Friday, April 20, 2018

The times they are achangin'


     On this date in 1999 I was living in a house I built in Valdez Alaska that I shared alternate weeks at a time with my son who also was 9. As was my habit I arose early and had gone down to my office on a lower floor to write. I turned on the TV for background noise but soon the news intruded. A couple of boys had entered Columbine High School in the Denver Suburbs and started shooting everything that moved. When they'd finished, 12 students and a teacher lay dead, 21 more were wounded and then they turned the guns on themselves leaving behind a tragedy larger than any such event had reached to that point.
     My son was with me that week and when it came time to wake him for school, I made sure any way he could see the news would not be visible. I didn't want him troubled by this.
But while I was distracted making breakfast, I heard the television come on as he sat in the living room. Of course what came on was CNN with wall to wall coverage of the shootings. I ran to turn it off, but thought better of it and sat down with him to try to explain it to him. On his part, he sat there stone silent almost stunned as he absorbed what he was seeing.
     He showed little reaction until one of the reporters mentioned Denver and the school's proximity to that city. My son had cousins on his mother's side who went to school in the Denver suburbs and he asked about them, if they were safe and I had to tell him I had no way of knowing. I realized that was not going to be good enough for him. At the time the separation and eventual divorce from his mother had been acrimonious and I loathed talking with her, but gradually I realized I would have to.
     So as calmly and officiously as I could I punched in the number and when she answered I explained the situation and asked if any of his cousins could have been involved. She said no and I asked her to talk with him for a moment to explain it to him.
    He took the phone and listened quietly to whatever she was saying. In time he returned the phone to me and sat back down on the couch. He remained quiet through breakfast and the drive to school. I tried to pry out of him what he was thinking but I never did find out.
     Now with the events and protests going on these days I still wonder how that event affected him and if any of it stayed with him. Then too I wonder how all those parents more closely involved with a shooting handle it, both the parents of the victims and those of the survivors.
     Seeing these kids stand up and push for change has been heartening. Adults haven't done anything to effect changes but the kids from Parkland have taken a stand and carried their message nationwide. Today marking 19 years since Columbine, those involved there have stood up as well with the Parkland kids in full support, along with school walkouts around the world. It appears they are drawing in support from people who have never had to experience a shooting in their schools, but now have that fear in them as well.
   They have a movement and they show the determination to carry it through until effective changes are made. Wish them success. They just might accomplish something we adults have failed miserably to do,
 Before Columbine and Newton and Parkland, there was Bethel, Alaska

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Republic? Democracy? Which is it, folks?

