Sunday, June 30, 2013

Farewell to Sammypants

Sammypants is moving back to Montana with her parents, cat, and little Squirmy McSquirmersons quadrupedal human:

Autumn sez, "I remember these little quadrupedal humans! I haven't seen one since 2002 though..."

Linden sez, "Hmmmmm... you're not old enough to shed food right and left yet."

Sammypants and Linden have been best buds since 2007.

Autumn sez, "my sister's sillypants twin is leaving the state? Gosh, I am so sad."

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Toronto Report

For the earlier part of this week, I was in Toronto at the Renewables in Remote Microgrids Conference. It was a really great meeting of the minds. Canada has really similar power issues to Alaska. They have big cities that have relatively inexpensive and reliable power sources, whose populations dominate the nation. And their rural regions are sprinkled with remote communities (which we call villages), populated by First Nations people (whom we call Natives) that are off-grid and run off isolated diesel gen sets. And they have low average income rates (generally below the poverty line), very poor city services, and pay anywhere from forty cents to over a dollar (!!) per kW-hr of electricity, since their diesel is either flown, trucked, or barged in when it is possible (i.e., when the river is frozen or not-frozen or whatnot). And they would like to link together via transmission lines, and/or develop local renewables such as wind, solar, and hydrokinetics. Yeah, we have a lot in common. However, they consider us to be very advanced compared to them, since we have the Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP) and the Emerging Energy Technology Fund (EETF). However, the Alaskan renewable energy projects are in their infancy, so we haven't had a lot of performance or financial data yet. So it was very surreal to me to watch all of these presentations while nodding my head (yup, yup, they are just like us, no wonder they invited us!), but toward the end of the conference, to have them refer to us as, "the Alaskans, who are far ahead of us and have most of these problems solved!" I was shocked, and as my eyes bugged out of my head and I looked toward my companions for their reactions, I saw all of their eyes bugging out of their heads, too!

Toronto is a lovely city; it is super clean, and full of people bustling about at all hours! Also, apparently, we were there for the tail end of Pride Week. Every day in between my hotel and the conference, I passed a church that had a rainbow flag and a sign that said, "God loves and welcomes everyone, and so do we." It gave me a huge warm fuzzy. I didn't take a photo since I was there when it was dark, but now I wish I had at least tried. Silly Arvay, pixels are free! I guess you can tell I am of the generation that once had to pay for film and photo development! Anyway, I don't know if it's coincidence, synchronicity, or planning, but their pride week occurred just as DOMA was struck down and Lisa Murkowski stepped up to support gay marriage. She had voted for DOMA, but in her statement, she said she had met so many happy, healthy gay families, and her opinion on the matter had changed. I recommend you read her statement if you need a warm fuzzy. People can change, they really can. :)

All that being said, every time I leave Alaska, I am reminded of why I live in Alaska, and even this absolutely lovely time was no different. There are minor things that alone would do it for me:
1) Traffic
2) Having strange men stare at and/or hit on me (even when my constant companions are two very large, hairy, bearded Alaskan men).
3) Cars cutting off pedestrians

But the biggest thing that makes me feel gloat-y is seeing people fret over problems that isolate them rather than problems that bind them together. This person is fretting that she chipped her brand-new manicure, and the others in her office think she's silly and too vain. That person's upset because his flight was delayed, and he'll be late for a meeting, and his fellow passengers think he's pompous and full of himself.

To them, these are very real, legitimate problems, but I love that when I have I'm late because I had to shovel my driveway on my list, I can let those other things slide several decimal points down, and my coworkers will understand if I'm late for a meeting, because they all have this shared experience that today, we have eight inches of fresh snow. I understand that living on the edge of survival in Alaska is kind of an artificial "survival" situation, because we freely choose to live here. Any time I wanted, I could certainly move back to California and not worry at all about how to change a tire, since emergency roadside services would always be a phone call away, and I would not die of exposure before they showed up. But... in the short term, our precarious conditions are very real, and so we must focus on taking care of them--and each other--and life's more trivial things really become trivial.

