Sunday, October 31, 2010

Photos I'm not going to share

Back from attending The Enforcer's wedding and visiting with my niece. A stunning, breathtaking bride, and the most beautiful baby I have ever seen. And you won't see them because the former blogs anonymously, and the latter is a baby and deserves to have her privacy respected until she is of an age to unveil herself of her own volition.

Oh well.

Here I am with MP:

I took a shower and combed my hair and informed Mike to smack me if I said anything inappropriate. I think I done good. Now, back to my cabin with me!

Here are the girls taking their walk in my absence:

They don't exactly look like they are missing me!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Notes from Here and There

So why are ravens and crows and camp robbers always all up in our bidness? Clever little buggers actually learn how to use tools.


It may be perfectly safe to fire the occasional research rocket into the uninhabited and untouched vastness of ANWR, but if I were ever hiking along and stumbled on something like is shown in that photo, I'd probably do more than scratch my head and forge ahead.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ha ha ha. Ho ho ho

The weather folks are saying that La Nina is going to bring us an unusually cold winter.

Now I'm really glad I split and stacked all of that wood (over 4 cords, for a 16x20 cabin!). I can say now that never, ever again, will I ever have to split wood at -35. Hah.

Bring it on!

Friday, October 22, 2010

And finally we are getting a wee bit chilly...

15F/-9C at my cabin this morning. 8F/-13C at the bottom of my hill, on the ski trail. I hope this means the roads will firm up and not be so slippery! I've seen about one car per day in a ditch over the past week or so. Slow the heck down when it's icy, everyone! You don't save time when you put yourself in a ditch!

And here is a nice article for today. Physics and a warm fuzzy. Thanks to Two Yaks.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Meet Harold

Three times now I've caught a woodpecker drilling a hole into the side of my cabin. Now, I'm pretty 'live and let live' when it comes to critters. I let the voles pick through the outflow of my kitchen water for food scraps. I let spiders build webs on my eaves and shed. Pretty much the only critters I cannot abide are mosquitoes and wasps, except for the occasional fly that comes inside, which I squish. But a woodpecker drilling a hole into my cabin ain't right! Enter Harold the Hoot Owl:

Unfortunately, I can't put batteries into Harold because batteries fail quickly in cold weather, but I put him up yesterday, and I think he looks fantastically real, don't you?

Speaking of little critters, yesterday I met a person from the Institute of Arctic Biology who studies hibernation in arctic ground skwerls. I got to meet one:

Arctic ground skwerls are true hibernators. Unlike bears, whose hibernation is closer to our sleeping, arctic ground skwerls shut down most of their bodily functions, their metabolic rate approaches that of death, and they need almost nothing to sustain themselves. Their body temperatures drop below freezing. Little dewd felt just like a dead body when I held him.

Isn't he something?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

On books, covers, and personal appearance

It is never wise to judge a book by its cover, but even less so in the Sili Valley and in Fairbanks. As different as those places are, they share some fundamental cultural similarities of which one may not be aware until comparing them against East Coasters. BT says it's because both California and Alaska are "cowboy states". BT is a lawyer, and she was referring to some legal history of how the states had developed in terms of property rights, but I think it also has cultural and sociological meaning. We are the new, the fresh. We are states that were populated and developed via gold and silver rushes, by entrepreneurs who fled the civilized world in search of better lives; people that were thus self-selected for boldness, tenacity, determination, and willingness to execute dreams that others would only think or talk about; people who had fewer ties to the rigid class structures of the older worlds they had left behind.

We cowboy staters thus value people for themselves, and not for their family history. We do not define people as "a banker's son" or "a doctor's daughter" or "a welder's son". We define them as "an engineer" or "a teacher", by what they themselves have achieved, or not. And we have much less rigid standards of dress, as I've alluded to before.

Despite these similarities, Californians still dress better than Alaskans, as a whole. There's still the whole urban vs. rural thing, and urbanites just dress better in general. I am aware that while it might be acceptable to sit for a job interview in Fairbanks in jeans, it's still not the best idea in San Francisco. And, as a Berkeley alumnus, I am keenly aware of the existence of reverse snobbery--people who can afford good clothes and dress in a uniform of sweatpants and rags appear just as pretentious and affected as poor people who spend half their income on designer clothes.

