Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's Almost the Same Thing

But instead of rotting fish, the trail smells like rotting fruit.

Instead of mosquitos, there are fruit flies.

Instead of stopping to pick wild cranberries, I stop to shake a guava tree and catch the ripe ones that fall out.

And instead of finding snow and ice and Dall sheep at the top of the mountain, I find a view of this green green island and the blue blue ocean all around.

Welcome to Hawaii.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not Scared. Not Scared At All.

This is what my sister says. What she means is: "This situation is not at all to my liking and there is a heck of a lot that could go wrong, but I've assessed all the factors and feel I can keep rising panic at bay."

This pretty much sums up my night. (Except I picked the situation because it was very much to my liking. But still.) The wind was making my tent scratch in such a way that I was constantly assuring myself it was not animals. The cold was threatening me from every angle but I kept repeating to my limbs: you are warm; you are warm. Etc. etc.

The nice thing about being on edge all night is that when it's over, you feel very much like you've conquered something. Even if all you did was sleep through it.

Especially when you wake up to snow landing on your tent but the fire starts up anyway. And you sit there waiting for the water in your bottles to thaw (frozen solid, even though I kept them inside my tent all night) watching seven swans take off up the slushy river, land, float back down, and repeat. It was their honking that told you to get up in the first place, since it's always dark deep inside a mummy bag.

Alongside the Nenana River, for a night of reflection and fulfilling self-challenge. Brr, it was cold. Overnight low of 12, I'm told. I feel ready for winter. Haha! no winter for me! I needed to experience at least a taste of it before heading off to Hawaii.

And hiking Mt. Healy the next day (after it stopped snowing) was perfect. Up at the top it was sunny - above the clouds - and warm. Well, warm is a relative term. But I felt toasty, heated as I was from the hike. And no wind. And lots of sheep.

The drive back was harrowing at times - 4 inches of slush on the roads that were clear when I drove the other way. But I made it. And loved it.

I will be back.

Friday, October 16, 2009

You Eat Funny Stuff when... are leaving town and trying to finish the last odds and ends of food. Especially when you didn't buy much of that food yourself, but it was bequeathed to you when everyone else left.

For example:
black bean-butternut squash-chipotle wraps
beer-buttermilk-lemon crepes
lentil-squash curry

It's actually been surprisingly good. I made some regular crepes and was so disappointed in them that I went back to the beer-buttermilk recipe. And who knew that you could put butternut squash in everything?

Of course, there's also those splurge meals where although you've vowed not to buy any more food, you suddenly find yourself at the farmer's market in Homer with the best looking fresh vegetables in your hand and it suddenly turns itself into a gourmet, $80 a plate meal for 5.

Kachemak bay oysters on the half shell? Yes please. Especially ones bought that day from the grower's association on the Homer Spit.

Seared blackened tuna? Yes please. Especially when it's hand-delivered by the woman who caught it in Mexico and served up with bleu cheese.

A bed of organic greens? Oh, yes please. I also won't complain about caramelized carrots, delicious organic strawberries, or organic lemons.

Clos du Bois merlot? Ok, if you insist.

Cranberry Pear Crisp with Vermouth and sweetened milk? Oh, you want me to have indigestion, do you? Well, lucky for all of us, such fresh food doesn't weigh us down even when we do overeat.

And to top it all off, a night of wonderful company with three old Bohemians and one young one too. Hooray for me.

It looks like a cute fuzzy bunny.

Well, it was a cute fuzzy bunny. Until it got eaten. Now it’s a pile of guts that have sprouted inch-long white tufts of fine, fibrous mold. And I get to walk by it every day on my way to work.

I love living here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Couldn't Let It Conquer Me

So I went back.

Back to Skyline Trail, where I fell off a cliff and ruined my body forever.

Okay, melodrama aside, I fell off some rocks I was scampering on and sprained my ankle. But it was a really bad sprain - 3 torn ligaments. I was on crutches for 3 weeks and it hurts even now, 12 weeks later. It definitely put a damper on the second half of my summer. I refused to let it get me down mentally, but it was a bummer not to participate in all the hiking and backpacking I had planned.

Fortunately it didn't stop me from leading the fall fire field trips - a 2.5 mile hike - though it was a challenge at times. Now, even though my ankle aches and stiffens up at the slightest exercise, I feel confident that I can do anything on it. Gingerly, but anything.

So I knew I needed to conquer Skyline before the summer ended. Columbus Day, a day off that dawned a magnificent sunny blue sky and an unheard of 50 degrees: a day to hike! To put old adversaries to rest!

Rachel, Emily and I hiked to the tippity top of the trail. From there the view is spectacular. Could we see Denali? Maybe that huge white beast way past Anchorage is her, visible 700 miles away only because of refraction.

The recent wind storm knocked all the leaves off the trees, and even knocked a huge cottonwood across the trail. Despite the bizarre warmth and lack of snow at the upper altitudes, fall has indeed passed us by. Only the last vestiges cling, a few moldy spots of yellow in an umber landscape. It feels like resolution; it feels like time to leave.

Dried seed pods and crisp brown flower petals crinkle along the trail and invite thoughts about fertility, decay, cycles and seasons. It feels right to be a woman today. It feels right to be three strong women on a mountain top, bareing ourselves to the view and the wind and the turning tides.

From my ankle's point of veiw, the exercise was anticlimatic. The way up presented no challenge. On the way down, thanks to the tension and precision needed to keep myself from waah-tumbling down the mountain, both feet cramped up, but I kept moving, and soon we were eating yummy veggies, homemade hummus, and green hempseed butter. Our bodies felt good! fresh! alive!

It was a good day.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Paths Are Paved With Gold

The multi-hued yellows from aspen, birch, and cottonwood adorn the trails inches thick under every tree. When the leaves land this way, the winking yellow glitters; when they land that way, the pale underbelly gives depth to these alchemist's cobblestones. Gold!

The spruce trees - greedy bastards - not satisfied with keeping their green, also want to adorn themselves with yellow and gold. Jealously they cling to leaves spurned by their deciduous counterparts. Now evergreens boast, as well as needles, leaves plastered to their boughs.

It reminds me of hair, wet blond hair stuck to the ruddy faces of shivering fourth graders learning about pH and macroinvertebrates hiding in 41 degree water.

It's the kind of weather we love to hate: grey, drizzly, winter's coming sort of weather. Leaves shake off the trees as if a gale blows them down, but really it's just grey that whips their frenzy.

The leaves look like the gulls hovering in the air, catching the updraft, testing it for temperature and moisture content. Is California calling them yet? Is it time to wing it outta here? Are we blowing the wind or is the wind blowing us? Who knows.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Tale About Smoking

Smoking fish, that is.

My dad had a smoker that got used a handful of times during my childhood. I have vivid memories of seeing it chugging away in the back yard, covered by that old quilted blanket, but I don't remember ever liking anything produced from its smoky belly. Dried out hams and turkeys, I think. My poor father - generally an exceptional cook, but always the experimenter. One too many failed smoking projects and he lost all support from his family to attempt again. We wanted a dinner we could eat, after all.

Here in Alaska, smoking fish is a perfected science. It provides an easy way to preserve fish or use up those not-quite-grillable pieces. Last week a friend had some lingcod belly pieces left over from a deep sea fishing expedition. We smoked them up in some coconut rum-ginger-lime brine with hickory chips, which gave it a very smoky, vaguely sweet taste. This week it was some fish I found buried in the back of the Common's freezer. Now that everyone is gone except me, all property reverts to the last man standing.

