play. What a show it would be!

-Ferocity. The playful image of a frolicking weasel belies its predatory nature. On TV I once saw a weasel kill a cottontail rabbit. A weasel weighs what...a quarter of a pound? And a cottontail, 3-4 pounds? That's a predator killing prey 12 to 15 times its size. So do the math; at that rate, if a weasel weighed, say 2 pounds, it could kill a medium size dog (your pet Cocker spaniel could be in trouble). A weasel in the 5 lb. range could probably take out a Doberman or Rottweiler. Add a couple more pounds and farmyard animals such as sheep and goats would be on the menu. And here's the scary part...if weasels weighed a mere 10-12 pounds, you and I would be in serious danger.

I guess we should be thankful God made them small. This way they are fun to watch, and it's the mice that have to worry.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

8-8-09; "Cheese and bullets"

While waiting in Anchorage, waiting for flying conditions to improve, I have a bit of "free" time. Free is in quotes because nothing in Anchorage is free. Everything costs. Just being here an extra two days will probably cost me about 200 bucks; money spent on meals, gas for the car, more shopping which would not have happened if I were not here, etc.

Some reasons I'm WAITING:

Smoke; fires throughout the interior continue to fill the air with smoke. Visibility in Fairbanks this morning was a mere 1/16th of a mile, so planes were parked. Our ride out of Anchorage was therefore cancelled.

Space; a funeral in our village has all flights out of Fairbanks booked (flights that actually fly, that is). So rescheduling for tomorrow would only get me as far as Fairbanks. Since I'd rather be stuck here than stuck there, here I am.

Options; this one's easy; there are no options. Can't drive home. Too far to walk. I left my boat at home. Dog teams won't make the trip until the Iditarod next March. And chartering an aircraft is for...well, lets just say it's a little beyond my budget, since my full name doesn't include "Gates", "Kobe", "Rockefeller", "Jackson" or "Buffet" (though I may be eating at one if I don't get home soon).

So, why did I title this "Cheese and bullets"? Because those are the two main items I'm bringing home with me (If I actually get home). Returning from a trip to town is not complete without bringing home stuff that is otherwise hard or impossible to get. Cheese will always be found in my suitcase, and since hunting season is fast approaching, bullets were also on my shopping list.

It's a good thing we don't have to go through security to board our little plane. TSA would be very interested!

Friday, July 31, 2009

"August"; 7-31-09

This morning I awoke to discover August had come a day early. The raindrops tapping on my metal roof made the proclamation, heralding the approach of fall. Well, not real fall, as in fall colors and rutting bull moose fall, but "fall" in the sense of no more summer.

This event is a noticeable shift in weather patterns. The high pressure dominated, sunny days of summer have now become low pressure, cloudy, windy and wet. From this point forward, you won't see many people wearing shorts and t-shirts. Jeans and sweatshirts will now rule the days' wardrobe choices.

Some call this season "fall". Some call it "early fall". To me it is "August". The term "Fall" is used only for that most wonderful of seasons, when the woods and hills are alive with color, when a chill is in the air, when the moose are on the move. That is FALL, and it's a pleasure to speak the word. A drippy, rainy, gray day like today is merely August; a season I must endure until fall arrives; a derogatory word I utter in contempt.

It's funny how the worst weather of the year is followed by the best; the most unpleasant season preceding the finest.

Why does August have 31 days? Five or six would be more than enough.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Fireweed; 7-30-09

Behold the beauty! FIREWEED. The stereotypical Alaskan wild flower. The Forget-me-not may be the official state flower (I think) but Fireweed is the real one. If you check out Alaskan post cards, you'll see a ton of fireweed and maybe zero forget-me-nots.

Fireweed is a weed, but when it's in full bloom (like right now) it's a work of art. Absolutely spectacular!

P.S. This photo was taken at our local dump. Any flower that can make a dump look this good is tops with me!

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Hope I did this right! If I did, you may now click my twitter link on the right to check it out. The account name is "mynorthernlife". I'll update it more frequently than northernEye. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"He's back"; 7-25-09

The boy looked better than the last time I saw him. Well, I guess I shouldn't call him a boy. He's two inches taller than me and his voice is as deep as mine. But he's still a minor with much to learn in life, which has a lot to do with the improved appearance.

A couple of months ago he looked worse. I met him in a hallway as he was headed outside; his two escorts walking him to a waiting car so they could catch their plane to Fairbanks. The escorts were dressed in blue. He was wearing his regular clothes. He was also sporting a handcuff/shackle outfit you expect to see on terrorists and mass murderers, not on a minor picked up for under age drinking. His wrists closely bound to a heavy leather waist belt. These in turn were chained to his ankles; also bound, allowing only small baby-steps.

