Saturday, March 9, 2019

Mrs. Miller, where are you? WHERE ARE YOU!

     A friend started a thread on facebook recently where for each of ten days we were asked to list one of our favorite movies along with a poster. Unfortunately I am in the deep woods with rather poor internet access to poster supplies.
     The exercise did sound like fun though and as I thought through my favorite movies I pulled one from my meager library and watched it. The movie is "McCabe and Mrs. Miller." It stars Julie Christie and Warren Beatty. It takes place in the late 1800s at a small and tacky mining camp in the hills of Oregon. Beatty is a small-time gambler who attempts to build a sporting house to service the miners and take their money at gambling tables. Christie plays an experienced madame who brings some highly qualified talent and some social grace to the operation.
      Along the way a major corporation wants to buy Beatty's business and his refusal leads the corporation to send a hired killer to eliminate him. We also learn that Mrs. Miller occasionally visits an opium den in the Chinese section of town.
     Beatty and Christie spar over their combined business and create enough sexual tension to please any soap fan.
     So now comes the spoiler alert. In the end McCabe and the killer hunt each other through town in a snowstorm. The killer wounds Beatty but he pulls a Derringer and shoots the  guy between the eyes. Then McCabe begins a trudge through the deep snow leaving a blood trail until he can go no further, sits in a snowbank and the movie leaves him right there, right where Mrs. Miller should find him and save him.
    Only she doesn't. What we saw in the original movie was Julie Christie lying on her side in a bottom bunk of a smoke-fill den where she draws on a long-stemmed pipe, her eyes glazed and unaware of McCabe's demise or the world around her except for the Chinese woman who attends to her.
     That was the theater version. In this Turner Classic Movies version they left that scene out. What an outrage. How dare some overzealous pollyanna who thinks he's going to save us from a life of drugs by leaving out the seminal outcome of this movie.
    When Turner started buying and converting movies I remember there was some outrage at the company colorizing black and white films. To my mind this is worse, changing the substance is an absolute outrage. I don't need Ted Turner to protect me from the evils in the world.
    As much as I love the movies of my youth I will never buy a Turner-edited movie again.
    An aside: Leonard Cohen's music in "McCabe" is perfect.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

To buid a fire (with an apology to Jack London)

For every mile of the Iditaord trail and from everyone who ever traveled it behind a dog team there is a story, told and retold. Joe May is one of the best at it. This one is no exception. Note that Joe went on to win the Iditarod race tha


On the 1980 Iditarod it was at least -50° between Kaltag and Old Woman. I left Kaltag an hour behind Ernie Baumgartner and shortly came upon him shivering in his sleeping bag, in his sled, a few miles out, seriously cold. I was cold, it was cold. We discussed the situation and I went on a bit to the first dead spruce beside the trail and built a fire. The tree had offered itself up exactly when and where we needed it. Ernie arrived shortly and hustled more wood. Soon Herbie Nayukpuk caught up with us, anchored his team, and added another tree to the fire. Herbie said he'd never been that cold (that from an Eskimo). We stayed several hours until good to travel before moving on. By then the fire pit was 8 ft. wide, 6 ft deep, and had inadvertently crept out into the trail.
The next team to arrive, much later and in the dark, unaware, drove his whole outfit headlong into the (by then) cold fire pit...dogs on the bottom, sled on top, and musher up to his ass in squirming dogs and ashes.
Other teams that night faithfully following preceding tracks, as is the custom, drove into the pit with the same result. (Most mushers back then when on uncomplicated trail ran without a headlight to conserve batteries)
The cursing and yelling (well, almost) reverberated through the trees all the way to Nome.
Herbie's gone where good Esqimos go, Ernie never admitted to the fire, and I'm too old to lie.
(I'm really, really sorry, Dewey).