With my not-so-grillable salmon rescued from the freezer coils, I made a brine of coriander, black pepper, dill, yellow mustard, celery (all in seed form), crushed bay leaf, and fresh garlic. These I heated in some water to release the aromas, then added to a salt, lemon, brown sugar and water marinade.

The salvaged fish went into the brine, and was forgotten for a while. In the meantime we ate a feast:
Lingcod steaks grilled with lemon peel
Home-grown oyster mushrooms sauteed with soybeans and garlic
Caramelized dill carrots
Brown rice with tomato and parmesan
Homemade wheat bread
Red wine (of course)
and for dessert, my absolute favorite, Flan

Ok, now that you're drooling, back to the fish. After brining for 3 hours, we laid the pieces out on the smoker rack (my pitiful salmon scraps only filling one shelf - compared to Rachel's lingcod which needed two batches to fit it all). Then the serious business starts: smoking.

I used alder chips for a more mild smoke flavor (and because the bag said it was the best for fish) and Dominic's hot smoker. The coil in the bottom of the smoker (a metal box about 3x2x1 ft) heats up a pan of wood chips sitting on top of it. The chips slowly smolder and fill the box with heat and smoke. Every 45 minutes to an hour, the blackened chips must be tossed over the deck railing and the pan refilled with fresh ones. We started smoking at 10:30. I was up all night.

Ok, that's a lie. The hot smoke works relatively quickly, and by 2:30 I was done resetting my alarm and snuggled down on Dominic's couch to sleep the rest of the night. The salmon sat outside on the deck in the unplugged smoker until morning, inviting all sorts of creatures to investigate and steal it. Fortunately it was still there in the morning.

And delicious! I'm so proud of my little fish babies. Now I just have to figure out what to do with it, since I can't take it with me...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Corporation vs. Love

It took a while, but I finally tracked down one of those childhood movies my sister and I used to check out from the public library and watch over and over again. Among the ranks were those delightful BBC productions of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" and a number of other obscure 1980's productions.

The object of this hunt was none other than "Konrad, the Factory-Made Child". If you can get your hands on a copy (don't look on IMDB - it's not there), I highly suggest watching it. The anti-authoritarian plot is based on a book that comes out of 1970's Germany. An evil corporation is mass-producing perfect children in an institution and then hand-picking the perfect (wealthy, uptight) families that deserve to receive them. A misprint in the shipping department accidentally sends one of their prototypes (who arrives in a can, by the way) to the wrong, very wrong, person - a messy, artsy, failure of a woman who has lots of love and joie de vivre.

What happens to perfect little Konrad when he is exposed to the messy lifestyle of his new mom? What happens when the evil corporation inevitably discovers their mistake and wants to recover their "property"? Clearly you can see a Herbie-style debaucle will ensue as mustached men chase each other around town....

It captivated me at age 7; it will captivate you too!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How to Make the Best Raspberry Jam You've Ever Had

1. Get to Homer, Alaska.

2. Find the "Seaside Farms" campground and pitch your tent in the horse field. Be sure not to step in the horse poo. And don't mind the horse; he won't bite.

3. The next morning, walk out of your tent and into the organic raspberry patch. Pick to your heart's delight. Be sure to get low and look under the leaves. It's rude picker's etiquette to only pick the easy-to-reach berries.

4. Eat lots of berries as you pick. But also pick a lot and put them into your bucket.

5. Be sure to observe the epic view across Katchemak Bay to the mountains and glaciers on the other side of the sea. The berries have spent their whole lives imbibing the view. This makes them taste extra spectacular.

6. Carry the berries with you the rest of the day to make sure they stay safe. Whatever you do, don't let them out of your site. Berries tend to disappear that way. They also tend to disappear into bellies, so keep an eye out for snitching fingers too.

7. Purchase Certo liquid pectin, sugar, and canning jars at Fred Meyer.

8. Back at your trailer, mash the berries carefully. Be sure to say, "Smash smash" every time you make the mashing motion.

9. Follow the recipe inside the Certo package for making raspberry jam.

10. Make a big sticky mess.

11. Clean up the big sticky mess.

12. Eat delicious jam!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Granola is Holy, Constipation a Sin

This tidbit of history (read below) is just too ironic.

In case anyone was wondering if religious movements are influenced by time and place. Because everyone knows that today's good right-wing Christians wouldn't be caught dead eating granola. Obama probably eats granola.

And vegetarians are just straight up sinful. Didn't God create animals for us to eat? Except he apparently also created constipation to punish us for eating meat. I always knew he was a tricky bugger.

"During the early 19th century, most Americans subsisted on a diet of pork, whiskey, and coffee. It was hell on the bowels, and to many Christian fundamentalists, hell on the soul, too. They believed that constipation was God’s punishment for eating meat. The diet was also blamed for fueling lust and laziness. To rid America of these vices, religious zealots spearheaded the country’s first vegetarian movement. In 1863, one member of this group, Dr. James Jackson, invented Granula, America’s first ready-to-eat, grain-based breakfast product. Better known as cereal, Jackson’s rock-hard breakfast bricks offered consumers a sin-free meat alternative that aimed to clear both conscience and bowels."

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mushroom season

Mushroom season is progressing very nicely. I would post photos if it weren't so darn difficult around here.

The warm summer and recent warm showers have created perfect conditions for a generous mushroom year. I am in heaven just walking the dog (yes, dogsitting again) and observing all the beautiful - and not so beautiful - varieties in abundance.

I've also been eating them. I've tried 5 varieties, a not-at-all shabby number for my first ever season of wild mushroom collecting. I'm impatient, but slowly I'm learning how much I can add to my cache of experiences and skills with time - and only with time. I can't expect to do everything at once.

So far, I've had: brown and orange birch boletes, honey mushrooms, gypsy mushrooms, and puffballs. My favorites is definitely the puffball - sliced thin and fried until crispy, like a mushroom potato chip. And conveniently, puffballs are among the most numerous and definitely easy to identify. The brown birch boletes are also numerous, but the flesh is often mushy, they are always infested with fly larvae (read: maggots), and honestly, they don't taste better than store-bought canned mushrooms.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Do you want a coloring project?"

--my boss asks me today.

Oh yes. That is, if I can fit in in between sticking labels on notecards and moving photos around in Corel.

A nice day to welcome me back to work.

Last week, my mom and sister visited me while I took annual leave.

We went clamming in view of Redoubt and caught more clams than we know what to do with. They squirted us.

We went to Homer and picked raspberries and made jam. The best raspberry jam I've ever tasted, and I don't think it's just personal bias.

We stayed in the brand-new Kelly Lake Cabin (and managed to survive on only one match).

We altogether found much diversion and much conversation. Hooray.

Fungus are EXPLODING all over the Peninsula. I'm getting ready for Mushroomania Fair numero uno in a few weeks.

Ok, that's the life update.

Monday, August 17, 2009

And then there was one

With the end of summer season, all the camp activity is over, and all the summer seasonals have gone back to the places where they came from, which means...

Betsi has time to post online again!

Here is a long and boring update of my summer, in a nutshell. I had to write it for work, but I figured I could post it here in case anyone wants to read it. It's very... plain. As in, not witty or insightful in any way. Because it was for work.

