Personal Alaska 2

The summer of our discontent

A friend sent me this article that I wrote and was published in small literary magazine 
Before: Happy boat captain
called Anna's House. I had forgotten about it, written almost 30 years ago shortly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. I found it difficult to read, having to relive for a little while that awful summer that changed my life in so many ways. Because of some personal embarrassment I feel over at least one incident in it, I hesitated putting it here, but I decided to, mostly because I want people to know how far the ramifications of an oil spill go into the lives of people involved. The effects of that spill still linger in Prince William Sound and not just in the minds of residents. Keep in mind this was written probably a month or so after the first summer of the spill so some verb tenses might sound funny. Also this comes from magazine pages made into PDFs and then transferred to Word and then to Blogger and there are some crazy formattings I couldn't get rid of. Please bear with me.

Years ago, before I began driving  tourist boats for a living, I was Alaska correspondent for Sports Illustrated. The people there never could get the time difference straight and often  in New York at 9 a.m. they would phone me. Of  course when my phone rang, it was 5 a.m. in Anchorage. Training dies hard. 
Last spring my friend Barbara and I moved into a little house trailer in Valdez. Four days later, March 24, when the ringing phone awakened me at about 5:20 a.m., I wondered what Sports Illustrated wanted and how they'd found me. The caller, the owner of the boat I had been operating for six years, told me an oil tanker had hit Bligh Reef and he needed my boat to haul crews to the site. As dumb from sleep as I was, the journalism instinct proved strong and I called Howard Weaver, the editor of the Anchorage Daily News and told him what I  knew.
 drove to the harbor and navigated the ice on the docks to the boat, which was still in winter layup. We had only just  begun the spring preparations for the tourist season. In less than two hours we had most of the systems functioning  and the engines warmed and could have departed. Instead  we  stood by waiting for orders Calls  on the marine radio told some of the story. The tanker had hit the rocks sometime around midnight. Salvage equipment didn't even begin moving until11a.m. and didn't arrive until  around 2p.m.
Most of us on the boat  had chosen to work in Prince William Sound because of its  wildness,  its adventure, its beauty. Now an oil tanker was filling the sound with crude, and all we could do was sit at the dock waiting, frustrated at our inability to do anything  when so much should be doneIt wasn't until about 4p.m. that we got the call,ran across Port Valdez to the  Alyeska  pipeline terminal  and picked   up   crew  and learned    one of the reasons for the delay.
The pipeline operators did      have equipment to clean up spills but were unable to load  it  on their barge. And there was another problem. Valdez averages 24 to 32 feet of snowfall every year. Most of that equipment was on shore, covered by a winter's worth of snow.
We departed the terminal sometime after 6 p.m. and arrived at Bligh Reef after dark, guided by the deck lights of the ship on the rocks, and what seemed like hundreds of lights from small boats. Darkness hid the oil in the water from us, but the odor was unmistakable a mile from the ship. 
[ An insert: On the trip down to the ship the owner was sitting out on the bow. About a mile or so from it a killer whale surfaced to breathe right in front of the bow. I turned on the autopilot and stepped out and asked the owner if he had seen that. He said yes and he hoped it wouldn't get into the oil. I thought that too but I had a history with the sound's whales and something else occurred to me. "What makes you think he wasn't trying to tell us the same thing?" I asked.] 
When we reached the ship, I maneuvered the boat against the side of a tug and our crew left to begin work. A tired oil-coated crew boarded for the return trip toValdez.
From that first morning until the middle of October, the work never stopped. I worked 12 hours a day, sometimes 20, seven days a week, with few respites and no relaxation. For the first 18 days we hauled crew changes to the leading edge of the cleanup. The boat, 60 feet long and licensed for 45 passengers, was ideal. Each day we followed the oil a little farther southwest. The last trip was 80 miles.
Each day the enormity of the disaster grew. We learned about oil and spills; new terms entered our lexicon: "boom" and "skimmer" and "mud boat. "We learned how to measure the thickness of the oil on the water: Oil came through the sea water intakes to the boat's toilets foot below the waterline, but didn't come through the intakes for the main engines three feet down, meaning the oil was somewhere between a foot and three feet thick, at least in the first few days,
A t first the oil was brownish sludge on the surface of the water with just the hint of rainbow in it. As it spread farther and thinned,  the rainbows became more obvious. After the first three days, most of the aromatics in the oil had evaporated and the odors were less pronounced. We learned about skimmers and the booms that contain and absorb oil. On the first of the longer trips through the spreading slick,   drove through 35 miles of oil. The white hull of the boat turned brown; we covered all the seats with plastic to protect them from oil on the workers' clothing, and put up signs, "Please don't flush the toilets while we're in the oil," to protect the working parts of the electric pumps.