When this was going on, I was living in a 10x14 cabin on the banks of the  Susitna River writing The Last Great Race. I caught updates about the race on the radio. After Joe left Old Woman he beat everyone to the next  checkpoint at Unalakleet. There a radio reporter cornered him and I heard Joe on the radio telling the unsuspecting reporter his dogs were jsut about to give it up. He said they were tired, some didn't want to go any more, some were looking sick. He said he was going to try one more checkpoint and if they didn't improve he was going to drop out. I laughed so loud it got the dogs I was living with to barking. I knew what the Reporter didn't. Joe wasn't talking to him, he was talking to any competitors behind him who might hear the broadcast. Jone never saw another musher after that and he cruised into Nome for the win unchallenged. (With those dogs who were ready to quit.)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Questions are answered

     I'm finally somewhat comfortable with the firewood progress so I thought I'd take an afternoon break and answer a question. I've been asked a couple of times what size maul I use to split wood.
    The answer is more than one. They are lined up in the photo. The orange one to the left is the main one. It is all steel and weighs 18 pounds. I use it for the biggest chunks, particularly of birch because it's such a dense hardwood. I've had it for 33 years. Sometimes even that maul won't do it and then I cut a chunk lengthwise with the chainsaw. Some of those are so tough I have to cut the halves into thirds. I usually split those where I cut them because they are way too heavy to be lifting. (I am 76 years old, after all.) The biggest piece of birch I've split so far this winter was 19 inches in diameter. The piece the maul is leaning aganst is spruce and 10 inches in diameter, so the birch was just about twice that size.
     The middle one with the yellow handle I use for lighter work, most of the spruce and some of the smaller pieces of birch. It was new last year, bought after the wood handle on my old one shattered in my hands. It weighs 6 pounds. The spruce it's leaning against is 7 inches in diameter.
    The one on the far right with the blue handle is the weight of an ordinary hatchet, but the long handle gives it more versatility. I usually use it only for splitting kindling or for trimming a branch from a chunk that I missed when I first cut it.
     For backup I have a 3-pound, short-handled maul and steel wedges for splitting the tough ones. Hint: don't waste your money on those plastic orange wedges. I have broken every one I've ever used.
    Now, did you notice the chickadee inspecting the product? If you missed him, he's standing on the edge of the sled to the left in the photo. This spot is right under the feeder. Not the best choice of a location considering the birds, but life on a hillside doesn't offer many level choices. Besides, it doesn't seem to bother the birds at all. They flit in and out all the time I am there and I have even had them land on me. It's all so quiet here I can hear their wingbeats as they fly to the feeder.
So there we have it; not finished yet, but in good shape for next winter.
    Henry David Thoreau wrote he loved heating with wood because it warms you twice. According to this account, how many times do you think someone who really cuts firewood feels that warmth?
    You cut the original into sections of the proper length. You haul it to where you plan to use it, in my case by hand with a 6-foot plastic sled. You split it. You haul or carry it again to where you stack it for storage. Stacking is warming too. Then when it's time to burn you haul it out again and carry it to the stove. Only in my case you don't do that for a year. That's six times by my count, not even considering the fire itself.
     I think old Henry had his firewood delivered, at least in the round.
     The photo at the bottom shows the progress so far: slightly bigger than a cord, counting what still needs to be brought up the hill. A cord and a half holds me through the winter and I have a month and half to get that last half. I also have a bunch of spruce cut for kindling that I only need to split.
     One year when I was quitting smoking I left a small pile to split right outside the door and whenever I felt uptight and wanting a smoke I went out there and split firewood. Haven't had a cigarette in 15 years but I still leave a pile of wood to split by the door. That's it in the picture with the splitting gear.

