Monday, October 31, 2011


So here we have some shots from around the 'hood.

Hoar frost:

I mentioned "depth hoar" during my talk at a conference, and afterwards, one of the attendees approached me and busted out,
"Did you say WHORE???"

The sky is looking like winter:

The road at the top of the ridge:

There were rose hips, already dehydrated and still on the plants:

How convenient! I filled my pockets.

The "Experimental Forest" of pines, white spruce, and other out-of-place trees:

This is my neighbors' lead dog, Zeus:

Zeus, an un-deballed boy, was very taken with my girls, but he was very gentle and gentlemanly about it. He sat next to them and gave them gentle sniffs and licks and kisses. Then he put his paw around one or the other... My girls didn't protest, even as he air-humped them, but they were certainly not amused, and when they accompanied me upstairs when I went up to look for a book, they refused to come back down until I had to pee and demanded my regular escorts. In the meantime, Zeus, ever the gentleman, waited downstairs and attempted to woo the ladies.

"Helloooooo, ladies!"

Until he sighed and gave up:

The girls teased him from the top of the stairwell:


Friday, October 28, 2011

Motivation is a Problem

The problem with having really enjoyable field work is that at some point, you have tons of data that will require tons of desk time for analysis.

At this point, I have 380 sets of test data, none of which I have properly analyzed.

Ouch. I'm looking at some serious desk time. Very painful.

I remind myself of a great grad student quote: "Procrastination is like masturbation. At first it feels good, but in the end you're only screwing yourself."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Price to Pay

Nearly every fantastic backpacking trip, and even some day hikes, come with a price--I return looking like a human piñata.

Still... totally worth it, every time!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hutlinana Creek Photos

Over the weekend, we attempted to hike to Hutlinana Hot Springs. However, we lost the trail, bushwhacked along the creek, ran out of daylight, etc, etc. We ended up camping where we were, which was only halfway up the creek to the hot spring, and returning the next day. It was rough, slow going, but still quite lovely. On the way back, we intersected the official trail, and it looked to be in good shape, but we were so close to the trail head that we just finished our bushwhack back. The official trail is supposed to be only 6 miles long, but bushwhacking along the twisty-turny creek didn't get us very far! Oh well.

The view of Hutlinana Creek from the highway bridge:

Ice was just starting to form, and it was thick enough to traverse in some few places. Seeing as how the hot spring feeds into this creek, I'm sure it freezes late!

A very impressive beaver dam. This is a bad shot though. :(

Because we weren't on the official trail, we crossed the creek several times to stay on the easier side for bushwhacking. V had had the foresight to wear rubber boots, and carried the girls and me back and forth. What a gentleman. :) The girls were horrified and only allowed that to happen once. Then they said, "Funk that noise!" and waded/swam back and forth themselves. They detest being carried.

Another view of the creek:

Our camp site:

The beavers along that creek are crazy ambitious:

We passed fully cut down trees that were twice that diameter, too!

We were surprised at how big the trees got around here. I guess the hot spring system beats back the permafrost?

Hutlinana Creek is very picturesque. I'm almost glad we bushwhacked along it rather than taking the official trail, which was about a quarter of a mile away.

Aaaand... we're back at the highway!

Monday, October 24, 2011

From another lifetime ago

I seem to have misplaced my card reader, so I can't show you photos of our failed backpacking trip to Hutlinana Hot Springs. We had a grand time, although we lost the trail, bush-whacked a lot, I got over a dozen bruises, we never found the hot spring, etc, etc. But I will share photos as soon as I can!

In the meantime, I thought I'd amuse you with this. An old former colleague of mine from Sili Valley days sent me an email today to say hello. I (I am ashamed to admit) drew a blank on how to respond. I remembered him, but not precisely what he did or what he was like. I searched my email history for former emails from him, and came across this gem:

To: Arvay
From: Redacted
Subject: Hello,Glad to share the group photo with you

Dear All,

How are you?

This is [redacted] of [company name] and I send this email via my private email account. [He goes by three different names--his legal Chinese name, his professional name, which is pronounceable to Americans, and his personal Americanized name.]

Glad to enjoy mountain climbing last weekend with you on Feb.10.07. and had a wonderful weekend.
Enclosed is the group photo we captured at the mounting entrance. Please enjoy it.

