Monday, July 6, 2015

Melissa, McGonnegal and a muddy trail through an Alaska lifetime

Heading in, so nice and clean.

The myth of Phoenix rising came to mind while driving toward the East Pole past the area that burned in the Sockeye fire a couple of weeks ago. Blackened skeletons of spruce that was flaming a week earlier stood along the highway margins on both sides for miles. Occasionally in clearings where houses formerly stood, the bright yellowish wood of new construction contrasted with the dismal black background, a fabled bird emerging from the ashes of  devastating conflagration. Somewhere back in the woods there are still flames and smoke as the fire is considered only 99 percent extinguished.
Coming out with the goods? Eh, not so clean.

Elsewhere moving north past the spruce forest into a more desiduous environment, the foliage seemed much more dense than in previous years, a seeming impenetrable labyrinth in various shades of green. The fact that the East Pole is well within the northern boreal desiduous forest is comforting, much more difficult to catch fire and holds its moisture better than coniferous forests.

The same held true the deeper I went into the forest on the trail to the Pole. Fully leafed-out branches intruded over the trail where I hadn't ever seen them before. The effect was one of driving through a green tunnel with only spots of light overhead. A bear could have been five feet off the trail and I might not have seen it. As a matter of fact, later on, I am pretty sure there was one.

It had been fairly dry for most of the summer with just some sprinkles in the previous week and I expected less mud and water on the trail. Silly me. It was just as bad as ever and made even worse by someone who had gone in on a tracked vehicle and dug ruts deeper than my four-wheeler could handle. On top of that they were too far apart for my machine and at times I found myself riding the machine at a 30 degree angle, the wheels on one side down in the rut and on the other side up on visible ground running down the center of the trail. Between that sort of thing and some deep, long puddles, I managed to take quite a load of water and mud to the cabin. One little mistake almost cost me a cooler full of food. On these trails you really should put duct tape to seal around the edge where the top closes onto the cooler body. If I hadn't packaged my food well I would have eaten some mud for a couple of days. And that cooler brought up a lesson that should have been learned many years ago.

The only excuse I have is that most of my time at the cabin has been in winter. Summer trips have been limited to two or three days, maybe a week. As a result, for those short trips, not needing much food, I always carry a small cooler. The thing is ice in the cooler melts pretty fast and by the second day there's usually only water left. Staring at the muddy mess in the tiny cooler I had an ah-ha moment. What do I always run out of? Food? Never. What else? Ice? Yes! So the main thing you need to bring is lots of ice, right? Duh. From now on the bigger cooler comes with me loaded as deeply with ice, perhaps even in blocks that melt slower given their smaller surface area compared with cubes. That was a lesson it only took about 30 years to learn.

Bear tracks and deep muddy ruts.
I had only two main chores in mind for the trip. One was to put some sealer on the outside deck which was showing signs of age. Because I got there in fairly good shape and the sun was shining I attacked that right away and coated half the deck in less than an hour. That was the half I didn't need to walk on and I planned to do the other half just before I left in a couple of days. Once again, silly me. It rained the night before I was leaving, soaking the deck and making it impossible for me to coat the remainder. So, now I have another chore next time I go. At least the water beaded nicely on the side I had done.

The other chore was more important. It was the list I made when I thought I might have to rescue some stuff from that fire. That rescue effort added to some other thoughts I have been having lately. I have already made some concessions to age and I am certainly not giving up yet, but I am getting closer to an age where I won't be able to go there any more and I think about what I should move out of the cabin. That list is in the back of my head to go with the written one for the fire rescue.

The need to move stuff became more intense recently. I haven't told many people this, but about a month ago I had a stroke. That's a pretty strong word for what happened. I suffered no permanent damage from it. I stood up out of bed one night and my whole left arm went sort of limp and I could not control my hand very well. I know the test using the first three letters in the word "stroke." S = smile. T = talk. R = reach. If you can't do any one of those you need to do something. I could smile and talk and reach but not very well and I for sure couldn't control my hand – not even well enough to button the pants I put on before I headed for the hospital.