That day he looked worse than I had ever seen him. He feebly offered me his hand, which I shook, as he said "See ya later".

"Take care of yourself" was my parting advice.

After a couple of months in a treatment program he has returned.

"Things are going to be different" he assured me yesterday.

"I hope so" was my guarded reply.

Now we'll see.

Monday, July 20, 2009

7-20-09; random tidbits

Weird night, weird day.

I put some salmon in my little Bradley smoker yesterday. It took longer to finish than I had anticipated...a lot longer! I was finally able to shut it down and hug my pillow sometime after 4am. So today I'm wiped out.

A barge was due in last night. Currently it is MIA. I'm hoping it shows pretty soon 'cause it's carrying a load of dog food for my hungry buddies. If this becomes my final post you may assume the barge (and dog food) didn't arrive in time to prevent a mutiny in the dog yard, and I shall have become a meal for the rebels.

My wife got hollered at for , well, nothing really. A local airline agent decided to blame her (and me) for a piece of freight that went missing last week. Don't look for a logical reason why he would make this assumption; none exists. This type of erratic and unpleasant behavior is ALL TOO COMMON.

I'm still tired. Perhaps I'll go to bed early and dream of chocolate. Mmmmmm!

Monday, July 13, 2009

"The pain"; 7-13-09

I sat there, seated in a chair by his side, for three hours. The pretext for my being there, holding his hand, was to prevent him from bending his wrist and pulling on the I.V.. But that was secondary. What he really needed more than I.V. supervision was comfort, encouragement and support.

This young man is a known fighter. He can do more pull-ups than any one I know. And he's tough. He won't back down; from a fight or from a roof deep in snow and needing shovelling. Either way, he's a scrapper, which is why I found myself standing in the clinic looking into his abdomen. The bleeding from the fresh knife wound had slowed but the hole was unmistakable. Aware of his pugilistic reputation and seeing the wound, I had only one question needing an answer...

"Who stabbed him?" I ask the man who had been first on the scene.

"His brother."

"Which one?" I ask back. I desparately hope he does not say the name I now hear...and that's what hurts. Now it's my turn to feel the knife; piercing my emotions and stabbing my heart.

His brother is a young man I know well and care about deeply. He's also been traveling down the wrong road for some time now. We are friends. We talk. We respect each other. But that changes nothing. He is free to make as many bad choices as he wants, and lately he's been making a lot of them. The result of those choices I am now looking at; a hole in his brother's side.

I told you this guy was tough; that's why his bro' needed the knife. So I spend a few hours by his side while we wait on the med-evac plane.

He's in a lot of pain. Every breath, every time he inhales, it's like he gets stabbed all over again. For three hours he endures this suffering, until the plane arrives and the medics shoot a dose of morphine into his I.V.

We load him on the plane and he's on his way to the hospital. Thankfully, he'll make it.

His brother will soon be off on his own trip; to jail. He may be gone for several years. I'll hope and pray this will be what it takes to straighten out the twisted path his life has taken, but it will continue to hurt. Long after his brother's side has healed, I will feel this pain.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"A view out the window"; 7-2-09

In some ways life is like riding on a train. We are are continually moving ahead on a one-way journey. For each of us this train makes only one stop; when we get off.

Every day brings a new view out the window. Even when life seems mundane and repetitious, each day is new, bringing fresh opportunities. It's a good idea to remember the train won't back up, so we need to grasp every moment and use it wisely.

Living in a "subsistence culture" along a wild northern river brings daily reminders. The driftwood floating by in the spring will soon be gone. The window of opportunity for gardening is very short. A run of fish can come and go in a single night. Repeatedly we live in a "now or never" moment; if the opportunity is lost we may have to wait until next year, if it comes at all.

King salmon are passing by on their journey to their spawning grounds. These fish are the most important specie to local people, making king salmon fishing the biggest activity of the summer. Much work, money and time is invested annually to harvest them. But this year the run is down and the closures have severly limited the ability to catch them.

Last night it was "opened" to fishing. It will close again tonight. Some were out all night working the water, knowing this may be the last chance they get. Others are out there now. Those who are successful will cut the fish and begin the smoking/drying process. A valuable harvest is not to be wasted.

Yet some will fail to take advantage of this opportunity. Laziness, lack of preparation, drug/alcohol abuse and other factors will stand in their way. Will these individuals later regret their poor choices? Or will they look into their empty freezer or smokehouse and blame their lack of fish on the poor run, government controls, high fuel costs or other excuses? Time will tell; I'll likely hear about it, eventually.

I wonder how many similar opportunities are squandered in this life as we ride along looking out the window. A moment, an experience or a day wasted, once gone, is gone for ever. There is no going back; this train doesn't stop.

