29 November 2007

Frozen Puddles

Sunrise this morning (taken by Nate Chambers). I
haven't downloaded my own yet.

I am usually a morning person but this chest cold in combination with the sun not bothering to rise over the mountain peaks until nigh 10:30 or 11 am is doing me in and it's only November. This morning my alarm went off first, I hit the snooze until it no longer rang, feeling the warmth of my bed. Then the paper star lamp went on bathing my room in mellow light and still I resisted opening my eyes, slipping from my dream world. The radio came on and by now the Disreputable Dog was getting anxious, stretching at maximum tag ringing capacity, pushing his wet nose under the comforter, sighing loudly. The Disreputable Cat didn't really care whether I got up or not but since she was awake it was a good time to attack my feet or to see if I would provide her with her own live heating pad. And slowly, like from the depths of a deep well, I pulled myself awake, coughing up deep meaty, almost edible coughs and reluctantly surrendered my bed. Where upon, his job done, the Disreputable Dog immediately went into his kennel and went back to sleep until summoned for his morning walk.

A November frozen shore in Quebec (2005)

For the first time in two weeks it was neither snowing nor raining and the whole world had turned crisp and twinkling with the star footprints of Jack Frost. The puddles had all frozen into panes of white that are absolutely delightful to smash. Frozen puddle jumping is one of those delightful activities that is so much fun you almost feel guilty about it. I mean, smashing puddles? That sounds almost ominous, like a predilection for violence. The Disreputable Dog, no fool, goes for the deeper puddles where there might still be some water under the freeze and digs himself a fresh drink while I happily clink and clatter through the puddles around him. We gambol our way through the frozen neighborhoods, the water saturated soil crunching delightfully beneath our feet, the streets dark and empty but for ourselves and the occasional rabbit. Sunrise was not until much later - one of the advantages of living at such high latitudes is that at this time of year, although the sun never makes it very high in the sky, there are very prolonged sunrise-sets (see top pic)...sometimes one fades into the other.

A crisp November morning in Newfoundland (2005)

Interestingly the change of seasonal light seems to have a strong effect on the animals as well as the humans. The Disreputable Cat is no longer batting the window shade over my bed two hours before I wake and seems mildly disgruntled that I do get out of bed. The Disreputable Dog likewise will sleep all morning long if my various waking devices don't go off. He only bothers to get up because he figures someone has to get my sorry bum out of bed because that's why I have all those devices going off, right? And then he promptly returns to bed, snoring slightly because he has propped his chin up on the edge of his kennel.

28 November 2007


The other day I was sitting in a coffee shop chatting with the barista. Next to me sat the husband of one of my co-workers who proposed to me that I ought to find a solution to my job problem by "marrying a PhD and then tagging onto whatever grants he gets". WHAT? Excuse me? There are so many things that bother me about this idea that I'm not even going to start.

PS - Jen, I hope you don't mind that I've stolen your label for this, it seemed most appropriate.

27 November 2007

Freezer Project

Sometimes it's a disadvantage not being a girly girl. Take for instance the distinct lack of pantyhose in my house yesterday evening when I desperately needed some to strain the seeds and stems off my gallon of frozen wild chokecherries. A woolen sock just wouldn't do. Instead I had to fashion something using a sterile gaze bandage pad from my first aid kit and a bit of twine. Well, it's not as neat as the pantyhose would have been but it will do as I'm certainly not about to go out and buy pantyhose. I plop the bundle into hot roiling water and muse whether or not I should add more cranberries to my hot cider. I should be sleeping, trying to overcome this nasty cold I've come down with, but instead I'm trying to bake the contents of my freezer.

Since there are no jobs to be had in this Small Town South of the Permafrost in the winter at all, as the whole thing has more or less shut down, and won't be any jobs in my field any time soon here in particular, I've decided to move. I've brought up the subject rather tactfully among friends here who all immediately respond that staying in Small Town South of the Permafrost without a job would be, well, suicide. I hadn't wanted to point that out but it seems that everybody comes to the same conclusion. Darkness, wetness, and isolation have a negative impact on the mind without a compelling distraction and I can't exactly afford the rent and the heat in this place without an income. So I'm off to, er, somewhere. The current plan is to schlep all my stuff to storage in Los Anchorage and then fly to my parents' in the Western Lower 48 (USA) with both of the Disreputables for x-mas as planned long ago. After that I'm not really sure. One thing is for sure, both Los Anchorage & Parents' Town in the Western Lower 48 both have more winter job opportunities to tide me over until I get a REAL job (i.e. in my field) then my current location.