We were so busy and so tired those first days, I didn't fully appreciate the dimensions of the disaster. It wasn't until about a week and a half into the spill that had chance to reflect. We were in the harbor standing by, a watchword in spill work. I stretched out in the wheelhouse with a newspaper. I'd caught headlines on the run, but I never  had a chance to read report on the spill all the way through. When I did, the immensity of what had happened came over me in swell. laid there in the wheelhouse fighting tears for half an hourSo many people must have done the same when they grasped the amount of destruction to this last sanctuary of wilderness by an economic system that cannot leave things alone.
For those first eighteen days ran the boat on the word of the callout by Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the pipeline operating company. We had no contract and no idea how much we'd be paid. We'd worked with them over the years and didn't worry about it. I think most Alaskans would have volunteered just to get that oil out of the water and save what we could. By the eighteenth day, Exxon had begun administering the project and we signed a contract with them that ended the same dayfor some reason. The boat,· the crew and I were out of it. I had been free in talking with reporters, and I wondered if Exxon were holding it against us.
We began cleaning the boat and preparing it for the tourist season, and I began to see the changes in attitude around town. Exxon planned to clean the spill by throwing money at it and lot of people in Valdez were cashing in. Boat owners getting five times their normal charter rates were complaining. My boss, who normally chartered that boat for $1,500 a day, turned down an offer of $4,000 a day.
I have to admit here that I was not immune. I could see in front of me maybe a $100,000 summer— $20,000 was a good year normally.
Eventually the owner landed an acceptable contract with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. We all preferred working for the state, even though the money ultimately came from the oil company.
But it wasn't to last. We left Valdez the second of May. On the11th, crossing rocky area near Green Island in the southern part of the sound, I hit a submerged rock and all but sank the boat. A tugboat kept it afloat for eight hours until the tide went out. We did what patching we could and then when it floated free on the returning tide, the tug towed it to shallow water.
I was the captain of a boat under tow, watching water slowly rising in the bilges, and ripping out what equipment I could to toss into a skiff running next to me in order to save what was salvageable in case the boat sank under me. Ahead on the deck of the tug right next to the tow line lay an axe to cut that tow if the boat began sinking and tried to pull the tug down with it.
The three-mile voyage was long and slow. When we did reach the beach the boat settled on the bottom with just the cabin showing at high water. For weekwe repaired the holes enough to tow the boat 70 miles back toValdez. Iworked in the rain, slogging in water-filled boots through the clay muck of the beach. knew the $100,000 summer was gone along with my confidence and my reputation as boat driver. The disaster of the oil spill dimmed somewhat.
After the boat returned to Valdez and was safely hoisted onto land, I spent a weekend home reliving the accident. I wanted to stay away from the boat until the notoriety wore off and curious spectators went on to other pursuits. Meantime the owner searched the West Coast for another boat.
After week I   began salvaging equipment and cleaning out the muck. My heart wasn't in a project that only reemphasized the mistake had made. was standing amid the wreckage of boat and psyche when our landlord, friend of many years, climbed up the ladder and entered the cabin. I really thought she had come to offer sympathy. She was boat person herself. Instead she told me she was going to sell the house trailer she was renting us.
Real estate prices had never been this high before. The spill had tripled the town's population; no rental units were available. Homeowners were renting out rooms; some reportedly rented their homes for $11,000 a month. One friend moved his son into a small travel trailer in the back yard so he could rent the boy's room. Since we didn't have to move immediately, we tabled the disaster, figuring something had to turn up for us.
My boss located another boat and I went to Seattle to help drive it north. I felt I'd bottomed out. The long boat trip eased my mind and helped my confidence. We made the trip in five days, running day and night through the Inside Passage and across the Gulf ofAlaska.
My return was anything but triumphant. Someone else was going to operate the boat. It seemed the family in the family operation I'd been working for over the previous eight years didn't want to promote me after sinking their boat. They did offer me lesser job but turned it down, mostly because that job would have taken me out of oil spill work.
Barbara, in the meantime, had her own frustrations. She had joined the volunteer effort to clean sea otters, but was told eventually there was no place for volunteers. She sobbed that she had moved to Alaska to get away from the avaricious crowds of the Lower 48 and now the spill had brought them hereValdez doesn't have a traffic light. There just isn't enough traffic. This summer sometimes it took as long as ten minutes to cross an intersection. She published a satiric newspaper about the spill, then worked on the tour boats for the people who had dumped me.
