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!

Break-up; 5-10-10

The ice "moved" late yesterday afternoon. After "running" for a few hours it stopped, and remains so.

Now we wait.

We will not know if there will be flood until the ice runs for a day or two and the break-up "front" has moved further down river.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Break-up; 5-9-10

The river ice is spoiling fast, like over-ripe fruit in the hot sun. Any day (any moment) the increasing force of the rising water level will overcome the dying ice. Losing its grip on the shoreline, the ice will be forced into motion, carried along on the current. And that, officially, will be "break-up" on the river.

When the ice crumbles and flushes out, the open water / boating season will begin, completing the transition from cold, white winter into warm (relatively speaking), green summer.

Local inhabitants are as anxious for the new season as the migrating waterfowl, passing overhead daily. Cranes, geese, ducks and swans are all looking down upon this riverside community as they move along the sky way, eagerly intent upon reaching their summer homes. More feathered travelers arrive throughout the region hourly; eagles and ospreys, swallows and swifts. Even my dear friends, the robins.

Time to get the boat ready for a busy season of fishing and firewood. But the ice must go first.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sign of the Apocalypse? 5-4-10

April 1, 2010:
A man living in N. California, his house adjacent to a forested State Park, relates the story of a wild "boar" (it may have been a "sow"; no one actually determined the gender of the swine) crashing through his sliding glass door and pursuing his cat around the kitchen. 

No word was given on how the swine was eventually removed from the premises. Did the pig leave in the same way, did it opt to go out the front entrance, or did the man put the pork in the oven for dinner?  Questions that remain unanswered.

What we do know...

-His house was attacked by a wild animal, and
-It happened on the 1st of April.

You may suspect a foolish motive here, but I know the man personally; he tends NOT to play the jester.

May 3, 2010:
After two weeks of Milwaukee Bucks fans chanting their "Fear the Deer" slogan during the first round of the NBA play-offs, the mascot lives up to the hype.

Two deer plunge through the front door on a restaurant and run amok while local patrons are watching their favorite (and "deerest") team battle on the hardwood. Eventually the deer are subdued and returned to the wild, but they made their point. Bambi lives!

(I'm not making this stuff up)

March, 2010:
A local school teacher in Chignik Lake Alaska is out for run a mile or two from town. She is pursued by wolves and attacked. After a considerable struggle she is killed and eaten by 2-3 wolves; confirmed by Alaska State Troopers.

Date...yet to be determined:
A pale horse, whose rider is "Death" and followed closely by "Hades" are given power over a fourth of the earth, " kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth."

...and I live in Alaska???

Monday, April 26, 2010

"My goose is NOT cooked..."; 4-26-10

...yet, but it is in the pot.

Spring, just before break-up, is geese season in rural Alaska. Oh sure, local people get a few geese in the fall when most waterfowl hunters throughout North America are thinking about ducks and geese, but around here, spring is the real season for honkers, speckle bellies and snow geese.

Two days ago a guy stopped by, hoping to "borrow" some 12 gauge shotgun shells. He was on his way out to the favored hunting area; a good place to get moose in the fall, wolves and wolverines in winter, and geese,

I handed him half a box

"You want a goose, if I get some?"

"Sure, that would be great."

Honestly, I never expected to receive anything after the words; empty promises are as numerous as mosquitoes in summer.

"Have a good trip, and be careful".

Today there was a knock on the door.

"Come in!"

The door opens. In comes a Canadian suspended by a man's hand, followed by his arm, then the rest of his body. A subtle smile is on his face. (the smile is on the man's face; who seems to be enjoying the moment more than the goose)

"Here's a nice Honker for you" he says, unknowingly reminding me that some people DO keep their promises.

"Wow. Nice goose. Thanks a lot!"

I spent an hour sitting on a stump, enjoying a beautiful spring day while plucking my goose.

Warm sunshine and  a gentle breeze sighing through the tree tops. Birds tweeting their approval of the weather, anticipating the coming season of plenty. And a car cruising the area with Michael Jackson music blaring out an open window. The whole experience was kind of like "Village Alaska meets Hollywood".

Just exactly who is "Billy Jean" anyway?

Friday, April 23, 2010

4-23-10; Oddities

A few "new" things happened yesterday.

-I heard my first goose of the season. Geese return to Interior Alaska every April, usually when the snow has begun to melt but before break-up. A solitary white fronted / "speckle belly" was winging his (her) way along up high, calling for a friend.

