31 January 2008

An evening alone with homemade wine

I sent an email out to an old employer of mine in Fairbanks, among others, and today he responded by telling me drop by the office because he might have some "interesting projects"... at the same time I just got an email from another dear Fairbanks friend telling me that a cabin was available if I should want it. I loved Fairbanks when I was there...but I have never gone back to live some place that I lived before. Even my current standing with my parents feels strange and out of place. But I wonder...if he has funding and has projects, can I see myself back in Fairbanks? So many of the people I knew when I lived there have gone, the emotional landscape has changed, and yet I feel the tug. How strange would it be to live in a cabin, beautifully built by a shipwright, that once housed a long-time boyfriend after we broke up? Of course, dropping by the office will have to be by telephone....

Newfoundland village (2005)

I wonder if I don't have some sort of "escapee" problem - I'm always some place new. At night I dream I took on a job in Newfoundland, doing research in Labrador, and built myself a house on the edge of the sea cliffs. And how does one get farther and stay on the North American continent from Alaska then to go to Newfoundland? For the record I have been there, and the similarities are striking. My mother has a cousin there too...who I have only met the once. I wonder what it is about me that has a ken for these long distant places, these remote isolated areas? Why is it that the places that appeal to me are in the remote arctic or antarctic? When the other half of me craves art and culture and society? Am I running to things or from things? I get away from it all of today's social strings for months on end and can see the tether of my own sanity dissapearing like the broken strings on a guitar, knowing that I must get back to a place with more grounding, with people, and then I'm back with people and society and I feel off kilter and after a few months all I hear is the harkening of those remote places where the soul of me was tested where I thought I'd lose myself forwever never to return.

A very good friend of mine and I had a long discussion once after a particularly harrow raising field season, one where I came back just in the nick of time to confirm that reality had not warped while I was gone. She told me that I seem to look for and apply for things that other people would shy away from. Things that other people would see uncertainty in. This was a valuable insight and I ponder still how to keep myself from the jobs where my colleagues and I are placed in undue danger while still feeding the explorer in me. How do I suss these situations out? How do I tell the difference between bravery and stupidity? Why, when I long to stay in one place cannot I not seem to do so even when the opportunity is in front of me?

28 January 2008

Dog Mushing

I am a sucker for dog races and since I don't know if I'll be in Alaska to watch any of my favorite ones in person this year, I showed up at a little local race that happened this weekend in Colorado. I almost brought the Disreputable Dog and my skate skis, just in the off chance that we could register for the skijor races on race day, but since I wasn't sure I didn't. I had a blast. There were some great young mushers, 13-16 years old and one 5 year old who went off together with his older brother. It was entertaining talking to the people in the town who talked about the "great dog races"; the Yukon Quest (February) & the Iditarod (March). I heard them asking each other questions about the races and the mushers and since I've volunteered as a handler and know some of the mushers who run those races personally I stepped in to answer their questions. I love February and March, hearing the barking of dogs on my radio in the dark of morning and the mushing reports from the trail, trying to follow my favorite mushers, every year I choose a few to follow - sometimes it's ones I know, sometimes it's one's I just met because I handled for them, and sometimes it's because they come from another place that I have a connection to.

I love being at the starting line and watching the excitement of the dogs, every vocal noise you've ever heard come from a dog is pitched into the frosty air and excited dogs lunge in their harnesses like whales leaping through the spray, excited to get away and to run. When they finally get going their excitement and beauty is so much it almost makes tears come to your eyes. These Colorado races had one thing right, the whole community was involved. This seems to be tradition in the mushing sports that every community that either hosts races or has them pass through takes part in some way in making the race happen. Perhaps that is why I enjoy this sport so much.

24 January 2008

Last Native Eyak Speaker Dies

I was saddened to learn today that the last native speaker of the Alaskan Native language Eyak died yesterday at age 89. Marie Smith Jones was a tenacious woman, probably the last full blooded Eyak, the last full member of her tribe. She took great pains to try and record her knowledge of the Eyak language so that future generations can resurrect it working with researchers at the University of Alaska and her work brought the problem of language into the public eye. The Eyak people traditionally lived in and around the Copper River Basin, a place where I worked and lived for 5 years, a place that may be known to you for it's famous Copper River Red Salmon which hits the market at top price.