Which leads me to my freezer. I've decided I'm going to try and use up and eat as much as I can of it's contents. Which may prove to be a challenge. In between hacking, chest-searing coughs I rummage through the contents: huckleberries, low-bush cranberries, high-bush cranberries, blueberries, nangoon berries, raspberries, bear berries, chokecherries, puffball mushrooms, lentil soup, mushroom soup, rhubarb, bean soup, jalapenos, stacks and stacks of halibut & salmon, clams, Bing cherries, red cabbage, a lone package of moose burger. The only thing in there I didn't harvest myself are the jalapenos & the Bing cherries. I'm not worried about the fish, anything I don't manage to eat I'll just take with me which will delight my father & sister. But the berries! I think there is going to be a lot of baking around here in the next few weeks along with packages showing up on the doorsteps and desks of friends and aquaintences.

26 November 2007

Monday Reflections

Fulmar flying over the Bering Sea

23 November 2007

Lists of 8 Tag

I was tagged by the lovely DJ Kirkby for the following meme which involves answering the following questions in blocks of 8. And she has been patiently waiting for me to get around to responding. Although I have numbered the below responses it isn't an indication of rank, merely a keeping track of whether or not I've hit 8 yet.

8 passions in my life [and incomplete list]
1.the world around me (but that about sums it all up doesn't it?), in all it's variations and expressions
2.exploring that world through walking, hiking, biking, skiing, boating, and general recreating in the out of doors and travel
3.the creatures in this world, wildlife, ecology, biology, and the human relationships to it
4. Science
5. Writing & Reading

6. small myths and little rituals
7. cultures, languages, and travel - people, how we explore and interpret the universe and deal with problems we face
8. my loved ones: family & friends & pets

8 things to do before I die
1. build my own home! My own tiny, energy efficient home (no more then 500 sq. feet). Everyone around me my age is having babies, but me? I have cabin building fever. I think it's something that's hard to avoid if you live in Alaska for a long enough time.
2. fall in love & be loved in return in a romantic relationship that has both length & durability 3. be a parent
4. travel & do research in Antarctica!
5. tell the people that I love that I love them (I do this but I never forget that this might be my last chance to do so)
6. learn how to play the harmonica & guitar (isn't the harmonica just the perfect backpacking instrument?)
7. take my niece & nephew backpacking (they're a little young for it now)
8. find a place to put down roots

A snowladen boat in the harbor

8 things I often say [er, I think I might have to get some help on this one...what do I say frequently? Honestly, I'm not sure I am much of a repeater of phrases, but maybe that's just because I live alone and there is no one to point them out to me. I keep trying but I'm coming up blank and it's holding up this post.]

November Birch trees in Fairbanks (2003)

8 Books I read recently [whew! something I can answer easily! I must admit that I read a lot and that my book pile is ever changing. I had to resist the temptation to just post my 8 favorite recent reads. Here is a list of the exact 8 last books I've read.]

1. currently reading The Road to McCarthy by Pete McCarthy (which interestingly is a book I have only seen on a bookstore in New Zealand and it mentions a small town in a National Park in Alaska that I did my thesis work in so when I saw it on a friend's shelf - he had been in Ireland - I begged it off him), a humorous book of travel.
2. The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro (one of my all time favorite Canadian authors with amazing punch-you-in-gut stories)
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translation by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky (oh my gosh, this new translation is AWESOME. What a fabulous, amazing love story.)
4. A Far County by Daniel Mason (lovely, lovely writing...and amazingly set in a country that you know but can't identify )
5. When a Crocodile Eats the Sun by Peter Godwin (about a white African in Zimbabwe when Mugabe came to power)
6. My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (I fell in love with her when I heard her book Almost There on tape, a book I have listened to again and again. A truthful story about the places that we find ourselves in that aren't like the fairy tales.)
7. Sabriel by Garth Nix (This was a re-read. A book aimed at teenagers that I picked up in an airport bookstore that turned out to be a great read as did the other two in the series...however, I tried to pick up one of the author's other series and I didn't like it so much)
8. The Children of Hurin by JRR Tolkien (wasn't sure what this would be like but it actually hung together very well and made a lovely story)

Birch bark up close (2003)

