Saturday, January 30, 2010

Moose safety tips

This is the time of year that moose get irritable and angry, so here are tips on avoiding an angwy beast.

Anyone who's had a pet rabbit knows to fear moose, since moose are giant rabbits. Take this:

and multiply it by 200, and you have a moose. Fear the giant, behooved wabbit!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP, Sun Microsystems

RIP, Sun Microsystems. I enjoyed working with you, and I met some great people with you--intelligent, big-hearted, generous, loyal, hardworking, and truly kind. My Sun friends saw me through a difficult time in my life. I will be forever grateful, and I hope the transition to being Oracle goes smoothly for them.

Yeah, check this out:

Sad, isn't it? The SJ Merc published a nice obit.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On snowmachines

Most skiers and other non-motor outdoor enthusiasts I know despise snowmachiners, but... I don't. I know I'm supposed to find them loud and obnoxious, and complain about how they ruin my peaceful and tranquil skiing, but you know what? They whiz by in like ten seconds, and that's it. If it really bothers someone so much, I think there might be an underlying nervous condition that needs to be examined. Not only that, snowmachiners sort of groom the trail for me when there is fresh, fluffy snow. They are the first to break trail on the Tanana, when I would otherwise be up to my knees in powder. Not only that, but I find that they are remarkably dexterous and can cut a large swath around me so as not to frighten or threaten me or my dogs. They can go over jumble ice and over a certain amount of brush and shrubbery, yielding the trail to us skiers. Also, the noise works in their favor... it warns me that they are coming so I don't pee myself!

Finally, I feel safer knowing that there are higher-speed travelers on the trail system. If, God forbid, I ever have an emergency, one of them could get back to the road system and call for help before I could. Now, I could never enjoy it as a hobby myself (they just look dang cold to me), but I certainly don't mind sharing the trails with them.

The only anti-snowmachine argument I can sort of buy into is the waste of gas. It's one thing to travel by snowmachine when you have to, but it does seem a waste to burn gas for a hobby. But that seems sort of hypocritical. We are all living in a place where our very existence (heating our homes, shipping up massive quantities of food and supplies, burning more gas as our cars run richer in the cold, etc) already makes our lives not very environmentally friendly. I'm not about to pull up roots and move to Florida, where I won't use any heating oil and will be able to support myself from my own garden. So I'm not about to criticize those who burn extra gas.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Things for which I've developed an appreciation since moving to Fairbanks

1) Eating meat. Sorry, veggie-heads. I still totally respect you, but I am too poor at planning to remember to soak beans every day, and I cannot forgo protein the way I used to when I lived in a warmer climate.

2) Country music. The country station pours out the the most heartwarming and least angsty stuff on the radio these days. Even when it's cliched, it's still enjoyable. Of course, I am easily emotionally manipulated and get a lump in my throat from Hallmark cards, so I'm a perfect audience. I also like the new brand of patriotism that's pervading country music. It's no more yammering about flags and eagles and beatin' up them tarr'rists. It's more about true love of our country and its best attributes. Lemonade stands and opening our hearts and wallets in the wake of natural disasters. Celebrations of multiculturalism and a braided history of America thrown into relief against stereotypical small-town hospitality. Again, I freely admit to being an easily manipulated sap, but I think it's quite wonderful.

3) Wood stoves. Aaaaaahhhh, there is nothing, absolutely nothing on earth like it. It heats the house so gently with its wonderful radiant heat. It mesmerizes the eye and cheers the spirit with its dancing orange flames. It's great for cooking soups, stews, pasta sauces, and the best darned quesadillas you will ever taste. And it's the most inexpensive, renewable, and rational form of heat. I had not thought about this before moving to Fairbanks, but now electric heaters strike me as astonishing and ridiculous. Heat is a waste product of most industrial operations. We burn stuff (coal, petroleum, etc) at the power plant to generate electricity. And this is done at great cost and low efficiency, with most of the potential energy of the burn fuel either lost as heat or just transformed into a form whose entropy is too high to be useful. How silly is it to burn something, to create electricity, and then run that precious electricity through a resistor to merely create heat? Why not just cut out the giant middleman and burn the fuel for heat directly? And here we have the lovely, lovely wood stove.

4) Firewood. I've come to learn that I am not the only person who obsesses over firewood. I remember the characteristics of each log I've split. I hold pieces of split wood to my nose and inhale the scent of wood. I admire particularly beautiful grains in the logs. When I split a particularly knotted, twisted, or otherwise challenging one, I put it aside so the next time anyone comes over, I can pull it out, show it off, and then inform them that I am getting stronger, but in the meantime can they please open the peanut butter jar for me? I also have strong opinions of what points in the fire's lifetime require which sizes of split wood, and when I want to throw in an armload of birch and when I want to throw in an armload of spruce.