It is sad to know a language has gone extinct and with it all of the cultural beliefs and thought processes and problem solving methods and artistic talent and world views that are unique to the speakers of that language. How lonely Ms. Jones must have felt, not being able to communicate with others in the tongue that she knew best. Some things are just not translatable because they are a concept wholly within the language and not without. This language died in a large part due to the suppression by American authorities of native languages. Ms. Jones was beaten for speaking her language as a child.

I'd like to quote for you what is means for a language to be living (from the Language Log):
there must be little kids who speak the language with each other because it is their only language or else their favorite. Little kids who would speak it even if they were told not to… Ask around the village and find the age of the youngest people using a language every day for all their normal conversational interaction. If the answer is a number larger than 5, the language is probably dying. If the answer is a number larger than 10, it is very probably doomed. If the answer is a number larger than 20, you can kiss it goodbye right now…

Today I hold a candle in my heart for this remarkable woman, Ms. Marie Smith Jones. I hope that Alaskan people pay attention to her passing and to the lessons she has taught us, because unless we act now this will be just the first of many languages that are unique to Alaska to disappear. Hearteningly, the BBC reports, that Nunavut, Canada leads the way in making both Inuktitut and Inuit content management for websites. This means that people can write documents and even pay bills in these native languages through aativk.ca. I truly believe that making modern communications available in these languages will make it more likely for youngsters to use them and for their continuation into the future.

23 January 2008

Energy & GoogleEarth

There's a group of researchers, composing the New Mexico Consortium, trying to put energy knowledge into the public's hands. They are collecting data on all types of energy sources (coal, gasoline, nuclear, oil, wind, solar, geothermal) from public sources and making them into files that can be downloaded and opened in GoogleEarth. Their idea is to put knowledge in the hands of the public so that people can participate in making energy decisions. It allows the public to both download and submit data. For example you could submit your power bill and your power station location and then it could tell you how much of your energy was derived from each of those sources and how much of various waste products it would cost.

This group is both interested in conserving energy and in making it available for all. Currently 3 billion people, almost half the world's population, does not have access to modern energy sources. They don't have lights, or refrigerators, televisions or computers. Imagine that... just for a second.

22 January 2008

The Disreputable Dog does a Meme

The Disreputable Dog on boat guard duty in Ft. Yukon, Alaska

You might think I'm prevaricating; I am. I am swirling with so many thoughts that I can't yet commit them to blog or form tangible evidence of their existence...but since Penny & Parlance have tagged the Disreputable Dog for a meme I shall do that instead.

Here are 5 random facts from the Disreputable Dog:

1. Although I am a fixed male I am rather maternal. In fact that's how I got the Disreputable Cat - I just couldn't bare to see that little kitty out on her own where the bald eagles would snap her up. I knew if I got the Boss' niece into her she'd be permanent. But shhh! don't tell anyone, it might get in the way of my tough dog exterior.

2. I am not a treat inclined dog. I like treats now but when I was a puppy the Boss could drape a piece of bacon by nose and I'd run right past it.

3. Everyone loves to give me nicknames. Every human I've ever spent any time with has come up with a new one. I respond to them all. What can I say? I'm adorable and sweet.

4. I can respond to commands in English, German, French, and Tagalog.

5. Boss got me at the pound or animal control in Fairbanks. I was 6 months old and had been with 6 families already by the time she got me! She moves a lot but at least she always takes me with. I've been on planes, trains, boats, and of course, automobiles.

I tag anydoggy who wants to do this...have your owner leave a comment so we can follow along!

Rules: Link to your tagger's owner and post these rules on your blog. Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird.

17 January 2008

Realm of Possibility

The mountain roads were heartbreakingly beautiful and white knuckle icy. On my way over Eastward I watched a two cars collide in front of me at an intersection, the only section of the road that was ice-less. Breath stopping hard in my breast I turned on my emergency blinkers and got out to see if I could help. Others did the same. No one appeared to be hurt, thankfully, and when local volunteer personal appeared on the scene I left and continued on my way, a bit shaken.