For the first  time in 20 years didn't have job or any prospects. I'd never really had to look for work. I was recruited out of college; I always seemed to have another job waiting around the corner. I'd never written resume. Once the initial panic had settled, went looking for work and within two days was driving crew boat for Veco Inc., the main subcontractor for Exxon in the cleanup — no future, but it would get us through the summer. The world  had tipped somehow and we had to claw to hold on.
One evening before I left for work I started laughing and explained to Barbara, "Barb, it's 8 o'clock in the evening and nothing bad has happened to us yet." She laughed, too. At 8:30 the phone rang. It was the landlord telling us the house was being sold and we'd have to get out.
The next morning inconsiderately left with the crew boat for the rest of the summer, dumping the housing problem onto Barbara. But through some fortune, the boat broke down three times in the first week and the third time couldn't fix it. After a week of waiting for the part I needed, I gave up and jumped on a crew boat heading for Valdez.
When I arrived, Barbara was gone. The whole mess had become too much for her and she'd gone to stay with a friend in Anchorage. I called her and promised I wouldn't leave until the housing situation was settled. That's what I told my new employer the next morning when I took the broken part into the office. They hired a new skipper.
Barb returned the next day and we attacked the housing problem, but the situation was dismal. We finally came down to choice between the19-foot travel trailer our friend's son had been occupying, or a room at another friend's houseWhen we called our friend to tell her we had decided to rent from her, she told us she was being evicted and asked us if we knew of place where she could stay. (She left Valdez in disgust at the end of the summer.)
At this point our thinking was muddled; we just weren't looking at all the angles. It took one sentence from Barbara's father to turn us around. He said, "You just spent all that money for a car and you can't spend even less to buy a house trailer?Within twdays wlocateaaffordable trailer sold by a long-time Valdez resident who was fed up with the chaos and was getting out.
We went to the bank I had been using for more than 15 years for a loan. The manager said the loan was small enough he could grant it on his word. Then he smiled and said, "no." That was a shock. We were driving trying to figure out what to do when we passed the other bank in town and Barbara suggested we try there. I had never been inside the door. But, we gave it a try and this banker heard our case and then asked, "do you need the money today or can you wait until Monday?" I could have kissed her.
One problem solved, but was still jobless. In a couple of days, however, began driving little 28-foot pleasure boat shuttling people between Valdez and cleanup sites out in the the sound.
My daughter, Ariel, who usually spent summers with me on the boat, came to Valdez. Her visit underlined the effect of the spill on us. I saw her only a couple of times during the summer.
Early in the summer, after miscue in semantic differential, Barbara and decided to get married before she returned to teach school in the fall. So, amid all the other hectic activity we planned wedding. Actually Barbara planned it; was gone12 hours day, seven days a week driving boat.
I almost missed the ceremony. I had found someone to relieve me on the boat, but two days before the wedding the boat was called out for four-day trip. My substitute couldn't go for that long and we scoured the docks for someone else. Five minutes before departure,we recruited  another skipper who could take my place. Get me to the church on time.
We were married in a simple civil ceremony August18. Barbara's family and what few friends weren't working on the oil spill joined us. We postponed our honeymoon and I went back to work and kept at it until the middle of October. As the days dragged on I declined slowly. I am used to working a hundred days straight in the summer, but not 200. Every waking minute was consumed by the spill and even the simplest of tasks outside work turned monumental. For the first time in my life forgot to pay bills. When Exxon called in the boat contracts, putting us all out of work, many of us cheered.
With all that happened to us personally, lost track of what the spill had done to Prince William Sound. I had seen all the work sites out in the sound, all the attempts at cleaning, all the inefficiency of effort, the lack of coordination, the politics, and most  of  all, the inability to pick up the oil. Exxon claims to have picked up about 20 percent of the oil spilled by the tanker. The company claims another 20 percent evaporated. (Historically the best oil recovery from an oil spill is around 11 percent.) I know I've walked on beaches they treated and dug holes a foot down that filled with oil. Oil clinging to rocks in places can't be scraped off with knife, and even on the last few days before shutdown, inspectors were finding beaches still fouled with what came to be called mousse, the brownish coagulated slime of aged crude.
In the long run the impact of people on the sound may have been even worse than the oil. What six thousand people can do to wilderness is unbelieveableI'd gone into bay where I'd spent time before the spill, quiet place where mine was the only boat, and found virtual city with hundreds of boats and as many as thousand people. At one of my favorite little bays, where I'd watched for killer whales, I estimated five hundred people living on barges and boats. Maybe a hundred cleaned the beach. The rest all provided support of some kind or another.  And this whole effort was aimed at about half mile of the thousand miles oiled.
AFTER: 12 years as an oil spill 
response consultant.