My friend and colleague DL said, "People make up problems to fret over so they can avoid thinking about the real ones." I thought about it on the flight home and concluded that I disagreed. At the end of the day, no one has no worries. To the person to whom a perfect manicure is important, her problems are no less real than those of a single parent, minimum wage worker who's just learned that her child has a chronic illness. We all have the hand we are given and fret over the lowest card. But somehow life feels more meaningful if the lowest card is your literal survival, and that it is a shared lowest card with the entire community around you.

Since I've returned, the air is smoky from the local wildfires, and it's still too warm for my taste. But it feels like home. And, there are hella dragonflies buzzing about, swooping and killing mosquitoes like black hawks. Go dragonflies go! And... the heat is supposed to break within a few days! "The National Weather Service says the Kamchatka low is making progress toward Alaska and will likely cool things down next week. That could mean daytime temperatures at or below normal for this time of year – in the low to mid 60s." YAY!

Oh, here are my photos to complete my report.

Our little Alaskan bumpkin group taking on the big city!

A beautiful hibiscus:

Toronto is so warm and humid it felt like Hawai'i!

I wasn't sure if this was famous, so I snapped a photo just in case it was:

Two PhD physicists spent a good ten minutes rigging up a way to hang up our oversized poster. Later, I found that someone else had fixed it with an elegant solution using a bamboo stick:

I was so tickled!

The glass floor at the top of the CN Tower:

We indulged and paid over our per diems for dinner at the spinny restaurant on top! It was lovely!

I came home and picked up veggies for the week:

And was stopped on my way home from the farm by an angry moose:

I threw my car into reverse and backed away. Eventually, she walked off the road into the brush.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013


Today, the western black rhino was officially declared extinct. Thanks, greedy poachers! Thanks idiots who think that rhino horns, which are made of keratin, have some magical properties (why don't you just chew on your dadgum fingernails instead??)!

This is why we can't have nice things! Every time we get something nice, we break it.

Maybe if we're reeeeeeeaaaaallly good for a few millennia, God will give us a few more nice things if we promise not to break them. And pulling the arms and legs off Barbie dolls and putting them on backwards doesn't count. Neither does swapping black Barbie's and white Barbie's arms and legs and making zebra Barbies. Although zebra Barbies are super cute.

Happy Solstice, y'all!

It still blows my mind that after we have been sweating and swatting mosquitoes and eating nothing but watermelon for a month, one day people wake up and say, "Hey! Today is the first day of Summer!"

And after we have been freezing and hanging out in front of the wood stove and skiing and eating bacon sandwiches for several months, one day people wake up and say, "Hey! Today is the first day of Winter!"

When they let me Decide Things, I'm going to make the solstices the midpoints of summer and winter, and the equinoxes the midpoints of spring and fall, shifting each official season back by half a quarter. Doesn't that make more sense? Why don't they let me decide things?

In any case, the days are growing shorter now! And today I saw my first fireweed bloom! It's getting late, summer is getting drunk, time to ski... :)

In other news, apparently some people Outside of Alaska are "freaking out" (and I am mourning the state of journalism) over a satellite photo that visually shows our heat wave. Because global climate change. Not because they sympathize and will Fed Ex us watermelons.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Roses and veggies

I hatehatehate those thorny brambles all winter, but I can't kill them because in the summer, they turn into either raspberries or roses, which I lovelovelove!

For their beauty, their sweet, delicate fragrance, and the flavor of rose hips in my tea, I will spare the %^&@ing sticker bushes!

My veggies for the week:

And for today in awesome news, our conservative Senator Lisa Murkowski today announced that she supports the right of same-sex couples to marry! She made a lovely statement. It really gave me a warm fuzzy. I've met Senator Murkowski, and she is not exactly warm and fuzzy. But she is a consummate professional, even with emotional-softie stuff.

And in OTHER other news, our heat wave has made the Outside media.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Well lookie here!

NASA has chosen 8 new astronauts, and the photo lineup looks like a college recruitment catalog.

