Monday, August 14, 2017

Drop Cloths, Boot Driers and All the News that's Fit to Print

Like most Alaskan’s I spent a lot of time this month processing fish.  I was preparing salmon for the smoker and laying the pieces of ripe orange filet on racks to dry before smoking. When I was laying out the newspaper under the wire racks, I got to thinking how useful newspaper was and how much a part of day-to-day life this daily-delivered paper product is.

 If I didn’t have yesterday’s paper what would I do for something absorbent to catch the drips of drying salmon? Is there anything cheaper, easier, or more disposable for catching drips than newspaper? What would one put under the paint can when painting the trim in the bathroom?  What is handier than grabbing some newspaper to stuff in those wet Xtratuf boots? I was actually going to take a stack to the recycler the other day and my wife stopped me, thank goodness. Any I don’t use, she’ll spread in the garden for weed block.

But with so many people reading their news online and newspapers struggling to sell print editions that could all be gone sooner than later.  All the time I was processing fish this weekend I chewed on this idea. What a bummer if I couldn’t grab the funny papers and classifieds out of the Sunday edition so I could have crossword puzzles to take in my pack when I travel. What if I wanted leave a story on the end table to share with my wife? How weird would it be not to have newspaper to start the fire in the woodstove or to wrap grandma’s china cups?
Oh we have paper towels and packing paper, puzzle apps on our phones and plenty of little waxed paper fire starters available, but are we ready to give that all up?

These ideas were all insignificant musing of a man longing the good old days of newspaper hats and my mom cleaning mirrors with a page out of the Sunday Daily News until this Friday.  This Friday, I was my cabin on Pear Lake and heard on KTNA that the Alaska Dispatch News was declaring bankruptcy and maybe being evicted. Suddenly, my old man fretting had become an actually possibility. Here was a real likelihood that a daily paper in Alaska’s largest city would be a thing of the past. Not in five years or ten years but right damn now! 

Suddenly this is more than the possibility that I have to pay for my drop cloths and blotters from now on. This is the real threat that we don’t have a print media source a center of record for our state.  If we loose the ADN it will be like closing a road, or shutting the doors of a school. Yes, we have good local and regional papers, but ADN was the statewide paper, and they still used that soft absorbent newsprint so handy around the house. I mean really, do we want Facebook and Twitter to be the table around which all our statewide conversation takes place? Will the “cloud” be the answer?

It’s not that Alaska Dispatch News is the perfect, unbiased news base. The point is that we need something to fill that gap for news and continuity of our Alaska community until a strong, valid twenty-first century solution is developed. I can find old ragged T shirts for drop clothes and be more frugal with saving birch bark for fire starters, but I’m not yet ready to give up having a rolled up newspaper landing in my drive, even if it does land in a puddle now and then.  Right now I’m going to teach my grandkids to make newspaper hats before it’s too late.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Becoming a Laid Back Rider -- Recumbent Update.

I promised to follow up on my recumbent bike exploration, and you are probably wondering if I’m riding twenty miles a day or is it gathering dust in the boat shed. Well short answer, somewhere in between.

I bought the bike because I like riding but needed a change from the traditional bike I was riding. Leaning forward on a regular bike made my hands numb and my back sore, and those kept me from saddling up for anything more than a tour of the neighborhood.  So, to summarize, I took the leap and bought a used recumbent cruiser both for my comfort and curiosity. The bikes are something different and, like a young Steller’s jay, I a curious about unique divergent ideas. 

I was surprised after doing some reading that the bike was easy to get accustomed to though the ride is decided different for a regular bike, both in handled and balance. Articles I read online cautioned riders to practice in empty parking lots and quiet neighborhoods before heading out on the open streets. Good advice. I had my first wreck showing off for my wife in the driveway. I made a tight turn like I would on my old bike and dumped myself indelicately into the gravel.  No surgery required.

The biggest struggle I have is launching. I say launching because that is how it feels. One sits balanced on the seat with feet on the ground and rotates one pedal to a near vertical position. Then the rider must push off with one foot and pedal with the other.  There is no way to push with the hands as we do on traditional bikes. All the weight on the ass, and I must launched with a push and wobble like a five year old on his first solo.

I was feeling so lame with my launch technique that I went to YouTube (for the longest time I could never find ‘UTube’ when I ran a search online- sad) and watched a five-minute video of a guy launching on a bike like mine. He made it look easy, but he was short enough that he could move the bike along like a scoot bike. My legs are too long to do that, so I still look like a klutz on the start off. When I ride, I try to avoid any stops while riding unless they are downhill or away from an audience. It’s all about technique and practice.