During my last boat operationstaking marine surveyors around Port Valdez to inspect barges and their loads before they headed south after the summer, I found myself working for Outsiders who had come to Valdez to exploit the spill. The people I was working with, the cargo surveyors, wanted only to get paid and get out. The Seattle woman who worked with me as crew joked about having PMS, "Point Me South." Since most of the local boats had quit, even the radio talk was restricted to Outside boats. I felt like an alien in my own country.
wondered how many people working on the spill  saw the sound only in terms of a fast buck. One day I took some Outsiders to a couple of beautiful bays near Valdez just  to showthem what the sound really is like. To their credit, they appreciated what they saw.

I never thought I'd look forward to a cold snowy quiet day in Valdez, but when it came and I looked out over a quiet harbor, a few snow-covered boats, wave of relief swept over me. It was overthis summer of disruptionI hope that time will wash away the memories of this year, but I'm afraid it will do little more than the winter waves will do to wash the beaches clean.

During the mayhem a friend, an accomplished poet who had shared the sound with  me a time or two, sent me this poem:

There Is No Way Back
By Patricia Monaghan

On the radio, an old friend's voice
chokes with anger and grief.
At the Stony Island intersection
I am stuck, gridlocked in place.

Stalled in traffic uselessly
weeping I listen to the news.
The light turns yellow, red
again; a sudden cry of horns.

Salmon in the tide pool, whales
beside the boat: memories flood me.
The traffic surges forward,
each car spuming its exhaust.

Now the announcer decries
the otters' oil-soaked coats.
I speed home along the freeway
surrounded by the names of animals.