DO NOT READ! if you would like to maintain the false premise that I can only write wonderful, witty and intensly insightful things. You will be vastly disappointed.

Spring/Summer 2009 SCA Reflections

In April (so long ago now!) I worked on a variety of projects.
For the Bear Safety Program, Michelle and I took suggestions from the Kenai Brown Bear Committee and created a 15 minute presentation for 1st-6th grades about reducing bear attractants around homes. I went to a lot of the local schools to make bear-aware Jr. Rangers.

We spent a lot of time creating our Moose Discovery Room – a program for homeschoolers K-6, held at the EEC. The final result was excellent, with multiple tables covering themes related to moose and grade-appropriate worksheets that took about an hour for the students to complete. It was a fun challenge to create interesting, interactive displays that had information to offer participants at every age level. Amazing how much solid work goes into a one-day program, but hopefully the Refuge will be able to recycle this program every other year.

Between these two programs, I feel like I developed a stronger sense for each age level’s capabilities. For example, 3rd and 4th graders need a significant amount of guidance even for simple word problems. K to 2nd grade find writing even a few words laborious.

I attended a Project Learning Tree class with Matt Weaver, and I’m so glad! A few of the classmates banded together afterward to continue birch tapping and make birch syrup, though mine fermented before I got a chance to use much of it (oops). I learned a lot that weekend, not just from the material, but from closely watching the techniques of the instructor as well. Since I mostly work with and observe Michelle, it was great to also see another educator’s approach.

We did a few spring field trips after break-up, but mostly I will become more familiar with these trips when they are offered again in the Fall.

Outside, the month started covered in snow and ice and ended ready for spring – with even the first bits of green showing. We had a quick breakup, not the weeks and weeks of mud and slosh I was expecting. We basically went straight from winter weather to sunny, 60+ degree afternoons – though I don’t think every spring is so lucky!

It wasn’t until May that the trees started growing leaves, and boy was I happy when they finally did. Everything exploded within a week to become soft and fuzzy, covered in that light yellow-green color. Plus everything smelled like aromatic cottonwood sap.

Mid-May brought the arrival of summer crews. Training and Orientation was a strange time for me, because I was partly a participant and partly responsible as a leader. Also it was quite a transition to go from being mostly solo in the housing area, to the place being full of other seasonals! Parts of the training were a real treat, like our day-long sightseeing cruise in Kenai Fjords or the weekend canoe trip, while other parts were rather… tedious. As can be expected. Lots of paperwork and regulations.

I decided to do an interpretive campfire program, so I spent a lot of time preparing for that with my SCA partner. I loved doing this program every time we presented it! It was definitely a highlight of the summer, even though it made the rest of my schedule (juggling with summer camp scheduling) a bit awkward at times.

Summer Camp: the main project for the summer. We had four people working on it together. Another 3 month SCA took the new 2nd & 3rd grade camp (Critter Camp) under her wing, and we worked side-by-side brainstorming, finalizing a detailed schedule, writing curricula for every activity, and working out all the kinks. I got to draw a fun animal logo for Critter Camp tee-shirts. The others found it stressful at times, especially since we only had a couple of weeks to get the whole thing ready to go, including all our purchasing, but mostly I found it really fun.

Critter Camp was… amazing! The program was only 4 hours each day, but the days were jam-packed with activities and games, hands-on discoveries and trail time. Between prep time and cleanup time, the days flew by. In between we were also prepping for the two weeks of 4th & 5th grade camp (Get Out and Get Dirty) that were happening next. Busy busy busy. During June we did our best to get out of Soldotna on the weekends – camping and other excursions – but in July, by the weekends we were just ready to crash.

We made some changes to Get Out and Get Dirty, which piloted last year, to make it a more solid program ready for future summers. It was fun to transition from the younger kids to the older. Techniques for interacting with them, controlling them, and getting them interested are so different. At times it got complicated trying to communicate effectively between all four leaders so that we were all on the same page. Last minute changes and miscommunications required a lot of flexibility and positive attitude. The campers never know if the schedule’s been changed, so with a little bit of energy from the leaders, they are guaranteed to have fun. It’s good to have a few camp games ready to go in case time-fillers are needed.

The campers really liked both camps. Even the more academic activities (which were few and far between), like identifying fish organs in their journals, were enjoyed by all. I highly recommend having at least one active/running game per day, which we had in Critter Camp but could be added to Get Out and Get Dirty.

We spent a lot of time making detailed notes for future leaders of these camps to use, but the plethora of pictures we took may tell the story better. Lots of smiles, lots of fascinated little explorers, and lots of goofy candids of the counselors!

Before the last week of camp I got a really bad sprain (proof that you should stay on the trail and not try to rock climb on Skyline…). It did not diminish my love for camp, though it kept me off the trail, both with the kids and in my free time – trying not to let that get me too bummed. I don’t want to miss the beauty of late summer on the Peninsula, but 2.5 weeks later, I’m still bound by crutches.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Blazes Along

Yes, I have been busy lately. No, I have not been so busy that I absolutely don't have time to update my blog.

It's more that I've found much better things to do with my time.

Not having internet in my room has slowly eaten away at my addiction to it. I rarely check Facebook these days; recently it's been about once a month. However, this week I started actually reading those Facebook emails you get whenever someone invites you to something... and it has made me homesick to hear about all the parties and concerts and miscellaneous events going on at home in Grand Rapids!

Furthermore, I rarely talk to people on the phone anymore. This is primarily because of time zone difference. By the time I think about calling people, it is already midnight or well later on the East Coast. The sad truth is that I am also losing touch with more and more people as time goes by and we are incomunicado. That was easier to live with when I was out of the country and there really was an excuse... By now my friends are scattered.

In positive and exiting news: I love my job!

Or perhaps that's not news, as I've been saying that for months now. It just keeps getting better.

Also, what keeps me busy around here mostly is PEOPLE. When I finally find time to myself after working with really cool people, cooking, eating, walking, talking, playing, and occasionally consoling or bitching to really cool people -- When I finally find some alone time apart from all of that, I am ready for some actual alone time, not catch-up-with-long-lost-friends time.

But I still love you all. And I still love my job (did I mention that?).

In other news, here is a picture of an alevin. An alevin is a (read the rest in a cutesy-wutesy baby voice) little baby salmon that has just hatched and has a huge eye.
It's still attached to the yolk sac, so it can barely swim and it hides under the gravel to eat and grow. (cue baby voice again) He's so cute!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Earthquake wooohooo

2009-06-22 11:39:19
A regional tectonic earthquake occurred at 11:28 AKDT and was felt throughout South Central Alaska. This event is not related to Redoubt. The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center has a preliminary magnitude of 5.3 and a location 30 miles southwest of Talkeetna.

I felt it shaking and rocking and heard the printer rattling on the shelves behind me. There are ten kids doing activites downstairs; none of them noticed it at all. My coworker was on the toilet, rocking her world in a completely different way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flagrant plagiarism creates species anomaly, but who can argue with God?

I am researching certain birds for a project, and my partner left a scrawled note about spiricules on Bald Eagle talons. I wanted to find out more about them, so I did a quick web search. I found this sentence repeated in probably fifteen different websites: "Eagles have structures on their toes called spiricules that allow them to grasp fish" but nowhere did I find anything more specific, helpful, or informative than that.