Firewood and revery 

Friday, February 8, 2019

A mechanical breakdown is for the birds

No one should ever call me a mechanic. I mean, I can do routine maintenance, and small things, like change spark plugs if necessary. But don't ever ask me to run the rack on a diesel injection system, or rebuild a carburetor or change a transmission. That just won't happen. And troubleshooting? I can come up with a hundred theories if something breaks down, but seldom the right one. I am guy who swore at his brand new snowmachine for a week when it wouldn't run, only to discover after I had called for help that I had left the parking brake engaged.
     We all know the mechanic you tell about a small noise you heard and he immediately goes to worst case: "we'll probably have to pull the engine, might take a total rebuild." Then someone finds a screw loose, tightens it and all fixed.
    I'm a worst-case guy. Something goes wrong I immediately imagine the worst. Only I don't tear down the engine, I want to call the guy.
   When something breaks out here at the East Pole even calling the guy is a chore and getting the machine to the mechanic is near impossible.
    With that said, two days ago, faced with an impending disaster, I had to go out.
    I went out to start the snowmachine. It fired up once and quit. On the second try it attempted to go but failed. On the third try it only gave me that horrid electronic click. If you've ever had a totally dead battery you've heard that click. Now, this machine's battery has never gone dead even after a whole summer of lay up. There is a manual start, a pull cord like a lawnmower. That proved to be locked up, and could not be pulled. So, not the battery, something mechanical was jammed.
    I tried pulling the machine a few feet hoping to turn the track and free whatever had locked up, but no luck. Thinking it might still be the battery, I hooked up a charger and went indoors to think and read the manual.
    Between the two I realized I had not looked at the side of the engine where the flywheel, drive belt, drive wheel and other moving parts are located.
    I removed that panel and looked through the assembly, but didn't see a tree branch or errant screw jammed in anywhere. But I did see a large nut on the assembly for the lower of two pulleys that together transfer the action of the drive belt to the track. I picked up a wrench to fit and gently but firmly tried to turn the nut. Immediatly I heard a metallic click and looked quickly enough to see a shaft and small cog wheel withdraw from the lower pulley and retreat into the housing for the shaft that rotates the track. Whoa, that had to be it. I sat back and thought about it for a minute. Then I gave the recoil starter cord a gentle tug and woo hoo it was free. A minute later I used the elctric start and the machine fired right off. But O.M.G.
     The engine caught but immediately raced to full rpms; almost getting away from me and diving over the edge and down the hill. I managed to hit the kill switch to stop it. That happened again and then somehow in reverse and it backed up until it dug itself a hole. In one of those starts there was a huge backfire as well.
    So back indoors again. The book said bad plugs can cause backfires and then I noticed something in the startup procedure; you're supposed to operate the throttle lever several times before you start then engine. Long story short, new plugs and squeezing the throttle lever several times and the machine started properly, ran the way it was supposed to and engaged the track and I could drive it away.
     By that time it was too late in the day to start a major trip out the trail and a short shopping run. Despite not getting the job done, I felt pretty good about the day. I left everything there feeling proud of myself, but slightly fearful I would encounter another problem when I started up the next day. Still, a day with a major mechanical success is always a good day.
     The next morning everything ran perfectly. I went out, hit the gas station and the grocery store and made it back home in good time, and, with that major catastrophe averted.
    And what was that catastrophe that caused this monumental effort? I managed to run out of seed for the bird feeder. I had left a 40-pound bag in the truck and had to retrieve it. You just don't want to piss off an army of chickadees and redpolls.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A bittersweet anniversary

 I am at the cabin in the woods for the winter again and I woke up today thinking about you. I think of you often but this seemed different. Later when I realized the date is January 31 I realized why. Today marks two years since you've been gone. It seems much longer. I can only hope you are alive and doing well. I do miss you.
Last summer I got into a zone with our book and wrote steadily for more than two months. It got to more than 800 pages and with that I got discouraged, because I wonder who would read, let alone publish a book that long, espcially considering that at best I was a little more than halfway through.
What got me going was coming up with a subplot to tie things together and also give the whole thing a more fictional look, to respect your privacy. In the subplot the old man in the conversations dies and his son discovers the unfinished manuscript as he is going through the old man's stuff and now the story is from his point of view in reading the conversations. The son has a sister whose daughter ran away from an abusive father much like you did and gets in drug trouble with the law and comes home detoxing. Eventually she learns her uncle is reading this story and he enlists her to help him understand and perhaps finish the book. There's a lot more but that gives you the basic idea. Anyway I am waiting for the impulse to pick it up again and finish it and then at least as a friend once said I will have a pile of paper. From there i can figure out how to make it an acceptable length.
It has been at times tormenting to live through our relationship and at times wonderful. We did have some good times. I watched "The Hours" the other night. I believe that was the last movie we intended to watch together.
That's about all that's going on here besides cutting firewood. I miss you and I wish you would at least let me know you are alive. If you don't want to, I do hope you're well and thriving, you deserve that.
Love …