8 songs that mean something to me
1. Superman (It's not Easy) by Five for Fighting (interestingly enough I don't like most of the rest of the band's music but this song? It's the top of my list.)
2. The Edge of Night by Billy Boyd (this song, it's from a soundtrack I know, but it saved my sanity when I was stuck on an sandbank for 5 months with 4 teenage boys with the occasional visit from drunk firefighters who wanted to steal my dog or shoot our equipment)
3. Serenity by Clarence Clemons (listen to those saxophones, it will make your sould soar)
4. Let it snow by Sammy Cahn (you just knew this one would be on the list, didn't you? I love snow and I love frightful weather)
5. Nobody Knows Me At All by the Weepies (a good song when you are in a new place and feeling boxed in your own head)
6. A Road is Just A Road by Mary Chapin Carpenter (the new top hit on the radio when I lived in the middle of NoWhere, Montana where the two radio stations were either country or the God Station. I seem to live places like that a lot. Anywho, it came at a time when it seemed I was always on the road.)
7. Kribbeln im Bauch by Pe Werner (it's German so don't stare at it too hard if it doesn't makes sense to you. This song is about those butterfly stomachs and of course always brings me back to being in Germany on exchange)
8. I'm Alright by Jo De Messina (another hit song on the radio...this time NoWhere, Utah which expresses how I feel a lot. I'm far from home and from family and many of my friends and everyone thinks I'm crazy but I'm doing alright, all things considered.)

November boat harbor reflections

8 Qualities I look for in a friend
1. openness/ tolerance 2. honesty 3. kindness 4. an interest in common 5. independence 6. thoughtfulness 7. passion for something (anything) 8. sense of humor

The Direputable Cat in her favorite sleeping spot

8 people who's blogs I enjoy and who may consider themselves tagged if they wish. [I thought about not doing this part as some people don't like being tagged but I decided that I am going to list 8 blogs here, a random assortment that have not been previously mentioned on this blog before, whose work I like and if they decide to participate, great! If not, I'm okay with that. And either way it may give the rest of my readers someone new to read. If you go visit them tell them I sent you - because some of them I haven't delurked to!]

1. Tundra Medicine Dreams a blog about life and practicing medicine in the remoter communities of Alaska.
2. The Arctic Tern a sailboat blog of Devi & Hunter who inspire me by their willingness to retire early, sell everything they own, and take to the seas for as long as it is still enjoyable.
The Travels of Stacey and her Runaway Rubber Duckie who remind me of places I've traveled to and loved as well as inspiring me with new places yet visited.
Hypoglycemia Girl a fellow scientist and traveler.
Painted Maypole and the adventures of a thespian mom.
6. The Ed-ventures the chronicles of an outdoor Fairbanks guy who doesn't know me but who knows lots of people I know very well (and whose page I am totally guilty of lurking on). He has a recent post up on skiing to the bus where Chris McCandless (Into the Wild) lived & died.
7. The Happy Scientist another fellow scientist who is relatively new to blogging.
8. Pilgrim/Heretic a professor who will blog for cake and who has a marvelous post up on banishing your demons (which becomes more marvelous if you read the comments).

21 November 2007

And the Rains Came

When I woke up yesterday it was pouring rain out, pouring. And with all our snow that made things a bit tricky. The streets are flooded with water over a nice two inch base layer of ice because the storm drains are plugged with snow turned slush. Funnily enough, I found it absolutely impossible to be cranky when the weather was being so foul. The Disreputable Dog and I half skated through our walk. Obviously I'm a bit rusty on winter habits - note to self: remember to put your Yak-trax (grippy things that stretch over your shoes) on before ANY walk. I'm beginning to remember the semi-crab like walk of winter in icy places, with your weight low in the hips, the feet kept wide, scuffing ever so slightly against the pavement, er, ice, no sudden high stepping steps which will surely bring one crashing down.

The Direputable Dog playing sleigh with my niece

The ignominy of falling here is not just that moment when you know suddenly that there is nothing you can do, that your feet (or bike) are going to go out from under you, nor from the painful landing on a hard surface, trying to catch yourself with something other then your knees or elbows, but from the landing in a puddle and not only being sore and bruised but also being soaked to the skin. Last year the Disreputable Dog & I were walking in the dark in a downpour just like the one we had yesterday and that continues today when we met a man coming the other direction who in response to my greeting said "Good thing it isn't raining out, isn't it?". He made my day he did. I couldn't stop laughing. And you know, it's been one of my favorite sayings ever since.