Exactly half of them are women. There's a Black Guy (TM). They are missing an Asian and a Latino. Otherwise, good job, NASA!

On the whole, it's a good lineup. Although they are suspiciously good-looking. Hmmmm... what are the odds that if you choose 8 people from a pool of over 6000, that they are that good-looking? Well, PR is very important to NASA (keep the money coming, people! Elect politicians who fund science!). Furthermore, if proving to young 'uns that scientists aren't all dowdy and pimply and boring encourages more kids to go into science, then I'm all for it!

As for me, this engineer will still rock her red pumps.

Oh, how I love my local news

Bear mauls Alaska man who gave it barbecue meat

I heard this one on the radio this morning:
Fairbanks man on motorized shopping cart charged with DUI

"A 63-year-old man attempting to drive a motorized shopping cart into the parking lot of a Fairbanks grocery store was arrested and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol on Wednesday night... One Fred Meyer employee told police that Moses driving drunk on the cart is an ongoing problem in the store and Moses has tried to run store employees over in the past when they have attempted to stop him on the cart... When he was stopped, Moses had a box of Betty Crocker’s cake mix and a box of chocolate chip cookies in the basket of the cart. The store employees said he had not paid for them... Moses did not have any money to pay for the food and was subsequently charged with third-degree theft."

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Post-run snuggles

Autumn... so sweet.

Linden... SQUEEEEEESH!!!

Last night after work I swung by a fundraising dinner for Galena residents who had lost their homes (which would be, um, all of them). It was at the beautiful David Salmon Tribal Hall, which hosts a loooot of community events. There would be music and dancing until 1 a.m., but I had to go home to let Autumn and Linden out to pee, and I was feeling too hot and lazy to come back afterwards. So I took my food to go and added a bit more money to the pot.

This food... is quite terrible for you, haha. In general, rural Alaskans, both Native and white, don't have exactly the healthiest diet on earth. They drink too much pop (or soda or Coke or whatever you know it as) and don't place a high (or any) priority on vegetables. I sautéed up my braising greens from Rosie Creek farm to round out my meal. Weirdly enough, I had been craving fried food, despite the heat, so the chicken was welcome.

Contrast against my prior use of my braising greens--sautéed and dumped over pasta with garlic, herbed cheese curds, and partially-cooked eggs broken on top. Yum!

Friday, June 14, 2013

How I spent about an hour this morning around 3 a.m....

It is my great luck that I have only rarely suffered insomnia. However, this morning at around 3 a.m. I woke up to a faint electronic jingle coming from downstairs...

toodle toodle teedle teedle...

Now understand something about me--I turn off my cell phone when I get home because I don't have service at home and it just dies. I also don't have a microwave, a television, a giant computer server, or any of the normal trappings of modern life that summon obedient humans with electronic beepings. So this beeping was... scary and suspicious.

Finally, it made a noise I recognized--the jingle of my phone shutting down and turning off. I thought about it and correctly deduced that I had accidentally left my phone on, that noise was warning me that its battery was dying, and then it shut itself off in an act of self-preservation.

I'm really proud of myself that after over 5 years of owning the same phone, I had never before heard its "battery dying" alarm. That's good planning. And now I know, I was not being snuck up upon by alien spacecraft last night.

Cheers, y'all. Enjoy the weekend!

More Late Spring shennanigans

Yet another crappy consequence of the late spring, sudden breakup, and consequent flooding of the rivers: High water threatens to wipe out Gulkana salmon hatchery

This in addition, of course, to the total destruction of the lovely village of Galena.

And my meager veggie share.

And the doubled quantity of mosquitoes.

But, I guess I can't complain. I still have my basic lifestyle intact--home, career, doggies, etc. :)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

CSA, week 2

The good folks at Rosie Creek Farm are still doing what they can to provide us with what they are able to. I must confess, although I am not disappointed by the small quantities (which I anticipated due to our extremely late spring), I am disappointed by the presence of that purple vegetable that tastes like straw. I used to feed it to my bunnies. I guess I'll have to figure out how to make it edible for humans.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ugh. Trophy Hunters

The Minor News today featured a human interest story about a Fairbanks man who likes to go to Africa and kill local animals and mount their heads on his wall back home. Much to my delight, most of the comments in response are of disgust:

AlaskaRaven says, "Disgusting and sad story."