Anyway, I have been riding regularly, moving from cruising the neighborhood to riding out on the highway both north and south. While a ten-mile ride made me tired and my legs complained, there were no numb hands, no aching back, no sore groin. Yesterday, I rode thirteen miles, half of it into a tough south wind, and this morning I am not suffering and looking forward to a ride this afternoon.

I do notice that hill climbing, even a gentle slope, is a challenge to me and I seem to climb slowly. Part of this is the physics of this type of bicycle. The other part is the development of riding technique and muscles. The power muscles are different for a recumbent and need to build while the technique for applying force to the pedals comes from the hips differently than when riding erect. I’m learning, and every time I ride I am motivated to ride more, and that is the key to any fitness activity.  Motivation. I will see you on the road until the snow flies again, and we can all get back to skiing. Or maybe I’ll get studs and try winter riding.  --- Yeah right!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Twisted Stalk, A Snack for the Whole Summer

            When I was a kid on the homestead, my mom liked to take afternoon walks this time of year and gather her ‘rabbit food’. She would take a basket and paring knife and walk out on the margins of the clearing for dandelion greens and fireweed sprouts then enter the forest for fiddleheads, miner’s lettuce and watermelon berry vine. She would toss the mass of greens she collected in a salad or wilt them in hot vinegar heated in an iron skillet.  We called it her ‘rabbit food’ because when brother Mike, self-appointed devil’s advocate, would say, “ How do you know that you’re not poisoning us?” She would respond, “If the rabbits eat it we can! And besides, it will cure what ails you.”  But she said that about most things we didn’t want to eat. We were unconvinced.
            Most of the greens were harsh tasting and coarse and her comment didn’t contribute to the taste. The only one of the rabbit greens I liked were the watermelon berry vines, which I found to be succulent, tender and sweet tasting both when picked very young or mature.  I still like to pick these when I’m hiking and munch on them as I go or gather and bring home to enrich my salads.  Every spring I pledge to try fiddleheads again. Unfortunately, the spirit is willing but the body is weak, and procrastination is not an option with fiddleheads.  Today I picked a few that hadn’t moved past usable and will steam then tonight and douse with butter. 
            My true favorite of the wild things is the watermelon berry vine, which goes by many names: twisted stalk is what is is called in Alaska Wild Plants by Janice Schofield— a great source for people interesting in eating wild in Alaska. Our friends the Fishers use the term scoot berry and others call it wild cucumber.  According to Schofield, the term twisted stalk is a variation on the scientific name, streptopus amplexifolius, which means “the twisted stalk with the clasping leaf”.  I don’t think of that when I look at this delicate member of the lilly family. Instead I can relate to the crisp cucumber flavor of the stalk, and the tiny watermelon treat of the berries. 
            I collect these in May and June to for my salads am trying to get the grand kids to munch them when we hike but without much luck. By July I’ll be snacking on the berries and for those I will complete with the kiddos.
By the way, it turns out, the ‘scoot berry’ term is a reference to using the berries as a laxative, something to think about if you and your kids are munching them along the trail. I have eaten bunches without noticeable effect.   
Another good source for edible plant info is Alaska’s Wild Berries by Verna Pratt, a truly pocket sized illustrated guide, Pratt suggested adding the berries to other berries as an extender. My mom tried to make a pie with the berries once, and it was a disappointment so mixing them with others makes sense.  Next time you hit the trail try a snack of twisted stalk and maybe take some home for dinner.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Getting Laid back with Recumbent Bikes