"Smoke" on the water

And my current situation is a bit like that isn't it? I want to thank all of you kind readers for all of your empathy, kindness, and ideas. I am excited about the possibilities for change. I know good things can come of it. I also know that this is a good time to evaluate my anxieties and my passions and try to focus more clearly on where I see myself down the road. I am trying to focus on all of that but every know and then, as on Monday, I just get overwhelmed, or maybe it's underwhelmed and then I focus on the timing (January is a lousy month to be looking for jobs either in this state or in this field of work and it's a lousy time to move and for some reason seems to be the time of year that I often experience major life changes), and on the fact that I haven't heard back from most of my application yet (well, they do take awhile), and all the what-ifs. However, I do know at heart that I am extremely lucky. I have a good education, I have a lot of skills, I have passion, I have the support of loving family and friends, and I live in an age where I can look for jobs anywhere as long as I have access to the internet.

Aurora borealis from Fairbanks

I'd like to tell you all, too, the day before the US Thanksgiving, that I am thankful to all of you for being here in this space where I can sort of talk aloud about the what-ifs. I think part of why I am questioning my path so much is because some of my experiences over the last two years have included such vast professional betrayals (and I'm not talking about funding) that it makes me question my fundamental premises for being in this career. I can't, at the moment, go into the specifics of what happened, but I am thankful you give me a positive space to explore my options. While it is always a better feeling to leave a job at the time of one's choosing sometimes it's good to be pushed. Now I am presented with the chance to more clearly define my dreams and passions and to explore them and that's also very scary. Wonderful and scary all at the same time. So thanks for being there with me, for reading, and commenting. I appreciate every little bit of it. You are all fantastic.

19 November 2007

Cranky Monday

I have to admit, I'm cranky today. So I think it's time I 'fess up so I can get all of your sympathy (oh, listen to that shameless plug!). I learned recently that my funding is going to run out at the end of December - surprise! happy holidays! This means moving and it means finding new jobs and it means up-in-the-airness.

Now to be fair, I think it could be a good thing to leave this job. I've had a lot of heartache here: not the romantic kind but the kind where people get badly hurt on the job and the emotional scars are almost as large as the physical ones. And as far as I can tell, things are going to get worse here before they get better. It's long past time for me to move on. But where to? What to? Here comes the existential what-do-I-really-want-to-be-doing-with-my-life angst.

Yep. I love science. I love research. I love field work. I even love data analysis! But I also am tired of being impermanent. I am tired of moving every couple of years, of being the girl who is willing to go out to the most remotest places ever without any contact with anyone she cares about for 5 months, tired of constantly trying to build connections in new communities, tired of feeling like I'm always just fighting to get beyond the bureaucracy to the science. I have a strong CV, I'm single, I'm flexible, something will come up somewhere within time. There is a small part of me that has a strong urge though to throw my hands up and go build straw bale houses in New Mexico. Or something like that. Yeah, that's right, maybe it's time to leave the arctic (but I love the arctic!!!!). Maybe it's time to leave research (but I love research!!!!). Sigh.

So now you know why I'm cranky. Excuse me while I go bash my head against my keyboard. Actually, I'll probably go ski instead (see picture below), it's healthier and a better stress reliever and you have to breathe while doing it. Oh - and for those of you who are curious the Footprint Friday post has been updated with an answer. Thanks for playing along!

A co-worker, the Disreputable Dog, and Yeta (a tough little dog) on the first ski of the year.

17 November 2007

Blustry Day

As I drift towards a waking state I am first alerted to the noise of the wind howling outside my house, pebble sized pieces of snow and debris hitting the windows, the sound of a trash can doing cartwheels down the down the street, an odd chiming noise that comes from a loosened piece of metal roofing somewhere in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, as my rental house is not terribly well insulated (I know! I live in Alaska! What were they thinking?) I can also hear the sound of my electric box rattling as the wind moves through the walls and if it was light enough I would see my curtained doorway blowing gently. I'm just glad that the wind didn't blow the window open in the middle of the night as it has done in the past, cold air rushing into my cozy bedroom peace and me having to stumble into my layers and go outside and shove it closed while balanced on a ladder.

Believe it or not, this photo is in color - notice the wave smoke?

The husband of a friend told me once that if Alaska was a whale this town would be it's blow hole. I must say, the image works. The Disreputable Dog and I brave the weather (the Disreputable Cat is cheering us on from the window more then happy to not join) and seek refuge in the forest from the sandblasting caused by the airborne sand that was put on the roads to prevent us from slipping on the ice. The wind, at least 75mph this morning, is quickly polishing up the roads into a fine glare ice and solidifying the snow plowed medians that already stand taller then my head. It is not unusual to see cars driving on the wrong side of the street this time of the year because drivers cannot possibly get across the barriers of snow that are taller then their cars.