This is the confusion I grew up with. My father who thought the American president should wear a military uniform to command more respect around the world defended this concept until he was spitting and blue in the face. Nevertheless I am sure he would also be defending Donald Trump against those raging commies who waste money on things like education, care for the sick and elderly and food for the hungry. 
     You see, just as the constitutional republic protects the individual from the majority, it puts no burden on the majority to take care of the individual. My father agreed with that principle as well. Sort of as ye reap so shall ye sow, with no hindrance and, also, no help from above. At its worst extreme it is evolutionary, the survival of the fittest.
     Not sure where he would be on guns. As far as I know he never owned one but he allowed me to have one at the age of 16. (Part of the deal was I had to take a hunter safety course.) It was a single shot .22 that I had outgrown before my parents gave it to me. In those days my friends and I hunted pheasants and deer and what was needed was a 12 gauge shotgun. But, never mind this is not about guns.
     As calm as the 50s are remembered to be, there was turmoil. The decade opened with the police action in Korea that led to today's two Koreas one of which is nuclear-armed and threatening. I just learned yesterday that as early as 1950 the United States was involved in Vietnam. A friend of mine who fought in Korea almost had to go there shortly before he was to ship home.
     Also at that time Sen. Joseph McCarthy began hunting communists in every nook and cranny in America. My father spoke of him often, looking around every corner and seeing communists too. He was sure communists had infiltrated the government among other pursuits like movies and books. Adlai Stevenson, mild and urbane and an intellectual, ran against Dwight Eisenhower for president twice and lost both times. My father was sure he was a communist.
      He thought people like Stevenson wanted one world, a situation somehow entwined with communism, eliminating nations and borders. Stevenson's appointment as U.S, Ambassador to the United Nations confirmed his belief. He would have loved the Trump's wall. 
     His boogie man was someone or some organization called "they." They caused the problems, they made the rules, they governed our actions. I remember a day in Florida when we were driving around the east coast and we came upon an unpaved road that looked like it led to a beach. Tempted, we stopped and looked down it. He decided not to take that road, saying "they don't want you to use it." Later on I wondered what would have happened if my father instead of Robert Frost approached that junction by the woods. At the time, frustrated, I asked, "who are they?" We drove away in silence. But I took that lesson with me when I started writing and never allowed a "they" without an antecedent explaining who they were.
     Included under the "they" umbrella were socialists which was a synonym for Democrat in his mantra. And socialism was one step from communism and the one-world society. Having survived the horrible Roosevelt years and then Truman's in which the New Deal and then World War II dragged America out of its Great Depression with all those social benefits they brought to grease the downhill skid into communism, the man had a lot of "theys" to fear. Meanwhile the country enjoyed a period of calm and prosperity unequalled in history despite all those operatives of the one-world communists. Is it any wonder I grew up to a screaming liberal?
    The Democrat-Socialist-Communists of course were the big spenders who drove up the national debt and encouraged all those enemy states like Japan and China and heaven forbid, South Americans to think they could compete with and eventually overcome the United States economically if not physically. Of course over all of this like a black cloud on the horizon, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics loomed with its threat of nuclear warheads backing its push for worldwide communist domination.Then Sputnik went up and scared the hell out of everyone. There were plenty of boogie men to fear and a good part of my father's fears circled around the difference between democracy and constitutional republic.
     I have to wonder how he would react today when those free-spending, socialized democrats are in the minority and the conservatives are gutting the republic and undoing what they can of progress made all the way back in Roosevelt's time while driving the annual debt into the trillions to pay off their oligarch overlords. I doubt he would  have liked seeing the middle class in which he was firmly entrenched losing ground, while those overlords rake in obscene amounts of money. There are no constitutional republicans left to protect the individual from the majority, but there are plenty who have allowed individuals to drift free by removing the social protections that allow many to survive.
     What we have left is the bastard child of both. Instead of the individual needing protection from the majority, we have a minority of the rich ruling the majority and in the process undercutting the protections that a constitutional republic should provide, a minority ruling the majority with the majority often cheering them on believing their world is better for it and making excuses for the excesses for fear of some shadowy threat that could take it all away.
     In the process basic truths go end over end, people accept lies or at least excuse them. This is no more evident example than something I saw yesterday. A meme came up on line showing a Nazi flag flying over the White House and the words asked what you would do if you woke up one day and saw that on the news. The overwhelming response was that the Democrats and progressives and liberals had taken over. My brain fried. Does not compute, it kept saying. The fascists, Nazis, oligarchs have manipulated their followers into believing the people working to help them are actually the enemy, the Nazis, the very expression of what the ruling minority is, the oppressors have managed to flip the dialog and put their label on the downtrodden and turned them against their own interests.
     The full manifestation may come this summer when the head cheese wants a huge military parade to demonstrate America's might to the world, and perhaps if people like my father had their way, he would review the march wearing full military regalia. I wonder at what point in his rise to power did Hitler exchange his business suit for a military uniform.

More political comment

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A day off

Do these feathers make my ass look fat?
After a winter complicated by difficult weather, injury, snowmachine breakage and a solid week of working firewood, I decided to take a day off today. At the time I hadn't realized it is April Fools Day. In fact after all that April has offered a blessing.
     In each of the past few years weather has forced me to leave before the end of March. But here it is April, there's plenty of snow, it gets down into the teens at night so the creeks stay frozen and that gives me at least another week and maybe two before I have to hightail it out of here.
     I have a whole rack of lamb and some real baker potatoes I had brought out anticipating a visit from some friends who aren't coming after all. So that's thawed and I will feast later.
I planned to take it easy, if a chore or two came to mind and weren't too difficult I would do them at my leisure.
     With hot chocolate in hand I checked and the mountain is out and in that moment was fortunate to watch an owl fly by in the valley below. Then after a tour of the Internet, I sharpened my chain saw. On a day like this that wore me out so I took a little nap.
     Last night I had noticed my windows were dirty so, next I went outside and washed them, actually only the three I look out from the most. The paint was flaking off the sill of the picture window so I got the little sander and took care of that. I considered painting once the temperature went over 40, but the paint after four winters and summers of freezing and thawing was a sticky, gloppy, muddy mess, so no deal on that.
     Of course there is still a lot of firewood to split, so I took a quick shot at that, filling the sled once and hauling it back to the stacks.
     Interspersed between each of these chores were periods of quiet contemplation sitting in the sun watching the chickadees and not letting anything pressure me at all.
     The only thing I have to do is dishes and that's no big deal.
     As the chickadees flitted back and forth to the feeder I noticed a few of them are noticeably fatter than the others. At first I thought I had fed those especially well over the winter. Then I wondered if they were females developing eggs, or further, perhaps engorged like that they attract males.
     The thermometer on the deck in direct sunlight went over 100 degrees. The one in the shade reads 44. Whichever it is, the day is marvelous.
     So with those adventures behind me, I am about to tackle the dirty dishes.
     Then it's dinner and a movie. Rack of lamb (on the Weber grill), huge baked potato, maybe some green beans and a glass of wine. Then "No country for old men." Isn't that title a beautiful paradox given the old man about to watch it deep in the Alaska forest? As far as I am concerned this country is great for old men, at least this one.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Alaska's lure catches another one

A few months ago a friend Outside I correspond with told me about her friend's daughter who was coming to Alaska for a job during the legislative session in Juneau
As described to me the daughter is a professional woman who prides herself on never taking a permanent job, rather trying one here and there around the country, never unpacking completely and moving on when the job ends.
I told my friend she ought to warn the woman's mother what happens to some people when they come to Alaska. To emphasize the warning I told her this story:
In the 1970s a woman wrote a letter to the editor of the Kodiak Daily Mirror. It went something like this:
"A few years ago my oldest daughter went to Kodiak for a summer job. In the fall I received a letter saying she had found a job that would carry her through the winter and since then she has stayed there.
"A couple of years later, my middle daughter thought she would visit her sister in Kodiak. She spent the summer and then in the fall I got the letter. She'd found a job that would carry her through the winter and she too never came home.
"Now my youngest MY BABY says she wants to visit her sisters for the summer. WHAT IS IT WITH YOU PEOPLE?"
My friend passed the warning on to her friend. Over the past few months occasionally my friend has related some of the daughter's adventures. With each one she sounded more enthralled with Alaska.
I today I received an email from my friend. Here it is cut and pasted and unedited:
So...Catherine has found a summer job in Sitka when her legislature job in Juneau ends. She told Meryl, “I’ll be staying in Sitka all summer...and hopefully forever.”
All I have to add to that is, sometimes people choose Alaska and sometimes Alaska chooses people.
Welcome, Catherine.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Another one reaches the end of the trail

Is there anything more classically Alaskan than a guy entering a sled dog race in order to buy some yellow machinery for his gold mine? That almost sounds like the beginning to a bad movie, but there is a man who really did that.
Perhaps like most people we only remember his name and maybe one of those pictures of him in his parka, the hood thrown back and a big smile on his face. And it seemed for Dick Wilmarth that was the way he preferred it.
He took his chances out on the edge, what one Alaska sourdough called a perimeter man, someone who lives in the fringe of society choosing to avoid the fuss and fury of the center, preferring instead a small gold camp or the wilds of rivers, mountains and tundra where he turned enough of a living to keep going, underwent difficulties that would have discouraged if not killed mortal men and he did it with an outward nonchalance and a smile.
He lived so far out on the the edge that if it hadn't been for the Iditarod most of us would never have heard the name Dick Wilmarth.
Then again, if we hadn't heard of Dick Wilmarth, we might never have heard of the Iditarod.
The way the story goes, during that first race, a group of the leaders gathered in a tent on the Yukon River somewhere. The location changes with the telling. But most agree the leaders were talking about quitting. They did say, however, it had to be unanimous. That was about the time Dick stuck his head into the tent and asked what was going on. Someone explained it to him. His only response was, "Well, I'm going to Nome," and off he went, dragging the rest of them behind him to finish the race, proving it was possible and leaving them to get ready for next year.
Some of the people in that tent went on to run the race several more times. There was at least one future winner involved. But Dick never raced again.
He had won the money to buy his yellow machinery and for him that was what it was about. How many bush people do you know? Have you ever noticed if you ask them what they do for fun you get a blank stare? That's because in the Bush you always have to be on your toes, always aware and there is always something that needs doing. What others see as drudgery, the perimeter people find satisfying, even pleasurable, but it's never about having fun. Not too long ago I was talking with one of the winners from the old days. He was complaining that some guy in the Iditarod had scratched saying it just wasn't fun. This guy said it was never fun, it was diffiult. But, pleasureable, nonetheless? I asked. He smiled.
And that was my guess about how Dick Wilmarth viewed the Iditarod, a means to an end. Other people wanted to race. He wanted a bulldozer. That fit into his life better than an annual dog race.
So after the race he went back to his perimeter and the life he had chosen and lived for the next 45 years, much like the life of someone like him might have lived a hundred years earlier, only without television. We are left to imagine the hardships, the joys, the satisfaction and yes, maybe even the fun that life gave him.
Sadly he may have been one of the last true Alaska perimeter men and whether we knew him personally or not, it's like the mountains around us that most of us will never climb but we are glad they're there. So too do we like the idea it's still possible to live on the Alaska perimeter as evidenced by people like Dick Wilmarth. But last week we lost one of those mountains and he has left a hole in our lives if we are willing to admit it.
It wasn't just in the Iditarod that he led the way.

Search "Iditarod" for similar stories.

Interesting quotations

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

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

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

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