I recently purchased my first firewood from somewhere else, as my stockpiles from when my land was cleared and my woods were thinned are running low, and I don't want to cut down any more of my own trees. Before this decision, I ruminated for nearly a month on the Big Question of whether to pony up an extra $25 a cord for nothing but birch. Beautiful, fragrant, straight-grained, and easy-splitting birch, low in tar and high in BTUs. I eventually decided to, and after it was delivered, I spent a good couple of hours stacking it very slowly so I could properly admire it as I went. And just when I think I am crazy for making cow eyes at a pile of firewood, I find that everyone else who splits their own wood does the same thing! I'm not crazy!

5) Husky dogs. But you knew that!

Edited to ad: The 2010 U.S. Census has begun in the Alaskan bush, with the first person counted residing in Noorvik.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The first whispers of Spring to come...

The cold spell has finally broken, and temperatures have come above 0F. The sun rises higher and higher each day, illuminating my cabin and turning from pink to yellow, a color we do not see in deep Winter. The girls and I spent yesterday morning skiing the Tanana, and this morning skiing the trails near our former home. I was more tired today and still had wood to split, so we only went as far as the Beaver Pond, and then I stood still while the girls ran laps. Then I put on their harnesses and skijored home.

Last night I had a funny experience while driving home from dinner at some friends'. I got pulled over by a highway patrolman for evidently not coming to a full and complete stop at the bottom of my other friend's road after dropping him off. The cop informed me of this, and I did not argue. Who consistently comes to full and complete stops on icy roads, eh? I was compliant and planned to accept my ticket, not argue it, and pay it in full when I got home. But then the patrolman asked if he could perform a sobriety check. I told him sure, no problem. I was perfectly sober. He then told me I had to step outside and to close the window so my dogs wouldn't get cold. I was like, eh? Huskies get cold? But what a nice cop! Anyway, so I stepped outside into the glare of the cop car's crazy beams, and he told me he'd have to pat me down for weapons, so could I please put my hands behind my back. And I dutifully stood there with my hands clasped behind my back while he patted my pockets. I had never been patted down by a cop before, certainly not on the side of the highway in the glare of a cop car's beams. I wondered what it would look like if someone I knew drove by... Maybe I'd get a badass reputation! But no-one did. The cop then shone a flashlight into my eyes and told me to look right, look left, look right, look left, and finally proclaimed me sober and sent me on my way, without giving me a ticket for rolling past the stop sign.

I like this style of police enforcement! So you see something suspicious, you find a harmless Chinese girl, you let her go. In San Jose, I would surely have gotten the ticket. Although I as surely would NOT have been checked for weapons!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My neighborhood jewel

I've just phoned up the people responsible for the Isberg Trail System to offer my services next Summer when they resume trail-building and trail maintenance. The girls and I have certainly put in our time utilizing the trails. We should contribute as well.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


"Should we bother coming downstairs, or are you going to come back upstairs in another minute because you've forgotten something else?"

"I don't believe you. I'm staying put."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

How stupid did I feel...

... that a few hours after having split wood at -35F, I saw temperatures suddenly shoot up into the single digits (negative single digits, but still...)? When the thermometer climbed to -20F I gawked. When an hour later it said -6F I almost crapped my pants. It was after dark by that point, but I could totally have only split a day's worth of wood and then waited until today to take care of the rest of the week's. Oh well. Still better this way than had temperatures NOT come up, haha.

So the girls and I went skiing today (surprise!). But I didn't take photos for you guys because I was feeling lazy, and cold-weather photo-taking is really quite a painful process. I have to stop, plant my poles in the ground, then take off my mittens. The liners of my mittens then, quite annoyingly, turn inside-out. Then I have to dig the camera out from where it is tucked into my arm pit. Then I have one or maybe two shots before the battery gets too cold and the camera dies. In my one or two shots, I may or may not get a cute photo of the girls, or a nice photo of a bit of scenery. Then I have to tuck the camera back into my arm pit, and re-align the liners of my mittens into them. The thumbs are a particular pain in the honker. So no outdoor photos today. But I can assure you, the girls are still adorable, joyful, and happy to run as fast as they can!

When I got home, though, I felt remorseful and snapped this for you:

A rare photo! The girls lounging in bed! I love how Linden sleeps with her feeties all tucked together. Millie is grooming herself.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Where do I sign up for my merit badge?

So... the split firewood pile was running low, but I didn't worry too much about it because I figured it would warm up enough to split wood soon. Besides, worst-case scenario, I could just crank up the oil stove instead.