Layering is absolutely key to this kind of weather. I'm still trying to get back into judging exactly how cold it will be with the windchill after the summer. In Fairbanks I could look out at the thermostat and dress exactly for that temperature. Granted, it got very cold there, the occasional minus 60 was nothing to sneeze at, but this wind is harder for me to judge. The thermometer says we're just below freezing but with 75mph winds? Ever since they changed the way they measure wind chill a few years back I'm all confused. All I know is that it's cold and that the wind cuts through many otherwise warm layers and so everything must be topped with a wind proofing, even my hat. It is also very critical to make sure that the ears, ankles, and belly have no secret exposures at any layer and that the fingers and toes are appropriately covered. The ears, fingers, and toes are all susceptible to frostbite and with the ears you never know it until you come in and warm up.

16 November 2007

The Spilling of Oil

Okay, I can't stand it anymore (DJ, I am getting to your tag - I promise!) but I have to write about these two ecological disasters occurring right now.

1. The oil spill in San Francisco Bay, USA. This spill was caused when the container ship the Cosco Busan struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge on Wednesday, November 7, 2007 causing 58,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil to dump into the bay. Some 2,000 birds have come into custody (either dead or alive) of the International Bird Research Rescue Center and their counter parts.

2. The oil spill in the Black Sea, Russia. First the oil tanker Volgoneft-139 was split in half by high seas outside the Kerch Strait spilling some 1.3 million tons of oil into the Azov and Black Seas. Second, the sinking of a dry cargo ship near the Port of Kavkaz that was carrying 2000 tons of sulfur. Because ships were being run on the ocean that are outfitted for rivers, ships broke apart in storms and who knows what kind of shape those ships were in. I've been on Russian ships, I can imagine it. Supposedly there were storm warnings but the company CEOs couldn't be bothered to change their plans. You know, who cares if a bunch of seamen die and oil spills during the height of the bird migration. Imagine it...300,000 birds reported dead by the end of the day. The International Fund for Animal Welfare is helping assist Russia assess the impacts.

Photo from the UK Telegraph

Both spills are killing and affecting wildlife. Birds are usually the first hit. Their feathers get oiled and they cease being waterproof. Then the birds get cold and wet and hungry. Sometimes animals eat the oil which then coats their intestines keeping them from getting energy from food or sometimes from swallowing. Next are the fish who get the oil as it sinks. They die because they can't breathe the stuff and it coats their gills. The algae is coated, the mollusks get clogged. In Russia now dolphins are washing up dead on the beach. The effects of these spills will affect these places for a long time to come.

There was a slow response in San Francisco but California has mobilized, they have set up Oiled Wildlife Care Networks, there are organizations trained in the cleanup effort, in Russia soldiers have been mobilized but while they attempt to clean up seamen, who are trying to cleanup the wrecks, are simply pumping fuel into the ocean. I dunno about you but this makes me angry. On Wall Street there are complaints about the rising costs of fuel but they're talking dollars. I'm concerned about the rising ecological costs of fuel. And in case any of you are wondering, the Exxon Valdez has still not paid off all the money it owes Alaskans for the damages to their livelihoods in 1989. In fact they're taking the state to court to try and avoid paying money that is about the equivalent of 5% of their quarter earnings. Yeah, that's right, they're willing to spend more money to fight us in court rather then do the responsible thing.

(Note: I am not quoting my sources because they would be too many but clearly this is not first hand information but from various news sources combined with some background info from my own participation in cleaning up 3 oil spills.)

Footprint Friday: Gray Wolf

Location: on a lake in northern Ontario, Canada. The forest around is decidious birch forest.
Approximate size of actual footprint (not the foot drag): 4x6inches (10x6 centimeters)
The snow is about human calf deep.
Can you guess who made these tracks?

Edited to add answer on the following Monday:
Yep, this is the gray wolf or Canis lupis. Doesn't it look just like a daisy chain? Up a bit, and not in the photograph is where it caught a snowshoe hare. Wild canines, unlike their doemstic counterparts, usually travel in pretty straight lines. He, I'm thinking he because their hips are narrower then females whose back feet are usually just slightly wider then their front, was probably dragging his toes along the top of the snow causing the drag. This is common in snow but not in mud.

PS - I changed my header/ banner. What do you think?