Memorable quotations

“A poem is an egg with a horse inside” — anonymous fourth grader

“My children will likely turn my picture to the wall but what the hell, you only get old once." — Joe May

“Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.” — Ernest Hemingway

When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth. Kurt Vonnegut

“If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.” Stephen King

The thing about ignorance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

"It was like the aftermath of an orgasm with the wrong partner." – David Lagercrants “The Girl in the Spider’s Web.”

Why worry about dying, you aren't going to live to regret it.

Never debate with someone who gets ink by the barrel" — George Hayes, former Alaska Attorney General who died recently

My dear Mr. Frost: two roads never diverge in a yellow wood. Three roads meet there. — @Shakespeare on Twitter

Normal is how somebody else thinks you should act.

"The mark of a great shiphandler is never getting into situations that require great shiphandling," Adm. Ernest King, USN

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

My friend Gail: All waitresses are cute when you're hungry.

I'm not a writer, but sometimes I push around words to see what happens. – Scott Berry

I realized today how many of my stories start out "years ago." What's next? Once upon a time?"

“The rivers of Alaska are strewn with the bones of men who made but one mistake” - Fred McGarry, a Nushagak Trapper

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stared at walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. – Meg Chittenden

A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. – Franz Kafka

We are all immortal until the one day we are not. – me again

If the muse is late, start without her – Peter S. Beagle

Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. ~Mark Twain Actually you could do the same thing with the word "really" as in "really cold."

If you are looking for an experience that will temper your vanity, this is it. There's no one to impress when you're alone on the trap line. – Michael Carey quoting his father's journal

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. – Benjamin Franklin

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums of money to get rid of. – Shirley Hazzard

So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence -- Bertrand Russell

You know that I always just wanted to have a small ship to take stuff from a place that had a lot of that stuff to a place that did not have a lot of that stuff and so prosper.—Jackie Faber, “The Wake of the Lorelei Lee”

If you attack the arguer instead of the argument, you lose both

If an insurance company won’t pay for damages caused by an “act of God,” shouldn’t it then have to prove the existence of God? – I said that

I used to think getting old was about vanity—but actually it’s about losing people you love. Getting wrinkles is trivial. – Eugene O’Neill

German General to Swiss General: “You have only 500,000 men in your army; what would you do if I invaded with 1 million men?”

Swiss General: “Well, I suppose every one of my soldiers would need to fire twice.”

Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.—Gloria Steinem

Exceed your bandwidth—sign on the wall of the maintenance shop at the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center

One thing I do know, if you keep at it, you usually wind up getting something done.—Patricia Monaghan

Do you want to know what kind of person makes the best reporter? I’ll tell you. A borderline sociopath. Someone smart, inquisitive, stubborn, disorganized, chaotic, and in a perpetual state of simmering rage at the failings of the world.—Brett Arends

It is a very simple mind that only knows how to spell a word one way.—Andrew Jackson

3:30 is too late or too early to do anything—Rene Descartes

Everything is okay when it’s 50-below as long as everything is okay. – an Alaskan in Tom Walker’s “The Seventymile Kid”

You can have your own opinion but you can’t have your own science.—commenter arguing on a story about polar bears and global warming

He looks at three ex wives as a good start—TV police drama

Talkeetna: A friendly little drinking town with a climbing problem.—a handmade bumper sticker