The drive was long but was good concerted thinking time. A good time to evaluate where I am and and the possible where I want to goes without input from others. I am a big solicitor of input from others but then I like to go away and think of it all by myself and make my own decision. Not that I have a "real" decision to make at the moment more like a decision about which path I want to pursue. I am possibly, at the most indecisive point in my life to date. I have always known my passions and pursued them doggedly and determinedly but now I feel like the legs have been kicked out from under my goals and I need to see if they still hold true. I know that part of this is a loss of confidence borne under some very difficult, heart-wrenching, life changing events that occurred during my last job, things that I know make my eyes seem weary when they come up in conversation.

My friend who I met up with, someone I met in graduate school who has since left the science career very successfully for the IT business, noted that I seemed less confident then he has ever known me to be, even through the tough years with an advisor who managed to have more students walk away then he ever graduated. The thing is, though, that I love my profession, but I could also be very happy doing several other things in life and sometimes, especially lately when I have come up against the more brutal side, when I feel like I have to fight to keep people safe and honest, when I feel like the whistle blower, then I think, 'Is this worth it? Couldn't I be just as happy doing X or Z without the stress?'. So that is the question I am answering. I have decided to go ahead and just try it all - application wise. I'm hoping that chatting with people and applying for jobs I will come to have a better feel for what I do and don't want to do. And this trip was perfect for that. I met with some great people who have some common interests. I listened to myself speak and heard more commitment in my thoughts then I was aware of. And now I'm going to explore that.

As crazymumma said in her comments to my last post, I am walking into a realm of possibility. Anything could happen. And I am excited about that.

14 January 2008

Road Trip

Headed East and over the Continental Divide today to visit a friend who flew south from Alaska to visit family and to go do some rounds at the University where he is staying and chat with some people about my future. Wish me luck!

13 January 2008

Anxious Days

An unplanned break from blogging. The anxiety of not knowing where I'm going. Now that the holidays are officially over it lodges somewhere in my breast bone. I try to make a schedule of my days, feeling it somewhat empty, but needing to create some sort of structure nonetheless, needing to make sure I get applications in, and get out and exercise in the sun, and keep my sanity. So my schedule for the moment is this, up in the morning for running, currently mostly an indoor activity, then job applications until hunger for lunch over takes me, lunch and then out with the dogs on a hike or a ski or a snowshoe, out where the sun is. I've been dragging my mom with me often on these trips but also often go alone. Then in the afternoon I want to work on publishing my thesis. I haven't actually done that yet, mostly I do more job searches (I'm not keen on interacting with my erstwhile advisor who is sure to tell me what an idiot I am - and who thinks the work should age! Science is not like cheese or wine, generally it does not age well - and so must take myself firmly in hand and get this done). Then an evening walk with the dogs, I've ceded the morning walks to my father to whom they seem more important although I miss them dearly but it seems we both need our alone-time walks with the dogs as grounding moments in the day and you simply cannot tell one dog that it is going to be left behind while the other one goes out.

I've spent many of my evenings with long ago friends, many of whom I haven't seen in 15-17yrs. It's a bit of a shock but it's also grand fun, catching up with these people who I haven't seen in a decade or two although I have a hard time answering that question of what I'm doing now and where I live.

There are things that are hard for me to adjust to: the excessive use of cars as the two ends of the valley are quite interconnected though it takes an hour of driving to get from one end to the other. I miss my bicycle and find it strange when people are shocked if I take the bus, a system which has greatly improved since I last lived here. One of the things I find the strangest of all is that people here seem unable or unwilling to express a firm opinion on something, as if they are afraid to offend someone. I am not sure if this is usual to the rest of the lower 48, or a peculiarity of this particular region, any more as I have been in Alaska too long. Alaska does have it's unique culture and perhaps it is the lifestyle which allows people to express differing opinions and agree to disagree and then get on with it. Or maybe it's something else entirely.

My niece & nephew were up for the weekend, including Friday, and they absorbed all of the time I and their grandparents had to give while my sister & bother-in-law were off to their own devices, mostly skiing. They are perfect mimics of their parents and every now and then it is as if they are challenging their very spirits. I spend hours dragging them outside whether it is a walk with the dogs (and them being pulled on sled for most of the way) or careening down the driveway, or building snow forts. I simply cannot remain for the better part of a day inside when the sun pours in from the south and they are full of wild energy or when the snow comes down in such thick clumps it obscures our footprints before we return. I don't think they are used to all this outdoor time but I simply get itchy the longer the shadows grow and I am indoors.