-I saw an eagle. They are usually about the first migratory birds to arrive and the last to leave in the fall. The one in the photo was sitting on the river ice accompanied by an annoying raven; two species that have no great love for each other.

-I got my first mosquito bite of the year. Ridiculous! We still have snow laying everywhere. Hope this is not an indicator of a bad bug year.

And one last bit of "strange" news. A couple of days ago my little Pomeranian ran off. He escaped through an open door and began his version of a road trip, visiting all the neighbors. He got only as far as across the road before trouble struck.

I found him with his fur tangled on a "sticker bush" (the thorny stalk of a wild rose), hopelessly restrained and barking for help. Some dog, huh? Gets over powered by a wildflower and needs to be rescued. I was just happy that he did not get run over, since he his quite deaf and would never hear the truck/snow machine/4 wheeler coming.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rain; 4-19-10

Wow, that looks weird. But it's a good weird.

Laying in bed I thought I heard a strange sound. Was it wind blowing? Hard to tell in my groggy, semi-slumber state, but sleep can be elusive so I didn't investigate further.

Now it's morning and a look out the window reacquaints me with an old friend I haven't seen for months...Mr. Rain.

Rain is something of a "snow bird". With the onset of winter he packs his bags and heads south in search of warmer temps. I suppose the harsh cold of the Alaskan winter is a bit much for him.

Yet he does not leave us in a meteorological vacuum; his cousin, Mr. Snow always seems to move into Rain's recently vacated premises. Snow has been our...friend?...tenant?...guest? about companion. Snow has been our companion for these past six months. We've enjoyed the time together, but half a year is a long visit; now its time to go.

The problem, this year as every year, Snow never wants to leave. He's like that annoying uncle you see in old movies; the guy who comes for a "visit", makes himself at home and quickly takes over. He'll soon wear out his welcome but it never seems to bother him a bit; he's having a great time and could stay forever. Only problem is, every one else would like to get him out the door. But how?

One hundred and eighty days of winter is fine for us, but when the sun proclaims the arrival of spring, with warmer temps and longer days, we are ready for the transition into summer; eagerly anticipating the change.

I guess Snow never got the memo. He's been spreading himself around like he has no plans on leaving. A fine way to repay our hospitality.

Last fall we welcomed him with open arms, as we do every year. We gave him run of the house and told him to settle in and make himself comfy. We were glad he'd come. We couldn't get enough of him. He just seemed to make life so much better.

But now it would be nice for him to think about moving on. We've been cleaning up after him for half a year, and it's getting a little tiresome. It's spring! He should be packing up and preparing to leave. But not this year. Most days this April he's been acting like he just arrived; dumping his stuff all over.

Frankly, we're all really tired of it!

So when his cousin, Mr. Rain arrived during the night and surprised us this morning, we were happy to see him. Snow wasn't, but we were. We know he'll eventually get Snow  headed down the road. Even now they're outside arguing; one minute Rain is cleaning up Snow's mess, then Snow is at it again, scattering his junk all over.

That's OK, we can wait. It's just a matter of time now.

(there are NO flowers, nor are there green plants, but the photo of the flower was irresistible!)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Morning": 4-6-10

I love this time; this time on the clock and this time on the calendar. Early morning, springtime in Alaska. In a way it's redundant.

Spring symbolizes the coming year, like a young child, eager and fresh, unblemished, full of possibilities.

Early morning is the same thing for the coming day. It's a fresh start with "a clean slate". Previous difficulties, like yesterday's "pain in the neck" are past. So are the failures, the wasted time and lack of accomplishment. All distant memories.

The "good stuff" of yesterday? Also history. No living on past laurels or previous paychecks; it's time to move forward, to step out into an uncertain future full of possibilities...again.

But I didn't intend to get philosophical, I just like the quiet of the morning. It's nice to be up before the world gets out of bed and starts making noise. The cliches about cities that  never sleep are true (just go outside and listen), but rural villages usually do. They can stay up really late, but often there is a brief time between the last gasp of the late night party-goers and the first stirring of the early risers.

This is that time, when the village is quiet, at peace. The seemingly incessant sounds of the community are conspicuously absent. Not a vehicle motor to be heard. Not a dog barking. Nothing. Just a peaceful serenity laying over the settlement like a cozy blanket.

For a while, any way. The early morning plane just landed, on its way to Fairbanks. Then the school bus rumbled by; tire chains on the icy road suggest the passing of a tank or dozer. This peaceful party is over. Time to rise and shine, get busy and make noise.

Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"The Wind Blows..."; 3-24-10

Spring in Alaska; a seasonal label liberally applied, more in reference to the page(s) of the calendar than to the weather itself. March, especially the second half, is the beginning of "Spring". Longer days, increasing intensity of sunlight, and, usually, warmer temperatures.

"Spring" will last through April into May. The end of Spring is always "Break-up"; that uniquely northern season wedged between "Spring" and "Summer". When the snow is melted, the ground thawed and muddy, waterways swollen and river ice on the move, summer is just around the bend. But I'm getting ahead of myself; two seasons ahead.

Now is Spring. Temps are usually above zero (though a return to minus twenty is possible) with few clouds (if any) and lots of wind.

Today I was thinking about Jesus' words to Nicodemas regarding wind; specifically the part about hearing its sound without knowing from where it comes or goes; an illustration He used to explain spiritual birth to the confused religious leader.

March wind around here can surely be heard, gusting with force. And it can be felt. And I think I know where it comes from...out of the north. Spring wind always blows down river, and it feels like it comes directly from the North Pole, 'cause it's a bitter, frigid gale. The local dialect has a phrase for this season; roughly translated it means "...when our feet are always cold". Very appropriate, especially thinking back a couple of generations when people spent so much time outdoors.

Yesterday I was hauling firewood (yes, more firewood; this IS Alaska, remember) with my snow machine. Traveling through the woods wasn't too bad because the trees block the wind, but crossing the river was like running a gauntlet. The wind attacked without mercy, probing for the slightest opening through the many insulating layers of clothing. And it will find any gap, no matter how slight. When it does, you must immediately make a wardrobe adjustment or frostbite will result. Face and wrists seem to be the most vulnerable.

As I endured the crossing, the river appeared to be blanketed by twenty feet of fog. Wind driven snow was creating a slight "ground blizzard" under a perfectly clear sky. If there had been more loose snow to be carried on the wind, visibility would have dropped way down. The video (from last year) doesn't accurately portray the full effect, but you get the idea.

Actually, the video doesn't portray anything, since I can't get it posted. Bummer! Well, you'll just have to imagine. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Amazing dogs; March 17, 2010

The Iditarod Sled Dog Race came through our town. And now it has gone, moving on down the trail like the teams that make this race possible.

For several days the checkpoint was a very busy place. Sixty or more mushers, with teams averaging ten to twelve dogs; some as few as eight, some as many as fourteen, one even with all sixteen that he started the race with eight days earlier. That makes for a total of about 750 dogs.

Add to that: checkpoint staff, volunteers, vets, media, spectators, a race judge, trail breakers, trail sweeps, looky-loos milling around in the way, kids playing, drunks intoxicated people being obnoxious, planes buzzing overhead and stray dogs looking for goodies like Templeton at the fair.

It can be several days of chaos.

My job is to help bring order into this chaos. The list of responsibilities I must assume include: finding a parking space for each team, getting them their food, supplies and straw (for bedding), answering questions, raking up and hauling away used straw, hauling water, keeping the fire going (to heat the water), maintaining a ready supply of firewood (to keep the fire going, to heat the water), scooping up a thousand piles of dog poop (diarrhea is NOT appreciated), ferrying people, equipment and dropped dogs up to the airstrip and loading them on planes, hauling trash to the dump, keeping kids out of trouble, keeping drunks intoxicated people from making trouble, keeping the looky-loos and their vehicles out of the way, fixing things that break, replacing things that disappear...

I guess, basically, I spend a fair amount of time thinking for people who don't seem to think very well on their own and doing things for others.

Right now I'm pretty tired, so pardon me if I seem a bit grumpy. You may have noticed some things absent from the list of things I've been doing lately;
-Sleep; I did not get much of it.
-Eating; Like sleep, regular meals are rare during the race.
-Rest; Same as above.

But today all that is in the past; a not-so-distant memory.

The highlight of the race for me? After a couple days of an increasingly cramped up back, I was shuffling around like an eighty year old Quasimodo, half expecting to hear some one shout "Old dude, where is your bell?" So I finally went home, took a hot shower, ate a decent meal, dropped an out-of-date pain killer and slept for nearly eight hours, which totaled more than the previous two nights combined. I awoke feeling more refreshed than I have in years, literally!

But this race is not about mushers or exhausted checkpoint help; it's about the dogs. And the dogs ROCK!