“You’re either into the wall or into the show”—Marco Andretti on giving it all to qualify last at the 2011 Indy 500

Makeup is not for the faint of heart—the makeup guerrilla

“I’m going to relax in a very adult manner.”—Danica Patrick after sweating it out and qualifying half an hour before Andretti

“Asking Congress to come back is like asking a mugger to come back because he forgot your wallet.”—a roundtable participant on Fox of all places

As Republicans go further back in the conception process to define when life actually begins, I am beginning to think the eventual definition will be life begins in the beer I was drinking when I met her.—me again

Hunting is a “critical element for the long-term conservation of wood bison.”—a state department of Fish and Game official explaining why the state would not go along with a federal plan to reintroduce wood bison in Alaska because the agreement did not specifically allow hunting

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

I can’t belive I still have to protest this shit – a sign carriend by an elderly woman at an Occupy demonstration

Life should be a little nuts or else it’s just a bunch of Thursdays strung together—Kevin Costner as Beau Burroughs in “Rumor has it”

You’re just a wanker whipping up fear —Irish President Michael D. Higgins to a tea party radio announcer

Being president doesn’t change who you are; it reveals who you are—Michelle Obama

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

"He's got to have the lead if he's going to win this race."

"Kansas has always had the ability to score with the basketball."

"NFL to put computer chips in balls." Oh, that's gotta hurt.

"Now that you're in the finals you have to run the race that's going to get you on the podium."

"It's very important for both sides that they stay on their feet."

This is why you get to hate sportscasters. Kansas beats Texas for the first time since 1938. So the pundits open their segment with the question "let's talk about what went wrong." Wrong? Kansas WON a football game! That's what went RIGHT!

"I brought out the thermostat to show you how cold it is here." Points to a thermometer reading zero in Minneapolis.

"It's tough to win on the road when you turn the ball over." Oh, really? Like you can do all right if you turn the ball over playing at home?

Cliches so imbedded in sportscasters' minds they can't help themselves: "Minnesota fell from the ranks of the undefeated today." What ranks? They were the only undefeated team left.

A good one: A 5'10" player went up and caught a pass off a defensive back over six feet tall. The quote? "He's got some hops."

Best homonym of the day so far: "It's all tied. Alabama 34, Kentucky 3." Oh, Tide.

"Steve Hooker commentates on his Olympic pole vault gold medal." When "comments" just won't do.

"He's certainly capable of the top ten, maybe even higher than that."

"Atlanta is capable of doing what they're doing."

"Biyombo, one of seven kids from the Republic of Congo." In the NBA? In America? In his whole country?

"You can't come out and be aggressive but you can't come out and be unaggressive."

"They're gonna be in every game they play!"

"First you have to get two strikes on the hitter before you get the strikeout."

"The game ended in the final seconds." You have to wonder when the others ended or are they still going on?

How is a team down by one touchdown before the half "totally demoralized?"

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

After a play a Houston defender was on his knees, his head on the ground and his hand underneath him appeared to clutch a very sensitive part of the male anatomy. He rolled onto his back and quickly removed his hand. (Remember the old Cosby routine "you cannot touch certain parts of your body?") Finally they helped the guy to the sideline and then the replay was shown. In it the guy clearly took a hard knee between his thighs. As this was being shown, one of the announcers says, "It looks like he hurt his shoulder." The other agrees and then they both talk about how serious a shoulder injury can be. Were we watching the same game?

"Somebody is going to be the quarterback or we're going to see a new quarterback."

"If you're gonna play running back in the SEC you're gonna take hits."

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

In Southcentral Alaska earthquake, damage originated in the ground, engineers say

Alabama governor candidate caught in lesbian sprem donation scandal

Sister hits moose on way to visit sister who hit moose.

Man loses his testicles after attempting to smoke weed through a SCUBA tank

Church Mutual Insurance won't cover Church's flood damage because it's 'an act of God'

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

Nude beach blowjob jet ski fight leads to wife's death

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve