Monday, January 14, 2019

Another sunshine tree


Why, you ask would someone post a photo of empty sky? Read on.

"Take my land; take the sea; you can't take the sky from me." — Joss Whedon, "Firefly" theme song.

Rationalizing firewood as the endless chore resumes for another season.
     For 30 years out here I selected the trees I would use for firewood carefully. I searched the woods for blow-downs or standing dead even though I ended up at times with a long haul to the cabin.
     Then one day two years ago when firewood time came around again I had another thought. I had just taken a photo of Denali, once again through the upper branches and twigs of a large birch tree. That was the moment when the rationalization began. I'd put up with that tree in the way of my photos for all this time, maybe now was the time to remove it. Also crossing my mind was my most recent birthday turning 74 and thinking if I started now cutting trees closer to the house I'd be dead before it made the slightest dent in the health or aesthetics of this forest. The tree came down.
    The next year, last year, I took my usual seat on the porch in March to enjoy the sun. As it moved across the sky, the air began to cool as the sun moved into the tangle of branches in another huge birch tree, this one less that 50 feet away. I took that one down too and added an hour to the time the porch enjoys bright direct sunlight.
    Now, last year's cut extended the end of the sun's arc across the porch. Looking in the opposite direction I spotted one at the beginning of the arc even closer to the cabin. Today it went down. That's what the photo of the sky is all about. That used to be filled with birch twigs. This one, though, besides adding to the sun on the porch has another benefit.
     After watching the moon last night, and noting the times given by a local amateur astronomer I realized the eclipse of the moon this Sunday will reach the total phase as it crosses that open space. If I had hestitated some before, that cemented the fate of the tree in my mind. I will do my best to make it worthwhile with a good photograph, a memorial if you will, to that stalwart elder statesman of the forest.
     There's another one nearby that probably will be next, along with a standing dead spruce in the same little grove. All within about 50 feet of the cabin. I'm not cutting any of the huge spruce around here because I've noticed that's where the chickadees huddle up for the night, or fly into them escaping predators. An aside observaton: I've notcied once I drop a birch tree, the chickadees gather in the upper branchs where apparently they are finding something to eat, perhaps developing seeds.
     And so it begins. I put the splits from one round cut from the trunk under the house just to complete one cycle from cutting to stacking, more wood put back than I have burned today. That's my usual daily goal, twice as much put into the stacks as I take out for a day's heat.

Growing old gracefully - in the Alaska sunshine 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Flying the Seward Peninsula


Round and round and round she goes! Where she'd stop, we didn't know. I was the co-pilot on this flight where we crashed on take-off from Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island. I had eight of my eighth graders with me. Long story, and there was luggage flying all over as we spun down the runway. The kids were crying, but none of us were hurt. Vic Olsen, our pilot, thanked me for not grabbing for the wheel. "What would I have done with it?" He said he'd had to cold cock people for that in the past. I was too busy digging my toes into the floor to think about grabbing the wheel. (No, I am not a nervous flyer. I've flown and crashed with some of the best of them.)

My friend Kitty Delorey Fleischman posted this and the picture on facebook today.

My comment was, "I've never had an uneventful flight on the Seward Peninsula, which is the general area she's writing about.

