Archive for the ‘alaska’ Tag

Courage in the Ordinary   3 comments

The summer season is upon us and my mind turns to courage of an organic sort this time of year.

Courage is one of those words that people generally use to describe acts of heroism or as a trait to be valued in our military or rescue personnel such as firemen or policemen. It connotes a lack of fear.

For myself, to be fearless is not the lack of fear but the refusal to allow fear to have power over my actions or reactions. To me, to be courageous is to overcome fear.

Everything one does in Alaska in the summer (and for a good deal of the winter) involves courage. It generally starts in April when we hike into our property off the Steese. We know the bears are waking up, but we can’t resist going out to check on our lumber pile (uh, future cabin) and work out what the best winter/spring trail will be.

Brad was chased by a grizzly a few years ago and had to hold him off with a chainsaw, so there is always a little hyper-vigilance as we start down the trail. We don’t think of ourselves as brave. We certainly aren’t heroes. We are definitely exercising courage. We’d be foolish not to consider the risk of grizzlies, especially in the spring when they’ve been fasting all winter. We look tasty and they don’t care if we’re raw or not. They don’t even want ketchup with that. Still, for us, it is an every weekend kind of thing and while there are risks involved, we overcome our concerns and head out to where we want to go.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/04/19/alaska-teacher-mauled-by-bear-during-mountaineering-class.html

I think there is a great deal of courage in everyday actions that people do without even thinking about it.

 

 

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Tippa-Canoe & Cana Too   10 comments

Life in Alaska is, on one hand, just like everywhere else. We crawl out of bed in the morning and go about our lives, working, shopping, writing, raising kids and …

Yeah, that’s sort of boring ….

And then there’s the adventure. That’s really what you tuned in for, right? Alaskans are adventurous people because we live in a challenging land and what’s the fun of hiding in our houses. Right?

The problem for me is narrowing down the adventures. In a half-century life, there have been a few. So, as I flip through my memories of all the interesting times we’ve had … I throw a mental dart …

Ah, yes, this one ….

But, first, you should go check out my fellow blog hoppers posts because they have experiences too and, just me personally, some of theirs might be more entertaining than mine.

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On a lovely late May Saturday six of us decided to go canoing. An early spring  convinced us that the Upper Chena River was ready for canoes on Memorial Day weekend. The river looked tame enough. Some of us had enough experience to know that appearances could be deceiving, but hey, this is Alaska — if you’re not endangering your life, you aren’t having fun.

We took two vehicles and three canoes to Chena Hot Springs Resort. We had to drive all the way to the Resort to unload the canoes and then two vehicles had to go about 15 miles down the road to our take out so that we could drop one of the vehicles there. We managed to get an early start that morning, despite having two members (a married couple) who are not early risers and are known to be disorganized.

Brad decided to take our black Lab with us at the last minute, mainly because she was doing that thing — you know the one — with the droopy ears and the sad brown eyes. How could we go somewhere involving water without her? (Ah, Cana, we still miss you!)

After stopping for coffee along the way — with a canoe on top of the Jeep — and a 60-mile drive followed by a vehicle shuffle, we were ready to put the canoes in the water. There is nothing like the bite of May river water on the ankles to make you know you’re alive. This was early in our marriage, so Brad and I had never canoed together before, though we both had canoed separately and had once been in the same group of canoes, but not together. Our friends Kris and Roma were recently married, disorganized and young. In the third canoe were Dan and Tessa, also newly married, but more organized and Dan was born mature.

And then there was Cana. Labs never grow up and they really don’t understand the difference between drawing and prying with your paddle.

The trip started off well. The glorious sun sent sparkles across the water and the trees along the river were bursting with fresh growth, that bright green that follows the golden buds. Fish were biting and Cana jumped out of the  canoe to play in the shallows.

The Chena River is a backyard playground for many residents of Alaska’s Interior. For much of its course, it parallels Chena Hot Springs Road, but there’s enough trees and the banks are high enough that you really aren’t aware of it. A meandering river, the Chena in its upper courses is a multi-faceted stream. In some places, it’s narrow and deep, in others it’s wide and shallow. You can float along in Class 1 boredom for a while and then — do you know what Class 3 rapids are? The Chena is a Class 2 river – supposedly within the novice range — but the Upper Chena has some Class 3 rapids involving complex maneuvers in fast current and good control in tight passages … in other words, the sort of situation where you want good communications and teamwork.