High Tech 1970!
Every spring, it seems I take on a new thing, and invest myself in learning, testing, or building something I’ve never done before. This time last year I took on rebuilding a teardrop trailer. This year I joined the recumbent bike crowd, a small, elite troop of people who would rather ride like they are in a recliner instead of balancing on a two-by-four. I didn’t do it just to be different. I did it because I wanted to keep bike riding. Over the last few years, bicycling had become increasingly difficult for me. After a short ride my butt is sore, my hands go numb, and my back hurts anytime I ride more than a couple of miles. First, I replaced my mountain bike with a street bike with a more erect position. No help, then I adjusted the handlebars and wore padded gloves. I was still not happy.
To be fair, I am not a dedicated, long-distance bicycle guy. But I have always enjoyed bike riding. The first thing of any value I ever purchased was a yellow Schwinn Varsity ten speed that I rode all over Anchorage 45 years ago. That was a sweet ride with skinnnnny tires and those racers handlebars that swooped down so my noes was practically touching the front tire. I felt like a jet pilot on those wheels. Twenty years ago, I was biking the trails on the Kenai using one of the early mountain bikes. Then I figured out how little I was seeing traveling that way and moved my biking back to the road. But now my frame needs a different mode if I’m to keep riding. 
I have been ogling the recumbent bikes for sometime but was too cheap or scared to make the leap. This winter I did some reading to help figure out which way to go because recumbents differ greatly. Some have the rider nearly prone, and steering with levers at hip level and the sprocket out in front of the front tire. Others are tricycles, some with a single wheel in back and others in front. A guy could get lost real easy and none of this is cheap.
But first, why a recumbent?
And what the hell is it? 
“Those wheels are really small!”
Ok, a recumbent bicycle is one that is set up so the rider is seated with the shoulders behind the hips and the feet out in front. This puts almost all the weight on your ass, which for means that my hands won’t go numb from the weight of my head and shoulders pushing down on them. It also means I have a seat back to support my spine and big cushy seat for my rear end. No more pressure on my scrotum. I miss riding to town to pick up the mail and maybe now I can do that again. So, the answer to the why question is comfort and (I will admit) novelty, I like trying new things. Learn More about Recumbents
Once I started searching Craigslist I found that I could buy a used recumbent bike for anywhere from 300 to 1500 dollars. Guess where my budget lay! Back to the Internet for more research and comparison shopping.  I decided I didn’t want a tricycle because they are heavy and bulky and the cheaper ones are slow; I didn’t want one of those extreme sprocket-forward models because the learning curve is too high for my patience; so I settled for the LWRB, long wheelbase recumbent bicycle. This style is the easiest to learn and use. My search put me on an Ez-1 Super Cruiser by Sun Bicycles that I found at Hoarding Marmot in Anchorage, an outdoor gear commission store. — Nice store, helpful staff, check it out—
This particular model is a few years old and no longer sold, but Sun still offers similar bikes. The Ez-1 has a comfortable seat, twenty-one gears and a chopper motorcycle style handlebars. It sits low to the ground and, as my grandson said, “Those wheels are really small!” Twenty inch on the back and sixteen inch in front. The bike is heavy and most of that weight is in the stern, but when I parked myself in the seat, I smiled. The seat is wide below and high in back, and I can sit on the bike with both feet flat on the ground.  This is going to be a whole different thing!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May is Going to the Birds

Spring has come to Bear Lake and, as the snow recedes and the ice begins to melt, the waterfowl are returning. The first were the goldeneyes, plopping down in the puddle of open water in front of the neighbor’s sauna. Twice I saw swans come and land on the ice as if trying to decide if the tiny pools of open water were worth the trouble. Eagles have returned and are already nesting, and Lucas, the eagle my grandson named, has taken his post on the cottonwood branch overlooking the muskrat tunnels. Usually by now, we are seeing muskrats squatting on the edge of the ice, sharing open water with the ducks. The muskrats have tunnels in the bank along the shore where we left a tangle of alder and willow growing in the wetlands. I imagine the muskrats find room and board among the roots and grass mats there beside dock, another place they hangout especially the young ones. I haven’t seen them yet this spring and I worry that our resident population didn’t make it through the winter.
Each day, more life shows itself along the lake border: the varied thrush and robins on the shore and mallards, scaups, and teal in the waters that open along the shore.  Until the ice in the lake is reduced to small pans drifting mid-lake, the ducks parade for us in the narrow strip of lake along our part of the bank. Here, the north wind deposits tons of organics to build a rich food cache for these spring visitors, and we can anticipate several pairs of swans and dozens of migrating ducks to spend part of May with us. The golden-eyes and mergansers will spend the summer and raise their ducklings here as will some mallards.  Last week the gulls — Mew gulls I think— showed up in a clamorous mob to play, court and feed in what little open water they could. The seem to have paired up and dispersed quietly across the south half of the lake. Any day we’ll hear the call of the loon, announcing their return from the open sea.
My dogs keep pointing their noses across narrow part of the lake, and I wonder if they smell a bear moving along the paths on the opposite bank. They are due back too as the snow clears away under the trees and warm long days wake the plants and signal the flurry of chlorophyll explosions that comes to our northern forest each year.
We have entered the month of May, and we count on lots of sunny days with temperatures in the sixties to dry and warm the soil and paint us green again, for May feels brand new every year.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Something Different -- Modern Folktales