So, I thought I would relate the story of a flight I took there. It was during the 1981 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. I had paid to join a flight along the whole race with a TV reporter and cameraman. This was in another small airplane, a Cessna 206 as I recall. With the racers heading toward the finish we had landed at Elim on the south coast of the peninsula for an hour or so before heading west toward Nome. As we progressed, the weather began to deteriorate until we flew into not quite a white-out, but a pretty thick gray-out. Darrell, the pilot, had never flown along the peninsula before so he handed a chart to the reporter who was sitting in the co-pilot seat. We had to pass three major geographic promontories along the way named Topkok, Bluff and Cape Nome. We passed over the village of Solomon and the reporter identified it. I added the quip, well it's Solomon or Savoonga, which as Kitty noted is on an island quite a way to the west in the Bering Sea.
Summers in those days I earned my living as a boat captain so I had a fair knowledge of navigation and I was the only one in the airplane who had ever flown along this coast before, so I kept a close watch and listen to what was going on in the pilot seats. I am not going to name him because this reporter went on to do several nationwide reports on a major network and there's no sense embarrassing him. He got one land mark ahead of himself. I thought he had named the first one too soon but held my tongue as we proceeded into the gray. But as we passed the second one, he told the pilot that was Cape Nome. An airplane flying to Nome on a westward course rounds the cape and then turns northwest toward the town.
Darrell started to make that turn and I couldn't stand it any more. I tapped him on the shoulder and when he pulled his headphone back I said as calmly as I could, "Darrell, we have not passed Cape Nome yet." He reacted the way you hear pilots react to an order from an airport controller. He immediately banked to the left and flew farther out over the water. The minute he righted the airplane again Cape Nome came into view. We had been within a mile or two of the huge rocky bluff and heading straight for it.
Once past the cape we turned toward Nome and landed without further event. As we descended from the airplane Darrell and I stared at each other for the briefest instant and said it all with our eyes and raised brows without a word. We both knew we came damned close and nothing more had to be said.

Another one: I am thankful we survived this flight

Monday, December 31, 2018

Happy New Year Finland style

Photos show the sequential steps in the casting custom.

During one period in my life I spent some time with a woman from Finland and I am always reminded of her on New Year's Eve.
She had brought with her a charming Finnish tradion for this particular holiday.
First it took a bucket of snow. Then in a sort of ladle made specifically for this purpose she melted a small ingot of metal. I'm not sure what metal it was, but it melted fairly easily.
Once the metal had reached acceptable liquidity, a person dumped it into the bucket of snow.
The metal then solidified in random shapes. Once cooled enough to touch you picked it out of the snow and held it up to the light.
The image shadow that random sculpture threw onto the wall was to give you a hint of your fortunes in the year to come. Sometimes you had to tilt or rotate the metal until somethng recognizable became visible, but we always found something in it to apply to our own lives.
That has always seemed to be a grand way to welcome the new year and it also raises a pleasant memory every year. She is back in Finland now, and across the miles I hope she is performing this ritual tonight. I wish her a grand year in 2019 and thanks for the memory.

Here's a link to what the Finns call casting.

Was there a harmonic convergence I didn't know about?


Most of the snow off the roof now, bring on the rain.

Seriously, did I miss a harmonic convergence or some other cosmic disturbance?
Just the day before yesterday I was sitting on the porch feeling after more than two weeks I had finally reached a measure of comfort at the East Pole.
Then last night a weather forecast for the next few days. Up to 20 inches of snow and on top of that some rain and melting temperatures mixed in — spooking 40.
Normally that's not a big deal, but with almost three feet of heavily compacted snow on the roof, heavy rain soaked snow could be a problem. So my first day-long comfort quickly was traded for a day on the roof shoveling snow.
But it didn't end there. Both of my rechargeable headlamps decided not to accept a charge, leaving me literally in the dark. I found an older, regular one and it used up my last three AA batteries and they faded out before I was done reading myself to sleep. There are aternatives but most aren't very helpful when falling asleep is the goal.
Come the morning and there's an eerie quiet. I usually sleep with the radio on but no radio this morning. We all buy the old GE Superradio because they pull in weak signals and the batteries last forever. I've gone years without changing batteries. But, yup, dead batteries and I had put them in since I've been here this time,
So, after four hours on the roof, most of the snow is off it. I found enough D batteries to fire up the radio. Going to try some things with the headlamps when I start the genset later.
There is this, too, as I was climbing down from the roof, damaged shoulder aching, legs wobbly and breathing heavily, my clothes soaked through in spots, I looked over toward the outhouse. Appears to be about four feet of snow on the roof,
I will never sit in my chair on the porch and entertain thoughts of complacence again.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Life here isn't about the fun