I spent about six hours in the emergency room, getting test after test. They finally concluded that I had what is called a transient ischemic attack or mini stroke. Something, a bit of plaque or small blood clot, breaks loose, gets to the brain and messes something up, like left arm coordination for a time until the substance dissolves. It's also called a mini-stroke, and although there's no permanent damage it's considered a serious warning. So, I get another bottle to add to the row of daily medicines, I take cholesterol intake much more seriously and I exercise more frequently and more strenuously. Tomorrow I see a doctor about whether or not the carotid artery on the right side of my neck needs scraping, like he did to the left one a year and a half ago.

"Melissa and McGonnegal." The premise is Melissa is
a ballerina who decides to teach the moose, who usually
 just stands around, some ballet steps.
So there you have it. All this going on in the back of my mind while I sort thorough the detritus of a lifetime attempting to discern what's important and what isn't. It's odd the things that jump out at you. First two on the list were my print of Bill Berry's "Melissa and McGonnegal." I posted a rather poor picture of it with this, because I didn't want his heirs thinking I want to somehow violate their copyright. Second was the 16-pound monster maul without which I would not enjoy splitting firewood nearly as much, and which I don't think can be replaced.

From there it was pick and choose in no particular order. Probably 50 little yellow boxes of photographic slides that might hold a gem I missed going through them the first time; photo albums; loose photographs, some in frames including one of the Great Aunt Tillie I like to refer to now and then; along with two framed pictures of the crews I sailed with on big ocean voyages; toys my kids enjoyed now on their way to my new grandson; a ton of ammunition that for reasons sort of unclear I had amassed out there (in truth I have always thought of it as a place to go after the apocalypse and I would need things like ammo to survive); a set of expensive wine glasses given as a housewarming gift at one time; little memory-tickling doo dads that somehow caught my eye; a Hudson's Bay point blanket I have carried with me forever which my mother bought in 1936; copies of my books and periodicals I have been published in; one huge box marked simply "memories" that I will have to go through at some time to see what's there; and a couple of things I would rather people not find after I die.

I packed everything carefully and wrapped it all in plastic to protect it from trail mud and that was that. I went outside on the deck in the light drizzle and drank a Genesee beer, the choice from my youth, and lost myself in reveries. From here I am not sure what happens. I think about moving back there while I am still able, but honestly am hesitant to give up the comforts of life on the grid, particularly Internet and television, not to mention stores and even the odd chance of companionship. On balance, I feel much more comfortable there, for one reason it is mine and secondly I feel much more confident about myself and life there than anywhere else in the world. I am also calmer, more relaxed for not having to deal with the usual mayhem and insanity in news reports and generally faster paced life among people. Meanwhile I go there and probably will keep looking for things I want to save. I have gotten the indication that neither of my kids wants the place when I am gone, so sometimes the thought drifts to moving out completely and selling the place to take the money and follow the Rolling Stones on tour or something.

Bear tracks small enough to be a black.
Chances are I will keep going there when I can, appreciating the life, until I can't anymore and I then will have to make new choices. In the meantime it is always comforting to know I have a place I can go even if I don't get there often enough like Jimmy Buffett's "One Particular Harbor." Truth is maybe times are rough and I've got too much stuff physically, mentally, emotionally and it all needs a good clearing out, which would be much better done in the deep woods.

On the way out the next day with the load of important stuff, the trail seemed better despite the rain and I had a much easier time of it than going in. Of course I was moving slower and more carefully because there were several fragile items in the trailer. Along the way I came upon some bear tracks heading in the opposite direction. From the looks of them I had probably scared him off the trail and he was in that thick forest not too far away from me. Nevertheless I took some pictures before I moved on. Judging by the tracks I guessed the bear had trudged about four miles along that muddy trail until he heard me coming and hightailed it out of the way.  