Thank you all and looking forward to seeing you again soon.

Thanks and best regards!
[Professional Name]

And that is me, second from the right, in my khaki pants in Sili Valley days, on a trip to China to audit the manufacturing line.

Friday, October 21, 2011


And here is your feel-good story for today: Obama awards Presidential Citizens Medal to Fort Yukon man

[Clarence] Alexander served as Fort Yukon Chief for a dozen years, but the award is specific to his work related to the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council which he co-founded in 1997, and his efforts leading to the closure of open-burning dumps and the removal or recycling of millions of pounds of waste...

Also, also: Here be giant veggies:

A giant kohlrabi, a giant rutabaga, and a giant turnip, grown by Tim Meyers of Meyers Farm, in Bethel. I cannot imagine growing anything in Bethel. To be fair, I've never been there, but out on the coast there, the weather is crazy harsh. Ayy! Major props to Mr. Meyers, who won an award at the 5th Annual Alaska Marketplace Competition, which is a competition sponsored by the Alaska Federation of Natives to provide seed money to and encourage growth of small businesses throughout rural Alaska.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Shocking the local boy

So last night the boy was showing me some Inupiaq leg strengthening exercise. "Can you do this? It's pretty hard."

I told him, Yes, I absolutely could do that. I could also do it while making circles with my hips.


As it turns out, a background in Tahitian dancing is not that common around these parts.

Yes, actually, I can make a circle with my hips. I can also make figure eights with my hips, in two different planes. I can also write my name with my hips, and make six circles within a circle, with my hips. I can make circles with my hips while standing, kneeling, and squatting, while walking backwards and forwards, and balance a book on my head while doing all of these things.

Then I proceeded to waste half of my morning looking up beautiful music and dancing. Here are some you might be able to enjoy. I'm not sure how it would sound to you if you didn't grow up with it. The vids are kind of pointless (they are mostly for the audio content), so I'll only give links.

Love this song. Was taught a dance to it by a beautiful and sensual dancer from the Cook Islands, named Poko. I wonder what she is doing nowadays.

Also love this song. Still sing it sometimes when berry picking solo, to make anti-bear noises.

A song about being "a child of the sun". I think I am going to name my cabin Fare o Te Matana--house of the sun--as a call to the sky.

Here is an edgier one, with a modern techno edge. Electronic music is big in the South Pacific. Unexpected, huh?

Finally, here is some fantastic dancing:

This is labelled Rapa Nui, but I think it's from the Cook Islands:

Yeah, I can do that, but I'm not that good. :)

Regular silicon2tanana reportage will resume tomorrow. :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Pie! Pie! Pi!

Granny Smith apples finally went on sale, so yay! Pie for me!

Monday, October 17, 2011



Just this past weekend was the first the girls and I were able to walk almost the entire trail system, since it's pretty well frozen. There had hardly been snow yet then, though.

Friday evening:

Here is the trail behind our house, that leads to the public trail system:

My second summer at this cabin, I improved the trail by removing all of the tree stumps and low overhanging branches that had been driving me nuts the prior winter. It's much better now!

Even the worst spots are frozen solid now:

Saturday we took another long walk. It occurred to me that I had never even been on some of these trails when it wasn't snowy.

The above photo was taken in the same location as these.

Any icy spot that had been broken and needed to freeze again:

This tree is a landmark at the intersection of two trails:

The aspen forest still looks like fall:

Some of the trails are spongy peat. Who knew?

The flooded section of Rosie Creek, upstream from a beaver dam. Linden was of the opinion that it was passable. Autumn and I disagreed and turned around.

Yikes! Please don't go away, snow!

Aaaaaand, last night I had another jiao-zhe party:

Alaskan Winter beers are back, y'all!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Thank you

Today I haven't anything topical to report, so I'd just like to use today's allotment of your attention to thank you for your support and kind comments on my post discussing how I moved on after leaving an abusive spouse. I have not had to delete any comments, and I only received one indication via email that I had made anyone uncomfortable, but even this discomfort was tempered with a general message of encouragement.

The main question I got from this emailer was, why would you choose to reveal so much about your personal life?