Turns out I ran out of split wood last night, when the temperatures were still in the -30s. Dang! So this morning I cranked up the oil stove. But you know what? I hate having hot, dry air blow at me. That's one of the reasons I only barely heat my car, and bundle up instead. I detest hair dryers, and I absolutely abhor doing laundry because clothes dryers have the same effect on me--as the clothes come out, I feel like they suck all of the moisture out of my hands as I am folding them. So I thought, I could split enough wood for the weekend in 20 minutes. 20 minutes of discomfort is surely worth having a nice, toasty cabin filled with radiant heat and no hot air blowing around for the whole weekend! So I put on an extra pair of pants and my deep-discount -40 boots and headed out. Not bad. Really, not bad at all. I told myself that if any body part even started to feel cold and I knew I'd flirt with frostbite, I'd quit, but nothing did. I drank a lot of hot water with honey in between loads, but eventually filled the entire wood rack! Yay!

So now I can say I've split wood at -35. And I never intend to do so again! Next Summer, I will split two cords and be done for the entire following Winter. Yay! All I have to say now is:

1) Dang.

2) Hot water. Honey. Hot water. Honey. It's great that I can get honey for $50 a gallon from Alaska Feed.

3) Still lovin' that way-cool splitting axe of mine. And with the composite handle, my hands stay toasty-warm!

4) Dang

5) I have to pee.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How low can you go?

An interesting article, but no surprises. Everyone has his or her own comfort level. For me, it's -20F for skiing, -25F for splitting wood, -30F for running, and -40 for walking. For the girls, it's something like -90, but I do not let them decide, because they would definitely injure themselves before saying no to an outside adventure of any sort!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Warming up... a tad

It was -20F this morning when I woke up, but dropped to -25F in the half hour it took me to get dressed, drink a cup of tea and eat a banana, and bundle up for outside and cover the girls and myself with reflective doodads and blinky lights. Because it was "warmer" today, I decided to do a full run instead of just dashing to the end of the street and back. A short run--about 2.5 miles--but a full run nonetheless. The girls were crazy enthusiastic after not having decent runs for two days. They dragged me mercilessly as I hung onto their leashes with one hand and kept the other on my headlight to keep it from slipping onto my face.

You know how when sane people are awoken by their alarms, especially in the Winter, they don't spring out of bed immediately? They curse, yawn, stretch, wiggle their toes, snuggle deeper into the covers, roll over, that sort of thing? Well, guess who's not sane? Linden. She sprongs up and stands over me, wagging her tail and wearing a big grin. Her eyes are sparkling, and she's ready to take off, immediately. She runs down the stairs, then up the stairs, then down the stairs, then up the stairs. Then comes back onto the bed and puts her face. really. close. to. mine. Then smiles wider. In the meantime, Autumn, that bastion of sanity, snuggles closer to me and pretends to be asleep. Yup. A dog after my own heart. Linden makes very obvious that she was adopted.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Oh, Miner News, you are are so funny.

I checked the thermometer outside my house this morning and found it reading -35F/-37C. It's always warmer in my neck of the woods, so out of curiosity I called Dan, who read -45F/-43C. That's minus forty-five degrees, mofos, yeah, I said it.

And today, the newspaper informs us that there has been "no official 40 below temperature in Fairbanks this winter"


My sister gave me the technical term for this weather.


Here are some misc photos.

The girls get a daily paw inspection for cracked pads, broken toenails, etc.

A moose:

Here she looks veewwwy angwy (but please don't chide me for upsetting her; Dan took and sent me the photo):

Monday, January 11, 2010


It's -36F/-38C on campus, and -25F/-32C chez moi.

The girls and I still went for a short run (about 1.5 miles). They don't need booties still as they have crazy thick calluses on their paws.

Yesterday, my grey water pipe that drains out behind the cabin slowed to a trickle and nearly stopped up, even after dumping two gallons of boiling water down the drain, so I went out and cracked up the slop-glacier with a 6-lb maul.

And since I have nothing else to report today, let's look at the weather report, shall we (this is from the Ester weather report)?

My comments:

1) See? The weather is "fair"!

2) It's -29F but feels like -28F! We have such balmy conditions!

3) Humidity is 72%! That's tropical!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Photos 'round the 'hood

Went skiing today for the first time since Linden threw out her shoulder. She was acting normal again in a week, but I wanted to wait an extra week before letting her bounce around outside off leash. I definitely didn't want to risk skijoring, so I had to pay extra attention to where I was going, because I knew I'd be the one leading the way home. When the girls are not in harness, I can't read them and thus can't use them as GPSs. Anyway, thinking of you, all my four loyal readers, I dutifully tucked the camera into my armpit to snap some photos.