Just what is a spiricule? Is it possible that they don't actually exist? I imagine one web writer put thos words down as complete bullshit and everyone else, not knowing any more on the topic but certainly loathe to leave anything out, has plagiarized that sentence and patted themselves on the back for being so inclusive in their reseach.

Afterall, if the internet says it, it must be true. Last time I checked, under the wiki for "world wide web" it said:
A term commonly used in the late nineties and rolling into the early 2000's, generally referring to the abstract being otherwise known as God.

In some circles, it's taboo to investigate any potential evolutionary reasons for why an animal is the way it is. To do so challenges the creative power of God. Thus we have Q&A like this one.

In other, more modern circles, it's the height of improporiety to investigate whether the online description of an animal matches what can be observed in nature. When in doubt, scrolling-and-skimming is believing.

So, the answer to my question "Why do Bald Eagles have spiricules?" is "Because the wiki made them that way." Amen.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Betsi does not like Twitter

and decided not to join when she first heard of it two years ago.

and is annoyed that it keeps popping up all of a sudden everywhere she turns.

She can't even turn on the radio these days without hearing about it. Not even NPR is safe. Even when she is hiding in Alaska, where everything else is ten years behind schedule, Twitter is ubiquitous.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Photo Essay

This was my fun fun appetizer dinner. Why yes, that is avocado, artichoke heart, kalamata olive, green olive with garlic/habanero stuffing, hot peppers, vermont extra sharp cheddar, two kinds of bleu cheese, and gruyere, jalapeno jelly, raspberry preserves, and whole grain mustard. Oh, and triscuits. Heaven.

Killer weekend.

Thursday a.m.

Thursday p.m.

Got carried away with the grass and the mud.

Mt. Redoubt: view from the Kenai flats

Sunset: view from Cannery Road beach

me and anna

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mushroom Mushroom Mushroom

Today I joined the Kenai Peninsula Mycology Society's Google Egroup. Maybe I will join the actual society --and maybe I will help out with their first ever Mushroomania Festival in September. I am as happy as a clam-stuffed mushroom cap.

Also, I got to read their April edition of The Spore Print, which is full of amazing and delicious information about How Mushrooms Can Save The World (if I could access Youtube from work, I'd post a link here to Paul Stamet's lecture with that title - you'll have to do the leg work yourself).

I would copy and paste it all here just because I'm so pumped to share it with everyone, but I don't know how kosher that is. Instead I'll just post the link and let you read it yourself. Trust me, it's Ahmazing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Stupid Snowshoe Hare

(ala - thanks IAmWrite for the link)

Who do you think you are, being all cute and cuddly and shit when I'm supposed to be at work? I mean, who asked you to bounce around in the snow, playing tag with each other on the other side of those trees right where I can see you as I'm walking by? Who asked you to wiggle your noses and lick your ears like something out of a sparkly-eyed anime fantasy?

Where do you get off having such big feet? Don't you realize how absolutely ridiculous it is to hop around on feet that are as big as your already ridiculous oversized ears? Come on, rabbit-thingy, no one actually believes that the size of your feet has anything to do with the size of your penis.

And your color. White? Really?? Not even cute Easterbunny white, like you just got washed with bluing and need to be wrapped up in a big pink bow, but dirty yellowish white that blends in with the dirty, yellowish snow. Guess what Snowshoe hare? I can see you anyway.

I can see you over there doing what bunnies do best. Flirting. And F***ing. And looking cute and cuddly, when I know that those big feet of yours would scratch the heck out of my eyeballs if I were to do what I wanted to and take you home to live with my teddy bear.

So, geesh, Snowshoe hare. Could you please be a little more considerate of those of us who have to work sometimes?

Friday, April 10, 2009

by Meiko

One day we'll get outta this shitty apartmentOne day is all it takes for things to turn around nowAll I know is I got you and you got me, babeAnd when that morning comesI'll make coffee and you'll read the paperWe'll talk about our plans

And I'll keep saying how lucky we are

One day we'll get in the car and drive anywhere we wanna goAnd then we'll stay in a five star, mini-bar, luxury hotel roomCuz all I know is I got you and you got me, babeAnd when that morning comesI'll make coffee and you'll read the paperWe'll talk about our plans

And I'll keep saying how lucky we areHow lucky we are, oh oh ohHow lucky we are, oh oh ohHow lucky we are, oh oh ohHow lucky we are, are, are...

One day we'll turn on the tv and we won't see nothing 'bout warAnd when that morning comesI'll make coffee and you'll read the paperWe'll talk about our plans

And I'll keep saying how lucky we areHow lucky, how lucky we areOh how lucky, how lucky, how lucky we areOh how lucky, how lucky, how lucky we are

Oh how lucky, how lucky, how lucky we are

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Wagon Wheel

Headed down south to the land of the pines,
I'm thumbin' my way into North Caroline
Starin' up the road,
Pray to God I see headlights
Oh, I made it down the coast in seventeen hours
Pickin' me a bouquet of dogwood flowers
And I'm a hopin' for Raleigh
I can see my baby tonight

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

Runnin' from the cold up in New England
I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band
My baby plays the guitar
I pick a banjo now
Oh, the North country winters keep a gettin' me now
Lost my money playin' poker so I had to up and leave
But I ain't a turnin' back
To livin' that old life no more

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

Walkin' to the south out of Roanoke
I caught a trucker out of Philly
Had a nice long toke
But he's a headed west from the Cumberland Gap
To Johnson City, Tennessee
And I gotta get a move on fit for the sun
I hear my baby callin' my name
And I know that she's the only one
And if I die in Raleigh
At least I will die free

So rock me mama like a wagon wheel
Rock me mama anyway you feel
Hey mama rock me
Rock me mama like the wind and the rain
Rock me mama like a south-bound train
Hey mama rock me

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mushroom of the Day

or try, Mushroom CLOUD!
beat that, hoboman.

Proof that Friends are Awesome:

1. This weekend.

2. This comic strip:

Friday, April 3, 2009

Scratch and Sniff

My new favorite animal is the Zorilla.

Because how can there be an animal called a Zorilla and it not be my favorite?

Not to mention it's supposedly the stinkiest animal on earth. But, I mean, really, how can they know that?

Lucky for him, I guess, because with fur like that, he would end up at the top of everyone's fancy-dancy night-on-the-town coat. But no one wants to sniff skunkrotteneggpoopystinkbugdecomposingtrash when they're out for a fancy dancy night on the town.

If they did, why does everyone keep telling me to take showers all the time?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

And Now

"Mr. Obama appeared to be preparing the world for a reshaped global economy in which the United States no longer was the ultimate export market for the world’s established and emerging powers. It was that habit of overconsumption, he appeared to say, that led to the boom-and-bust cycles that he has said must end."

Hooray hooray hooray!

Too Lazy to Take Responsibility for My Own Creativity

Well done, Google. You must check out this intriguing homepage.

And also Wikipedia. I must say I was less impressed with Wikipedia's news articles (I mean, come on, WAY over the top) until I realized that they all actually connect to a real story.

Of course, I should have the creativity to create my own hoax, but I find my energy for that sort of amusement strangely lacking today. I must by hyperstimulated by work.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Confirmation of My Earlier Theory

I was walking between the Enivronmental Ed Cabin (where I work) and the main office, paying special attention to the changing sounds. I heard a bird call that I'd not heard before. If there was a way to write bird calls so that you could hear them, I would do it. But I'm not going to try. All I can say is that it was different, probably belonging to a songbird that has recently migrated back into the area or else is trying out his mating vocals.