My immediate internal reaction was, had I not been revealing a great deal about my personal life already? I've explicitly mentioned a breakup, hinted at a new relationship, speculated on the afterlife of my pet rabbit, and shown you my underwear. Twice.

I am *very* touched that I have attracted a handful of loyal readers whom I do not know in the meat world, and, moreover, that most of you/them are women. Clearly you aren't stalkers with a sexual interest; you just think I'm cool and interesting. That being the case, I thought it would be encouraging to show that cool, interesting people who have kickass lives also have shit happen to them. The thing is, being cool and interesting and kickass is precisely what helps people to recover from said shit.

One of my favorite writers, Heather Lende, wrote a light, touching, and unabashedly sentimental memoir about recovering from literally being run over by a truck. In it, she describes how the doctors were amazed at how well she healed and regained almost full mobility, despite the much more likely outcome of death or permanent paralysis. The doctors attributed her astonishing recovery to her having been in excellent overall health before the accident. Her healing is also aided by her increasing activity level as soon as it is safe to do so, and eventually returning to running, hiking, biking, and hunting.

So, too, do we strengthen ourselves against and recover from emotional blows by maintaining an active life that engages us with the full breadth of the world. Maybe my way doesn't work for everyone, but I find that I don't need to soothe all of my pains away for all of my scars to heal. Trees deal with their scars just fine, by growing a protective layer over them and then effectively shrugging and moving on, continuing to grow as strong, healthy trees. I find that I do best after a crisis if I accept some pain and just get up and get on with life, and let time do the rest.

Finally, I must say that while it was good to get that post down and those thoughts off my chest, it didn't feel so personal to me. Maybe because the years have, indeed, soothed over the wounds, and I wouldn't even have thought of it at all if it hadn't been for my approaching birthday and my annual exercise. Of my recent posts, I sincerely think I've bared the most of my soul in this one. I share what I consider to be an unusually intimate bond with my dogs, and it felt a little... private, I guess, to show the one of me spooning Autumn. But no-one seemed to notice (or comment on) that peek at vulnerability.

I've been blogging now for four years, and although I am still rarely short of material, the going theme of, "I'm a California girl adjusting to Alaska and learning all of these cool new things!" doesn't work any more as I've become integrated into the Alaskan life and no longer have an eye for what is and isn't novelty. So the focus of this blog may well drift a bit, and I thank you all for staying with it.

I already live a life surrounded by unearned blessings, and this blog has definitely added to it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

First snow that stuck!

A few flakes sprinkled down yesterday afternoon, but I knew better than to get excited, knowing that it was unlikely to stick. However, when I got home, my yard looked like this:

Cool, eh?

So last night I went through the gamut of Winter Things:
* Put on my winter tires.
* Got the extension cord and ran it under the cabin so I can start plugging in my car when necessary.
* Switched to the heavier running pants that are also looser and fit two additional pairs of pants underneath.
* Dug out eleventy more pairs of wool socks.
* Lifted the water line off the floor and set it on the kitchen counter so it won't freeze.
* Waxed my skis. :)
* Put out my isothermal snow collection device.


In other reportage, yesterday at lunch, I was a little taken aback to realize that my waiting tupperware was full of... stir-fried bear:

Now, why would I eat bear for dinner without batting an eye, and be taken aback by eating bear at work? Could it be a cabin vs. modern office thing? Anyway, I got over it in maybe two seconds. That bear had been eating from a blueberry patch for weeks. It was good!

Black bear hairs look like... something you really prefer not to have in your food, so if you didn't know better, you'd be forgiven for being alarmed and for perhaps questioning the sanitation and clothing (or lack thereof) preferences of the chef.

Sunset nowadays is a little before 7, so at 7, the sky looks like this:

Aaaand... that's all I got, for today. :)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pluses and Minuses of Living in Fairbanks

Per reader request. What's most different about Fairbanks as opposed to the San Francisco Bay Area is due to two distinct factors--the climate, and the small-town atmosphere. A third factor does not apply to all of Fairbanks, but to the living situation and the lifestyle that I have chosen, and that is the rural cabin life. So I'll address them separately.



* long, snowy winters

* lots of skiing

* warm, dry summers

* aurora viewing

* very little wind

* generally clear, beautiful skies with visually stunning atmospheric effects


* It is frequently butt-ass cold.