The "flip-side" is that tomorrow brings more chances; more opportunities. Every day, from this minute until we get off the train, we are blessed with nearly limitless opportunities waiting to be siezed.

The kings are followed by the silvers, giving another chance to fill freezers and smokehouses. If the salmon berries are missed, the blueberries may soon be ripe. And if we fail today, we can get up and try again tomorrow, because, as a woman who made a lifetime of bad choices once said, "Tomorrow is another day!"

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Flowers; 7-1-09

Some photos of our "local color"; Cotton grass, dandelions, wild roses, etc.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Mystery meat"; 6-27-09

My neighbor, knowing I have a lot of hungry dogs, called me up yesterday.

"Hey, I'm cleaning out my freezer and I have a couple of tubs of frozen stuff. You want it for your dogs?"

"Its all frozen?" I ask, skeptically.

[side note re: the skepticism. Just a few days ago a different neighbor made a similar phone call. He assured me everything was "good" and, in response to my continued questions, said "nothing was spoiled". I required this assurrance because in the past he also called me to come get some "dog food"; a soggy cardboard box filled with plastic bags which looked bad and smelled bad. When I lifted the first bag, looking for the source of the foul odor, a syrupy goo dribbled out of the bag. Suddenly it all became clear. The "dog food" was what was left from the previous fall's whitefish. After spending the winter frozen, followed by a month of spring thaws, the stinky goo was the result. That dog food might have made good fertilizer, but my hounds weren't getting near it. That was a year ago. Last week he called again, made similar empty promises and the result was the same; a bunch of rotten fish. Ok? Got it? So, armed with these memories, we fast-forward back to the start of this post. Take it from the top]

"Is it all frozen?" I ask, skeptically.

"Yeah, I just took it out of the freezer."

"OK, sounds great. I'll pick it up in a while."

The following list will give you a bit of an idea what you may find in a rural Alaskan freezer.

-a ham hock (nothing weird there)
-a few bags of grated cheese (no big deal)
-a few bags of old berries; picked locally
-a piece of halibut (store bought, but we're starting to get Alaskan)
-one jar of silver salmon
-a couple of jars of king salmon
-one jar of left over stew; moose, probably
-2 moose kidneys
-a bag of moose fat; probably came from those kidneys
-a shoulder blade
-2 pieces of muktuk; gray (if they were beluga I would have investigated further)
-1 whole trout
-several whole grayling
-3 jars of...jam...I think
-a whole pike
-one entire pintail duck, male, fully feathered
-some moose "belly fat"; the netting/sack that holds the entrails
-4 moose hooves
-2 jars of seal oil (don't spill it on your clothes)
-an assortment of zip-lock bags containing beaver meat (the dogs will really love it)
-numerous zip-locks containing moose meat
-a cool-whip container filled with something, bearing an Athabaskan name; looks weird, smells good. Appears to be coarse-ground meat, fat and...I don't know.
-a couple dozen plastic grocery bags containing meat from moose, beaver, maybe some bear
-about a dozen unmarked chunks of fish; some white (pike, sheefish, whitefish) and some orange (king, fall chum or silver salmon)
-and, finally, 4 or 5 things completely unidentifiable.

Bon Apetit!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fishing: 6-23-09

Bad news on the king salmon fishing; so far, at least. As feared, the run is way down. Not sure why, but very few fish are returning this year.

The feds are doing the job of enforcing the closures and they appear busy. Allowing only one 24 hour period per week open to fishing leaves six days closed per week, or in this case, six days of fining violators. Stories abound: $2,000 fines, nets confiscated, a boat reportedly impounded, etc. The feds are busy up and down the river trying to keep a handle on it.

It some ways it's a bit of a culture clash. People living along this remote river wilderness are not real accustomed to law and enforcement. When you grow up in a small community with no resident law enforecemant, you basically get used to doing whatever you want. This obviously is not a good thing.

I personally grew up in a heavily populated area in the lower 48, so law enforcement to me is a given; like death and taxes. In my mind, if you break the law you get caught (to say nothing of the moral and spiritual ramifications; God, judgement, etc.)

People who have been raised in the remote north see it differently. Not only is the law not around, often times you can't depend upon them any way.

Many years ago I received my first lesson in "No Law; 101". A broken window and illegal entry into my home caused me to call the troopers. After a frustrating couple of days attempting to talk with an officer regarding "my case", it became apparent I had no case. No officer was interested. No one was coming to look into it. Nothing. I cleaned up the mess and moved on.

That day I learned one of the principles about rural law enforcement...most of the time there is none. Unless it's a serious crime (like murder; where is Poirot when you need him?) nothing may come of it.

Troopers come to our village fairly regularly; maybe once a week. In addition to homicides, they look into assaults, some thefts (vehicular), occasionally minor comsuming and maybe a few other things, but most offenses aren't going anywhere.