14 November 2007

Shoveling the Boat

Snow shushes beneath my feet as it falls through the grate of the dock ramp to the water below. Thick fat snowflakes quickly coat my eyelashes, wet and white. The Disreputable Dog has gotten used to this route now although, like me, he is probably still wondering how we got ourselves roped into shoveling this boat. I mean, we don't even shovel at the house with the exception of the two steps. The rest will get packed down by feet and if I must drive I've got 4-wheel drive and can usually get out eventually. Even when it snows 5 ft in one snowfall (which it hasn't yet this winter) I don't shovel. The calm snow globe world has disappeared and I can hear the crash of the waves whipped into a frenzy even here in the calm protection of the bay. It's not a good day to be on a boat, I think. The sky is flashing lightning, which I don't think I've ever seen here, but it's muted by the clouds and there is no thunder. The wind is pulling at my scarf and my hat and I am glad that there are no exposed places for it to suck the heat away from me.
Soon I am warm enough from shoveling the heavy snow off the boat. Ever notice that shovels seem to have in-built heaters? My dog lies happily in the snow with his head resting on the side of the dock keeping an eye out for sea lions and seals but none appear. He is shedding his summer coat for the winter one right now. He loses about a dog a day. This time of year no chickadees hop over to pull it out for their nests (which, amazingly, he tolerates) and when I take the boat brush to him he luxuriates in it. Finally we are done and we walk back along the abandoned tourist shops. I like the dock sides a lot more in the winter when I have them to myself. No busloads of tourists unloading, no hundreds of pounds of fish being photographed and filleted. These shops are cute but they don't sell anything a local would need and so they are all shut and shuttered for the winter. The mountains loom over the sail masts as the soft snow quickly fills our lone footprints across the boardwalk and we head home to hot apple cider.

13 November 2007

Living in a Snow Globe

Bald Eagle on old pier posts

I love this weather. It's like living in a real snow globe. Fat, luscious snow flakes whirling around and falling so fast they coat your eyelashes and clothing in seconds, the sea a quiet slate of dark gray. Every grumpy or cranky thought I've had this week flies out of my head in this kind of weather. I'm going to have to shovel the neighbor's boat in the harbor tonight. It will be fun. The Disreputable Dog and I will take our evening walk there tonight. I love walking in this kind of weather too - every noise is muted like it's under a blanket. Every surface is softened. The smells seem muted to my nose too but I know they're not really because the Disreputable Dog is really enjoying all the smells dug up by the snow plows and I am enjoying seeing the animal tracks that he finds by smell and that I normally can't see. I love winter! And this last Sunday we got out for our first ski of the season! Yay!

The Disreputable Dog loves it too. Look at that smile!

12 November 2007

In Holland

Preface: I traveled through Morocco with a dear friend I met ten years ago in Ghana, West Africa. When we lived there people constantly asked us, "Are you twins?" which at the time seemed laughable because she is a least a foot taller then I am and has bright red hair while mine is brown not to mention the fact that she is from the Netherlands and I from North America. However, I often wonder if the Ghanians didn't see something beyond the surface, something other then "all white people look alike", because although it's been seven years since we saw each other last and much has happened to both of us in that time, both good and bad, it was as if we had only seen each other moments before. After Morocco I had the luxury of being able to travel to her home in Holland and finally meet her husband and two children (who thought it was about time the met me). It's one of the most amazing connections that seems to persist no matter how outwardly different our lives might appear and I am grateful for it.

So here are some images from a wonderful visit with a dear friend which included such delights as bicycling everywhere, playing with her kids, going horse riding, eating luscious Dutch cheese, joking with her husband, having dinner with her mother, bird watching at a local park, walking through autumn leaves, going grocery shopping. We were both recovering from salmonella that we caught in Morocco (did I mention that?) so we were lazier then we otherwise might have been. At the end we both felt so strange saying goodbye because in so many ways it felt like I had always been there, sleeping in their attic.

Notable Smells: farmlands and manure, rain and water, fresh cheese, autumn leaves, rich chocolate and hot tea, line dried laundry

Notable Noises: small children playing in the streets, the sound of bicycle bells, migrating geese, crunching of leaves underfoot, the sound of children in the house, laughter

Look at all those bicycles!!! There was about a kilometer of them, this picture doesn't show the half of them. This is the bus/ train station. I don't think there are this many bikes in the entire US. I love watching the bicylicists during rush hour in Holland: men with their ties flying out behind them, women in fashionable skirts and boots, and teenagers in packs often with linked arms down the pathways.

A village street. Notice the bicycles (you wouldn't imagine that I'm in favor of bicycle commuting from reading this post would you?). Here we went into a delightful store that specialized in freshly roasted nuts. Yum!

