29 February 2008
25 February 2008
Skijor = to ski while being pulled by 1 to 3 animals
I must admit, I find this an early spring. February is a tough month usually in the northern hemisphere. It usually holds the promise of spring without actually seeing it through. It is for all it's short days, often the longest feeling month of the year. The year when the darkness and the snow and the cold presses on us and we wish for green grass and cherry blossoms and long forgotten warm summer afternoons.
This year, February does not affect me so much, partially because on coming south from Alaska in December I sped up the daylight increase in my own life and having gotten quite used to a spring that is not visible until May I am a bit shocked to find evidence of it in February. Delighted but startled. Every year I have always marked the two scent events of the spring, the day I can first smell the sea, and the day I can first smell the earth. The sea is usually scent-able several days, sometimes even weeks, before the earth. There is no sea here but the smell of earth is clear, musty, and damp, and earthy; of humus and mulch and mud.
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For those of you interested in the Yukon Quest, Kyla Boivin finished off the Quest as the Red Lantern winner on Feb 23rd. Good going Kyla!!! You can check out pictures of the Finish Banquet and learn about who won what awards here: http://www.yukonquest.com/site/news-articles/?articleid=1615
21 February 2008
20 February 2008
Some highlights of the race this year:
*The jumble ice on the Yukon River on the Alaska side was a real challenge to all mushers. Julie Estey torn her ACL/broke her leg (?) on the ice and had to continue on until the next check-in point which was still miles away at Slavin Cabin. Slavin's Cabin is off the road system so they had to figure out a way to air evacuate her.
*Early in the race one of the rookie mushers was Withdrawn by race officials because veterinarians were concerned about the well being of his dogs. The Quest is a race that takes the well being of the dogs very much into account.
*Frank Turner, the oldest musher (60yrs) who has raced the Quest for 24 out it's 25 year existence (a real record), scratched early on citing that he was too old for this race anymore and the his wife should divorce him if he tries to run it again.
*So far we've had 8 mushers scratch (scratch is what it's called when you decide not to finish the race for whatever reason)
I'll give you at least one more final update (don't want to bore you too much with mushing news) but there is also the NEXT RACE to look forward to: The Iditarod starts March 1st in downtown Anchorage.
18 February 2008
"I've got it, I've got it...will someone else help me out here? I'm not sure I can hold onto it all by myself!" So I imagine the caption for this picture of the Disreputable Cat holding onto her dear Disreputable Dog's tail for all she's worth. I wish I had the camera out earlier when she was fast asleep with her nose nuzzled into it. Her doggy. Her beloved doggie. And his scrumptious tail which one can play with when needing to vent some predatory instincts and then sleep with when one is done. That is pure cat happiness. I just had to share it.
15 February 2008
13 February 2008
He claimed it was a "very famous Russian saying" and so I asked him how it originated. Here's the story as he told it "There was a Russian man who was an alcoholic, who smoked a lot, and who had no more money so he decided to commit suicide. He went into a public toilet to do so and while he was there he thought he might as well use the toilet first. While peeing he saw a pack of very fine cigars and thought, I will smoke this first. When he was done with the smoking he saw a bottle of the finest Russian vodka, and he thought I will drink this first. Then, having smoked the cigars and drunk the vodka, he said to himself, why should I commit suicide? Life is getting better."
The tale is an interesting insight into Russian humor, humor being one of the cultural things that I fins people are the last to fully grasp. To most North Americans it's a rather grim tale. Every Russian I know laughs uproariously at this tale. However, when I found myself upside down like a turtle in a hole with a 30lb pack on the Russians I was with found it most disturbing that I was laughing so hard I could hardly release the pack from my back - this an American style of humor; to laugh at oneself when one is in trouble. Anyway, I wonder, if that was the same story that Saxifraga's colleague was thinking of?
12 February 2008
I haven't made mention of it here but I have picked up various jobs which I am referring to as "cash" jobs. They are decent jobs but they aren't don't have anything to do with science or my chosen career but they help pay the bills and mark the time until I get back to that career. Anywho, the other day, while doing a particularly dull task at the computer and listening to random music I heard the opening song to our musical "Into the Mountains" which was from a recording of a former music teacher of mine. And it brought back to me not only the memories of standing on that stage but also seemed to remind me of kernels of truth about myself.
This is Mount Sopris, of the Rocky Mountains, she stands just shy of 14,000 feet and watched over my youth constantly from all parts of the valley while I in turn took my yearly pilgrimages up her flanks to her peaks. (2008)
Something is calling me
in to the mountains
out of the valley
and over the stream.
Come know the wilderness,
come find escape,
come feel the mystery,
come share your dream.
Someone is calling me
into the mountains
bringing me higher
towards the unknown.
Dare climb the mountainside,
dare reach the peak,
dare start the journeying,
don’t try to speak.
Some need adventure,
some need a test,
search for a hero,
I'm on a quest.
I hear you calling me,
I'm not alone,
finding the path
that leads me home.
Let's climb the mountainside,
we'll reach the peak,
let's start the journeying,
leading us home.