The list of offenses I have seen go unprosecuted is a long one. Sexual assault (here, as everywhere) can be difficult to prosecute, so most aren't. Probation violations are commonplace. Driving under the influence happens daily. Minor consuming and contributing are common. Bootlegging, drug dealing and selling to minors are daily occurrences. Etc., etc.

All this is to say, people here are not accustomed to a lot of law enforcement; in fact very little is the norm. So when "the Gov" tries to tell people they can not fish for kings, an essential ingredient in the local diet and an important part of the cultural heritage, many are hesitant to comply.

I comply. The video was taken yesterday while it was open to fishing. I was after "dog salmon" anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Sounds"; 6-16-09

It's early morning; a time when "normal people" are sleeping. I, being awake, am not a member of that group. This is not a new discovery for me, but right now I'm eager to join them.

There are noises in the night determined to keep me separated from a slumbering normality. Actually, it is "night" in name only; June is a month without darkness. The Alaskan summer is known for midnight sun; 5am is no different.

The warm weather has forced me to open the window for ventilation. Through this portal a variety of sounds assail my tired ears.

A dog is barking...incessantly. This always means one thing; it's owner has neglected to feed or water the poor animal. Perhaps the owner is away from home. Perhaps the owner is in a state of extreme intoxication. One thing is certain, the owner is not trying to sleep as I am.

A raven, probably hatched this spring, is making an annoying racket. "Haaaawwwk! Haaaawwwk! Haaaawwwwk!", calling for parents or trying to locate siblings. I really don't like those birds. In the wilds they are fine but in human settlements they scatter garbage, disturb what should be "the peace" and even commit vandalism. A friend of mine once suffered serious damage to his airplane as they poked holes in the fabric. (Yes, there are still planes covered with fabric. No, they are not WWI biplanes).

I hear robins and other songbirds; sounds I don't mind right now.

There is a light rain pattering on the roof and dripping on the ground. This sound, too, is a pleasant one.

Every so often I hear a four-wheeler off in the distance. If I were new to this village I would wonder "Who can that be and where are they going at this hour?" but I have lived here long enough to realize those questions are pointless.

My refrigerator kicks on about four times an hour. The loud buzzing-humm is enough to keep me awake by itself. A few years ago we had a guest who slept in the front room. (Our house is essentially a one room log cabin with a small addition on the back which serves as our bedroom. The "frontroom" is basically the entire house; living room, kitchen, dining room) The guest slept on a cot about eight feet from the fridge. In the morning, wearing a very tired expression, he said, "Your refrigerator is pretty loud, isn't it". I smiled and nodded my head; mentally estimating how many hours he must have laid awake.

In the backroom (our bedroom) the airconditioner is running. It, too, is loud; a reason I am now attempting to sleep on the couch.

A fan is also to humming in the bedroom. "Why both?" you ask. We are currently under a major attack from mosquitoes. The a/c keeps the room cool and the fan helps blow the bugs away; making it hard for them to land on my sleeping wife. (I wonder, does she know how blessed she is to be snoozing right now?)

The bloodthirsty bugs are blamed for other sounds keeping me awake. We have a "Time-mist" aerosol dispenser. Every ten minutes it makes a mechanical grinding sound as it pushes the sprayer, along with the desired "psssst" when the mist is released. This device makes life possible, so the noise is a welcome one.

The mosquitoes are also known for the sound they make themselves; that high pitched whine of their wings in motion. That sound alone can prevent sleep. When you hear it you know it's just a matter of time before you become a midnight snack. I already have a fresh bite on my knee and one on my toe, both itching badly, so I wait to feel it land, hoping to slap it and get on with the work of sleeping.

The clock on the wall ticks relentlessly. At times like this, it sounds like a blacksmith hammering on an anvil. If I could have a Joshua-type moment and make time stand still, I believe I would use it now. Sleep would be so much more peaceful than war.

Now the water heater kicks on, complete with the vibration the fuel line makes as fuel is pumped to the heater. Be patient; it will stop in a moment.

Now my little dog is getting fidgety. Maybe he'll go back to sleep. As long as he lays back down I'll be OK. Nope. he's headed for the door. I pretend to be asleep and don't move. After a few minutes, I peek at him. He's sitting at the door staring at me. I don't move. Neither does he. This stand-off continues until I give in. Patience won't help here; he's the one in control and he knows it.

I might as well feed him now or he'll be wanting that too. This night is over.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Population explosion?; 6-07-09

I spend a little too much time on the internet, especially lately. My favorite NBA team, the Lakers, have been doing quite well the past two seasons, so I have enjoyed reading about them on a number of basketball related sites. And that is how I learned about some recent population shifts in rural Alaska.