I have fished the Sound, watching
slow fog fall on the blue shore.
--Someone passes me, too fast.
I brake as I approach the exit.

Anchored over the crab pots
I have watched the day moon rise.
A red sun sets now over
the Halsted Street bridge.

I want this to be easier. I want
to forget that oil fueled our boat.
I want to hate the vivid city
as a kind of expiation.

But I've burned trees as fuel.
I have boiled crabs alive.
My trapper friends kill for luxury.
Gardeners rub their hands with Vaseline.

There is no way now to be innocent,
no way for it not to be night and
each of us unprepared to pilot
through these rocky narrows.

And there is no way back.  There is no
part of the world that is not part
of the world.  There is not one of us
who was not on the bridge that night.

Comments from facebook:
Jan Williams Simone This is a heartbreaking and deeply personal story, Tim. Thank you for sharing it with us. And now? What has permanently changed? I wrote about it, too, when it happened, because I was a feature writer for a small newspaper But I could only cry for what was lost from very far away. To live through all of it - well, I can see that it was hell.
Sharon Wright I am glad you posted this, Tim. It was a solid piece of writing then and is now. We all lost somethings bigger than just our innocence. Dave & I & our family lost our annual Spring trip and income from the herring roe on kelp fishery and he was cheated out of any bit of settlement in spite of extensive documentation. To go out there now & miss the porpoises, orcas, the massive flocks of those black ducks with the orange-red feet, etc. etc. is still heartbreaking.
Karen Lachance I am determined never to forget the spill and the aftermath.
Carrie Ann Nash Thank you for sharing that. You write beautifully. The spill, the changes for all of us from the spill, that inability to return to innocence is still an open wound, at least for me. Time passes but the helplessness and fury and violation is fresh for me. And of course, the 52 year old me regrets that our pain translated into more chaos and pain for you. But, thank you for posting this piece.
Tim Jones Thank you Carrie. I have always understood.
Wendy Wiedenman The spill forced me out of housing and I lost hope, my heart in Valdez 
Joe May Hard reading, Tim. Some of it still must hurt.
Kathy Flesch Thank you for sharing the so real story. I could imagine the colours, smell of oil, turmoil, heartbreak. I remember when it happened, tv news...but your post made it so real for me...