Thus, when I make my pilgrimages to California to see family and friends, I put away the Carhartts and try to blend in as best I can. Which brings me to the entire incident that brought all of these thoughts into my head... makeup shopping. You see, I intend to attend the upcoming nuptials of The Enforcer to share in her happiness and bring my best wishes, without requiring any sort of Explanation (Please excuse her; she's Alaskan/been living in a log cabin without running water/a grad student.) This all comes from my own insecurities; The Enforcer herself has informed me that she thinks I'm just lovely, just the way I am. :) Nevertheless, I've enlisted BT for help with my civilization. She's approved my dress and expressed pride in my makeup shopping trip. (In a fit of combined impatience, overwhelmedness, and embarrassment (what if a neighbor saw me in the cosmetics section? How mortifying!), I texted her from Freddie's--'Black Truffle' vs. 'Black Velvet' Srsly? WTF?.) I'm pleased to say the makeup shopping wasn't half so horrifying as I had feared. I used to be a commercial dancer and do all my own makeup, so me being girly is not as long a stretch as it might otherwise be. I sort of pinched my nose, ran in, grabbed a few colorful little plastic packages here and there, texted BT for moral support, then ran out!

Monday, October 18, 2010


I was sitting in a coffee house yesterday, reading a paper while waiting for my laundry to be done in the laundromat next door, when a group of men came in and sat at the table next to mine. They were of a certain Alaskan stereotype--older, unshaven, with wear holes in their shirts and dirt stains in their Carhartts. They were also warm and friendly and had kind faces. They were loud enough that I could not help but eavesdrop. One of them told the others about a design of a house he was working on, a geodesic dome (something not uncommon around here; my neighbor across the street has a dome house). "Did you know," he asked his companions. "That the shape of the house comes from Buckminster Fuller?" I resisted the temptation to jump in with comments on Bucky Balls and Watership Down rabbits, and continued listening. Around that time, another guy who would have fit in with that group sat with me, confessed that he had been glancing over my shoulder, and wanted to talk about mechanical properties of snow! When it was time for me to pick up my laundry, I excused myself, but still overheard the Bucky Ball admirer talking. He informed his companions that he had just been approved for a medical marijuana card, and so he'd be a happier man the next time he saw them. I left feeling grateful for the interesting society of these folks.

Then, in my own Carhartts and stained shirt, I headed off to go makeup shopping. But that is a topic for another post. Life has such funny ways!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The evening before laundry day

I really, really need to do my laundry. These socks are not comfy:

The girls waiting for me to come to bed. Autumn cuddles with me all night. Linden vacates the bed for that blue blanket in the foreground as soon as I tuck myself in. She loooooves attention, but is paradoxically not a cuddly sleeper.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Spring is just around the corner...

My friend Robert wrote me:

I was commenting today... [on] what a beautiful day it was. We are about eight weeks before Christmas, and eight weeks after Christmas it will again be sunny just like it is now. Eight weeks after Christmas is Valentines day, that is when spring begins and its time to play in the snow.

Ha ha ha ha ha. :)

Also... Linden's biopsy report came back yesterday... the lumps weren't cancerous! Yay!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sun on snow

The girls are unhappy with our short walks instead of long runs, during Linden's recovery:

Dug out my Sorels for the first time this year. The funny thing about winter boots is that they don't wear out or get dirty, since they only traverse snow. Even the soles look brand-new!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My mind, it is boggled

So the Sili Valley is having some kind of heat wave, with temps in the 80s F. Here, we are sliding gently into winter, with temps in the 20s F.

Yesterday evening I came home to this:

My flamingos are having the desired effect:

Time for my first moose stew of the season!

1. Dredge the moose chunks in flour with salt and pepper, then sear in olive oil:

2. Add potatoes, onions, carrots, and tomatoes, and your cheap beer of choice (mine is PBR):

3. Bring to a boil:

4. Let simmer for an hour or so. If the fire size you need for steps (3) and (4) are compatible with how you need to heat your house, use the wood stove for free cooking!

5. Mmmmmm:

Linden is recovering nicely. Thank you to everyone who sent good wishes! She hasn't been good about limiting movement and remaining calm, as the vet requested, but she's still healing up okay. She's not cooperative about such things because she's so! excited! to be! alive! and she's! so cute! and she! wants to kiss you! and bounce! off the walls!