Fall colors at a lakeside park.

At a bike trail crossroads...and the bike I borrowed from my "twin's" neighbor. I tell ya', they don't make bikes like this in the USA. This was the limousine of bicycles. I have recently been trying to get a pedal power operated light for my bike because it is cold enough here that batteries freeze up and then I end up with no light. The main response I seem to be getting is that it isn't available because after all they would slow you down! Well, this lovely bike comes with one built into the frame and it even has an automatic setting that turns it on when it gets dusky out. And it may be that it slows me down but you'd hardly notice unless you were in a race and that's not something I'm planning on doing any time soon. Ooo - and this has a cool built in lock that just goes around the back tire, no need for a bike rack. I want one!

My "twin" and her two children (faces obscured) using a common mode of transportation. When we went to pick up her oldest child (rear seat) at school I noticed that only two of the parents had driven to pick up their kids, the rest had either ridden bikes with similar child seating arrangements or walked. Notice too, the lack of helmets, the Dutch think Americans are absolutely hysterical over helmet safety.

Just boating through the neighborhood. Something that one can do most anywhere in Holland due to all of the canals.

Traditional thatch roofing on a farm house.

A picture of the village that my "twin" lives in.

11 November 2007

Unusual Cultural Differences

It's not something that would usually come to one's attention but there you go. Historically, it would seem, that there was a cultural difference between how Moroccans and Scottish would deal with their political rivals and bring down monarchs. In Scotland it seems the story of anyone of historical political importance ended with "and they were beheaded in the year...". In Morocco beheading wasn't so much the thing, they perfered to poison them and the historical literature is full of tales of the various poisons used and the tricks of applying them.

09 November 2007

Morocco: People & Patterns

A hip shot from the Casablanca Medina to the Mosque

I love watching people. So do the men in Morocco. All of the cafes & tea shops have their chairs on one side of the table facing the sidewalk. The men sit here and watch. If women come or couples they are usually escorted to an upstairs seating where no eyes will pry on them. In the west if a strange man has been staring at a woman and she catches his eye he will immediately drop his gaze. Not so in Morocco. As a result the men stare greedily at all the women and the women look at no one. It gave us the sense that women are judged responsible for men not being able to control themselves rather then men for for not having that control. We sat among the men on the sidewalk. In other places that we have both been this would have been reacted to negatively and we would have been shooed away but here, although they clearly found it odd, they tolerated us and we were able to watch the streets too although we were careful to never meet the eyes of the men sitting near us.

A cat & an Arabic sign. We found that the relative health of the cats were a pretty good indicator of whether or not we wanted to stick around in any one place. That and our golden rule of travel: If there are no women & children around it's likely not safe for you to be there particularly by yourself. We only visited one place like that and the cats were sad to see. It was on the coast and it was clear that at another time of year it might be a wonderful place but we did not linger.

A yellow door! Look at those colors! The house, the door, and the sari.

Women walking to the mosque in Casablanca.

Woodwork. This work is gorgeous and has been used liberally int the newest and bestest and biggest mosque in Morocco. We quietly but cynically commented to each other "Oh, that's what happened to all the large cedar trees in the Atlas Mountains" as we had only seen one dead specimen of the sizes they had once reached.

I love this contrast with the Mosque on the left and the apartments on the right. The Mosque is a grand piece of architecture and amazing artistry. Of course, the story of the Mosque that is presented to the public mostly leaves out the fact that it was built over the city's largest slum and that thousands of people were displaced without compensation to make way for it.

More mosaics.

Look at all those satellite dishes!

A most scrumptious and traditional meal.

08 November 2007

Thursday Morning Antics of a Drowned Rat

I bring this brief pause from the travelogue... I still want to share more about Morocco & then there's still the Netherlands but my morning has taken my thoughts elsewhere. Besides, I have a scrumptious picture of a Moroccan meal which, of course, I left on my memory stick at home today and it has disrupted my plans for the next post. So after this message we will be back to our scheduled programing.

And now - a brief moment of crankiness (not over anything life shattering or even life altering but a little mundane morning thing). It's pouring down snow out today. That means although its mostly frozen it lands as wetness on humans and slush on the streets, big fat flakes the size of mice and just at the freezing point. It's cold and gray and makes you wish for nothing other then to curl up in front of a warm fire with a hot beverage and dream of that hot weather in Morocco. On my way to work this morning, as usual, I was bicycling, I blew a tire. Blew it all over the place in the middle of the road.