They haul their load for a thousand, miles across the wildest country in North America, through extreme conditions. This year they were confronted with minus thirties and forties, gale force winds, drifting snow in some places and not enough in others, three  mountain ranges, and other challenges. They dealt with exhaustion, dehydration, sickness, stress, and around the checkpoints they faced another hazard...people.

Intoxicated and inept drivers make villages a dangerous place. Snow machiners can (and have) run into teams, injuring or even killing dogs. Village cars and trucks are equally dangerous on local icy roads, especially after dark, when most teams are traveling.

But by now the race has been won (Lance Mackey, again) and more teams continue to cross the finish line in Nome. Really, an amazing feat of strength, endurance and perseverance. Regardless of who the official winner is, all are victorious. Even teams that were forced to scratch should be commended for their effort.

So, sled dogs, I salute you! Wether you completed the race and made it to Nome, or dropped out along the way, you are a courageous breed. Your musher may get all the attention, but you and I know who the real heroes are. As you nibble on your piece of frozen fish and regain your strength, bask in the glow of a job well done!

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8, 2010


Wow! What a busy time.

A lot going on right now. People in our region of rural Alaska are:
-hauling firewood with snow machines (while you still can)
-trapping beaver
-hunting wolves and wolverines
-ice fishing for pike
-finishing up basketball season
-getting ready for spring carnivals
-enjoying the "nice weather" (10-15 below this AM; sunny)
-other stuff, and lots of it

Spring (which is March, April, even early May; until break-up) is a transition; here, like elsewhere. The winter season is drawing to a close. As it does, winter activities and modes of travel go with it. Snow machine season is entering its final stage. When the "sno-go" is put away, access into the wild country made possible only by snow machine will go with it. That's why firewood hauling, trapping, furbearer hunting, ice fishing and a lot of other subsistence activities are top priority right now. In a few weeks the window of opportunity closes.

But the bright, sunny, windy days of spring bring some special times too. "Spring Carnivals", having nothing to with elephants, clowns or cotton candy, happen in spring. Carnivals usually feature an assortment of village relevant events; such as snow shoe races, snow machine races, and my personal races.

The Grandaddy of all dog races also take place in March. In fact, it started yesterday. The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is now underway! This race is generally considered the "Super Bowl" of dog races, attracting contestants and spectators from around the world. I suggest you check it out. Regular updates and more info may be found at their site. It's good stuff.

More on Iditarod later.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Phantom Feline; 2-11-10

Another trip to the woodyard today. Cut down a couple of trees (standing dead spruce), removed the limbs (via axe and sinew) and cut them into blocks; length determined by my woodstove.

A couple of days ago a wolf passed by. His (or her) tracks told the story of a brief visit. He came out of the woods, walked down the trail for, maybe, twenty yards, then back into the woods. Trudging through deep snow clearly requires more effort than strolling along a packed trail, so there was a reason for the quick return into the seclusion of the forest.

A list of possibilities would include: detection of a lingering scent (mine would do it), the sound of an approaching snow machine (maybe mine, maybe some one else cruising down the nearby lake), or something else I can only imagine.

Perhaps this "lone wolf", an outcast with no pack of his own, heard the far-off howling of another wolf. Realizing he was in hostile territory and wanting to avoid a deadly confrontation, he skulked off into the shadows, tail between legs. That's my version, anyway.

But this post is about a cat, not a dog. The photo shows the overnight tracks of a lynx. This kitty has been prowling the vicinity of the woodyard for a couple of weeks now. I believe spring is the mating season so perhaps the tabby is hunting a mate to go along with the snowshoe hares, spruce grouse and ptarmigan he (more likely a she, based on foot size) is seeking while creeping through the willows.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"What's a man to do?"

My dilemma, staring me in the face like an angry Rotweiller, is the decision of what to

My morning agenda is was to drive the snow machine out to the woodyard, cut some trees and haul a couple of loads of firewood. But now??? Perhaps I should back up.

It started last night; well it really started a couple of years ago, but we'll begin with last night.

I had a bit of spare time before I was to cook dinner. While pondering the evening menu I got a hankering for something yummy; something...chocolatey! That, naturally, led me straight to the container or Ghirardelli "Sweet Ground Chocolate". (If you are not familiar with the afore mentioned delicacy, I will not attempt to explain it here; words alone can't get it done. If you are familiar with it, words are superfluous; enjoy my friend, enjoy! Life is good with Ghirardelli by your side. Mmmmmmmmm!)