Then I heard another bird sound which is (but only recently) familiar to me: the Bald Eagle. The first time I heard it I was amazed that such a beautiful sound could come from such an ugly bird. No, I do not have any aesthetic loyalty towards our national bird (speaking of which, is there a national any other type of animal?).

The cry is exotic, expressive, untamable.

I heard it again today in close vicinity and looked for its source. On several occasions I had seen an eagle sitting in gnarled yet vertically-giften aspen(?) near the parking lot, so I was not surprised to glimpse, through the branches, the brown, white and yellow bird. But wait-- there were two birds. And they were-- oh ho! They were, um, shall we say, Celebrating Spring.

We all need to celebrate spring now and then. And what better place to do it than at the top of a tree?

In any case, it reinforces what I said before. Despite four inches of new snow last night, spring is upon us.

(ps- !!! I got to see Bald Eagles mating??? I even brought my camera to work today, but of course I wasn't carrying it back and forth between buildings, and I can't just leave work to sit in the parking lot and hope they do it again, can I? Can I??)

Friday, March 27, 2009

So Glad You All Saw That

All of these photos are shamelessly stolen from where you can find other imformation about Redoubt, other Alaskan volcanos, photo credits and time stamp. All of these are from this week.

The eruption monday morning.

What they don't want us to breath in. Yesterday we got a teeny tiny bit of ash fall in Soldotna. I had to be told to look for it. Its color was light enough that you couldn't see it on the snow, and its content was so meager that you might think it was just dust or pollen.

Risk of flash floods and mud slids when volcanic heat melts the snow and ice on the mountain.

This one is actually from 3/15. Look at that steam wisp. Clearly a dragon lives in that volcano.
Yes, she is still erupting. At the website listed above you can track seismic activity levels and actual eruptions. Several occured overnight again last night. Seriously though, if I wasn't told there was a volcano erupting a few miles away, I would never know.

In other news, I got to go cross-country skiing for the first time today. It was much less scary/difficult than I'd imagined it would be. In fact, it was quite easy. I wish I'd figured that out six weeks ago.

It is spring in Alaska, which does not mean daffodils and crocuses.

Instead, spring means that the snow comes down in big fluffy chunks instead of tiny frozen crystals. Yesterday I left work, looked up, and said out loud: "It's raining snowballs." The snow looked like those tiny styrofoam balls you sometimes get instead of packaging peanuts.

Spring means that during the afternoon, the temperatures rise to the upper 30's (think 2-4 degrees C) and everything gets slushy and slooshy and yuck. Then the temperatures drop overnight and everything becomes a slick layer of ice. In some places the ice is black and smooth where there was actual standing water. In other places it makes frozen chunks where the slush resolidified. On my walk to work this morning I suddenly found myself sitting on the ground over a particularily deceiving patch of ice. I looked up to see three of the maintenance guys standing in their yard across the street watching me.

"So glad you all saw that!"

Spring means that we have to be on the lookout for bears. Any day now they will start emerging from their winter dens and eating people left and right. Soon I won't be able to go outside anymore because the grounds will be swarming with starving, snarling bears.
We'll see what gets me first: the volcano or the bears. Or the ice. Or the small town boys.
I lead life on the wild side.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Two Pieces of Good News

1. Girdwood Forest Fair, which was cancelled last year thanks to too many rowdy partiers, is scheduled to be BACK ON this year. Nothing can keep me away. Not to mention it's on my birthday ^_^

2. FUNGUS FAIR. 'Nuff said, right? Check this out. Oh, I so can't wait till September.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thar She Blows!

Or rather, belches a few times unattractively.

Yes, ReDoubt has turned active.

Yesterday morning the power went out so I took myself down to maintenance to check the situation out.

"Any news on the power outage?"

"Nope, nope. Apparently it's out all over except Anchorage."

"Yeah, of course they keep Anchorage safe. Can't afford to let her go down."

"Last time it was out for three days. Good thing we installed that generator at the pump house last week."

"Yeah, just in time. This power stays out for long the thing will have paid for itself in no time."

"Well, I can't do any work without power. I might as well go home and put steaks on the grill."

"Heck, I'm coming to your place. Better call your wife and tell her to put on a steak for me. A big one."

...and so on. Maintenance guys shooting the shit.

After half an hour of this, Ryan came in. "So is this power outage because of the volcano eruption?"

"What!!?? The volcano erupted?" I couldn't believe that I'd stood there for half an hour and heard not a peep after so many weeks of edge-of-my-seat anticipation.

"Yup. Blew last night. Several belches of ash starting at ten-thirty until four this morning."

"I was sitting in my living room looking out the window at it and I didn't even see a thing. They say there was a big rumble and shaking and all that, but I don't even believe it."

"It's the piretic, bombastic-- what is that?"


"Yup, it's the pyroclastic blast you have to really look out for. 10,000 degree wind that comes at you. Burning gasses and all that. Melts everything in its path - trees, buildings, people. One minute you're standing there, the next you've been liquidated like an atom bomb hit."

I went back outside and looked around. There was nothing to see. It was overcast, but the forecast had called for that. No ash, no clouds. If I inhaled deeply, I could just make out a charred, ozone scent in the air.

Altogether anticlimactic.

I talked to Shane on the phone, who's up in Anchorage and has been on-call to zip down here in the event of a picturesque or adventure-worthy eruption. He says that all the ash is landing in Talkeetna, several hundred miles north. The wind changed at just the right moment - usually prevailing winds would have blown the ash fallout right onto the peninsula. Talkeetna must be pissed. They don't even get to see ReDoubt from up there, but they get the ash dump anyway. Neener neener.

Shane also says that we can expect continued activity over the next indeterminate period of time. He remains on call in case something happens that can be seen. My boss says that what really turned pretty during the last eruption in 1990 was after two big ash belches, there were steam clouds that hung out about the mountain and caught the morning alpenglow and ended up in everybody's photo albums.

If I get pictures, I'll post them, I promise. That's assuming the pyroclastic blast doesn't get me first. Stand by.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Alaska Meth Education Project is offering free drug

no kidding. that's the headline at
it would be Homer. buncha' crazy hippies.

of course, if Paul Harvey weren't dead (*sniff), he would tell us The Rest of the Story:

The Alaska Meth Education Project is offering free drug
prevention and awareness presentations to businesses and organizations.

Just unfortunate titling, that's all. It's like those church bulletin bloopers:

"Weight Watchers meeting Tuesday night. Attendees please use the wide double doors at the side of the building."

Friday, March 20, 2009

Something's Changing

A few days ago, vole tracks appeared.

Since arriving, I'd seen maximum two trails left by subnivean creatures. In the last few days, they are suddenly everywere: around the office, around my cabin, doodling around the commons in loopy trails from under one building to another or in fairly straight lines across the road.

Subnivean creatures, by the way, are the tiny rodents: mice, shrews, and voles. Subnivean (for those of you who weren't in any of my field trip classes this year) means "under snow." Under the deep snow is an insulated layer where these animals build tunnels through the dead grasses to stay warm, find food, and hide from predators.

Shrews have long pointy snouts and can be aggressive insectevores. I'm hoping to find evidence of the water shrew this summer in our wetlands and lakes. Water shrews are badass.