For example, one such site has a flashing pop-up telling me that I am the "100,000th visitor from White Mountain", and it assures me this is "no joke" and I should click to claim my prize. Wow, imagine that.

White Mountain is a coastal village with a population of...maybe...200 people. I'm not quite sure how I can be considered part of their community, but the amazing thing is that I'm the "100,00th visitor" from there.

Either there has been a huge migration into White Mountain recently or some one there is spending WAY TOO MUCH TIME on their computer; much more time than I am. According to my rudimentary calculations, if every person in their community was on-line, they each have to visit the spurious site...what?...five hundred times? Hmmm. I think perhaps some one is pulling my leg.

A couple of days ago (on a similar site) I was assured by another pop-up that people in my village were making sixty dollars an hour working part time on-line. They even showed me a photo of a nice young lady in front of her computer, no doubt working hard making the wages they were offering.

The funny thing was, I know everybody living here; I even know every house in our village. I didn't recognize her or the setting. Hmmm. Some one has some 'splainin' to do.

Monday, June 1, 2009


It's out there. It's just layin' in the willows or bobbin' along the shore. And it's waiting.

Others may beat you to it; many already have. They'd say, "By now, all the good stuff is gone", but they don't know where to look. I do. I was looking today.

Properly equipped and attired, I grabbed the tiller handle and pointed my little boat out into the waves; heading upriver. The somber gray skies, blustering wind, waves and spray were no deterrent. Bounce as it may, my little tub is a faithful workhorse. I bet my boat has done more work (and on FAR LESS GAS) than any boat here in town. She's a worker (why are boats always "She"?) and she was free! That, my friend, is what you call a blessing.

A mere mile to the backside of the island and I found it. No, not the ducks. Not the geese. Definitely NOT the swans. Those I left unmolested as I passed by. Well; I wanted to leave them unmolested but my boat scared them into flight. Most of the ducks jumped right up like helicopters, but the swans needed a generous runway to get airborne. Good thing they had the entire river at their disposal. Swans are the B-52 bombers of the waterfowl world.

After the the airlift was underway I found that which I sought...driftwood.

Driftwood is free fuel. Well, wait a sec; it's kinda free. Free if you don't count your time (OK, that's easy). Free if you don't figure in the cost of a boat and motor (I recently was pricing them and a new set-up, simple and small, was over fifteen G's, or as my Dad would say "15 K", and that is on the cheap!). Free if you don't figure in fuel, oil, the chainsaw, an axe, rope, a lifejacket, boots, a raincoat, gloves, bandaids, cold remedies, a heating pad, and whatever else goes into it.

And, oh yes, free if you don't consider the required in-kind contribution of nsaids (over-the-counter or otherwise); for me they are definitely required. As any experienced firewood getter will attest, even "free" wood comes at a cost to the body. But it's still a good deal.

I spent a couple of hours selecting and cutting up logs; expending untold calories (don't worry, I have plenty to spare) and sweating myself into a mild state of dehydration (par for the course).

Then I came home, took a hot shower, recharged my batteries with a cup of tea and a piece of last night's chocolate chip pie, and suddenly I can face another day. Well, I can face the rest of this one, which is all that is required. Tomorrow will bring enough troubles of its own.

p.s. I'll change the icy photo on the title page as soon as I find something of interest.

OK, I found one.

Sunday, May 31, 2009


I'm pretty tuckered this morning. Yesterday I worked in the woodyard and that's always good for a tiring day. A half-century body complains when it's asked to run a chainsaw and swing an axe for any extended period of time (mine does, anyway).

The weather has been unusually cold (mid-thirties at night) for several days, so the bugs are temporarily on hold. But then, so is the garden. Since a plus usually can be found with every minus, my new thing is to look for the benefit of every annoying situation. It's a big job for a guy like me who leans toward the negative, but I'm working on it. Here's an example.

The river continues to stay high; in fact it's raising. Lots of drift getting in the way. Annoying; it makes boating difficult and keeps the fishnet on land; if I put it in, the net fills up with sticks, debris, etc. (I caught a forty foot tree right before I took it out).

The benefit; high water brings driftwood (useable for firewood) and allows access to areas that would otherwise be unreachable; making more driftwood available.

So, starting tomorrow, I will begin hauling wood in earnest before the water drops (more complaints from the ol' body on the way; Thank the good Lord for naproxin).

The coming fishing season looks pretty grim. All the projections indicate a very low king salmon run. I'm not sure how they figure that stuff out, since the kings are currently swimming around in the Bering Sea somewhere, but I guess the experts know what they're doing. We'll see in a month.

Ooooo, gotta go. My sweetie just presented me with a plate of sausage, eggs and hash browns to go with my rapidly cooling coffee.