Have you ever had a day like this?
March 10, 2018
I woke up mid morning with no idea what I was going to do today. Mindlessly I followed the morning routine, hot chocolate, check to see if the mountain is out (nope), check the Internet if there is a good enough signal, stoke the fire still smouldering from last night, check the bird feeder and watch the chickadees for a while. All things are as they should be, now what to do
A flicker of motion outside the window catches the eye, a bird larger than the usual. I grabbed for my camera which has been largely ignored this week because of all the snow shoveling. But before I could even get a lens on, the bird took off, staying only long enough for me to identify it as a merlin, a discouraged merlin because he couldn't follow the small birds into the thicket of birch branches. From the silhouette etched in my brain and the color I made the identification from the Birds of Alaska guide. That observation was worth firing up the generator so I could get a good cellular signal and add the merlin to yesterday's post about chickadees and thick branches.
A look out another window told me what I was supposed to do today. All week things had to be shoveled off, trails snowshoed and packed down. Snowmachne stuck twice, the roof. Today I could finally get back to the main chore, firewood.
But first, of course I had to dig out the snow covering the sections near the house waiting to be split. No pressure though, so I worked at a leisurely pace and in short time had most of it uncovered and the splitting began. Working under the feeder I could hear chickadees' wingbeats as they flew to and from it. Before I stopped for a break I had taken two sledloads of split wood back under the house to be stacked later.
     About that time I focused on the large black storage container on the porch. My friend whom I helped after tweakers just about destroyed her rental home had bought it for me as a thank you. For all the time I have spent at the East Pole I have thought I should have some kind of safety net. If this cabin were ever to catch fire, there is no fire department to call and no ready source of pressurized water. I always thought the smart thing to do in case I had to bail out in a hurry was keep a survival kit outside the house somewhere, something full of gear that could help me survive for at least a couple of days if the worst should happen and that was what I planned to use this container for. The problem is it sat on the deck since December, largely ignored except for a place to store stuff. So today I started thinking about that and pulled it indoors to fill. I have a container with 20 days worth of survival foods coming. I had to make a list of stuff to buy and stuff to bring from the other house. So far I have a one-burner Coleman stove, matches, a sleeping bag, a knife and a multitool like a Swiss Army knife. To-buy list just started includes an ax and a small shovel, a spare snowmachine key. Up in the loft here to bring down is a tent and a pair of short snowshoes. I will also sort through clothing here and make sure I have a change of clothes that includes several layers and boots. In the process of looking through stuff I discovered I own five corkscrews. What was I thinking? (Suggestions are welcome.)
That got me to lunch and a short horizonal rest and then back out to the wood pile, but with all this machinating in my mind it felt proper to take another break and write it down. So that's the day so far. Back to the wood pile. Oh, yes, I put the box of Franzia's finest blush chablis outside to chill. It feels like that kind of day. One big stump to split then more digging and stacking. BRB
   One other considertion. Despite the lack of mountain, and bright sunlight, it's a most beautiful day here. Deep undisturbed snow covers the ground and huge globs of it cling to branches in all the trees waiting to drop on some unsuspecting traveler. Meanwhile melting snow is drippping off what remains of the snow on the roof making icicles that soon will be stout enough for the chickadees to cling to and drink from.
     As the afternoon ages, whiskers of cloud grow across the sky. In the end four sled loads of firewood under the house and the next group released from its snowy den.
Then the daylight part of this one culminates in a comfortable chair on the deck, bright sunlight for a time but not long enough to send the thermometer past 58 degrees. A glass of wine, a playlist of love songs on the iPad/iHome system: "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," perfect, we dreamed of a life like this. Sitting back, listening relaxing, the memories will come with the second glass of wine. "once upon a time I was falling in love, now I'm only falling apart." A total eclipse, except, NOT. Turn around. Forever's going to start tonight.
   And then there's that happy moment of lucidity and you are glad to be alone and can only hope no one can hear you in the deep woods as you step out onto the deck, driven by iPhone and earbuds and absolutely sure you hit the high note in Unchained Melody at the top of your lungs.
It's been that kind of day.

What's a sourdough, anyway?

July 11, 2017 
To distinguish between newcomers and old-timers in Alaska we have two words. A cheechako is a newcomer and a sourdough is an old-timer. Apparently there is no middle ground. Definitions of those two categories vary as evidenced but the facebook string above. It's worth going there and following the comments, the whole episode is pretty funny. Quite a way down you will find my own comment in which is said "after years of storytelling (both listening and telling) I have come to the conclusion that a sourdough is someone who's been here a year longer than you have.
Here's how I came up with that definition. Years ago I was standing in line at a Post Office behind two old-timers, obviously sourdoughs. The conversation I overheard was fascinating. These guys had been in just about every gold camp in Alaska over the years, often at different times but in the same ones together occasionally, though they had never met.

As these conversations go, the conversation eventually evolved to the question, "How long you been in Alaska?"
The answer spoken with some pride came out at "31 years."
And the response? "Oh just a cheechako, huh?"
"So how long you been here?"
And with bigger pride: "33 years."
At which time I decided upon my definition. A sourdough is a guy who's been here a year longer than you.
Having passed 40 years in the state a couple of years ago I felt I had reached sourdough status, but I know several people who have been here longer than that. I did draw the line one day though, when a guy at a job I did for a while asked me if I was born here. He had, so thought he had one up on me until I figured out he was 28 years old and I had been here 38 years. Even counting time in the womb, I had been here longer than he had.
Along with the sourdough/cheechako differential there's another aspect of life here to be aware of as well. No matter what you do, someone has done it better, hiked farther, climbed higher, sailed more water, had a harder time doing it and came back from closer to the precipice than you have. It is the way of the country.
Incidentally by all appearances the woman who put up the facebook post has been here at least a year longer than I have. She and I both attained a 100% score on the attached quiz. I would however give whoever wrote the quiz a lower grade for calling us Alaska natives. You see, a sourdough would never call himself or herself a native. That word is reserved for the First People, the only true Native Alaskans.