Mice and voles are basically indistinguishable. I've heard contradictory evidence as to whether mice are actually native to Alaska or have been introduced, but there are a vareity of vole species native to, and even unique to, different regions of the state. They look cute and cuddly and they can be serious pests to home owners.

Usually these animals stay in the subnivean all winter except maybe to reach grass heads above the surface or if they are forced out of their tunnels by packed trails. In our field trips we talk a lot about how trails negatively impact subnivean residents with an aim to promote lower impact recreation (for example, using established trails for snowmachining or using a frozen lake area).

Trails can also impact plant life, partly because packed snow takes longer to melt -a big concern in an area with such a short growing season- and also because packed snow reduces light cues that reach the soil.

Plants rely on light cues, rather than temperature, to initiate their growing cycles. Thus, even with a cold spring or warm fall, deciduous trees will still grow new leaves or display fall foliage and eventually go dormant. There are still temperature considerations, of course; nothing can happen while all the water in the ground is still frozen.

Trails aside, what has sparked the sudden infusion of tracks? What has happened to make all these voles suddenly appear out from their safe, warm, food-filled subnivean tunnels?

The temperature hasn't changed. The range has been the same since I arrived: nights down as low as -20, days up to 30 or 35. The snow hasn't gone away. There is no new food source that I can think of.

Today I actually saw some voles. I glanced out at the bird feeders we keep on our windows. The chickadees, red poles, and nut hatches use a few nearby spruce trees as their access point to come to the feeder, grab a sunflower seed, and return in order to eat it. Under the trees where not as much snow has built up there is a patch of dead grasses. The voles were darting in and out of view through the grasses, eating bits of dropped sunflower seeds, I suppose.

The presence of dropped sunflower seed hasn't increased. It's possible the voles have been doing it all winter, but I've spent a lot of time looking out that window and today was the first time I've seen it. That, combined with the sudden profusion of tracks, makes me thing something has happened to encourage these creatures to emerge from their subnivean world.

I look to the light. Today is the first day of spring. This week we had our twelve-hour day. Like the plants, I imagine these creatures take their cues more from light than temperature as they prepare for the growing season that will come.

Predators still abound, so whatever could encourage them to seek out food sources that expose them to eagle eyes (literally) must be pretty darn important. More important than keeping themselves alive, which they've already been doing just fine all winter long. My guess: babies.

Mating season is upon us, folks.

There's a reason Bambi's friend Owl talks about twitterpating. In other places it corresponds to the melting snow and emergence of new plant growth. In Alaska, waiting that long to get it on wouldn't leave enough time to adequately reproduce in number before temperatures dropped again. So the mice, shrews, and voles sense the stronger, longer rays of sun filtering through the snow to their tunnels and say to themselves, "hooray! spring is coming! time to make babies!"

At this point, I don't know if those babies already exist (if so, Round 1 of several for the year, I'm sure) or if the voley-poos are merely preparing themselves physically to be able to reproduce, but either, way, I like seeing their tracks everywhere. They're pretty cute.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Green Beer It Is

Kind of a weerd picture, but hey. Green beer is green beer.
(By the way, I've decided to start spelling it weerd instead of weird. Easier to remember - wierd? or weird? what about i before e? - and uses the same delicious vowel combo as green. and beer. and other words that have ee.)

Dexter and I went for a long walk yesterday in the brilleeantly sunny afternoon. The snow was perfect, the trees were perfect, the mountains were probably perfect except I couldn't see them thanks to fog.

Oh ReDoubt: when are you planning to erupt? You crazy teese, you.

Dexter was thrilled to get some Exercise after spending all day sitting in the car waiting for me to finish work. If this sounds cruel, let it be understood that this dog has an anxiety disorder and can't be left home alone because he goes mental. (The door has the gouges to prove it.) On the other hand, he happilee (if somewhat bored-looking) sits in the car for hours on end because he does not feel abandoned inside a vehicle. So by far the less cruel method.

Down on the wetlands, the snow moves like sand into drifts and dunes. Even with the bright afternoon sun it never warms up enough to stick together. Each snowflake remains at the mercy of the wind to pile up in shelves and pyramids around the stubbee black spruce saplings.

Black, green, brown and dusky blue lichen wrap around tree trunks and hang from branches. They call it witch's hair and old man's beerd. If you see it or feel it, you know why. It's alive, but its draping fibers crumble between rubbed fingers.

Yesterday was our 12-hour day: Sunrise at about 8:12 am, Sunset at 8:12 pm. With Civil Twilight, which extends the day an easy hour in eech direction, no one can think of me living my days in the dark. We gain five minutes every day - that makes over 2 hours a month - rushing towards summer when the sun never seems to set. So long as the sun is shining, I am just as happee with the cold.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


The wine festival in honor of Bacchus. It just so happens to be the same day as St. Patty's, on which we are supposed to drink a different alcoholic beverage.

What a challenge: green beer or wine? Which to drink, oh which to drink??

The temperatures dropped this week to about -30F overnight lows, +3F today's projected high. The interior, where the dog sleds are competing in the famed Iditorad, has windchills below -50F. Poor puppies. Poor mushers.

I am hanging out with Dexter while housesitting for a coworker. He is a dog fit for Alaska. His neck fur is so think I really have to dig in order to scratch his neck. His paws are so furry they remind me of ptarmigan feet:

He's a nervous dog, but I'm starting to win him over.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Moose Caboose

I almost walked into the back of a moose yesterday. Ha! Ha!

I was walking home from work and I noticed moose tracks going this way and that way all around in the new snow. I hadn't seen moose tracks on that trail since my first walk to work. I thought to myself, I wonder if these are the same two moose that I saw down in town yesterday when I was walking to the library? They were in James' backyard hiding in the trees, standing very still and munching trees.

I looked here and there amongst the trees, wondering if perhaps they were still around and I could see them standing amongst the trunks. Moose are hard to see because they stand very still and they are the same color as everything else that is brown, but they are not shaped very much like tree trunks, so if you look for shape instead of color, you might just spot them.

Michelle drove me to a party out K-Beach on Wednesday and we passed moose grazing in the frozen wetlands. "I hate driving in winter at night," she said, "because of the moose. They come out of nowhere and you can't see them. Often people hit the babies because the mama crosses the road, and then just when you think nothing is following her, the baby runs across. And then after that, the twin will run across and the twin will get hit, because people really aren't expecting that.

"The way a car hits a moose, the bumper goes right into the legs, and it flips the moose over and onto the hood. It goes through the windshield and you basically get kicked to death. The moose doesn't usually die; it limps off with broken legs and then they have to go after it and shoot it.

"There's a list of people who get the meat. The next person on the list gets called when a moose is hit, and they have to come out, shoot it, clean it and everything, and they have to donate half the meat or something, but they get to keep the rest. There are rules about how far away from the road they can dispose of the remains and all that too. I just hope I never hit one."

At this time of year, the moose are pretty tame. They are morose and hungry. Once the mamas drop calves in spring, they get fierce, and a rutting bull in the fall is downright dangerous, but these days they just do a lot of munching and hunkering in the trees out of the wind. They walk into town where the roads are plowed - even with their long legs it gets pretty tiring to manage the deep snow. James says that in his childhood when they regularly got significantly more snow than we have this year, there were way more moose in town than there are now. Maybe they find a warm dryer vent to frequent, and certan moose get reputations as bothersome loiterers.

This morning at the Eagle Lodge where Tracy took me for breakfast, an old lady was tattling on a know-it-all neighbor who told them not to feed the moose.