09 January 2008

The Disreputables & the Parentals

Many of you have asked how the Disreputables survived the trip from Alaska to Colorado and how they are doing in this new house with the two Parental Pets. The Disreputable Dog has made the trip before. I wouldn't say flying is his favorite activity but he's okay with it. He loves his kennel and feels safe there; he also loves flirting with the check-in people who tend to suddenly forget all of their holiday stress when they see him and several times have even concocted a long joke about how he resembles their husbands but is better behaved. He long ago made friends with the Parental Cat, Mr Nibbs, with whom he got along great, and the Parental Dog, Maggie, both of whom seem fonder of each other with each visit despite very disparate play tactics.

The Disreputable Cat & Mr Nibbs

The Disreputable Cat was new to flying but she too is very fond of her kennel. She has no problem being in it and will even enter it on command. However, being in it for 17 hours was a rather new experience and she got bored. Unfortunately, she proved, somewhere mid red-eye, to be very capable in finding her way out of her kennel including undoing the clasps and zippers which meant I spent a considerable amount of time poking paws & a curious head back into the kennel as opposed to sleeping as I'd hoped. Eventually I asked the flight attendants for tape and taped the whole thing shut. I had visions of her escaping and clambering over heads and causing an outcry before hiding out in a lavatory.

The Disreputable Dog with Maggie & Summit (in the foreground) on a hike

However, she made it quite well and the minute that she and the Disreputable Dog were re-united in my parents' car she happily accepted a full doggie tongue bath. On the four hour drive back, the Disreputable Dog was wedged between my niece and my mother and the Disreputable Cat spent happy hours intently watching the back windshield wiper. She loves riding in the car and has absolutely no qualms about it. Because she had been flying so long my parents brought her a litter pan and my niece inquired in a very adult tone to her grandfather "Excuse me, papa, May I ask why my boots are the kitty toilet?".

Maggie & the Disreputable Cat share a bed

The Disreputable Cat quickly made friends with Maggie, even allowing her to put her feet on her while they shared a bed, but not going so far as to allow her to lick her as she does her own dog. The pair we were the most worried about were the cats. Mr Nibbs is 17 and suffers from liver failure which means he is cranky and sick. Their initial meeting resulted in Mr Nibbs flying at the Disreputable Cat but since she is young and agile there was no harm to be done. Since then they have become reluctant friends, if only because the Disreputable Cat is determined and brave and repeatedly makes attempts at friendship. Their first friendly interactions involved them pawing at each other under my opposite sides of my closed bedroom door. They've since evolved into a follow the leader game. I think Mr Nibbs' main objection to the young upstart is that she is easily distracted and refuses to be intimidated for long before she's off following reflecting sun beams.
All in all, the Disreputables are doing well. However, due to having lived in a tiny little house they now being in a much larger one they insist on following me around everywhere, because you just never know which room will have porthole through which I'll escape and leave them.

07 January 2008

Wine Labels

My father has taken up wine making and beer making and cider making in the last couple of years as another way to put up the excess fruit that they get every year. They freeze and can a lot of it too and they manage to live almost entirely off the fruits of their garden through the winter months almost as much as the summer months. This year my father received a treasured family heirloom: the cider press that belonged to his grandfather. He remembers this cider press being parked in a dairy barn and all of the family coming and many of the neighbors too, to press their apples into cider. He continues the tradition by collaborating on the beverage making process with several young neighbors. My favorites out of his home made beverages are the perry (a pear cider), the apricot wine, and a plum beer - he also made an awesome Merlot from grapes he picked at a local farm. Both he and my mother have given away fruits of their garden and harvest labor ever since I can remember. It was this that made my dad decide he needs a label. So we have embarked on a father-daughter search for the image we want to use most for his label and then I will help him format it so he can put his name on it, the name of the particular beverage, and the year. I'm rather fond of the picture below which is a modified image of the beloved cider press. What do you think?