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May 20, 2011
I had lunch yesterday with a longtime friend. As we thought back through our lives it turns out we have known each other for a generation.

We first met at the East Pole; she and others own a cabin just across the main trail maybe a little less than half a mile away. That’s within chainsaw hearing distance. When I first went out there to build, my plan was to live in a tent until I could move in. They graciously let me live in their cabin while I built and believe me that was a wonderful offer given that I was building in winter and just staying alive in a tent might have been more adventure than I was up for.

We stayed friends over the years and each time a book of mine was published, I made sure to give them a copy. I also shared some of the stories, particularly the ones about the Bush, that have never been published.

She lives Outside now and was visiting family in Alaska and found time for us to get together for a lunch and a bit of a drive around the country.

The conversation was mostly a mix of memories and current situations, very pleasant. She had asked me to bring a couple of books and when I gave them to her she asked me to sign them for a young person in her life. That person was her great-granddaughter, the daughter of someone who was running around in the woods as a little kid back in those days when we all shared a lot of time together. I distinctly remember one time towing her and my son as they rode in a sled behind my snowmachine.

(A brief aside: One night I was invited to their place for dinner. In order to “bring something” I made one of those Jell-O no-bake pies. As I headed down the hill later, cradling my bear protection shotgun in the crook of one arm balancing a flashlight and the pie in two hands, stumbling over tree roots here and there, a realization made me laugh out loud {If a man alone in the woods laughs out loud, does it really make a sound?}. It hit me as totally ludicrous that there I was this rough and tough Bush Alaskan running around in the woods with guns and knives, but being ever so careful not to lose the peaches off the top of my Jell-O cheesecake pie as I did.)

Back to the present: So, I signed these two books for my friend’s daughter’s granddaughter and as I was doing that she told me that she and her daughter and her son (who helped with building the cabin a day or two here and there) had kept my books over the years in special places, like where you collect precious memories. That moment made all the writing worthwhile. I have never had a best seller so obviously the writing is for some other reasons.

My friend had just given me one of those reasons. When she said it, I felt this wave of emotion kind of flow through me, one of those tingles you get now and then. For the moment it felt like it had all been worth it just to know that friends had found a creation of mine was worth saving as something special.

THE PHOTO: Taken by this friend. I looked and don’t have any pictures of her or her family. It is 1987 or ’88. The other fellow in the picture is another friend who lived out there, too. I have no idea why I was packing heat to cook a dinner for us.

A book is born, a voyage completed

July 2, 2011
I just finished editing a book by a friend of mine. About a year or so ago there were a couple of posts on here titled Conversations with Patricia. She is the author. I wasn’t asked to do the full-blown edit, just look for Alaska references to make sure they are correct and because she lived in Alaska for several years, there weren’t very many. Very pleasant and funny reading, it is satire about the Governor Interrupted under the working title: “Alaska by Heart: Recipes for Independence, by Sarah Pagan."

That’s all I will say about it at this point; you will have to find it and read it when it comes out in the near future. Final edit has been sent to the publisher so it won’t be too long.