"This nice lady moose wandered into our backyard and she was so sad, so we fed her and she started hanging around. But you know she had lots of relatives that she invited along and pretty soon I wondered if we were in the restaurant business or what. The neighbor came by and said not to feed the moose, and I said, 'I don't. I feed the birds.' Heh. But then we got neighbors next door. Kids, you know. We had to stop then."

Tracy asked, "How long did it take after you stopped feeding her before she stopped hanging around?"

"Well, she stayed around for a while, and then one year she didn't show up anymore. I don't know what happened to her."

"She probably ended up in someone's freezer."

"Eh, it's Alaska."

So, back to the story: I was peering into the trees on either side of the path and I thought I saw the bumpy silhouette of a moose sitting down in the snow about thirty feet off the trail. I wasn't sure, because I couldn't see her head, so I wanted to take a better look. I found a set of moose tracks pointed that direction diverging from the trail, so I decided to follow them. The snow was a lot deeper than it looked. I suddenly realized the severe advantage moose legs give them in the winter drifts. I tried to follow directly in the footprints left for me, but this required an awkward hop up and out of the snow and I missed a lot of them. After a few yards the footsteps turned in a different direction than where I'd seen the moose, but from there I could look and see the distinct shape of its head and my curiosity was satisfied. The trail I followed must take a sharp turn and lead to her, but who accuses of a moose of not walking in a direct line? Where's it going anyway but where it wants? Except for the fact that it is starving and must live in the cold, I kind of like the idea of aimless wandering. A moose would make a good minstrel. If it could sing.

I turned around and hop-shuffled back through the snow to the path and continued towards home. As I turned to take one last look at the moose in the trees (I was rather proud of myself for spotting it from so far away), I suddenly saw the bulk of another moose lying down in the snow much, much closer to me. The footsteps I'd found did not lead to that other moose at all; in fact, if I'd followed them about ten feet further, I would have found myself struck smack into the backside of a big ole' moose. And I had just finished congratulating myself on my powers of observation....

The moose moved not at all. Neither moose had twitched so much as an ear in all the time that I'd watched them. I guess they figured someone as bumbly and noisy as me couldn't possibly pose a threat to them. Lucky for them I'm not a hungry wolf pack. Lucky for me they aren't a hungry wolf pack.

Yup, I live in Alaska. Yup, there are lots of moose.

Mushroom of the Day

Not a real mushroom, but it's my mardi gras mask and I think it turned out pretty cool ^_^

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some More About Alaska

While I was in Michigan, I found out that people do actually read this blog from time to time and do expect to get some information about where I am and what I am up to. In light of that, here is a slightly more detailed update about me:

I have moved to Alaska. I am living at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where I have an internship in Environmental Education. This means I run (along with my supervisor) field trip and summer camp programs, as well as do a lot of other random stuff.

I will be here until late October.

When I arrived, it was a delicious -5degrees Farenheit (I loved it), but for most of the time since then it has been a balmy high of about 30 every day. Usually there is not a lick of wind, so it doesn't feel as cold as Grand Rapids at the same temperature, where the wind goes right through you. About half the time the sun shines - and then it is absolutely the most beautiful kind of winter you could ask for. Blue skies, white snow, crisp air, bright sun, dark spruce trees, white birch trees, and lots! of animal tracks to investigate. My first day at work I followed moose tracks to the office. I have also seen lots of red squirrel, snowshoe hare, ermine, spruce grouse, raven, and some other unidentifiable prints.

"Downtown" Soldotna is a mile-long strip that starts about a mile from my cabin. The furthest place I would go is Fred Meyer (the Alaskan version of Meijer or super-Walmart), which is just over a 2 mile walk. Fred Meyer has just about everything I could ever want or need food-wise, including organics, bulk foods, and vegetarian options. There are also about 5 coffee shops in town, not to mention several drive-through espresso shacks.

At this time, the sun is rising at about 830 and sets at about 630. It's hard to say exactly, because the sun rises and sets are sooo long. Because the sun doesn't move in a lateral line East-West, but rather scoots along the southern rim, the sun lingers around the horizon for a very long time. Needless to say, it's very beautiful. My window faces west; I love to watch the sunset on a clear night or wait for the first beams of morning glow hit the tree tops.

Mt. Redoubt can be seen from anywhere there is a clear view to the west. That is the volcano that might blow any day and cover us all with toxic volcanic ash - yummy yummy. I've had one chance to see it in the brilliant orange-pink alpenglow that hits it just before the sun slides over the eastern horizon.

I don't have internet from my new home. I have to hike myself and my computer into town to find a wifi point to get online.

To pass my time after work, I cook, crochet (I started my first afghan), play my ukulele, read, watch movies, write, and pretty soon I will start writing letters. So far I have not felt lonely, though I love talking to any and everyone on the phone.

I hope this satisifies your curiosity. If you want to know more, write or call me and I will gladly tell all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Day Dinner

In case any of you were worried, I took good care of myself on V-Day.
Here is my lovely treat-for-myself dinner.
Why yes, that is Alaska King Crab (not vegan but local!)
with lemon butter (freegan; the butter was in the freezer when I moved in),
Baby Romaine-Watercress-Avocado salad,
and a Framboise Lambic.
And, there were vegan Rum Raisin Scones for dessert, made by moi.
I challenge any lover out there to beat that!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

My thoughts upon arrival - A little backdated

My first day in Alaska. Before even arriving I can feel the difference in vibe, the difference in people. At the gate in O’Hare, the other people waiting like me are eager to talk, happy to interact and make connections. They do not ignore each other with an adopted manner of distain like I am used to. Soon we are all joking and sharing our McDonalds back and forth.

The flight attendants on my Alaskan Air flight are more friendly and relational than any I have ever known – and I have done a fair bit of flying. I pass one attendant sitting on an arm rest chatting with other flyers as I head to the restrooms at the back of the plane.

The shuttle driver between the airport and hotel gives me tips about how to navigate my new life in Soldotna, AK. He tells me where to eat and where not to eat. “If you ever meet Hobo Jim,” he says to me, and I am waiting for his warning to run the other way or not to accept his offer to see his gangrenous war hero toes. “If you ever meet Hobo Jim, tell him Hi from George.”

I rehearse it: Hobo Jim, Hi from George.

What a world.

The next morning I awaken in the hotel, a distinct parallel to my first morning in a hotel – almost the very same one which is itself across the street – in Anchorage almost three years ago. This time darkness still blankets the streets, and I have no idea how long the dark will linger. We’ve marked Imbolc (I’m sad to say I marked it barely at all this year, although I had my own celebration of fertility) so the deepest of winter is over.

At eight o’clock the night has loosened its grip. At nine it is positively light out, and around nine thirty I become aware of a piercing brilliance when the sun clears the mountain top.

It doesn’t matter how bright and beautiful Anchorage greets me today, because Kenai is not ready for our plan to land. We wait in the Anchorage airport two extra hours before we can be cleared to board and take-off.

I arrived at the airport much earlier than I needed to since my plans with Shane fell through. It would have been the right amount of time early for a normal flight in a normal airport, but when I arrived at the gate a sign told me:

20 minute check-in strictly enforced to allow for on-time departure.

I was an hour and a half early. This was clearly not O’Hare. When I did check in, the gate agent sent me to the gate which I arrived at directly – without passing through a security point of any sort.