Brad and I had about equal experience in canoeing, so when he shouted “pry” I knew to hold my paddle sort of under the canoe, which turns you sharply away from that side of the canoe and, hopefully, away from the hazard, but Kris and Roma starting arguing at the first rapid. She had been canoeing often as a kid. Kris had a lot of powered boat experience. Neither of them knew terms like bow, port, or draw – which does exactly the opposite of pry. Tessa broke out the fishing pole.

This first part of the trip was pretty good except for the arguing. We stopped for lunch along a high cut bank. While we were eating lunch, we noticed a thunder shower near the headwaters and the current had definitely increased. We were getting into the part where there could some tricky rapids, especially in the summer, especially with new rain in the system.

First, Dan and Tessa started to experience problems with maneuvering. Actually, Dan had been having this problem all morning, but he’d just not been complaining. While the water was low and slower, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but now that the current was getting stronger, he found he had a tough time keeping the canoe straight. The canoe eventually turned sideways on a snag and swamped in about 5 feet deep water.

Did I mention how cold Alaska water is … always … but especially in May. They had life vests, but they came up stunned and flailing. Tessa is not a strong swimmer. Brad pulled us along side a tree and jumped in to help. Cana naturally played rescue dog and swam Tessa to the shore. Kris and Roma were caught up in a current and swept around the bend, but they were grabbing the wayward paddles and a floating mini-cooler.

I managed to get us tied off and to help Tessa first onto the horizontal tree and then into our boat. I convinced her to strip down to her swimsuit so she would dry and thereby warm up. Brad and Dan were chest deep in a swell and the canoe was nowhere to be seen — no, wait, I could see silver half submerged under the snag. Since there was no way I could stand up in that water, I used the tree to maneuver onto a nearby sweeper (a tree that overhangs the stream) that allowed me to shinny out to where the guys were.

Dan’s father-in-law’s canoe was stuck in the Chena River and he couldn’t figure out how to get it loose. There was no way he was leaving it, but they couldn’t get a purchase on it with icy cold hands.I crawled back to our canoe, got a rope, returned to the guys and Dan submerged to tie it off. He emerged from the water with purple-blue lips and Brad ordered him to shore. I went back to our canoe where Tessa still waited. Reading the current, I took stern and paddled like a crazy woman to get us across the river without swamping. Dan was shivering convulsively, so I stripped off my shorts and told him to go change in the brush while I built a fire. Meanwhile, Brad was rigging up a rope harness on Cana. Though no sled dog, she did enjoy a good freight pull, so the two of them managed to dislodge the lake canoe from the snag.

Did I say “Lake canoe”? Yup. River canoes do not have a ridge on the bottom, so they are much more responsive to paddler control. Dan had borrowed a lake canoe and never realized it. His reward for this was that he had to walk around the rest of the day in hot pink shorts.

Where were Kris and Roma? They’d gone around the bend and ….

Without paddles, Dan and Tessa were pretty stuck, but Brad is not without bravery. He found a couple of long stout poles and tied the two canoes together end to end. I took stern in the front canoe with Tessa in the bow and the two guys poled their canoe around the bend. There was no room for Cana, so she tore along the shore, sometimes swimming, barking, doing her best to keep up. No Kris and Roma around the bend … or the next bend … or the next. We hit rapids and the guys nearly swamped their canoe three times only to have Tessa and I pull them straight by maneuvering our canoe.

And then the river opened up for a long straight away of relatively deep water. The flotilla moved like a barge. Paddling was placebic at best, but the current was carrying us. Cana ran out of shore. Being a Lab, she just floated like a third canoe, reading the current, her eyes shining — until we got to the outside of the log jam. We had to help her through where two logs overlapped and prevented her going forward. For a moment, I think she was scared that she was going to succumb to cold water and the current driving her under those two trees. Right after that, the current began to rush around a bend. There was no shore to takeout on. I paddled for the center of the stream, hung, suspended and then leapt foward while the second canoe slammed into fallen trees on the shore, dragging our stern sideways, and then, suddenly we were free as Brad untied the tow rope.

Tessa and I paddled between jutting trees of a side logjam, ducking and getting slapped in the face by leafy branches. We got hung up twice and had to push ourselves out of small bays created by trees. At one point we were going backwards, but I got us turned around. Cana had opted to stay with the guys, so  we found our way through and, coincidentally, found Kris and Roma just on the other side of the jam, with both of the missing paddles and the mini-cooler and an exciting story to tell about how the only bank they found had a bear sitting on it.