Other than that it’s been a slow summer with a lot of recent overcast skies but not much rain, just threatening without fulfillment. For excitement there was one of the neighbor’s cats playing with a vole in the driveway the other day. How they do tease those little guys. I seem to recall reading there are no mice native to Alaska, just voles and shrews. Watching the vole reminded me of a conversation around a campfire so many years ago. As we sat there we could see voles scurrying around a huge rotten tree stump. It wasn’t long before someone called the stump Volehalla, which of course led to several other vole puns and the thought of a book similar to the “Book of Terns.” We were going to call it “High Voltage.” Some of the suggestions were Voletaire, voleuptuous, voleume. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

That was also the night of my first and only cruise paddling a kayak. The folks I was with were staying in a tipi they had erected on an island. I had anchored my boat offshore and had ridden to the beach in someone’s skiff. After a night when numerous beers had been consumed and even more vole puns offered, people began to tire and head off to bed, including the ones who owned the skiff I rode to shore in. So the consensus was to pack me into one of the tipi dwellers’ kayaks and set me on my way toward my boat. Despite my objections, and after only the briefest of training sessions, I found myself floating away from the beach out onto an ocean, paddle in hand and operating a type of boat I had never even been in before. And, of course, life jacket? I don't need no stinking life jacket! I truly don’t recall how I managed to get to my boat and even less about how I got from that low-to-the-water kayak and over the gunwale of my boat which would have necessitated standing up in that less than stable watercraft.

 Sometimes you have to wonder how you survived your adventures to live this long. Also how such a common occurrence as a cat playing with a vole can trigger such vivid memories. At this moment I can almost feel the heat from that campfire and the tickle of various bugs landing on my skin. Funny no chill of fear though, which probably should have been the strongest feeling of that night. But then, what’s the fun of doing something if you know how?


August 18, 2011
For the most part aging has been one more adventure in life. Though not totally embraced, it is not being fought either, more like learning as I go and dealing with what changes come up. Some aspects are accepted and some even comforting while others take some conscious adjustment. (I have finally accepted I will never be the heavyweight champion of the world). Other aspects can be very upsetting. One of those is the growing number of people in your life who die. It’s only natural, we are all growing older and a logical extension of that thought is of course we are crowding the end and some of us are going to drop off before others. Working in the news business can make this part of aging extremely upsetting. Three times in the past couple of years I have been editing a story and all of a sudden the name of someone I knew jumped out at me, killed before his time. It happened this week. It is an old joke that we check the obituaries every day and if we’re not in them it’s all good.
It's not all good. Not too long ago, three people I knew showed up in the obituaries within about a week. It reached a point where I avoided editing or reading them any more because I didn’t want surprises like that. Better to go on in the blithe ignorance of believing everyone in your life is still going strong.
Sunday night such a name jumped off the page at me. It was a story about a small airplane crash near McGrath in west central Alaska. A Cessna 207 went down in bad weather and two people were killed. One was a long-time teacher in the Village of Anvik, the other was the pilot, one Ernest Chase. Realization took a moment. Then I realized. No one calls him Ernest.
I had dinner at Ernie Chase’s home in Grayling in 1979. The invitation was a courtesy because he had invited an old friend, the fellow who was flying me along the Iditarod Trail, and I suppose he felt obligated to include me. I remember a very vibrant man never at a loss for words and wanting to make sure I did well in my writing by his brother Ken who was in the race. The meal, as I recall moose was on the menu, and the conversation were a welcome respite from the pockets of Corn Nuts and beef jerky I had been surviving on. After the dinner we said our good nights and I went off to sleep in the light of the main room in the Grayling community hall. We weren’t allowed into the back room because the body of a village elder was there awaiting transport.
We flew out the next morning. I only saw Ernie one more time and I cannot recall the occasion just that it was a surprise and a quick passing in which we only recognized each other and exchanged hellos. Not exactly close friends, but someone you are aware is in the world somewhere and that is somehow mildly comforting. Only now he is not out there in the world somewhere and that is the world’s loss.
Last night a story came up about another small airplane down with two people from Cordova, a town where I know people and have good friends, missing and presumed dead. I couldn’t even bring myself to read the story for fear I would recognize their names.

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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