(the photo was taken in California a couple of months ago; I find it a nice diversion from our situation here; no flowers and barely any leaves yet).

Monday, May 25, 2009


Summer is now cruising along at full speed. The river has been ice-free for a while (now if all the "drift" would clear out, it would be great), the birds are all here and the mosquitoes are amassing their evil army; preparing for the main assault; there are daily mosquito sorties in search of blood, but the real war has yet to start.

I put in a fish net a couple of days ago; across the river at the slough. An otter was waiting for me when I arrived. He (or she) swam around my boat with a cheerful, expectant expression; no doubt knowing why I was there and anticipating the piscatorial bounty soon to come. I swear that thing looked like it was smiling, but then the bald eagle perched up in the tree would have smiled too if it could bend its beak into a grin. Every one has seafood on their mind.

A couple days later:
The fishing has been OK; some whitefish, a few pike and three small sheefish. Each day the otter has taken his toll, imposed upon all who would fish these waters; one large pike per day. Remembering previous otter encounters, I withold complaint; it's not uncommon for otters to destroy numerous fish by ripping open the bellies in search of eggs or fat entrails. If this aquatic Mafioso is content to extort only one fish per day we can get along. The head was left in the net so I toss it up on the bank under the watchful eye of the eagle. The next day the head is gone.

Subsistence fishing can be an exercise into politics. The key is to keep every one happy; keep the otter happy, keep the eagle happy, keep local elders happy, keep Fish and Game happy, and, hopefully, keep myself happy. It's a bit of a juggling act, but doable (usually).

I enjoy the ride over, in this pleasant weather. Geese and Swans on the backside of the island, Kingfishers swooping and chattering in the slough, peace and serenity when the boat motor is off. The near abscence of bugs makes these days idyllic.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"The Robin"; 5-18-09

Have you ever heard a robin sing?

I'm not talking about a bird going "Tweet, Tweet" while sitting on your back fence. Not even close. I mean have you ever heard one SING?

Hatched in the wilds of Alaska, reared under constant threat from predators and nasty weather, our robin learns to fly under a midnight sun. And fly he must, for after a short summer he and his kind leave this northern land and make the arduous journey south. Life gives them no option. The northern winter offers a bleak prospect for most birds; few can survive the intense cold and limited food available after freeze-up.

So he travels thousands of miles to a friendlier climate; a climate found in places like...well, I don't know. If you see robins in your area during the winter months you know where they go. All I know is they clear out before things get ugly.

Months later, our robin feels the urge to pack his feathered suitcase and hit the road. Perhaps he sees others of his kind getting antsy. Maybe he looks at the ducks and geese flying overhead and he wonders where they're off to. In truth, I suspect it's little more (and nothing less) than the Creater of all living things irresistibly calling him to fulfil his purpose.

So he takes off and heads north. He wings his way through spring storms, past crowded cities and desolate wilderness, he dodges greedy falcons wanting to feast on his famous red breast, and he goes on and on...and on.

Eventually he shows up here. Is he tired? I have no clue. I do know he must look for food in a forest that still has patches of snow on the ground; where overnight frost is to be expected. Don't these guys pull worms out of the ground like I remember seeing in books I read as a child? Well not here they don't. The ground is usually still frozen...and I've never seen an earthworm in the fifteen years I've lived here. So what do they eat? Beats me.

The weather warms, the snow melts, the ground thaws and the land comes to life. Something stirs in the heart of our little friend. He has purpose that comes clearly into focus. The many thousand mile journey, the hardship, the danger; all these are forgotten. Now he lives in the moment. Only one thing is on his tiny little mind...ROMANCE!

Our little guy must find a mate; he simply MUST! Failure is not an option. To justify all he's been through; to validate his existence, he must find the robinette of his dreams. HE MUST FIND HER!

But what can he do? He can't log on to e-harmony. He can't join the singles group at a nearby church. And he would never hang out at a local bar. His options are few. So he uses the one and only tool in his toolbox; made expressly for him. Brilliantly and beautifully designed for this purpose, it's been tried, tested and proven by his innummerable ancestors.

He draws in a deep breath, lifts his head high...and lets it rip!

Ahhhhh yes! That's what I'm talking about! Can you hear it now? THAT, my friend, is a robin singing!

Few things are more delicate, more lovely, more inspiring. When that half-pound Pavarotti takes his place on the branch and yodels out his love-sick song, the world becomes a better place. Depression is lifted and troubles are forgotten. There is no finer music to be heard. I'm a true Andrea Bocelli fan, but compared to a lonely robin Bocelli is a barking dog.