The Man Who Swam in The Winter Sea 

At the base of a bluff were the river runs into the Winter Sea lived hardy fisherfolk who lived to lay nets and hooks into the frigid water and draw fish into their boats. Their wooden boats were three times the length of a fisherman and pointed at either end. The boats were wide and deep amidships, like a great chowder bowl, which made each a strong, nibble vessel that could take the fishers out into the sea and return them safely, for the Winter Sea was a forbidding well of frigid death.
            Most every day, one could see the people in their boats rowing out of the river mouth, counting on catching fish, and a friendly breeze to carry them home before dark. But, just as the humans took the salmon in the net and halibut from the hook the icy water drowned the fishers without sympathy.
            When a stranger named Bjorn came to spend the summer, the folk were at first suspicious. Where did he come from? What did he want? He told them he was sent by the University to count the fish, and measure the river and the tide and the weather, and he wouldn’t be any bother to anyone. He had arranged for the mail boat would bring his food and in the fall take him away before the freezing of the river.
            "He wants to buy a boat," Ivan reported, "Perhaps I should sell him mine."
            "Did you tell him?" Gunar asked.
            "Tell him what?"
            "Did you tell him that this is the Winter Sea and this water can kill him?"
            "I will tell him," said Carl,  "I even have a boat for him."
            And so the stranger got a boat and lecture. Carl leaned on the overturned dory and shook an authoritative finger at Bjorn's childlike face. “This water she will kill you like this." He snapped his fingers. “That's how cold it is. If there were no salt in the water, it would be ice all year. If you fall in, don't cry for help for it will be too late. Fifteen minutes and its over."
            "That quick?" asked Bjorn, disbelief wrinkling his face.
            "Oh yes. First the arms and legs will .go numb. Then cold will creep through your armpits until your heart is frozen, and you are gone -- over the bar. "
            "Maybe I don't want this boat after all," Bjorn said.
            "Ah, this is a good boat." Carl patted the side with its chipping paint and pointed at the battered thwarts. She is like a cradle for you."
            The next day, Bjorn rose early and pushed his new boat out into the mouth of the river and rowed into a quite morning on the Winter Sea. The Man rowed steadily along the shore aiding by a rising breeze. He was so busy rowing and studying the bluff with its dark coal seams and bright flowers that he didn't notice the change in tide and the rising wind. Soon he was bucking along on a choppy sea. 
            Back at the fishing village, people stood on the beach with concerned looks on their faces for they had seen Bjorn’s boat was gone from the beach. Waves were building on the water and the wind was roaring. Nearly a mile offshore, the man wrestled with the boat against the sea. Then one oar slipped out of his grasp. Bjorn lunged for it, but he reached too far and fell in. 
            Carl was working on the roof of his house and saw him fall. "He's in the water," Carl growled, "That finishes it. He's a goner."
            A few of the fisher folk kept a vigil, hoping his body would wash to shore. They built a fire and sat by their boats talking about all the faces that had lost to the sea. The children soon grew bored and prowled the beach, looking for treasure in the tideline. Suddenly, they were running toward the fire screaming and pointing down the beach.
            Their parents left the fire and walked toward them. Carl ran ahead and followed their fingers to the dark form washed up in the waves. The form rose and became Bjorn rising from the sea. "Help me," Carl yelled, "It's the university man! He's alive!"
            The astounded people took the man into a house and dried him off where he slept by the fire for several hours. Carl's wife woke him to feed him warm broth and tea. The rest of the village sat around their stoves or drift wood campfires mulling this great event of a man who swam to shore and lived.
            One of the old ones said, "That man must have webbed feet and hands like an otter."
“Perhaps he is really a seal,” said another.
            “How far did he swim?”
            “He was outside the big sandbar, and that’s a ways.”
            “Was it a mile you think?”
            “Maybe the tide carried him in.”
            “No, it was ebbing!”
            “None of that matters; only time matters, and he was in the water for almost an hour.”
            People suggested he might be the cursed son of a fur seal, living half his life in the sea and half with we humans. Others said he was carried to the beach by an angel. They all agreed that nothing more miraculous had ever happened here nor would again. Never before had anyone ever survived the Winter Sea.
            Bjorn left on the mail boat before the river froze, but his story remained. The next spring, a different person came to count the fish and measure the water, but no one would sell him a boat. “You are not like Bjorn,” they told him, “Any normal man who falls in the Winter Sea will die.”  That person didn’t understand, and no one felt obligated to explain. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Desert Car Camping in the Modern Station Wagon

We just finished a trip to the Southwest to catch a bit of the warm and dry, our midwinter desert fix. I convinced Madelyn that while we were there we should do some car camping, like we used to do, and it is the best way enjoy the magnificent skies of the Sonoran Desert.

