Friday, September 19, 2014


I took one day this week to return to Tanana to read a meter I had installed on a biomass-fired boiler. It has now been there a full year, so I am ready to analyze its performance. Details on biomass in Tanana here.

I had not been to Tanana since two unhappy incidents occurred.

The first is that two state troopers were shot and killed when they arrived at the scene of a violent incident. The father and son duo that instigated the incident and killed the troopers are now in Fairbanks awaiting sentencing, and both Tanana and Fairbanks are mourning the disaster. The son had been known for living a "bad life", as they say. He had previously been banished from several other Yukon river villages, and had only been in Tanana for two years before instigating this sad incident.

The second is that the city manager was found guilty of accepting government surplus equipment on behalf of the City of Tanana, but then selling it and keeping the profits for himself. The city manager, from what I know of him, does care deeply about his people. He is the one who instigated the entire biomass program. However, being good at utilizing government grants and benefits also made him, unfortunately, also very good at using them for personal gains, and that just happens to be what we call stealing. I still feel ambivalent about it, but such is the situation.

The Village Public Safety Officer, whom I have come to consider a friend, quit his job a few weeks ago. I can't blame him. Being a VPSO in a village has got to be a tough job. They are the only law enforcement in insular villages where outsiders are distrusted, and they are usually from outside the village or even Outside Alaska. Furthermore, they are at present unarmed! (Although a program is underway to train them in firearms safety and then arm them). Finally, their only backup is the State Troopers, who are usually several hours away by plane. How can anyone enforce law and order when they are distrusted, they are unarmed, and everyone knows that their nearest backup won't arrive until a plane is heard? Anyway, this fellow is now a newlywed in Fairbanks, so there could have been other reasons for his leaving Tanana! :)

The Chena as I take off from Fairbanks:

One of the abandoned dredges, this one right near my commute, but invisible to me from the ground on the highway!

Murphy Dome!

Minto Flats!

A winding river. The Chatanika? The Tolovana? I dunno; I'm quite poor at identifying things from the air!

I was picked up at the air strip by a City maintenance man who is also one of the stars of the reality TV show Yukon Men.

He drove me to the Fire Station, where my project is, and informed me that while he had unlocked the downstairs, where the boiler is, he had no idea about access to the living quarters upstairs, and told me to feel free to look around for keys. I asked him how people were faring since the shootings. He said that everyone was sad, but also upset that the shooter had been called a "Tanana man" in the press. He had only been there for two years after having been "given walking papers" from two other villages, and did not in any way represent Tanana! He told me to feel free to walk around and enjoy the town, as usual. It wasn't a violent place! I think I knew that!

We also talked about biomass, of course. He asked my opinion on several biomass-fired boilers, and I asked his. "I have a wood stove at home," he said. "I mean, I don't have biomass, but I burn wood." I looked at him blankly for a few seconds. "Wood is biomass!" I replied. "I call my wood stove my biomass heat all the time!" He said, "But where's the biomass?" I stared blankly. He stared back. "The wood?" said I. Said he: "I thought the water jacket was the biomass!" Another blank stare. "Ahhhh..." he said. "I do believe I was confusing biomass with thermal mass!"

He told me that the City was looking to hire a full-time boiler operator, "a general maintenance man". He was still looking at candidates, he said. At that point, a young woman drove by on a four-wheeler. We all exchanged a wave. "You know, I've known her since she was a girl. When she graduated high school, I trained her in mechanics and carpentry. She's real smart and a hard worker... Hey! I bet she'd be a great maintenance man... er... person! I think I put 'maintenance man' in the job description! I need to change that to 'maintenance person' and tell her to apply!"

My friends, that is how sexism truly dies a natural death. It does not come from forcing employers to hire 50% women, or from changing the name of a job from "stewardess" to "flight attendant". It comes from realizing that women can be just as capable as men. (Women can also be just as incapable of men, of course!)

I jumped out of the truck, and he informed me he'd be back to give me a ride to the airport (even though the distance is easily walkable; but to have me walk there would be unthinkable!)

I went inside and set up a workstation to read my meter:

Then had to pee so looked around for the keys to upstairs. No luck. I went outside and squatted behind the fire station. I was a tad embarrassed. Village people can be paradoxically more civilized in many ways than Fairbanksans! I didn't know whether it was okay to pee in the yard, but luckily, no one saw me!

After I had my data, I had four hours to kill until my flight back to Fairbanks. I worked on lectures for a bit, and took a walk. It was grey outside, and the Yukon was nowhere near as picturesque as at other times:

Still, it was the same friendly place I remembered. People were out and about, walking or riding four-wheelers. Everyone waved or said hi as I walked by.

Now, here would be a nice place to sit had the weather been sunny!

At one point I found a single dog tied to his house by the Yukon. He wagged his tail and held up his paw to me, so I walked over and befriended him. As I pet his head, I heard a gruff shout from across the street. "His name's Lucky!" I straightened up and looked over to see a grizzly-looking man standing in his doorway. "Lucky?" "Yeah!" he shouted. "Lucky!" Then he slammed the door. So many Alaskan men aspire to Great Grumpiness, but they generally fail at it. :)

When I returned to the fire station, I set up an office of biomass:

Biomass office selfie!

The next time I had to pee, I walked behind the fire station, and there was a guy in an adjacent yard doing something! I waved, then thought, "Uh-oh. Gotta find another place to pee." So I walked over to the city shop. Another reality show star was there, grumphing away at his desk. I said hello, asked after him and his family, and pretended I was looking for the other guy. Oh, I had missed him? Too bad. Uh... as long as I was there, could I borrow the bathroom? :)

The sun had come up by the afternoon, and my flight home was more beautiful. Here is the Yukon:

An ugly mine near Manley:

Rivers, like life, may wind back and forth before getting us where we want to go:

The mouth of a tributary. I can't figure out which river this is; it's at coordinates (64.926596, -149.288535):

Here is Chena Ridge! Home sweet home!


gina said...

Wonderful pictures. Nice to get away for a bit isn't it?

Anonymous said...

The death of two people - AST - is unhappy? Quite an understatement!

Arvay said...

@Anon 11:19; yes, tragedy is definitely unhappy.

Denise said...

Wow, amazing photos! So great to read about how life is there!!