-words by Polly Whitcomb
11 February 2008
Both chocolate & coffee have some fairly similar growing habits. They both originated as shade loving, under canopy, rain forest plants on their respective continents. They were traditionally grown under the canopies of existing trees whose roots held in the unstable soils and they were pollinated by the insects attracted to these groves of more diverse trees. Sometime in the early 1970's the developed world (read the US & Western Europe) decided that coffee and chocolate should be better grown as corn is grown in Iowa - in orderly rows and as a monoculture. To this end the more sun hardy versions were genetically favored and people were taught to cut down the protective overgrowth which held both the ecological diversity and the stabilization of their soils intact so that they could grow "more" chocolate or coffee.
But the truth is that as this happened a lot of ecological and economical problems started to occur. With the loss of the overgrowth the birds and beneficial insects disappear taking away the pollinators. The plants growing in sunshine developed more bitter alkaloids in their fruits. With the roots of the overgrowth trees gone the soil started to erode: in the Americas this primarily led to landslides and mudslides which occasionally wipe out whole villages, in Africa this primarily led to salinization of the soil and the southern spread of the Sahara. With this new form of agriculture came also the funguses and diseases for the chocolate and coffee trees which were more susceptible growing in more stressed and less ideal conditions. Sun grown coffee & chocolate lead to increased deforestation, to the use of herbicides and pesticides, to an increase in natural disasters as well as a loss of sustainable way of life. In addition the song bird populations here in North America and in Europe started to suffer because they overwinter in these places and there was no place for them to settle and feed.
Song Bird or Bird Friendly coffee comes about as biologists realized the importance of the diversity that comes with the traditional methods of coffee farming. The increase in bird, insect (including butterflies), and tree species and the health of the human and ecological environment that came along with this way of farming. Recently research on chocolate has started to come to the same conclusions, as I long suspected it would (I used to dream that I would do this research but then somehow got enmeshed in the arctic research instead). I hope that someday we can also buy bird friendly chocolate because bird friendly is also people friendly and ensures a better sustainability and future for the people who grown these crops. When I lived in Ghana I was sad to learn that the northern farmers kept losing the ground - they could no longer grow chocolate so far north because of the encroaching Sahara which was encroaching because they had cut down the forests to grow the chocolate, a cycle that is self defeating.
Someday I hope the only chocolate & coffee available to us will be bird friendly (also known as shade grown) and fair trade.
1. From Thanksgiving Coffee which cooperates with the American Birding Association to create Song Bird coffee (http://www.thanksgivingcoffee.com/).
2. Women in Ghana collecting water from a well in the village I lived in, 2000
08 February 2008
Dogs impatiently waiting to start by their mushing truck, Quest 2004. Each truck has a symphony of excited dog sounds.
This race more then any other race, in my opinion, challenges the musher's wilderness and survival skills. They must carry certain gear in order to chop their sled out of ice if they should break through, chase off a an attacking moose, food for themselves and their dogs as well as straw for their dogs to bed on. Often the temperatures for this race are well below -40F/C and one days when it warms up too much the mushers have to rest during the day and race during the night to keep their animals from heating up to much. This year it looks like overflow, when river water flows over the frozen ice, will be a big challenge along the race course. Overflow can present a real problem, having dog feet and runners in water in very cold temperatures causes major ice formation on both creating a need for frequent stops to keep feet healthy and runners slidable.
Lining out the team, which is so excited it has to be braked by a snowmachine from the rear, Quest starting line, Fairbanks, 2004.
I'll miss listening to the bark of the excited dogs and the live trail coverage as part of my morning wake-up ritual but I am glad that in this day and age I can still get my fix by listening to it by podcast at KUAC (Fairbanks' public radio station).
Edited to note: It's the 25th anniversary of this race this year!
PS - abernier, if you are reading this, send me an email so I can answer your question more thoroughly!
06 February 2008
It was interesting to me that during the caucus nobody seemed ambivalent about the process. We had some people who were very angry about the caucus set-up: they wanted to come in and vote and then leave and they didn't want to have to talk or listen to other people's opinions. We had people who were just so excited about being there and feeling like their voice counted; excited to be involved. And we had young children zooming about on office chairs in the corridors. Note to the organizers next year: if you plan on getting the vote out it might be a good idea to provide a babysitter.
04 February 2008
I will be at a caucus tomorrow, but sadly, unable to participate other then checking voters in because I can't afford the plane ticket back to Alaska to join in where I'm registered, which is ironically being held at my old workplace! So instead I'm calling Colorado voters and talking my Alaskan friends into going to theirs. I wish that so many candidates on both sides hadn't dropped out before Super Tuesday. I wish that more people in this country felt passionate about exercising their civil liberties. But all in all I think it's going to be an exciting night.
Edited to add: I did not vote. I wanted to and looked into voting absentee but Alaska has switched to caucusing and you cannot vote absentee for a caucus, only a primary. If I have not registered somewhere new by the time September rolls around I will definitely vote absentee in the actual election for Alaska.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the terms here are the definitions of a caucus and primary - some states have one, others the other. Some have a primary for everything other then the presidential race where they caucus.
US Election Caucus: where the members of a political party get together and must be physically present to vote. In addition this usually is lead by members of the party getting up and saying their thoughts prior to voting. The upside of this, to my mind, is that it is also a social event which I think makes some people turn out more. The downside, to my mind, is that your vote is not private and you are in the company of everyone you know and some people may feel peer pressure about their votes.
US Election Primary: also known as a nominating primary. This is where individuals go to a polling station and vote in a private booth for the candidate of their choice. Usually this is also limited to the party with which you are affiliated although in some states independents can now choose a party and vote in their primary.