Txak says, "Why is this a front page story? Disgusting. This person is nothing but a LOSER with money. I do hope karma comes down on him hard..."

Lou Skizas says, "Yeah... trophy hunting like this is kinda disgusting. Collecting a trophy from an animal you shot for food is one thing, intentionally seeking out trophies is just ridiculous."

A loooooot of comments mention karma.

Wordsmith says, "Wow, big man, killing endangered animals for sport. Hope it makes you feel proud and manly. The karma of those creatures is upon you now and will follow you all your life and beyond. So look at those mounted heads in your home every day and remember this."

It is no secret that many Alaskans hunt, but the ethics of responsible hunting here are the strongest I have seen anywhere. I can count on one hand the number of mounted animal heads I have seen in homes since moving to Alaska in 2007. Actually, I can count on one finger. I also don't eat CAFO meat myself, but as someone who does not thrive on a vegetarian diet, that leaves me to either locally raised domestic animal meat or hunted meat. (I don't really trust supposedly "humane" ranches that I have not personally laid eyes on.) So I have no problem whatsoever with hunting responsibly and humanely for food and using every scrap of the animal, down to the gristle and bones for dogs.

But hunting for sport... noooo. Nonononono I cannot abide it and could probably not even be friends with anyone who does, so poorly do I think it speaks of their character. I have treasured friends who are Democrats and Republicans, friends on both sides of the debates on abortion and the death penalty and immigration. I even have friends who are homophobes, which pushes my limits of tolerance. But to kill another creature just for the pleasure of killing it is something that I think speaks so poorly of that person's character that I cannot even be friends with them.

I've noticed something else. Even among responsible hunters, it's only some types of people who, after getting a moose, measure the width of its antler rack and count the number of points on its antlers. Sometimes they even call the press. "I got my biggest rack ever! 61 inches!" or whatever. It's quite another type who, upon killing a moose, says to himself, "Cool. Meat for the year." and does not give one flying crap how impressive the antlers look.

"This fall, he plans to return to Africa, this time with a plan to get a lioness and a hippopotamus."

Ugh. He's got a list of species he'd like to kill. Sigh.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Day hike on part of the Fairbanks to Circle Trail

On Saturday, I joined the Fairbanks Area Hiking Club to hike part of the Fairbanks to Circle Trail. Back in the mining days (late 19th to early 20th century), it was the only way to get in between Fairbanks and Circle, but today the trail is used by recreationalists. I had thought that I'd like to do the entire thing sometime, but now that I've seen it, I'm not sure it's worth my while. 150 miles is probably 10 tough days (assuming a slower walking speed with a full pack), and I'm not sure I'm about spending so much of my precious vacation time to walk and walk through scenery that looks much like that in my own neighborhood.

Anyway, here we are at the start (first two photos by KH). There were 20 humans and 12 dogs:

About half a mile in, I realized that Autumn was no longer with me. I figured that she was up ahead playing with the other dogs, so I picked up my pace to catch up to them, calling her name. At that point, the trail "sweeper" radioed ahead to the trail "leader" that a really concerned-looking husky had come running back. She had caught the dog by its collar and attempted to steer it ahead, but the dog twisted free, clearly determined to go back to the trail head. I guess she thought that Linden and I were there, and hadn't realized that we were up ahead! I cannot imagine what that conversation, limited by interspecies communication problems, must have gone like.

"Hey dog, where are you going? Your human is up ahead! Go THAT way!"

Let me go! My human is out at the car and I need to get back to her!

"Dog! I said, go THAT way!"

Please let me go! You must understand, I have an especial responsibility for my human; she's quite stupid, you see. She's all alone with my equally stupid sister, and I need to get back to them!