So sing it little guy! Sing your heart out. We're listening. And somewhere out there, so is she.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


It looks as though the "monster" has been touted a bit too highly. It is now a toothless beast (think the abominable snow man in the old "Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer" classic).

The head honcho for the weather service/river Watch Team was here yesterday and he gave us good news. A heavy run of ice and higher water levels were in store, but it was all clear sailing for a hundred miles down river. That, coupled with the state of the coming ice (small in size, well crushed) gave a promising outlook; promising as far as remaining above water.

Ahhhhhh! Goodnews indeed.

After the ice clears the river will be suitable and safe for boating. Around here that is the official beginning of summer. Well...that AND the arrival of the mosquitoes (I saw one earlier but remain unbitten so far; a record sure to come to an end shortly).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

breakUpdate; 5-12-09

I spoke with the weather service today. The news was not good. There is a monster coming down river. It's the break-up equivalent of an ocean tidal wave and has already flooded numerous villages (did you look up those pics?) It's currently wreaking havoc on the village of Tanana. In a couple of days we will be served up as table fare for this hungry beast. I'll keep in touch. The videos show some sizeable icebergs cruising the waters in front of our town. One was large enough to carry a Wal-Mart (OK, maybe not a Wal-Mart; how about a corner deli. Mmmm, a hot pastrami sandwhich sounds pretty good right now)

Monday, May 11, 2009

breakUPdate; 5-11-09

"RING-RING"..."Ice is running; moving fast"...check the clock; 4:30am...back to sleep...get up...check the river...water up four feet from last cruising by...spectators...excitement...anticipation...lots of activity...vehicles bustling divided into two groups; the majority (living out of the flood zone) enjoying the novelty and excitement...the others (living in the way of the rising waters) scared...worried...packing...moving...continually looking over their shoulder...water still rising...

Saturday, May 9, 2009

breakUPdate; 5-09-09 (late evening)

Well, actually nothing is moving. In fairly typical fashion, our ice moved down about a mile or two, then stopped. And STOPPED it remains.

We have a small area of open water right along our bank, but boating is out of the question. If the ice started to move with a boat in the water, it would be trapped and quickly crushed. Unless you aspire to star in your own version of "Titanic", it's better to wait for break-up to run its course.

No doubt it will get moving again in a day or two, but for now break-up is on hold.

Friday, May 8, 2009

"We're moving"; 5-08-09, pm

The ice has moved. It moved down a mile or so and is now parked. Updates will come as things develop. (Did you check out the Eagle pics? If not you missed some really interesting stuff)

breakUPdate; 5-08-08

Still waiting...for the ice to move, that is. Something has happened at every village upriver, so we should be next in line.

The water continues to rise. Makes you wonder how long the ice can maintain it's grip on the shore before it breaks free and slides away. Gotta be soon.

The photos show how much the water has risen over the past 3-4 days.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Break-up; 5-07-09

This big 'ol river is shedding it's skin like a snake. It works about the same too. Starting up at the headwaters, the river uses friction to remove the "skin" of ice which has confined it for half a year. As the river makes it's serpentine journey to the sea, it struggles to free itself, and free it will be.

Break-up is a violent process. Gravity, arctic cold, friction, solar energy, billions of gallons of water in motion, rigid ice many feet thick; these are some of the players that get involved. It gets chaotic sometimes.

Gravity pulls on the water, but the water is restricted by the ice. The ice is the month's long result of the arctic cold. But now the sun has jumped into the free-for-all and things are heating up. The ice starts to decay. Snow pack melts and makes it's way into the river system, increasing the flow of water and adding strain on the ice. The ice cracks, bends, lifts, but holds on as long as possible. You can actually hear it groaning and making noise right now.

The fight continues until the ice is overwhelmed. It loses it's grip on the riverbank and slips; usually moving only a short distance before the fight resumes. The wrestling match continues to tip in favor of the opposition (ice, cold and friction on one side; water, gravity, more friction and the sun on the other) until the ice crumbles and is swept downstream.

But it's not over! The ice has on last punch and it won't go down without a fight. The "Jam"!

The "crumbled" ice can still be in sheets measurable in acreage and strong enough to carry huge trees and other debris (I've seen a photo of a large moose floating along on the ice; it looked very tiny in the picture). The moving ice has trouble going around bends or negotiating places where the river bank constricts the flow. That often creates an "ice-jam"; damming up the moving water. This in turn causes flooding behind the jam.

Spring flooding is a common occurence along the river. The town of Eagle is getting pounded pretty hard right now; ice bergs floating through their town tends to make things ugly. If you google "Eagle, Alaska" or a Fairbanks or Anchorage paper, you'll probably find some interesting photos (I still haven't had time to figure out the whole "link" thing; someday maybe).

