Archive for the ‘#alaska’ Tag

What is the Jones Act & Why is it BAD!   Leave a comment

Patriot’s Lament

Posted February 1, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Solstice Celebration   3 comments

Tomorrow starts the winter solstice

My husband sent this photo to me today with the attached reminder

Here “solstice” is really 3-5 days when the daylight is no longer or shorter than the day before. This year it’s a five-day thing for some reason, so it starts December 19 and goes to December 23. That kind of looks like a house down the street from us, on the river and I’m guessing he was coming back from somewhere and thought he’d make my day.

It’s fitting that December 24 – our Christmas — will be slightly longer than any day in the last six. YAY! Winter is losing its grip.

Now comes the truly cold months, but at least the light will be slowly coming back.

Merry Christmas!

Posted December 19, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Alaska is Weird   8 comments

What’s the most unusual expense you’ve had?

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Well, let’s start by saying I’m ducking the finer point of this assignment. My most unique expense is not for public consumption. I’m a pretty honest person as a rule, but there are some aspects of my life that I don’t want to share and they involve other people and I’m choosing not to invade their privacy. Anonymity has its purposes and I choose to exercise them on this topic.

But —

Alaska is a weird, weird place, so a lot of our activities are probably unusual to folks in the Lower 48.

Typically, our summer spray-on insect repellent bill runs about $50.

We spend about $70 on ice when we catch our annual quota of salmon in Chitina.

I don’t know how many people buy sap taps and berry buckets – snow sleds with Kevlar glides for towing behind a snow machine – an electric chainsaw for cutting up moose – an Army poncho circa 1970 — saddlebags for our dog.

I own a personal body alarm. Not to scare away rapists – I have firearms for that — but to scare away bears. If you shoot a bear, you disrupt territory, which means you end up starting all over with a new bear that doesn’t know you’re scary. So, instead, we use the personal body alarm to convince the bear who hangs out on our cabin site that he doesn’t want to get too close. And once he’s learned that lesson, we want him to live a long and bearly happy life because training a bear to fear you is something you don’t want to do that often.

According to the IRS, an unusual expense might include a one-time charge for something – like the patent filing fee I paid for my husband’s utility patent on his advance in the art of heating.

Posted April 29, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Don’t Complain   6 comments

Many of us wax poetic at the end of winter and the return of spring. Let’s swap that around. What’s the one thing about spring that you can’t stand?

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It’s considered a sign of mental illness, the equivalent of a “red flag” situation, to complain about spring in Alaska. We have six months of winter. Snow fell in October and in April. Some of those six months the temperature never rises about 0’F.

So, when the sun finally gets high enough in the sky (March) for the snow to start melting and for you to feel some warmth when you lift your face skyward – you’ve got NOTHING to complain about. You survived another winter and soon the days will be 22 hours long and everything will be green and growing.

But that’s not the blog assignment, so ….

At the risk of my neighbors deciding to call the mental health center to report a seriously unhinged individual –

I hate mud and spring in Alaska is mud season. Our mud isn’t normal mud. Our soils are very fine and they don’t have a lot of organics in them, so they cling to everything. You WILL track it into the house where it WILL dry on the floor and get sucked up by the heating system, which WILL circulate it throughout the house, so that you WILL be dusting it for the next six months.

There! Complaint made. That said, shhh, it’ll hear you and decide it ought to be winter again. Snow in May sucks worse than mud in April.

Posted April 22, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Scent of Childhood   9 comments

March 18, 2019

If your childhood had a smell, what would it be?


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Cyrill Connelly famously stated that “The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet.”

I have to start out by saying that I am not a person who lives through my nose. My sense of smell is the weakest of my senses, so this article took some thought.

I grew up in Alaska, where homes are closed up against the winter for 6-8 months out of a year. You can’t even open the doors to air things out once a week. When I think of the smell of my childhood, I think of coming home from school and smelling the closed-up house – diesel heating fuel mixed with cigarette smoke mixed with damp-dog smell mixed with good food on the stove and coffee on the perk. Yeah, not all that appetizing and certainly not how my kids remember our house.