All of the trails at the bottom of the ridge look more or less like this, with permafrost-stunted spruce:

As you climb the ridge, there is a layer of giant spruce that block the light. Ssspookeh! Keep in mind, it's only about 400 feet from the bottom of the ridge to the top, but at our high latitude, tiny differences in altitude are pretty big.

This is why I wanted to make absolutely sure Linden was fully healed before skiing again. She is ten years old, but she bounces!

"Hurry up and take the photo so we can go!"

There are some pockets of moisture where there is lots of hoarfrost on the nekkid branches.

The top of the ridge is open and bright and cheerful, with tall trees and lots of birch.

There is a road at the top where I often see tire tracks, although I have no idea how or whether it connects to the road system.

When we got back (shortly after noon), there was sun coming in the cabin! Yay for living on a south-facing slope!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Yukon Quest Anticipation

The Yukon Quest is coming up, so it's time to decide whom you're going to root for and put a folder on your hard drive to start dropping the cutest and most beautiful media photos in.

Like this:

And this:

If it's colder this year, a fuzzier team might do better:

But if it's warm and the snow is fast, one of those skinny, greyhound-looking teams might win!

I love the photos of the Siberian teams best. I think they are so beautiful, and I love their thick, furry coats! At colder temperatures that require the Alaskan huskies to wear jackets and booties, the Siberians are au naturel. They are bigger, stockier dogs, and never win or come out even in the top five or ten, but they are the strongest in deep snow and most resilient against cold temperatures. They also tend--for reasons I do not understand, since like the Alaskans, they are bred for performance and not looks--to be very beautiful. I mean, stunningly beautiful. Look:

(photo courtesy of Iceberg Kennels)

I'd be intimidated to have one as a pet. They look so serious and dignified, I don't know if I'd have as much fun with one as I do with Autumn and Linden. I think Alaskan goobers are the dogs for me! There is a world of a difference between waking up to this:

And waking up to this:

He may not be as pretty (and I can guarantee that if you saw their bodies), but I'd feel like I could wrap my arms around him and he'd ask me to rub his belly. And look! He's smiling!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Northern Garlic

Gilroy, California bills itself as the garlic capitol of the world, and its summertime average temperature is something like eight hundred degrees.

Imagine my surprise, then, to find garlic in the farmer's market in Fairbanks. I'm just now getting to the last of it, and it's still in great shape. If I had known how well it would last (not dehydrating, nor molding), I would have bought much more.

The bulbs are pretty small:

But each one is comprised of only two or three enormous cloves:

I left the background in this photo so you could see the end fate of the garlic--eggplant grilled how BT showed me last Summer--marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Yum! And a perfect thing to serve at a Let's-pretend-it's-not-Winter-party!

A huge garlic clove:

Editted for a public service announcement and a photo of a plant.

PSA: The world's most perfect Winter sweaters are made by Kuhl. They are soft, dense, warm, and washable. And, because the weave is so fine, they don't pill. And discount places like Sierra Trading Post and Campmor sell them for half price! Yay for warm fuzzy sweaters!

Photo of a plant:

This thing is growing in the Graduate School Office at UAF. The pot is no bigger than my biggest stock pot, and the plant is comfortably twice my height. The leaves are the length of my forearm, and greedily stretching into every direction. Note that it is January, the thing hardly gets any light, and it's in an external corner of an older building with poor insulation (notice the frost on the windows). This thing is my hero of vegetation.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Cleaning their teef:

Being warm and fuzzy:

Autumn looking like she has a drinking problem (although I assure you she does not!):

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Winter day near the solstice

Dermot Cole's article in the News Miner pointed me to this beautiful YouTube video of a short day in Fairbanks. The photographer's name is Eric Muehling, and he "used his digital camera to take 1,882 separate frames from just before sunrise to sunset... He did this last week on the West Ridge at UAF, putting his camera in a cardboard box with a 60-watt light bulb to help keep the batteries warm."

In other news, we are in the clutches of one of the few cold snaps so far of this Winter. Temps have been hovering in the -30s (both F and C). At my home, though, it's 10F degrees warmer than in town. Which makes it downright balmy. T-shirt weather, really. It hasn't dropped below -30F. Yeah!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!

First of all, photos of a behbeh panda climbing out of his pen. You. Must. Look.

Okay, now that that's out of the way.

Here is a shot of the fireworks exploding behind the reindeer pen. Poor reindeer were a bit spooked, but didn't stampede or anything. These reindeer are very, very domesticated. When I walk the dogs by them, they come to the fence, check us out, and then walk along beside us as long as they can. The dogs, also, have no predator instinct when it comes to reindeer. They just wag their tails as if to say, "Hello there!"

Here we have Gold Hill grocery decked out for the season:

And their tribute to Dionysus:

Here is a rare photo... the girls being warm and fuzzy! I love Millie's big ol' butt in the background, haha.