Where was I? Oh. So I decided to make some "brownies". (I put it in quotations because "brownies" is the name most of the poor, ignorant masses of this world would assign to the resulting masterful creation, made possible ONLY by the use of G.S.G.C., confusing this exceptional gastronomical delight with the mundane brown baked product originating from a "Duncan Hines" or "Hersheys" box.).

I won't divulge the recipe here. If you are able to obtain a container of G.S.G.C. for yourself, and I strongly recommend you do, you will find the recipe there. If not, the formula is worthless without the essential ingredient anyway. 

So I made them. And they were good. No; they were GOOD! No, that still doesn't do justice. They were...TOTALLYAWESOMELYOUTSTANDINGLYDELICIOUS!!! Yeah, I think that about says it.

These are simply "the world's best brownies", and I'm not too shy to say it. So when my 14 year old friend came by last night I told him so, right to his face, as soon as he stepped through my door. He gave me a weird, confused look in return. Apparently he was not convinced, the poor boy. He obviously had never had the gastronomical delight originating from a container of G.S.G.C.

"Have a seat at the table, boy" I commanded with authority. Never let it be said that I had a fresh batch (well, by now a couple were missing) of "the world's best brownies" and would not share with a lad lacking experience in the higher levels of chocolate comsumption.

He looked even more confused as I pulled out the chair and motioned with my hand for him to sit. Then he saw them. No doubt, by now the aroma had also penetrated his previously dull senses. A smile spread across his face as he settled into his seat, rubbed his hands together and readied himself for what was coming. 

About half way through, with chocolate smearing his cheek and crumbs falling (crumbs he would later retrieve; these are too valuable to be wasted) he admitted "they're definitely better than Martha's (his step-mom).

But that wasn't good enough. I persisted, with my wife giving me disapproving looks from across the room. Surely taste would prevail and this young lad would have the revelation which relegates boxed brownie mixes to be left on store shelves; unpurchased and unloved.

"Well? Was I right? Have you ever had a better 'brownie?'"

"Nope. Those are pretty good." (Remember his youthful age, so he has trouble really expressing himself)

Ahhhh; now I could relax and go back to...what ever it was I was doing. And so could he. We parted ways, both happy and content.

That was last night, but it is TODAY in which I have the dilemma. I have just finished my coffee and the final two (dare I say three) servings of the world's best brownies. (Alas, I always feel that certain sorrow which comes when the pan is empty). As I said, my plan was to load up and head out to fall trees, cut wood and haul it home, shoring up my shrinking firewood pile.

But now? My stomach feels like a shopping cart overloaded with holiday baking supplies during a half-off sale. I picture myself as a giant anaconda who just swallowed Sara Lee, Betty Crocker and the Pillsbury Doughboy (except I just googled him and it appears he died a while back, apparently from a rampant yeast infection and complications from repeated blunt force trauma to the belly, but I digress)

So, I suppose I'll proceed as planned. It won't be easy to slither ahead into a winter wilderness with a belly full of cooking icons, but we must do what we must do.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Two men in the wilderness; 1-15-10

Two men traveled in the wilderness. Both were driving snow machines. Both making their way along the same winter trail. They did not travel together.

The first man enjoyed the pleasant day and the solitude of traveling alone. He had hopes of finding the wolverine which had passed this way a few days earlier. He was familiar with this trail; traveling here most every day, hauling firewood to heat his home or to sell to others. He knew every turn. He knew where the trail drops suddenly down the steep bank onto the frozen lake, where it makes the hard left around the old stump, where it winds its way through the patch of standing dead spruce trees. As the cliche says, "he knows this trail like the back of his hand"; he's that familiar with it.

Which is why the fallen tree across the trail seemed so...rude. He travels this trail all the time. Now, suddenly, with no advance warning, the way is blocked. Last night's wind, accompanied by the sub-zero weather, had snapped a medium sized spruce tree off at the stump. Like a military road block in a war torn nation, the tree barred his way, commanding him to "HALT!". There were no rebels armed with AK-47's. No camo fatigues adorned with hanging grenades. No helmets, berets or floppy hats. But the effect was the same. His way was blocked.

Yet this was not the first time a tree had fallen across the trail. In such cases, the traveler must turn his snow machine around and go back, unless he happened to be carrying a chainsaw. With a saw, the roadblock is quickly removed, the insurgents are disarmed and sent scurrying into the forest, and the way is open for all to pass freely.

But the first man did not have a saw. He did carry with him an axe; all prudent travelers in this winter northern wilderness do. He looked at the tree and mentally considered the work necessary to chop through the log, twice, in order to remove a section blocking the trail. Hmmmm. A considerable effort would be needed. He didn't want to turn around and he didn't want to chop through the obstacle. Hmmmm. Maybe there was a third option.

The tree had fallen upon uneven ground. Small humps in the earth were holding the tree suspended over the trail. If he tried, he might be able to lift up on the log and quickly drive the snow machine under it. It looked possible. Hmmmm. The windshield might get broken as it was forced down going under the log; a strong possibility, but no matter. The snow machine had been battered before.

He lifted the log, drove the machine under, cracked his windshield, added to it's growing assortment of "battle scars" and proceeded down the trail.

Along comes our second man. He too is halted at the rebel road block. Like the first, he does not possess a chainsaw but does have an axe. Just as his predecessor, he mentally assesses the work required to chop through the log. Hmmmm. "It won't be an easy task. The tree is green and frozen, so it will be hard to chop, and heavy. If I try to go under it, I'll break my windshield". Hmmmm.

The second man kills the engine and slowly gets off his machine. Anticipating the work ahead, he removes his parka, exchanges his heavy mitts for a pair of lighter gloves and grabs his axe. Deliberately, like a batter stepping up to the plate, he moves into position. After trimming the limbs out of his way, he swings his axe down upon the log; a motion he will repeat dozens, perhaps hundreds of times.

Eventually, the sweating man dries his brow, dons his parka and mitts (though feeling hot he knows he will cool quickly on the moving machine) and continues on his way.

So why does one man evade a challenging obstacle, even when doing so causes him harm, and another man accept it? Is there a connection between how a man faces a log across the trail and how he lives his life? Hmmmm?

I can tell you which man has a better snow machine, but I think you already know.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another frosty day; 1-04-10

Another day out in the cold. Minus thirty-something again. This picture is the apparel equivalent of a mixed metaphor.

The hat is beaver fur. Any arctic resident will tell you nothing works in extreme cold like fur. Hey, it keeps the four legged critters warm, has since creation, so after a while the two legged ones caught on. Beaver, wolf, wolverine, rabbit, muskrat, lynx, fox and otter are just some of the fur that works in the north. Not really a win-win, since the furbearers are the losers, but the borrowed fur has kept untold humans alive in extreme cold for centuries.

The face mask is polar fleece; breathable, an efficient insulator and nearly impervious to moisture. I could remove the face mask, brush away the frost, dry it with a paper towel or hand kerchief and it would be ready to go again (although a spin in the washer is always a good idea as often as possible). Fleece is a modern innovation that has earned its place in the northern wardrobe.

The down parka kind of bridges the gap between old school fur and high tech fleece.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

just another lovely sunset

The sun setting in the south; the moon rising in the north. You shoulda been there!

Oh yeah. The other pic is of an "open hole"; an area of open water on the river that has not yet frozen. Usually they will, eventually, but open holes are obviously very dangerous. Snow machiners can (and do) accidentally drive into open holes, especially at night, resulting in death in nearly every case.

The photo of this one was taken from a well-used trail, so you can see how close the danger lies; about 100 yards off the trail.

working cold; 1-02-10

It is an interesting thing, to work hard in the outdoors when the temps are cold.

By working "hard" I mean active, physical labor, such as felling trees, carrying firewood, shoveling snow and other similar means of converting your last meal into productive activity.

"Outdoors", in this case, refers to the wide open expanse of Alaska.

And "cold" means, well...COLD. As in thirty below (+/-). As in sixty degrees of frost (+/-). As in look at the guy in the picture.

Active physical labor generates a significant amount of perspiration, along with heavy breathing. The exhalation carries with it moisture (we're all familiar with "seeing your breath" when it's cold). This moisture readily attaches itself to any nearby object, freezing on contact. The resulting frost accumulates for as long as you remain outdoors (assuming you continue to breathe) which is why men with mustaches/beards can develop facial glaciers when they are out for long periods of time. That is also one reason why smart men in these parts do not sport much facial hair (the other reason being the local inhabitants general lack of whiskers; a blessing if you ask me)

So yesterday, when the guy in the photo was out for a few hours clearing a trail, checking a beaver set and picking up a load of wood in temps that measured minus thirties, you know why he returned all frosted up.