That sort of almost meeting put a punctuation mark on the trip for me, and concluded the pleasantness of the whole experience very well. Then, feeling pretty good and with plenty of time to get home in time to watch the American women win the World Cup soccer tournament, I called friends who live along the road nearby and whom I feel guilty about every time I go out and don't stop for a visit. I went to their house and spent a couple of hours for no other reason than to renew the friendship. On the road home, Beck's "Morning Phase" album provided the perfect mellow background music for the day.

The Sockeye wildfire
Beck: Turn Away


  1. Kitty FleischmanJuly 7, 2015 at 5:56 AM

    So many of us are going through the same kinds of things, about a half-step behind you, Tim. Sorry to hear about the TIA. That's very frightening, but happy to hear it wasn't worse. Life changes. I've started that mental process of going through things, as well. A heart attack last summer prompted my decisions. We always wonder about people who retire and move somewhere that is so remote there's no help available when they need it. Sounds like you have the best of both worlds.

  2. I enjoyed your attitude - remember my comments earlier a few days ago?? TIA: gets your attention quickly, is a wakeup call, should not be ignored. I so sorry to hear that you experienced a TIA, but so relieved you have no apparent sequelae. My mother experienced about six while we moved in Wasilla, and she too was lucky. I'm glad you were home in the Butte. I am going through stuff too and have given a significant number of "treasures" to my kids just so they won't to wait until later.

  3. Tim, sorry to hear about the health, but happy you have attached the seriousness. These thing do slow us down. I was diagnosed with Afib a couple years ago, when I went for my annual checkup. My doctor said he should put me in the hospital, my heart rate was 29. He asked me how I felt, I told him fine, except I was more tired then usual. I had just returned from a four day business trip to Miami. I told him it must be my years in Alaska, being winter and time for hibernation. Fortunately, he laughter, prescribed medication, and let me go home with an appointment with the heart specialist in two days. Fortunately, my wife is RN, and director of the stroke department and ER. To summarize, I was shocked back into rhyme at the hospital a few days later. Because of continued Afib, I was implanted with Pace maker with continued medication. I do heavy work out at health club, including lots of pool aerobic exercise & biking. You can check on the Silver Sneaker exercise program with Medicare. It's included in most insurance programs, free workouts at participate health spas. You can check it out on inter net. My body has slowed down, but my mind still wants to challenge the unknown.

    Thanks for the photo, I had forgot about the dancing moose. Happy you still enjoy it's great humor, it made me smile. Take good care of your medical with good tests, you should be great. If you have any concerns give me a call, Sheila has been heading up the outreach strong program at the University of South Carolina Medical school. She has received some national awards with stroke programs for doctors and medical staff.

    The cabin sounds great, and the one thing I miss most is the solitude of remote living in Alaska. After 30 plus years, I'm still on the Alaska time schedule. The Bears will get you before anything else, keep smiling and attach the dam bears. Two glass of wine a day is pretty good medication. That red wine helps clean the tubes. I'll be rooting for you.

    Your old buddy, Del Allison

  4. Hi Tim! I just read about your trip to the East Pole. I am very sorry to hear about the mini-stroke. It sounds like you will not let it have any significance at all which reassures me that you will be just fine!! I love hearing about your adventures. I am so happy for you and so impressed with not only your energy level, but the way you are living life to the fullest and enjoying all the little things. The cabin is amazing! I can't believe you go there in winter-wow. You are tough!! I looked at some other pics, very fun. So glad you enjoy your garden. I find daily happiness in working in my yard tending my flowers. Rambling here, but wanted you to know Iove the updates and am so glad to still have you in my life through facebook. I'm so glad the fire did not steal anything dear to you!! Take care of yourself!! Keep up that exercise!
    heart emoticon -- Nikki Klinger


Interesting quotations

· " “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 ignornance is, you don't have to remain ignorant. — me again"

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. — @Shakespeareon Twitter

"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

“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

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