* long winter nights

* high cost of heating

* more time/money in car maintenance, switching tires back and forth, et cet.

* mosquitoes (is that a weather? I think it's a weather since they are all over the place, like air)

Small-town atmosphere:


* If your car ever breaks down or you ever need help, most strangers offer to help.

* If you need anything at all, you can find out by asking around.

* Men are both more chivalrous but also less chauvinistic toward women. Men do not hoot at me on the street, I've only been hit on in very respectful ways, and no-one bats an eye when I tell them I am a mechanical engineer. Seriously, I have gotten more "really... you are an engineer?"-type comments in the Silicon Valley than I have here, even among crusty old-time sourdoughs. Paradoxically, men are very willing to help women with "manly" chores. I wouldn't have to split wood or haul water or shovel my driveway if I didn't want to. My neighbors have all offered to lend me hydraulic wood splitters, shovel my driveway for me, etc, etc. I do these things anyway because I want to know that I can take care of myself, but I totally don't have to.


* No big city amenities. No ethnic restaurants (except for, surprisingly, really excellent Thai food on a par with San Francisco's). No world-class symphony, opera, theatre, etc. Although we have our local versions of all of these things.

Both plus and minus, and deserves its own category because it's pretty remarkable:

* Everyone knows everyone. It means you have an additional layer of safety, but it also means everyone is all up in everyone else's business. Fairbanks is unusually gossipy for a community of its size. At a population of about 100000 for the borough, it's not that small of a town, but the old-fashioned social network is unusually strong. You know the premise that everyone on earth is within six degrees of separation from one another? Well, everyone in the Interior of Alaska is within two, and everyone in the state is within three. I have to say, on the whole I feel more appreciative of this than annoyed with it.

Even funnier is that most people have just one winter coat that they wear for five months, and everyone associates you with your coat and can recognize you from a distance. "I saw you skiing southward on the Tanana the other day when I was driving by! Did you have a good ski? Be careful of the thin spot under that one cliff." Awesome.

Rural Life:


* Long, awesome hiking, backpacking, skiing, and trail running opportunities, and they are free, easily accessible, and require not more than an hour's planning. In California, you need a permit to camp overnight most places, and the numbers are generally limited and you need to book it at least several months in advance.

* Dogs are allowed almost everywhere, and while there is theoretically a statewide leash law, most folks don't mind well-behaved dogs running free. Mine run free. And I run free with them. We run like the wind, and it's awesome.


* No shower. I seriously couldn't care less if I never had a toilet for the rest of my life. But I really miss having a shower at home. But this is not even general to rural Alaskan life, as most of my neighbors have septic tanks and thus showers. I just don't have one myself.

* Being at the mercy of nature's elements. A friend of mine from California had planned to visit me last summer, and we were going to make a road trip up the Taylor Highway to Eagle, and then East into Dawson. I told him that the Taylor Highway was unreliable, and that we'd better have a backup plan in case we were foiled by weather. He gave me a virtual (via email) blank look. When, in California, is your road trip ever derailed by weather? Almost never, right? Put on your rain slicker, put on your snow chains, you're good. Here, the dirt highways can plumb wash out, and they often do, especially on the Taylor. Indeed, that trip became unfeasible. But the point is, there are things that you do. Not. Do. Going in spite of the weather, road conditions, etc, absolutely do not make you a Tough Alaskan and gain you respect. They make you an idiot and gain you mockery. People who do these things die, and other locals sneer at them. Folks in this small town are happy to host a spaghetti feed or a benefit auction to help the family of the kid with cancer, or the family whose house burned down. But the idiot who died due to his own idiocy gets no sympathy.

If you've planned a ski trip and the temperature plummets, you must swallow your disappointment and not go. If you've planned a canoe trip and the river overflows its banks, you don't get to go. End of story. Nature bats last, is not your Mother, and does not love you.

Okay; those are my lists. :) See, I rant because I love!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Playground is Open!

12F/-11C at the cabin this morning. 1F/-17C at the bottom of the hill. Rosie Creek is frozen and passable, and the girls and I had an awesome, leash-free trail run. Yay! My playground is open!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tolovana Hot Springs Report

Over the weekend, a group of friends, dogs, and I hiked out to Tolovana Hot Springs. We had a wonderful time, with temperatures just cold enough to freeze the otherwise-muddy spots of the trail to make them passable, and also to make soaking in the hot springs very appealing! The cabin was very nice and comfortable, and since we all live in dry cabins at home, camping cabins are literally just like home, only with our best friends as roommates! :)

The hike is kind of a haul. From the trail head, you drop immediately into a valley, then climb a dome, then drop down the other side. On the bottom of the far side of the dome are the hot springs, cabins, and a natural cold spring for fresh drinking water. Even though it was over 10 miles each way, we packed heavy, wanting luxurious food for our stay. I was very proud of myself for lugging two cans of beans, and homemade salsa, but then arrived to discover that I was WAY outdone by C, who had lugged about 10 pounds of root vegetables and a full box of wine! P had brought two glass bottles of wine as well!

And... we're off!

The low spots were where it was muddy.

It was already mostly frozen, and I could see how earlier in summer, conditions could have been much worse!

We could see Minto Flats as we climbed higher:

That was some incredibly open country, and we could see miles in every direction:

There had evidently been several recent burns:

Arrival at the cabin:

This cabin was *very* easy to heat and maintain its temperature with its potbelly wood stove. As I've mentioned in the past, I sleep warm and overheat easily, and the first night, I woke up miserable. When I stepped outside to pee, the cold air was refreshing (it was about mid 20s F). I thought, huh. My bag is rated to 20F. Huh. So I went back inside, hauled my bag and sleeping pad out, and spent the remainder of the night on the porch. Much better! The girls cuddled with me on either side and were happier, too!

However, the second night, a strong wind came through the valley and whipped turbulent, cold air about all night, so sleeping on the porch (with no tent) was out of the question. I wheedled my friends into letting the fire go out early so Autumn and Linden and I wouldn't die of heat stroke. As it turns out, toward morning, it did get a little chilly, and I ended up relighting the fire myself! None of them complained of cold, so at least no guilt there!

Whew! Were we pooped!

The next morning after breakfast, I headed out with C and P to see if we could find some grouse for supper:

We had no luck, but a beautiful walk.

While we waited futilely for grouse, we cuddled:

Luke and me:

Luke is quite cuddly, although I prefer fuzzy dogs!

There were so many beautiful, huge, ripe cranberries, and they are indeed sweeter after the first frost, as it is said:

J, who is a compulsive berry picker, picked more than enough for cranberry sauce with our pancakes and oatmeal both mornings for breakfast!

The many overripe berries stained all of the dogs' paws, and made them look like they had walked through a slaughter site:

A series of recent burns made for some weird-looking country:

When we got back from our failed hunt, I made a water run. The spring setup was very rustic. It consisted of a bucket with a hole in the bottom, set below the water line. So you carry your water jug there, scoop water from the bucket using a little tin nailed to a stick, and pour it through a funnel into your jug.

How very Alaskan!

During our search for grouse, this sign had intrigued me, so I went back after lunch with just my girlie dogs to check it out:

From the creek, it's 3 miles back to the hot spring and cabins!

The creek itself was disappointingly not-pretty. It was stagnant and growing algae on top:

The boy dowgs watch S. make a water run:

Symmetric cuddling!

My friend P's dogs are the ugliest I've ever seen! And they drool!

But they are sweet, laser eye notwithstanding.

All five dowgs begging!

Begging from the vegetarian, at that! Geeze!

At some point since our hike in, the pass had grown frost!

Yikes! It was chilly!

The frost looked like artificial Christmas tree flocking:

Finally back! The valley floor had been warm, and we were all sweating when we arrived back at the cars.

No trip up the Elliott Highway is complete without a stop at the Hilltop Truck Stop for pie:

I had lemon cream. Mmmmm!

I brake for pie!

As usual, I was clumsy and paid for my weekend of fun with a pound of flesh:

Slipped on a frozen puddle. Hooked my foot under a root and went flying across the trail. Fell over a tree stump. Et cetera.

Oh well. Bumps are bruises are a small price to pay for a joyful life!

Oh, sorry I didn't take any photos at the hot springs themselves! I had to be circumspect, because we were nekkid.