Kris, who had brought a gun on a canoe trip, hiking back to where we’d left the guys, taking three paddles with him. With three guys to control the recalcitrant lake canoe, they were able to bring it through the rapids and the logjam, though Dan promised he would never borrow his father-in-law’s canoe again. Last one through was Cana on her own strength, swimming furiously — with a beaver stick in her mouth.

Labs! She left that stick — her prized possession — to us when she passed several years after this experience and we gave it a place of honor.

After lunch, we started down the river once more. The water level was coming up and there was spring debris in the current. We ordered Cana into the canoe. We successfully maneuvered some rapids and then entered a nice peaceful straightaway that split into two streams around a gravel island. Both had magnificent sweepers hanging nearly all the way to the island. Brad started shouting orders at me. “Left!” he shouted. “Left!”

Under the tree to the left we went, branches slapping us in the face. I ducked under the main trunk thinking we’d make it when suddenly the right side of the canoe went into the icy cold water and my breath was instantly taken away. There is a kind of mind-numbing shock that comes over you when you hit Alaska’s 40-degree water. My life vest informed me of which way was up and a large Labrador back presented itself to tow me to the shore, else I don’t know if I would have made it to shore.

Brad stumbled up onto the gravel next to me, complaining that I didn’t listen to him. Turns out, he meant for me to pry left, which would have steered us right, but his screaming command had been to go left, which was what I was doing — except with no cooperation from him. I hate the bow. We laugh about it now, but it just goes to show you the importance of communication … in marriage and in canoeing.

Ultimately, Cana swamped our canoe. She didn’t understand being slapped by branches, so she bailed, dropping the edge of the canoe under the water. She happily fetched one paddle and that danged beaver stick. Brad had managed to hang onto his.

Kris and Roma had built a bonfire on the shore by the time we all got to Rosebud Campground. Turns out that, despite all their bickering, they were the only ones not to dunk that day.

We donned warm clothes, loaded the three canoes into Dan’s trailer and drove back to Chena Hot Springs Resort. After a nice soak in the hot springs we ate a great dinner there and then headed home with another Alaska adventure in the books.

Posted March 14, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Fake Reality   10 comments

This week, the authors of the Open Book Blog Hop are discussing “reality” television. How do I “really” feel about it and why?

First, check out what my fellow authors have to say on the subject.

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I have a love-hate relationship with reality television. There’s a perverse enjoyment in peeking into the lives of other people. I felt it for the first time back in 1973 when our local PBS station broadcast An American Family – a fly-on-the-wall documentary of what purported to be a typical American family. It even documented the break-up and subsequent divorce of Bill and Pat Loud, the subject couple, and their son’s coming out as gay. This is the first reality television series, followed shortly by a BBC series along the same lines. As an adolescent forbidden by my parents to peek through the neighbors’ curtains, there was something very peeping-Tom chic about the whole experience.

As a journalism major in the early 1980s, my media ethics class revisited the series when we studied media manipulation. The Louds claimed the material had been edited to emphasize the negative, which called attention to how nonfiction narratives are fashioned by media manipulation. Did the camera’s presence encourage the subjects to perform? Do we perhaps perform at all stages of our lives? Was the camera acting neutral observer or manipulative catalyst? Did the editors essentially create a fake story drawn from real elements?

And was any of that ethical? For the record, I had become peeping-Tom adverse by this time. As a journalist, I was all about reporting on what people did in their public lives, but I thought we ought to leave people’s private lives private.

This was all before the days  of the highly staged reality television that we know today. Jersey Shore doesn’t concern itself with whether or not the presence of the camera manipulates reality. It just out and out manipulates it. My husband and I interviewed for a reality television program on remote cabin staking in Alaska. (It was mostly his idea because the production company would pay for the cabin materials). They wanted to film us building a cabin by hand in September while also hunting for moose and fishing (out of season) and could we also raise animals? Oh, and by the way, could we suck our family and friends into this deal and get them to fight among themselves?

Huh?

Although Brad is a great amateur actor, I think we all agreed that this would be torture on a stick. Our daughter disappeared to the bluegrass gypsy circuit, our teenage son announced that he did not want to appear on camera, I knew I couldn’t get two months off work, and Brad bow hunts, which is entirely boring when done right. Our land has no cliffs to fall off of and none of us were volunteering to fall into the semi-frozen creek accidentally on purpose. We also weren’t going to lose our hunting and fishing rights by appearing to violate State hunting and fishing laws on camera. While we were pretty sure we could talk friends into helping us build a cabin, we were equally certain we couldn’t get them to fight or have affairs on camera. When they found out that our remote cabin site is actually within hiking distance of a road, the production company found others to be in their “reality” show. I believe it’s called “Land Rush”. Which, by the way, we know one of those people and he says it is an entirely artificial experience. The trials and travails of getting his materials didn’t happen. They were actually delivered by helicopter from Lowes and then they set up the difficulties. We don’t know the Kilchers and don’t care. They do show some Alaskan experiences, hyped up to make things more entertaining. They seem like a nice family, but they might want to go back to being anonymous and that’s hard to do, especially when your sister and daughter is Jewel.

We are SO glad we weren’t selected! It will take us a little longer to build our cabin, but it won’t be on the tourism circuit. Whew! Notoriety bullet dodged! Good for us!

Sometimes we watch reality television, but the fact is that the only ones I can stand are the ones that are entirely fake. There was one called The Colony that actually gave me a few ideas for Transportation Project. I like the ones where modern people try out a historical era. But I never really forget that the producers wanted us to fake some aspects of “reality” and so I watch them strictly for entertainment purposes … and not very often. We’ve never watched Jersey Shore or Big Brother or …. Yeah, we just don’t want them that much. It comes down to this. We love good acting and most reality television stars couldn’t act their way out of a wet rice-paper bag. So, I have to say, I am very much looking forward to The Colony starring Josh Holloway and Sarah Wayne Callies, because I think the version with the Hollywood actors might “read” more real than the “reality television” series.

Tamsen Schultz was born and raised in Northern California in a family of readers. She is a three-time finalist in the PNWA contest, a published author with her first short story included in Line Zero magazine in 2011 and a debut novel released in 2012. She live in the Seattle area in a house full of males including her husband, two (loud) sons, a cat and dog and a gender neutral, but well stocked, wine rack. She loves horses and rides any and every chance she gets in hopes of becoming a dressage queen. Amazon Author Page

Empire Editorial: Salmon horror story | Juneau Empire – Alaska’s Capital City Online Newspaper   3 comments

LELA – I have never really stated an opinion on GMOs because I’m generally not opposed to them. Pretty much all food is genetically modified because we humans have been doing hybridization for about 6000 years. Broccoli, kale, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, cabbage, radish, cress, rapeseed, mustard and several other vegetables all come from the same species of plant found in the Mediterrean region thousands of years ago. The variety comes from hybridization, otherwise known as genetic modification.

Beef used to be much chewier and drier, pork much fatter and yummier, and chickens and turkeys had much smaller breasts. These improvements were brought about by genetic modification through selective breeding. Even organic farmers are actually selling GMOs.

So, I’m not opposed to GMOs generally. I do have big concerns about GMO corn because it contains a DNA-linked pesticide that is killing bees right along with corn worms and, since corn is in almost everything we eat and drink, I worry that ingesting so much pesticide is probably causing some sort of health effect that isn’t a good thing.

The Atlantic salmon bears no taste comparison to Pacific salmon. Sorry if you’re a fan but it is mushy and flavorless — and, yes, I’ve eaten it fresh caught. Alaskans would compare Atlantic salmon to pink (coho) and we refer to that species as “dog salmon” because it’s fit only for the dogs. But here’s the problem. As the article below explains, labeling is not going to be allowed, so people are not going to know what they’re buying. So when they eat mushy, flavorless salmon they will blame all salmon instead of the culprit and that’s not good for Alaska’s market in salmon.

And then there is the problem of cross-breeding. The Canadian government did some stupid accidental experiments in less intelligent times that pretty much prove that Atlantic salmon can survive to adulthood in the Pacific ocean, but don’t appear to be able to produce a second generation. Except … what if these “frankenfish” are able to overcome that difficulty. If they get out into the wild, they can breed. I’m not a biologist, so I don’t know if they can cross fertilize Pacific salmon eggs, but if they can ….

We have a wonderful resource in North Pacific salmon stocks and Alaska has worked hard to return that population to health after the federal government allowed the fish cartels to almost destroy the resource, but this experiment is risking that.

Now, if they wanted to do this farming in the Atlantic ocean … but see, that’s not the plan.

__________________

You sit back in your cinema seat and grab your popcorn. The lights go down and the show begins. A giant wooden door appears on the screen and slowly creaks open to reveal a figure of horror – the scaly, wide-eyed face of a salmon.