I heard a funny noise and then felt a lurch. Naturally I stopped to see what the trouble was but I encountered difficulty as a) wasn't exactly light enough out to see b) my glasses were so covered with rain that I couldn't see through them and c) when I took my glasses off I couldn't really see either. What I could see was a smear of green goop which usually coats the inside of the tire tube, and I could see that my actual tire was no longer on the wheel rim. So, I attempted to take said wheel off the bike so I could at least get the tire & the donut tube off as they were currently caught up in the braking system making even pushing the bicycle a no go. So here I am kneeling in a puddle of slush with water streaming down my face in rivulets trying to get the lever to move but it won't because it's frozen solid. I'm off to plan B which is to use the bungee cords I have on my bike to attempt to secure the said tire & tube out of the way of the brakes and the rim so that I might be able to push it the rest of the way to work. I am successful in this and begin to push. Let me say that pushing a bicycle in half a foot of slush is a lot harder then pedaling through it.

It feels like a loooonnng way to work and I keep hoping that some co-worker will drive by and take pity on me but of course, I take the scenic route which my co-workers, in their rush to work, probably avoid. Finally I get to the location of the covered bike rack at work. I take off my dripping wool hat and my glasses and wipe the water from my face. Then I get back to work on the lever. I grunt, I make loud noises, you know, the kinds of noises you do to put a little extra umph behind your arms. I notice a few co-workers scurrying past, I'm sure they're all terrified to come too close and after all, they just want to hop from their nice dry cars to their nice dry offices and avoid any lunatics in the parking lot. I do succeed in getting the lever to move finally and remove the rear wheel. I park the bike in the rack and next to it the tire and the rear wheel frame and lock it all together, the tube I take with me and then, with my glasses still clenched between my teeth I make my way to the door. My colleagues comment, as I walk determinedly to my cubicle that I look a little wet, a little like a drowned rat.

On dropping my sopping wet outer gear and wishing I had a towel for my hair which is wetter then if I had taken 10 showers this morning I inspect the tube. It has been a spectacular blow out and will not be repairable (and of course, the nearest open bike shop is in Los Anchorage). My male colleagues all gather round to look at the tire and make comments, they laugh at my story, they make useful suggestions as to who might have an extra tire lying around of that size, they suggest that I am utterly crazy for biking in this weather (except for one co-worker who actually passed me on his bike who comments "You didn't look like you were in trouble or I would have stopped"). It is the female colleagues who, after the male colleagues are done laughing and review the events, quietly offer me & my beleaguered bike a ride home in the evening.

07 November 2007

Morocco: The Atlas Mountains

You didn't think I was done showing you pictures of Morocco, did you? I fully intended on posting more last night when my jet lag finally caught up to me and I fell fast asleep at 5pm on my couch and it was all I could do to drag myself to bed at 9 when I was awoken by a distinct lack of circulation. Here I present to you the Atlas Mountains.

The village of Baihlil

Olives for sale! Oh, delicious, scrumptious olives! And the only thing that didn't leave your teeth feeling furred with sugar after eating them.

Our gracious host in Baihlil showing off the pride of his hearth, the pounded silver dishware. Interestingly enough the man only spoke Arabic and German and so, after stuttering through my French (in which my ears are better then my tongue), I suddenly found myself in full communication in a language I did not expect to find in such a tiny little village.

A donkey in the protected Azrou Forest. So strange to see donkeys and apes side by side (unfortunately the pictures documenting the event are not all that good).

Man traveling along side the road.

The formal entrance to a house that is dug into the cliff sides in the village of Baihlil.

Barbary Ape mum and two kids.

Village mosque.

The entrance gate to the village of Baihlil with men chatting at its entrance.

The Azrou Forest which looks for all the world like a Ponderosa Pine forest for those of you who know them. But these trees are cedar and larch. Unfortunately the giant trees of ore have most been harvested for fancy woodwork in the Mosques.

An Atlas Mountain view.
There is one particularly funny story about our Atlas Mountain trip. We wanted to go to Bab Merba (or lake Merba) to see the famous bird life there (after all we are -ologists). On arriving at the lake we started to laugh. Our taxi driver smiled nervously at us. There was no water in the lake. Not a drop. Sheep and cattle grazed across it although it was mostly devoid of plant life as well. Nobody had bothered to tell us that the lake is only full of water in the rainy season - if we wanted to go to the lake well, they would take us. We walked across the lake enjoying the sounds of the Berber tongue which flitted to our ears through the autumn colored trees (another surprise) from the sheep herders.