So right now, the river here is at the "ice lifting, water raising, but nothing has moved yet" stage. In the next couple of days it will move down and stop; a couple days later things should really start rolling. That's when it gets interesting because the flood danger is present.

I'll try to keep you informed as we go.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


O.K., I got an early morning phone call regarding the previous post. Here's the deal. A few weeks ago I was sitting around goofing off and just made up the story; my attempt at "fiction", I suppose. Yesterday I posted it to see if any one found it interesting, just for fun.

It's not about any one here (though there are numerous parallels). If you don't like it, or (as my wife feels) if you hate the unfinished ending, what can I say? I figured it was relevant to life here / northerneye. Enough said.

Monday, May 4, 2009

"He went walking"; 5-05-09

He went walking, hoping to forget the past.

He awoke with the echoes of last night's whiskey resounding loudly through his body. The sick feeling in his stomach and the ache between the ears kept him from eating breakfast; kept him from even desiring it. He washed his face, drank some water and started to dress.

He was wearing the briefs and undershirt he had slept in. He over these he put on long underwear and heavy wool pants. Then the red plaid flannel shirt his sister had given him at Christmas, followed by three pairs of hand knit socks; the gaudy yellow ones, the brown, then the green striped; always in that order. Over these he pulled canvas boots his Auntie had made, with the moosehide soles and beaver trim at the top, and tied them snugly.

The brown wool sweater next. He always felt comfortable in that sweater so wearing it today made sense. His down parka over the top, zipped up. Grabbing his beaver hat and yellow cotton gloves, he headed out the door.

As he passed through the porch, he stopped, looking down at the floor. He stood there for half a minute; thinking, not moving. Then with a sigh he reached up on the high shelf and grabbed the .22 pistol. He knew it was loaded and looked at it soberly, then stuffed it into a large, inside pocket. Opening the porch door, he stepped outside.

Overcast skies with a light snow drifting down. It had the look of heavier snow coming. That would be good.

Somewhere up the road a chainsaw was laboring its way through a log. From the sound of it, probably Charlie. "He'll never sharpen that thing" he mumbled to himself, shaking his head with a frown.

He turned left and walked the frozed dirt road leading out to the river bank. Past the last house; the vacant frame house with the weathered siding and boarded up windows, remnants of decades old yellow paint clinging stubbornly to the gray wood, he caught the breeze coming upriver.

To the south the sky was much darker. No doubt about it, a heavy snow was coming. Maybe the storm would arrive before the Troopers. That would give him more time to decide. No, probably not. He turned back for the house.

He went around to the back of the house and grabbed the snowshoes hanging on the wall. Carrying these under his arm he took the trail leading to the slough. Angie's little white dog barked at him as he went by, like it always did. He lunged at it, as he frequently did when he walked by, and the scared dog dove into it's house, growling. Laughing, he walked on. The dog sprung out again, barking. Some things never change.

At the slough he slipped on the snowshoes, stepped out into the deep snow and moved on toward the trees on the other side. The tracks would tell the story of where he went, unless the storm did its work and covered them before the Troopers arrived. Either way, no one would be coming after him; they'd all just wait 'till he came back.

He smiled. He knew he wasn't coming back

Sunday, May 3, 2009

5-03-09; "Your move"

Yesterday I was slogging through some of the mundane details of life; janitorial work in a small public building. The menu for the afternoon included vacuuming, mopping, a basic bathroom make-over, taking out the trash, etc. I was in the midst of my "etc" course when he walked in.

"What's up....?"

"Not much; just cleanin' up. What are you doin'?"

"Headin' downtown"

After a few more pleasantries we steered the conversation in a direction of substance. He noticed a few photos taken last month while beaver trapping. That was the catalyst.

"I used to go trapping with my Grampa." He said with a far off look in his eyes. He was wearing the hours-old look of marijuana, not uncommon for him, but this was different. Well aware of his past, I moved ahead.

"I know. I knew your Grampa pretty good...used to see him out all the time; getting wood...checking his He was always doing something."

"Yeah. That was my Grampa."

We talked about it; all the outdoor skills his Grampa possessed and how he tried to pass them on.

"You know, he taught you those things for a reason."

"Yeah...I should get back into that stuff."

"Umm hmm." (Sometimes saying less is saying more, so I was letting his own words sink in. He was working on it.)

After a few moments I cautiously made a few points; things like...

"Your Grampa wouldn't be happy if he knew you weren't doing the things he taught you"


"He wouldn't want you to just lay around doing weed all the time"


"A good way to show your respect for him would be to carry on the ways he showed you"

...I proceeded carefully here; very carefully. I've known him for over a decade so I knew how far I could go, and when to stop.

We said good bye and he continued on his way. I gave him what he needed to hear. He listened. Now it's up to him. The ball's in his court.