Source: Empire Editorial: Salmon horror story | Juneau Empire – Alaska’s Capital City Online Newspaper

Am I a Gourmet or a Gourmand?   12 comments

This week’s blog hop asks the question “Which do I prefer – quantity or quality … and why?”

It’s the “why” that made this topic resonate for me.

First, do you like to read? You should check out the books of PJ MacLayne and also see what she has to say on this topic on her blog Mountain Musings.

If you would like the join this blog hop, please follow the links —

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It’s sort of par-for-the-course for most people to say they prefer quality over quantity because the first choice makes you sound like you’re a person of refined tastes and the second one makes you sound like a pig. So it should come as no surprise that I prefer quality over quantity….

Except … that’s not entirely true.

There’s a great bistro here in Fairbanks – Lavelles — that sells excellent food for a gourmet price, which is why we don’t eat there very often. We only eat out for special occasions and there are other fine restaurants in town, so it’s probably been three years since we’ve been. The last time we went, the menu was very nouvelle cuisine. It looked lovely, but there wasn’t much on the plate. The food tasted wonderful, but at two bites a portion it was pretty hard to savor the flavors. They were gone before you could decide what you liked about them. We ordered dessert for the calories and ended up making a late night snack at home.

So sometimes quality must be of a certain quantity to satisfy. On the other hand, I live not far from an all-you-can-eat buffet and I’ve eaten there once about five years ago because of a group decision.

Growing up in Alaska, I adapted to the 2000-mile supply chain that meant six-weeks of waiting for whatever you ordered from a catalog. My parents were not wealthy and the house we lived in wasn’t huge. There were no walk-in closets or extra stall in the garage (we didn’t have a garage). My parents spent their money wisely and quality was always the target. Thus, I still have my winter boots from high school and they are still in good enough shape to wear. For many years, they were hopeless out of fashion, but they’re back “in” now. I still have one of my winter coats from high school (the other one had an unfortunate encounter with a Labrador puppy/ think feathers everywhere). I still cherish my mother’s mouton parka, which is older than I am and somewhat like carrying a dead body around on your back, but it’s really warm and so well made that it will passed on to my daughter.

When you grew up with limited space and waiting a month and a half for a shipment to arrive, you carry that into adulthood. Fairbanks is no longer retail isolated. Thanks to FedEx, we can have anything we want delivered in three days. But mostly, I don’t want. We have a large enough home for more than what we have, but I’d rather have a couch that will last 30 years than three couches that will last five.

The one area where I really break this rule (and drive my husband slightly loopy) is books. I love books and I want to own them, so I can take my time reading them and maybe reread them in the future. But I see no reason to drop $25 for one hardback when I can spend $5 each for five paperbacks (this also drives Brad loopy because he’s much more interested in the decorative quality of a book than its quantity).

Friday Writing Den   Leave a comment

I took the day off for a quiet day of writing at home. Brad is deforesting my brother’s backyard, Kris is at school, the daughter is doing whatever gypsies do, and I thought “Bliss!”

Beautiful weather, pretty warm, everybody in the neighborhood should be at work or out enjoying the return of fall.

But ….

During last week’s snow storm, a neighbor’s tree fell over and our neighborhood professional wood-burner volunteered to clean it up for him. Jim has chosen today to process said tree.

So, here I am, trying to write to the sounds of a roaring chainsaw.

Choices!

  • Go to the coffee shop and fight for bandwidth and electrical outlets with everyone else? Uh, NO!
  • Go out and chop wood so that I feel like I’m included in the noise-making? Tempting, but NO!
  • Shoot the neighbor? I could. I own guns. And any one ruining a writer’s concentrated writing day surely deserves the writer going Zelda on him. But then the world would be deprived of Jim’s wonderful presence and I would be in jail. So — nice writerly daydream, but NO, although some character will shoot Jim’s avatar in a novel sometime.

My solution?

Shooting muffs! Noise? What noise? BLISS!!!!

 

 

Posted October 9, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Writing

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It’s Winter!   8 comments

We woke up to what we call “termination dust” this morning — just a little snow on the ground to remind us that winter is coming.

About two hours ago, the heavens opened and … now …

I just have to say this to President Obama. This the earliest winter since 1992. Winter almost never starts in Fairbanks before October 5 and that’s 10 days away.

It’s been suspected to be early this year because August temperatures was 10 degrees below historical average.

Remind me again why Alaskans should panic over global warming. Because this does not look at all like warming to me.

Posted September 25, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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