Well, as one might expect, this made the trip prep more complicated than just throwing some summer clothes and a sweatshirt into a bag and hitting the road. We had to bring our camping gear, or at least some, and even though we were heading to southern Arizona where camping is easy, we would need some warm clothes for the cool desert nights.

Car camping had been our MO ten years ago when we would fly outside to visit the kids in college. Back then, we would pack a duffel with sleeping bags, Pads, and a small tent, add some handy items like a little camp stove and coffee pot. When we got to our destination we would gear up with food, a cooler and whatever we found at a secondhand store for utensils. All this gear would fit in the trunk of a rental car and off we would go. 

It has been a few years since the kids were in college, and we have not pulled out the old camp duffel for some time. The tiny two-person dome that we squeezed into is gone, and the only tent we have is too bulky for stuffing into our luggage, especially since the thick and cushy sleeping pads we now require would take up most of our duffel space. I quickly formulated a plan to forego the tent and the sleeping pad in favor of a larger rental car big enough to sleep in.

Sleeping on the ground is the downside of camping anyway, so it didn’t take much convincing for either of us when I found that renting a SUV wasn’t going cost much more than the little clown cars we used to cruise about in. Usually the rental car companies have a surplus of SUVs, so I was able to get a deal. The secret of the bargain is waiting until the last minute to make reservations.

So there we were, picking up the rental car and the agent is listing more choices than I ever had offered. As if reading my mind, she pointed me toward a Ford Flex, which looks more like dad’s station wagon than any current model SUV, and the back seats lay down (both rows) to make a sprawling bed long enough for even my seventy-four inch frame.  ( A fun side note was that the SUV was black with tinted windows so we looked like gangsters cruising the suburbs of Tucson.)
With sleeping bags borrowed from Tucson friends and a pillow and fleece blanket from the bottomless duffel, we made a cozy bed when camped in scenic Organ Pipe National Monument.

It was not all paradise, some one talked me into going without a foam pad and that was a mistake I will not make again. While our bed was roomy and warm, the lack of a mattress eliminated any chance of oversleeping since my back started complain before sunrise. In spite of that, we were able to experience the desert as we like it. We were camped among the cactus and sipping a beer after a hike as we try to identify the bird flitting about in the palo verde tree that shades our dinner table.

An open itinerary led us to Ajo, a gem
The basic kitchen
Sure we could hike the canyons and explore the deserts sights and then make our way to the nearest Super 8, but with home in the backseat, we don’t have to worry about keeping schedules or reservations. I hunger for more. 

I have figured out that a car camp kit doesn't have to be big: a set up for sleeping; a kitchen for stove(How to make an alcohol stove) would make coffee, boil noodles, and fry eggs. I hauled my wood burning Biolite stove along on this trip, but next time I think will bring, or make, an alcohol stove that will burn Heet.  I brought a little cook kit but one could get set up at a second hand store for a few bucks. 
cooking and eating, some camp chairs and a light.  A small camp stove. even a tiny alcohol or Heet

Yes, It is still possible to hop a plane from Alaska and the next day watch the desert sunset from a camp under the stars. We enjoyed a nice pasta dinner and started our morning with hot coffee and yelping coyotes under a fuchsia sky.  I'll gladly endure a sore back in order to savor mornings like that.  But I think the teardrop trailer may have to make the next trip. 

There is a lot to see driving the highways of the West — and the East for that matter— and the restaurants and hotels can be a long way off when the sun goes down. But wait you say, "What about showers and bathrooms." I am amazed at how many campgrounds have showers and even sinks to wash dishes, especially the national parks.  At these places we had to contend with RV generators and campers with portable yard lights, but we were still out in the desert night waiting to hear the night creatures sing or to go for a hike on a full moon night with the Sagauro cactus silhouetted against the sky.  

t's time to plan the next trip!