06 January 2008

Winter Hike

The muffled silence of a snowy winter day, thick flakes, falling like powdered sugar sifted from on high, freshly minted footprints in a magical world of white draped boughs of trees and the joyous bounding of dogs. I'd forgotten the wonders of a pinon-juniper forest, of the sagebrush draped landscape. Of trees with vermilion colored trunks twisted like old swinging ropes with age, the red dirt beneath the snow brilliant in it's contrast. There, too, were the round holes created by the Northern Flicker, a woodpecker, soft tooth scratches of the porcupine along the lower reaches of a tree, and the long claw marks of a black bear marking it's territory. The birds and rodents were absolutely silent, safely asleep in their holes and perches, waiting out the brunt of the storm. As we reached the top of the cliff the clouds began to rise off the valley below, exposing the sinewy wind of the river below and the frosted ranch fields and even the damp asphalt of the highway which from that distance looked like a kind of river itself but the mountains remained shrouded.
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On a totally different note, many of you will be pleased to hear that I have joined a blog feeder. I am still trying to figure it all out. Why do some blogs have three or four feeds while others only one? Is there one format that is better then the rest (rss versus atom, etc). Please enlighten me if you know.

04 January 2008

The state of AK based on my legs

The other night I was at a small dinner party at a dear friend's house. She and I have known each other literally our whole lives. Out friendship has waxed and waned but since college our friendship has only gotten stronger. It's great to have a friend who knows you so well and who you know so well. We don't see eye to eye on everything but we have the kind of friendship that has been around so long that it would take an awful lot to break it.

So we were having this dinner that she made in honor of her younger brother who was off to new adventures and several of his friends were in attendance. Now I haven't seen her brother in ages although I usually am kept up to date with his goings-ons through her and in some ways he and I have a lot in common - the constantly traveling all over to weird places to do work for one. Still, it came as a surprise when his friend's reacted to meeting me by saying "Not the Fairbanks, WS, is it?" and then proceeded to announce that they wanted stories. I have plenty of stories but I always find it hard to start when someone just asks for one, kind of like when someone asks me to say something in another language I know (I finally solved the latter one by always saying "I don't know what to say"). I need a little warm up and to get a flavor for the people I'm with before I launch into any.

Needless to say when we were all sitting down for a fabulous meal one of them started asking real questions about Alaska. It's always interesting to me what people ask about it because it reveals a lot of the mythology that is out there about the state. I don't remember what the guy asked though because Longest Friend burst in with "I would never live in Alaska. Have you ever seen WS's legs? I mean they're white! So white, you wouldn't even believe it! I mean first it's so damn cold they have to wear all these layers and then they have maybe a week where they can wear shorts and then the mosquitoes come out and you have to cover up! I mean, her legs are practically see through!". The poor fellow who started the question said meekly "But they don't have skin cancer." And she fired right back at him "No they just freeze to death." At this point I was laughing so hard I was overcome with a coughing fit (that pesky Thanksgiving crud still hanging in tough) that lasted the better bit of a half an hour and couldn't defend my poor state or my legs. Although she's right about the cold and the mosquitoes (and probably my legs but last I looked I can still see a distinct tan line from my time in Morocco - I should have just pulled up my pant legs and let the company judge for themselves. Granted, one winter I visited my parents after having not left AK for an entire year and I was so pale people kept asking me very pointed, concerned questions about my health).

03 January 2008

In Memoriam: Uncle Art

My Uncle Art passed away on the evening of the first day of the new year. It wasn't entirely a surprise. He had been ill for the last two months or so with cancer & a failing liver. All the same, my heart aches for him and for his children, who have watched both of their parents die of cancer, and for his grandchildren. My Uncle Art was a gruff man but sweet. He had the most fantastic waxed handlebar mustache. Out of all the members of my extended family on my father's side, which is quite close unlike my mother's, he was probably the person I knew the least. I am sorry for that. Tomorrow is his son's birthday and his granddaughter's. I know it will be a hard day for both of them. At times like these I wish I lived closer, could quickly physically reach out and embrace them and try to bring some joy to their birthdays. Even now, being in Colorado, I am still far away from my cousins in New York state and somehow the snail mail sympathy cards, the telephone conversations, and the e-mail just doesn't seem enough.