When Linden and I backtracked to the car, sure enough, she was there, and ran out to us, her relief obvious. Neither she nor Linden left a 3-meter radius of me for the remainder of the hike.

I heard that that's a common line of thinking with dogs--if they lose you on the trail, they'll go back to the car. It's like they say of humans in a crowd; you should establish a meeting place beforehand and go there, not wander around looking for each other, which makes it too easy to miss each other. The same logic applies in wilderness survival; if anyone knows where you are (which they should, because you never go anywhere without filing a trip plan with someone who remains in town, right???), then you are much more likely to survive if you find yourself a safe place to stay, build a fire and shelter, and stay there, instead of wandering around trying to find your way out yourself. Now that I think about it, almost every story I have heard of a "near-miss" or failed survival situation has the person dying when they try to walk out alone, or being rescued in place. I cannot recall often hearing of rescuers finding a corpse at a camp.

So dogs, they really are smart. Somewhere in the recesses of their doggy brains, which have co-evolved to cooperate with ours, they think, "If I can't find my human, I shall meet him at the car!" And that's what they do.

It was a really beautiful day, neither too hot nor too cold. Still a bit too warm for Autumn and Linden, though, who have baaaaaarely begun to shed their thick winter coats.

Cranberry flowers!

And blueberry flowers!

And dogwood!

Remains from mining are everywhere, from rusted equipment to piles of tailings:

We had a big group!

There was a HUGE fire in 2004 (over 1 million acres burned), and the aftermath is still visible:


Active dogs are the most well-behaved! It's ironic and sad that people who have dogs with temperament problems keep them tied in the yard, which only makes things worse! Doggies need exercise and love!

Labrador tea:

I have tons of this on my property, but this is more picturesque!

We arrive at the FE Gold Camp, which used to operate the old gold dredge. Until just a few years ago, it was a tourist spot, with a nice restaurant and gold mining tours, but now it's shut down, meeting the same fate as my neighborhood's Ester Gold Camp, which shut down its tours around the same time.

E goes beyond Leave No Trace and picks up trash as she goes, even when she has to stash it under her rain poncho!

Round II of snackies!!!

Phew! Are we pooped!

Friday, June 7, 2013

To brighten your day

My CSA begins...

The good folks at Rosie Creek Farm informed us that the record-late spring and slow thaw will make for a lean beginning to the season. Nevertheless, I welcomed my greenhouse-grown salad greens and braising greens.

Lunch right now:


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Well, here's a new one

People Outside generally characterize Alaska as more wild and rustic than it is, photographing bearded men in filthy Carhartts, yards piled high with junk, dirt roads that are sprinkled with potholes. None of these depictions are inaccurate, but they are definitely unbalanced. Today I've learned that Volkswagen chooses to portray Fairbanks like this:

Oooooohkay, Volkswagen. Clean, well-maintained streets; a charming, derelict-free downtown; clean, fresh-scrubbed young 'uns who sleep in makeup (?!?); giant deciduous trees; a lone caribou...? I'm told that the ad was shot in Vallejo, California, and I appreciate that they found a "Noble" street in Vallejo. I have to admit, I'm a little touched that for the first time I can recall, we are being portrayed as more civilized than we are!

Also, I sincerely hope that they left that sign, "Welcome to Fairbanks, Alaska" on some highway in California!

The Minor News, Alaska Dispatch, and the screamingly funny Mudflats also both offered commentary on this commercial:
Volkswagen takes a ride in the Land of the Midnight Somewhere Else
VW Takes Road Trip to Fake Fairbanks
Faux Fairbanks appears in new Volkswagen Beetle ad

Monday, June 3, 2013

Consolation photo

This is NOT Mademoiselle La Bumblebee, whom I'd been stalking with my camera for twenty minutes. But it posed nicely:

I want to photograph a bumblebee soooooo badly. Oh well.

Here are the girls digging up choice pieces of dirt and eating them:

Does anyone know why they do that? I buy them the best, most reputable kibble brand, and supplement with other stuff. Are they still short something that is found in dirt?