Here she is in a calmer moment:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Call for a Review of the Permanent Fund

An interesting editorial, if somewhat lacking in details.

The main idea is that as oil production out of the North Slope decreases and disappears, we ought to reconsider the meaning and applications of the Permanent Fund, possibly as a means to develop other economies and energy sources for the state.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Always be specific

When I got home last night, snow was falling lightly:

This morning, there was over an inch of fresh snow on the ground, but it was so warm (high 20s F), that a lot of it was compacting and turning into slippery ice. I just made it up the slight grade I need to climb, and all of my neighbors and I drove into town very, very slowly.

I should have specified when I wished for snow, for temperatures to remain lower. When you are making wishes, always be specific!

Autumn is hanging out with me today while Linden has a little lump removed from her belly.

Please cross your fingers that the surgery goes smoothly, and that the thing is found not to be cancerous!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Last hurrah before heading into winter

Two friends, the dogs, and I had planned an out and back hike for the weekend. This is a winter-only trail, too boggy and muddy for summer use. Interlinked with the trail is a brand-new, more sustainable (i.e., drier) trail that had just been cut. Coincidentally, I learned of this new trail in an article published the very day before our hike. I have to say, the new trail was pretty unimpressive, although, being on the hillside, it will undoubtedly stay drier through the summers. I think it will take a few years for light regrowth to make the trail beautiful and scenic. For now, it is just an ugly, fresh scar on the hillside.

Heading out:

A run-down trapper cabin along the trail:

Chena Dome:

Angel Creek:

The new bridge, discussed in the article. The bridge was transported in three parts:

A beaver dam downstream from the bridge:

Dam cool!

The cabin we reserved. It was quite cushy, with sleeping platforms, a table, a wood stove, a camping lantern with several extra mantles, and a saw and maul for collecting/splitting wood to keep it stocked.

Prior campers had left sundry amenities such as spices, cooking oils, paper towels, matches, playing cards, and notes in the logbook. Apparently, the cabin is most popular among mushers and skijorers. People had made many notes about snow conditions, their dogs' names and personalities, and aurora sightings. We even saw several names we recognized.

I asked M to take a photo of me with the girls. Linden, of course, wanted to kiss me instead of look at the camera. Oh well.

The hilltops catch the last light of evening:

View from the outhouse:

All ready to head back the next day:

Ice is already forming on Angel Creek. We filtered water from it to top off our bottles before leaving:

As we drank it later, it was so cold it gave me brain freeze.

A last shot of Chena Dome:

I think that's our last hiking trip for the year! Our next trip, we'll be skiing!

Friday, October 8, 2010

My latest dog

I have a tendency to absorb strays into my pack. Fortunately, I'm not the sucker I was a few years ago, and I dutifully turn them over to the local animal shelter. This has enabled me to reduce my animal count down from a high of 9 down to 3, and one day 2 (Bunnistan will be dissolved upon the decease of its dictator, Miss Millie B. Doofus).

So this morning I was driving down Cripple Creek Road toward the highway to come into town, when I saw a husky running like a bat out of hell down the road ahead of me. I pulled up alongside her and looked down at my speedometer: 25 miles per hour. I cranked down the window, braked to a stop, and called out. "Hey dog!" The dog skidded to a stop, stood up on her hind legs, and put her paws on the windowsill with that big goofy smile that is unique to Alaskan huskies.

I jumped out and opened the hatchback, and she jumped right in and started barking and howling excitedly. So we were going straight to the animal shelter then. This creature was too excitable to remain long with me!

I turned her over, but if any of my local readers know anyone in the 'hood who's missing a husky, you know where to send them! Also... this is too sweet and good-natured of a dog to be put to sleep, so if she goes unclaimed, would someone please consider adopting her? I'll post a link to her petfinder page if she goes up for adoption. I'd love to have her, but as I said, I'm keeping my numbers down. And she's too hyper to fit into my small, quiet household.

She's a female, greyish blended tweed color (like a grey wolf), about 4-6 years old. Very active, very strong, very bouncy! I found her on Cripple Creek near Rabbit Run.

Edited to add a link to her "found dogs" page on the shelter website, and while I was posting, her page disappeared! So her owner must have claimed her! Yay! Here is the photo, anyway. Isn't she adorable?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Winter finally exhaled...

... after weeks of holding her cold, silent breath.

Yesterday, the first few flakes started drifting down, and this morning, it was snowing somewhat more earnestly, and a bit stuck to the ground.

That table? It's my isothermal snow collection device. :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gifts of friendship

One of the things I love most about the culture around here is how casual people are about sharing. I return to my car at the end of the day and find a bag of berries on the windshield from a friend who'd stopped by on her way back from hiking. My then-landlord stops by to make a repair and leaves behind a whole frozen salmon. I always make extra baked goods to take to campus and share with friends and colleagues.

Yesterday I got a call from friends who'd just gotten their moose for the year, asking if I'd like the scraps and bones for the dogs. Sometimes I think people forget that I only have two dogs! I informed them that I'd only take a bit for my girls, and pass the rest on to a friend of mine who, with his wife, rescues dogs from the local shelter that they can't bear to see put to sleep. They have a giant dog yard, but don't run a team. Their dogs are all pets.

I drove over to their beautiful ridgeline property after work and left with this:

You can't even see what we'd stuffed into trash bags into the back seat--the upper jaw and nose, the vertebral column (cut into sections, for my convenience), and two bags of fur-covered hide for the (outdoor) dogs to lay on. I asked, were they sure they wanted to pass on the upper jaw? They didn't want to make moose nose jelly? They declined.

As I left, they also loaded me up with packages of (human-grade) moose meat and salmon. On the way back to campus to drop off the moose bits to my friend, I bumped into another friend, and gave her half the salmon. She doesn't eat land animals, so I kept all the moose!

So now, in addition to the blueberries (one quart of which I still owe to a friend), cranberries, kale, pumpkin, and miscellaneous leftovers and pastries, these are in my freezer:

I certainly feel well-loved and well-fed! Yes, this is still modern America, and I can buy almost anything I want, from saffron threads to rice milk, angus beef to pomegranates to star fruit, at Freddies. But it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to pull these things out of the freezer in January. When it's cold and dark, and all the trees are dormant, and it seems all of nature is asleep, it's a reminder that God has blessed the Alaskan Interior with as much life and sustenance as anywhere else--you just have to plan ahead to enjoy it.

Here is a front-page article from the Minor News on Wiley, a sled dog who was found wandering stray, is being socialized to be a pet, but needs help with his medical bills.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Honor thy Fuzzies

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis, patron saint of my hometown and great lover and defender of animals. If you can make it to a Blessing of the Pets ceremony, like our local one, I recommend it.

Here are my girls ree-laxing. Retirement is a tough life, eh?

And here we have Miss Millie B. Doofus, SuperAgent of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and Supreme Leader of the People's Independent Republic of Bunnistan:

Winter beers have started showing up. It's a unique time of year, to have both warmth and cold, darkness and light, summer and winter.

In honor of my fuzzy companions, I'll leave you with several quotes from the Monks of New Skete:

Dogs don't seem to like fences. The very presence of a barrier often elicits a fury of protectiveness that otherwise wouldn't be manifest. A dog barking wildly behind a fence one moment can easily turn into a friendly pooch the next: All that is necessary is the dropping of the barrier... Might we not glean a lesson from this? At the very least, the barrier we bark behind can sabotage the depth we seek with those we love. Drop the barrier and a new level of relationship and trust might occur.

Dogs possess an indomitable spirit that teaches right up to their last day. It is as if they stubbornly refuse to concede that life can be anything other than a gift to which they must respond. The wagging tail gives it away: even an illness as serious as cancer has no effect on them when a favorite ball is involved... at least for a while. The focus remains fixed, and the usual enthusiasm will be manifest until they can simply push themselves no longer. They won't let go until every worthwhile moment of life is sucked dry. Therein lies their nobility: Dogs are an homage to life.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Photos 'round the 'hood

This is such an austere time of year. We've lost the explosive, colorful beauty of summer and fall, but we don't yet have the snow to bring the gentle loveliness of winter. We have instead a harsh, steely sky and nekkid trees, and brown leaves blowing around the ground. Temperatures swing by as much as 40F/24C degrees from day to night, or even from one day's high to the next.

As I have my flamingos, my neighbors around the block have their geese in house dresses:

A few aspens still have their golden leaves: