Tuesday, October 23, 2018

What am I Doing Here?

I used to say that when I could, that is when I quit teaching school, I would leave this country during October. The dark, wet fall of the eastern Kenai Peninsula is dank and depressing like no other time of year. The long stretches of rain and flood, the deep darkness of nights without stars, moon or snow are the darkest time of year. Even the October holiday, Halloween, is not my cup tea though I honor those who embrace this celebration of death and branched trees standing skeleton like in the dripping forest full of shadow, clothed in mourners colors of black, brown, and grey. 
I wanted to be somewhere and be dry and light during October, camping in the Valley of Gods or hiking the Gila Wilderness, but here I am. The third week of October and I’m sitting here looking out at the rain driving against the window and behind it the dark silhouette of the willows with the last wilted leaves clinging to the branches like used Kleenex. 
If I had packed my bags and grabbed a middle seat on some southbound redeye what would I miss? The rain ‘heavy at times’? The wind gusting to 55 mph like it is today? Repeated flood advisories, warnings, watches?  Would I miss soggy newspapers and scattered porch debris? Maybe even the two trick or treaters that manage to find my house.
But I didn’t, and instead, I was here when the swans blew in on a storm honking their horns like they had won the election, their wings big as sails. Instead, I was here when the eagles quarrelled over the salmon on my yard and the flocks of migrating ducks came by to feed on the rich lake margins and stay until the last storm before the ice comes. I was here when I could walk the lake trail and see deep into the forest because the umbrella-sized devils club turned gold and dropped to rot in the mossy forest floor. I was here to bounce my grandson on my knee and meet his cousins at the bus. I was here for saunas and firewood fetching and watching Molly cut the last flowers from Nana’s garden.

I got to drink coffee with my gal on the world’s best porch and watch the otters play on our dock, cavorting and looking over their shoulders like neighbor kids who know they aren’t supposed to be there. I got to putter in my shop or write through the morning. I got to be in this place where I've been longer than I’ve been anywhere else and there’s a good reason for that.  

Yeah, it’s still dark and wet and depressing like no other month but soon it will pass and after those two kids come to share my bowl of Reeses Cups on Halloween, we’ll be into the cold, windy November. And who wants to miss that?

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Women Rocking the Boat

A few months ago when famous men were getting a long-overdue ass kicking for mistreating women, women stood up and elbowed their way to the front of the room. I watched male power figures fall, and I thought, wow this is the year of the woman. Then, during the Olympic Games it seemed that only American women were winning medals, and I said it out loud, “This IS the year of the woman, and I’m diggin’ it.”
Ready for the Water!

My point was proven in a personal way this month when Madelyn and I traveled to Port Hadlock, Washington to visit a project started by a group of women to resurrect a piece of maritime history, a twenty-three foot sailboat, the Felicity Ann. 
In 1952, a hapless British widow with little sailing experience and an iron spine, bought a twenty-three foot sailboat, stocked up on food and water then sailed across the Atlantic to America. She sailed alone, teaching herself navigation and seamanship as she battled wind, tide, and current as well as self doubt and fear. She was the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic.  In doing so, she broke one more barrier for women and became a national hero. Unfortunately, today few people know the name of Ann Davison.
Most of the hardware is original from the boat.
Lots of new wood.

Felicity Ann's graceful stern.
Our relationship with the Felicity Ann and the amazing Ann Davison started just north of Seward on the shores of Kenai Lake, where we met two woman who had owned the boat and stored it in their yard for a number of years. Realizing that the project was bigger than they were, they passed it on a man in Haines.  Left behind were the port and starboard navigation lights, which we purchased and brought home along with the story of Ann Davison and her little boat. Over the years, we read Ann Davison’s book My Ship is So Small, and kept track of the Felicity Ann through the Internet and Wooden Boat magazine. 
Madelyn poses in Ann
Davison look-alike
From all that I can gather, Felicity Ann spent over fifty years like a needy foster child, bouncing from one home to the next when she proved to be too much work. Restoring a wood boat is a time and money black hole and the longer it’s put off the bigger it is. After the home in Haines didn’t prove out for Felicity Ann, she headed south to the NorthWest School of Wooden Boat Building in Port Hadlock, Washington, where the skills, knowledge, and tools existed to make her whole again. All that was missing was energy. That momentum came in the form of a group of women at the Port Hadlock Community Boat Project. This outfit wraps their energy around boats and young people, and Felicity Ann was a natural match for them. 
Community Boat Project Shipwright,
Wayne Chimenti, and Felicity Ann's new
Skipper, Nahja, admire the navigation lights
we brought to Port Hadlock.
So now this historic relic has been brought back from the brink, and this summer her keel will be wet for the first time in decades.  Our little piece of this adventure was returning the navigation lights to their place with the boat and being rewarded with a tour of Felicity and her new home in Port Hadlock.
This summer Felicity Ann with be launched into the waters of a different ocean, but still with a woman at the helm, thanks to a group of sailors who wanted to remember that while women rise up today there were strong women in the past who ignored the bias and the boundaries put up by men and moved forward to do great things.
--- Ann Davison’s book, My Ship is so Small, is a great read and the following websites will allow you to follow Felicity Ann’s modern story:
The Felicity project is also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FelicityAnnBoatProject/

Saturday, February 3, 2018

DO NOT OCCUPY and other Absurdities

My wife and I recently visited Portugal and one of the most distinct things I noticed was a lack of signs. Of course, there were speed limit signs and no parking signs, but advertising, business signs, and informational signs were really scarce or understated. Looking for a restroom in the restaurant? Don’t expect six-inch letters RESTROOMS->. No, there will be a small W.C.  in two in letters on a door or just small indistinct silhouettes of a man and woman. The business signs are generally not big billboards but just simple plaques beside the door of entry. Of course, the Pharmacies have their green neon crosses but those were about the most visual I see. 
Not only are business signs understated, the country also lacks instructional signs telling people what to do or what not to do. I got a parking ticket because I didn’t know that the parking area I parked in was a Paid Parking area. The ticket writer showed me the little kiosk where I was supposed to pay, but there was no help for an ignorant tourist like me to find it and obvious American-style Paid Parking sign at each stall. I figured out the system after that and didn’t need a sign to know if I was in Paid Parking or not.
“Oh crap, I was going to climb up in that dumpster and take a nap,
but this dumpster doesn’t allow that. I Guess I’ll move along
and find one that allows occupants.”
It was when I came home, however that I really saw how sign crazy we American’s are. Everywhere we go it seems we are getting derections. No need to reason or problem solve just follow the signs. THIS FIRE MAY BE HOT type signs really drive me crazy. This reached it’s zenith with me at the Seward Boat Harbor when I saw a dumpster with clear blue letters: DO NOT OCCUPY. Now this is a five foot high metal box with a plastic lid of a shape that most people would recognize as a dumpster and no one would confuse with a hotel room, cabin, or campervan. Who needs to be told not to occupy a dumpster? AND, do we really think anyone who would want to “occupy” a dumpster would be deterred by a warning sign?

The ubiquitous Use Other Door sign is useful except that I won’t read it until I’ve tried to open a locked door. Then I look down and see, Use other Door! These signs should be positioned on a post to be read before reaching the door.  But then I would probably just push it aside while complaining about someone leaving this post in front of the doorway.  
I think we have so many signs in our culture because we are at once, bossy and helpful. We all seem to enjoy correcting people’s behavior, and we love to help by giving direction to others who may need guidance. But signs often don’t communicate accurately, effectively, or without conflicts of logic. Unfortunately, this easily goes from pushy to silly like the pole in an Anchorage neighborhood that has one sign that reads Visitor Parking and below it another sign that reads No parking, Fire Lane. Did no one installing those signs think for just a minute? I hope he/she loved the irony and walked away laughing.

Unfortunately, we seem to be sign dependent, and in Portugal, I was constantly seeking sign guidance. “Why don’t the have a sign here that says . . .?” so I don’t have to guess. But even signs posted were often ignored. We walked an extra hundred yards to a monument in Sagres, Portugal because the road in front of the monument was clearly marked (a rare thing) with no parking signs. When we came out two hours later, that clearly marked road was lined with parked cars. It occurs to me then that the Portuguese aren’t so different from us after all. The culture has merely adapted to the fact that most people will ignore signs that ask them to do what they don’t want to whether it’s to park where they don’t want to occupy a dumpster. I think the Portuguese just quit putting us signs that people will ignore or don’t need, and that does make the world a lot easier to look at.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Snow Rollers What a Treat

Poor photo of snow roller 
Today we enjoyed our first ski of the season on the fresh powder of yesterday's snowfall. No wind, a bit of sun filtering through the clouds, and our skijor dogs glad to be in the harness. That should have been enough of a treat to make us glad we got out of bed this morning. But a rich bonus were the snow balls we passed -- like the snow trolls had been having a snowball fight. 

No tracks had crossed the lake yet but here were these snowballs and the traces in the snow where they had rolled through the powder perfect snow.  Some softball size others as big as basketballs.

Here was a white carpet of perfect snow and across the surface, hundreds of balls of snow cascaded like spilled pearls. The flat light didn't allow for very good pictures, but they do show the size and shape as well as the their tracks. 

I did a little research —— thanks Google and wikipedia—— and found that these are called snow rollers.  
According to Wikipedia: 

A snow roller is a rare meteorological phenomenon in which large snowballs are formed naturally as chunks of snow are blown along the ground by wind, picking up material along the way, in much the same way that the large snowballs used in snowmen are made.

On parts of the lake we saw these winter wonders blown across acres of lake surface. Just another day of wonder on Bear Lake. One more thing to be thankful for.  It doesn't need to be Thanksgiving for me to give thanks.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Changing Seasons Ride the North Wind

The turn of the seasons is always an exciting time, whether it is the green explosion of spring or the golden spray of fall leaves.  This week, we moved into winter here in southern Alaska with temperatures settling into the twenties and the north wind sending us running to the closet for more clothes.

  At our house on Bear Lake we are ready for the change though we had to move quickly. With the help of grandson, Sawyer, we placed the kayaks in their winter slings hanging in the rafters of the dog kennel, and we pulled the rowboat and nestled it in its nest in the boat shed. By the time we got to the rowboat though, the ice was wrapping around the hull and the ice pans threatened to anchor it on lakeshore for the duration.  We’ve plucked the last hardy kale leaves and only the carrots wait in the soil to be harvest. 

This weekend we even found a few cranberries to augment our assorted berry larder.

The last of the ducks seem to be looking at the horizon wondering if they should leave, they must know that on the first morning without out wind the lake will freeze and they have to migrate or move the salt water for the winter.  Only the persistent north wind has kept the lake in motion so it doesn’t freeze. I have seen times when wind drops on a cold morning in October and one can watch the first skin of form on the lake. 

Along the south shore where lumpy ice ridges have been forming on the beach for days, the thin layer of ice stretches out from the shore pushing the last of the Golden-eye duck farther off shore. Then fingers and pans of silver  ice take shape off shore until they stretch and touch. I have seen five acres of ice form on the still lake in just a half hour.

Some years this is the end open water and the lid of ice covers the lake water for the winter. More often though, wind, rain and warming temperatures break the first layer of ice piled it in the south cove where Bear Creek drains the lake.  As we watch the ice pans form and stack the last stash of firewood, we can only hope that the first week of November brings still cold ice making days so we can be skating by thanksgiving.  Remember it’s the end of October and regardless of what the calendar says that’s the start of winter. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

On the Road Again, No Sidekick

After my visit to Tanana Middle School, the home of the
Eagles!, I'm back on the road again to Healy, Alaska. Healy is home to the Usibelli Coal Mine and very near Denali National Park.

The students at Tanana Middle were energetic and friendly and many of them confident enough to share their writing in front of their peers.  That takes courage that many adults never muster.  Librarian, Tana Martin, Alaskan born but raised in Georgia, was a great organizer and support during the long day when I met all the Language Arts classes.  I had forgotten how much work teaching all day really is.   

More Later, time to make camp and settle in for the night.

And then this . . . .
Inexplicable totem poles in Central Alaska

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mutiny and Desertion on the Parks Highway

Such an innocent face. . .
The great Alaska Book Week Roadtrip started a day late and then things when down hill.  We made a smooth traverse of the Seward and Glenn Highways then motored north to Willow and dropped in on Musher Travis Beals.  My partner, Kermit, seemed unimpressed by seeing his old teams mates and owner.  Sarah and Madelyn had him groomed and perfumed so that I think he thought he was heading for a date not dropping by the locker room. 
Anyway, we had a quiet camp beside the highway Friday night, and Kermit helped me finish a Sheep Creek Lodge burger – even better than I remember and the fries were hand cut fresh potatoes like they used to make at the Kenai Lake Lodge fifty years ago. I almost cried when I saw they were smoking brisket for their anniversary party tonight. We had to keep moving. 
This morning after an early start, we stopped at scenic Byers Lake for a walk and breakfast.  This is where it all fell apart and the adventure began.  When I opened the door, Kermit left the truck like a pissed off teenager with car keys. For those of you who don't know, Kermit is a retired Iditarod athlete with several trips up the trail on his resume and still plenty of fuel in  the tank.  Luckily, I was driving in my soft comfortable house slippers instead of regular shoes.  I say luckily because if I was in regular shoes I would have launched a pursuit on foot.  a total waste of time, in my slippers there was no chance. 
After five hours of searching and calling and waiting, I gave up and turned my wheels north.  Maybe he'd turn up when I returned in two days. 
In two hours, Travis had driven north to start his own search, and the some good Samaritans and State Park rangers hand wrangled up Kermit and gave me a call, having see my notes left on outhouses and visitor plaques at the state park.  By then Travis, my hero, Beals was only a mile from the where the deserter was being held.  So Kermit is back in the locker
room with his old team and I am safe in Fairbanks for the night. 
More tomorrow.