Our daughter, who does live through her sense of smell, says she always thinks of Pine Sol, Murphy’s Oil Soap, and lavender potpourri
mixed with the Asian spices of the stirfries that are my go-to weekday meal when she thinks of home.

But there’s another smell that came to my mind immediately when I read this topic. The smell of cold icy ground and new green growing things. There’s a bite to the Alaskan air just before the melt starts. Our trees, the great lungs of the atmosphere, take an ice nap from October through April, so there’s a natural build-up of nitrogen and CO2 in our winter air. You can feel it if you’re active outside in the spring, even when you’re a long way from human habitation. You get the slightest headache because your body knows it’s not quite right. And, when the snow starts to melt, there’s this delicious cold flavor to everything. It’s like ice cubes with just the barest hint of salicin (you know that as aspirin) from the willow trees that are the first to wake up. I love to stand at the head of a hiking trail, just far enough from my car that I can’t smell the heat from the engine and pause … take in a deep breath … launch into the Alaskan wilderness. In a couple of weeks, the snow will be gone and the plants will suck in all that extra CO2 and burst into a spring that is so fast you’d think it was part of a Nature channel documentary.

Yeah, I’m feeling nostalgic because that incredible state of being is about 2-4 weeks away. We’ve survived another winter and our house windows will be open all summer because I prefer the smell of rain, sun, growing things, and freshly mowed grass over what I grew up smelling. Not every childhood memory is worthy of nostalgia.

Now let’s check out what my fellow bloggers have to say about their childhood scent memories.

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Mountain Musings

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Blue Honor Blog

Lydell Williams

Posted March 18, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Alaska   Leave a comment

Posted January 11, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska

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Practical in All Ways   8 comments

What’s the best purchase you ever made and why?

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ponchoI’ve bought a lot of things in my five decades of living from cheap $1 items to a house now inexplicably worth nearly a quarter-million dollars.  It’s hard to inventory all the purchases of my life and come down to “the best” and for what reason. Some things just give me joy. I like the look or feel of them. Other things are practical or were a great investment with a good return on value. It would take a great deal of soul-searching to narrow that most-worthy item down from the thousands of purchases I’ve made in my life. In fact, I am overwhelmed at the prospect because Brad and I are known among our friends as not being very consumer-oriented. Most of our “stuff” is second-hand and we are frequently asked if we ever plan to put furniture in our family room. Maybe … someday … if some neighbor in our garage-friendly neighborhood is looking to sell a sofa for cheap. Does a family room really need furniture beyond a bunch of bookcases and some cushions on the floor?

But not answering the question would be disingenuous, I suppose. Let me tell you a story.

Thirty years ago this summer Brad and I were working for a company that thought it needed our undivided attention, but we needed our annual salmon catch, so when they let us go for three days for the 4th of July holiday, we scrambled to load what we needed into the car and get headed on the 600-mile journey to Chitina Alaska and the red gold that are Copper River salmon. And, I couldn’t find my raincoat. I determined I would do it in a sweatshirt if necessary, even though I knew that would mean a miserable wet weekend.

Brad stopped on our way out of town to buy Meals Ready to Eat — military-issue rations that often find their way into the local military surplus stores. While he was deciding which of the menus to buy this time, I spied a shelf of Army ponchos. Jokingly, I said “These would make great tents.” Brad thought I was serious and he grabbed one and threw it on top of the box. Cost? $10.

The closer we got to Chitina, the darker the sky got. O’Brien Creek was running so hard we decided not to risk driving over it. I donned the poncho before we headed out. Except for the hood, which consisted of a Velcro closure under the chin to keep the rain out and a bill over my forehead to shed it to either side of my face, it fell shapeless to the tops of my Xtra-Tufs. The sides could be left open or there were grommets to hook together by any means desired. I had run lengths of 550 cord through them to form some sort of closure. It was so large on my tiny frame that I put it over my backpack to keep it dry.

We hiked in 2 1/2 miles to “the glory hole” and we caught 45 salmon in 2 1/2 hours. By pulling the 550 cord this way and that, I configured the poncho so that it kept my clothes dry while I clubbed fish to death as Brad was catching them two at a time. And meanwhile, it poured buckets of icy rain from the sky, flung sideways by the glacier wind out of the Wrangell-St. Elias ice fields.

When the fish had been caught, Brad began to load them into his “moose bag” backpack and it quickly became clear that he could only take half the load. I weighed less than the remaining fish. I would have to stay behind with them while Brad hiked the first half to the car.

It was dark and growing darker and I didn’t really feel that brave out there in the forbidding wilderness, but I told him I’d have tea ready for him when he got back. We both knew it would take two hours for him to hike out, at least a half-hour to pack the fish in the ice in the coolers in the back of the car and another hour to hike back to me. A part of being an Alaskan woman is not turning into a clingy suburbanite when your husband suggests he leave you in the rain-soaked forest beside one of the deadliest rivers in the world with 20 salmon and, possibly, grizzlies in the forest. Nope, I’d be fine. I’d have tea ready for him when he got back. I watched his Helly Hansen fisherman’s coat disappear into the darkness and didn’t ask him to come back.

Despite the monsoon-like ice bath occurring in the outside world, it was dry under my poncho. I could do this.

As anyone knows who has ever spent time in the woods, the key to building a fire is dry wood. Did I mention it was pouring and had been for several hours? I hiked around the cluster of wind-tough cottonwood trees, looking for twigs and leaves that weren’t soaked and I found some. Under a cut-bank near the river, I found a sheltered cluster of roots that I could hack off with my knife. Up in the forest, I found a spot sheltered among three trees that was less wet than the surrounding forest. I piled up my fire-starting treasure, sat down on the ground with my back against one of the trees and pulled my legs up into the sheltering tarp that was my poncho, protecting my treasure hoard from the deluge.

Rain dripped off the bill of my poncho, dropping onto my covered knees and rolled out into the wet ground. I dozed, buying time. Occasionally, the tree behind me would bend, groaning in the wind, and I’d be pelted with icy droplets, but my poncho didn’t move and my hoard stayed dry, warmed by the heat of my body. Time passed and stood still. My watch told me two hours had passed. Time to act.

I tied one end of my poncho to one of the three trees, pulled my head out of the hood and tied the other end to my back pack, creating a slanting roof. I knelt under the shelter to scrape sand together into a makeshift firepit and create a little nest of grass and leaves. Using strike-anywhere matches from the chest pocket of my poncho, I started a little fire, feeding dried twigs into it until it wouldn’t blow out at the faintest gust of watery wind. I warmed my hands over its tenacious warm. Smoke rose up to slap into the underside of my poncho and then seep away into the night. I filled the little tea kettle with rainwater as it ran off the edge. I sat with my knees drawn up to my chest, watching for steam to rise and listening to the steady drum of rain on the makeshift roof. Time passed and stood still while my socks dried above the little fire in the shelter of my poncho.

I was kneeling by the fire, preparing two cups of tea when I heard boots scraping on gravel near the trail. I was alone, a woman in the wilderness on the edge of one of the most deadly rivers in the world, guarding 20 salmon in grizzly country. I held my breath until Brad emerged out of the gray dawn, water pouring off his Helly Hansen coat.

“I have tea ready, just as I said.”

We sat on opposite sides of the fire, my poncho as our roof, sipping our hot beverage and eating a breakfast of pilotbread slathered with butter. While Brad caught an hour’s nap with his back against my tree, the weather broke, the rain stopped and sunlight spilled from heaven like liquid gold, sparkling through the wind-tough trees and casting the world in watercolor hues. I knocked the rain off my poncho and bundled it up loosely on top of my backpack. Brad stretched and groaned. I carried the camping gear and he carried the salmon and we turned toward our car that was 2 1/2 miles away, both of us dry and comfortable … because of my poncho.

That chance purchase 30 years ago still lives in my outdoor wardrobe. It is a constant companion, always packed for every expedition, though used only when necessary — as a coat, as a tent, as a tarp, sometimes a blanket to sit on. Once we bundled one of the kids in it on a canoe trip when she got cold. It’s kept backpacks dry, provided some protection from the damp dog that insisted she join us in the tent and been used as a bellows for building a bonfire. It still doesn’t leak and the only maintenance it’s required is replacing the 550 cord closures occasionally. And, thus it is the most useful $10 I’ve ever spent.

 

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