At a little more than two weeks here, today, finally, I sat in a chair on the deck and realized I am comfortable and have life pretty much under control.
This has been one of the toughest times I've had getting here. To begin with there's lots of snow but it's the consistency of sugar and any time you spin the snowmachine track you dig down to dirt. I've been stuck so many times on my trail I lost count. I didn't get the machine up to the house until the day before yesterday. That meant I hauled almost all of my supplies up the hill in small sled sometimes pulling it up with a long rope hand over hand.
It's all been complicated by some pressure I put on myself offering this children's captain's bed I have to my daughter for my grandson. I said I'd try to get it to her by Christmas. I feel fortunate I made it up to the cabin at all by Christmas. Moving the bed  involved putting new runners on a rusty old steel freight sled and a different hitch for it on the snowmachine. Oh, I should mention it also involved lowering the bed from a loft 8 feet to the main floor,  by myself.
Back-tracing steps for a moment I did finally get the machine up the hill two days ago. The next day, yesterday it took me more than two hours to get it turned around and facing back down the hill. That simple process involved a lot of shoveling and two separate hitch-ups with a come-along. So a while later I am eating dinner and watching a video of Miami Vice and I hear a strange noise. I went outside to look and there's a guy and his snowmachine halfway up the trail to my house stuck and swearing to the stars, much like I had done over the past three weeks on that trail. I finally walked up, said he saw my light and just wanted to say a neighborly hello. For the moment I was livid about my dinner plus my trail being destroyed. I loaned him a shovel and went back to my dinner.
But, out here you can't do that.It got the better of me and I pulled on my gear, picked up another shovel and went down there to help. It took awhile but we finally got his big old machine out of there and him on his way home leaving me with a trail to repair today.
The trail repair went fairly quickly and I made it down and back up with little problem. Even brought the 40 lb propane tank I had left out near the main trail, closer to the house.
Then lowering the bed out of the loft went as easily is could be imagined. I changed the hitch on the snowmachine and that's when I sat on the porch, feeling satisfied, After more than two weeks, life was under control.
My thoughts went to an online exchange with a friend a couple of days earlier. I told her I was pretty much exhausted every day, and didn't much feel like conversation. She said she hoped soon I would get past this part and be able to have some fun. For some reason that sounded strange to me and today sitting in my Adirondack chair on my deck in 20-degree weather, what's the fun? And that's the crux of it: I don't do this for fun. I do this as a lifestyle choice. I can recall wanting to live like this in my imagination as an 8-year-old scouring the back wood lot with opera glasses pretending I was a forest ranger. So, for at least part of the year I am living it. It's not fun, I don't do it for entertainment I do it because this is the way I want to live. It's not easy, as a matter fact it can be incredibly hard as these past couple of weeks illustrated, Yet it is very satisfying and almost every day leaves me with some sense of accomplishment. Fun isn't the object. Living on my own terms, that's the object and this time it only took almost three weeks to get here.

Memorable quotations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Normal is how somebody else thinks you should act.

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

Me: Does the restaurant have cute waitresses?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each day do something that won’t compute – anon

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

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

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

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

Things sports announcers say

"… there's a fearlessment about him …"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"If they score runs they will win."

"I think the matchup is what it is"

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

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

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

"That was a playmaker making a play."

Best headlines ever

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

Alabama governor candidate caught in lesbian sprem donation scandal

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

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

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

Homicide victims rarely talk to police

Meerkat Expert Attacked Monkey Handler Over Love Affair With Llama Keeper

GOP congressman opposes gun control because gay marriage leads to bestiality

Owner of killer bear chokes to death on sex toy

Support for legalizing pot hits all-time high

Give me all your money or my penguin will explode

How zombie worms have sex in whale bones

Crocodile steals zoo worker's lawn mower

Woman shot by oven while trying to cook waffles

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

Woman stabs husband with squirrel for not buying beer Christmas Eve