I texted Lisa: um… no security check for my flight. none. not even a metal detector. should i be worried? or just amused?

Lisa: Amused. And pleased! Anyway what terrorists are going to bother with a puddle jumper to kenai? :)

Me: im not wried abt terrorists so much as the Alaskan roughneck hunter who wants to shoot a moose out the window

Lisa: Lol. You have a point

When we finally got on our flight, I saw no evidence of rifles or any other suspicious contraband. The flight attendant barely spoke English and dropped all the articles, among other essential words, in her take-off speech (“Float cushion located beneath seat. Take arms put through straps”) and sometimes I swear she was speaking Russian. Of all the international flights I have taken recently, this lady has spoken the worst English of any of them.

Just as I suspected, we rose above the settled cloud cover and skimmed its upper surface on our journey south. The mountain tops gleamed yellow in the sunlight and baby blue in the shadows. As we approached Kenai, I assume we passed Mt. Redoubt – and I was seated on the correct side to see it – but I could not identify it from the many peaks and ranges. Soon enough Redoubt will blow and then this part of the world will be covered with black ash that will ground all flights and obscure the sun better than any condensed water vapor does on a daily basis.

I could see through the thin clouds to the ground below. The dark green and black trees gave way to shining rivers. No, that must be snow, because no rivers are running at this time of year. Even in the summer they barely flow above 32 degrees, so in the winter they freeze solid. I can see patterns in the trees, cut like crop circles: X’s and arrows and chains of arrows like so <-<-<-. As we get closer to Kenai the trees give way to more clearings of snow and I can trace snow machine tracks that cross and crisscross.

I meet Michelle and her beautiful daughter at the Kenai airport and I am arrived. The drive from Kenai to Soldotna is beautiful. When we get out at Fred Meyer, I absolutely love to weather. It is sunny, it is blue, and the air is crisp cold but there is no wind. It is my favorite weather for winter, perhaps of all time. With days like this, no one can convince me that Alaska is anything less than perfect.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Why a Philosopher can’t convince me of What I Already Know

In response to Wake-Up Weekend in Grand Rapids last Friday and Saturday, I engaged a few smart friends in the topic of Veganism. By ‘smart friends’ I mean some vegan philosophy students that I know and like very much.

I was curious what their response to my question would be, but I was not looking for an answer perse. The result of the entire discussion was to persuade me – yet again – that philosophy is overrated. Over the past year I developed a tendency to expose myself to the pompous intellectual mind games that call themselves philosophy despite being a skeptic. I have learned a lot through this, and feel more strongly now than ever that philosophy has its merits but is not the substitute for God that it likes to claim.

My question builds on the following premise:

I see two basic differences in types of vegans – the Must-Not and the Should-Not. Both groups see animals as having more rights than generally afforded by human society, and therefore they do not eat or use animal products (meat, dairy, leather, fur, gelatin, or anything else that comes from an animal).

The Must-Nots believe that animals and humans have the same rights. That is, humans have no more right to eat animals than they do to kill and eat other humans – or use them for their products such as milk even without killing. Their moral structure, therefore, forbids them from eating anything animal as an abhorrence.

The Should-Nots believe that although animals have rights, human still, in some circumstances, have the right to eat them or their products. These people choose veganism primarily as a protest against the corruption in the production of animal products.

I fall into the Should-Not category, which, unfortunately, gives me freedom to eat animal products occasionally even though I feel that it’s better not too. I take advantage of this freedom all too often. I presented this question in part because I am trying to increase my private arsenal of conviction for maintaining a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle.

The question I presented is: “Given these two categories, what are the differences in practice? What potential fallout is there?” I could have given my own answer (I just did, in an abbreviated sense), but I wanted to hear what other people had to say. I wanted to be convinced.

The problem with philosophy is it is all built on common assumptions. First philosophers break down all common assumptions to the bare nothingness, then they build them back up again using reason to determine their validity. Any discussions I’ve had with philosophers end up pandering in a mire of declaring assumptions, having them challenged, backing them up, which reveals deeper assumptions which are then challenged, and so on. It’s very easy to digress and lose track of the point altogether. After the end of the convoluted conversation, I tried to piece together what was presented, and I came to this:

1. Sentient beings feel suffering.
2. Causing suffering is less preferable than not causing suffering.
3. Humans are moral beings.
4. A duty of being a moral being is to maximize what is more preferable and minimize what is less preferable.
5. Suffering among all sentient beings is equal (no differentiation human vs. nonhuman).

Therefore, humans must not cause suffering in any way shape or form upon any other sentient being.

The problem with an attempted logical argument is that it is required to be foolproof. It must go all the way. This argument in no way goes all the way. A vegan, however, could probably fill in the cracks. We got mired in a few details, such as, why are humans not allowed to eat animals when other omnivores are? I got two responses: other animals actually don’t have the right to be omni/carnivores (I don’t get that one); and because humans are moral, we have the duty not to cause suffering. We entered the inevitable extreme case model, for example when it is either eat or be eaten. In that case, self-preservation trumps. One validation for this what because a human death causes more suffering because other humans feel sorrow.

Trying to pin these considerations down just leads into increasingly complex byways. For example, does self-preservation extend to species-preservation? And only after that, sentience-preservation? And after that, preservation of things non-sentient? What if self-preservation comes only at the cost of causing massive suffering upon any one of those other categories?

We didn’t discuss the problem of flourishing. Do I have a right to flourish? Do I have a right to increase my flourishing? At what cost? Imagine we decide that to minimize suffering must come before increasing flourishing; it is not likely to flourish while there is suffering (roll with me here). Therefore a person should not eat animal products, even at the cost of her own flourishing, because it inflicts suffering on another. This model, when fleshed out logically like philosophers do, raises many questions. Is it allowable for any being to pursue their own flourishing at the risk of causing suffering to another? What about getting a promotion over a colleague? Is it allowable to pursue flourishing when another sentient being is suffering? Or must we all collectively progress together – all nations and individuals and cows and turkeys together?

Clearly that is impossible. Existence is an inherently selfish pursuit.

And what constitutes flourishing anyways? One idea is to maximize potential. But does human potential include the capability for pleasure? In which case, the human ability to take pleasure in consuming animals is acceptable, even encouraged.

If we allow for flourishing, what kind of rubric must we put into place where we can flourish at the extent of others?

And this doesn’t even touch on the assumptions made about morality. Is morality necessarily to pursue what is more “preferable”? Why does our morality put us above animals only in responsibility towards them but not rights over them? (That is, they, being not moral, can eat each other, but we, being moral, must not eat them.) Why doesn’t our morality put us above them so that we have the right to use them, so long as it is with care and responsibility?

In turn, the others disagreed with my differentiation between “should not” and “must not,” for how can there be shades of morality? There is only “allowable” and “not allowable.” I couldn’t disagree more heartily with that. Life is full of “should nots” and “must nots.”

At the end I realized that I can’t be convinced. The others’ beliefs were just that – beliefs. They could logically argue them in the same way that a Christian theologian can argue, but without a leap of faith to see morality the way they do, no attempt at reason could convince me.

The truth is, first we FEEL something is right and then we find the arguments to support it.

When it comes to veganism, I believe that I should not participate in the animal products industry as it exists today. Veganism is a better choice on many many levels. My point here is not to argue them, but they spread the gamut of animal rights, human rights, environmental, health, and a general concern with capitalist infrastructure. In the end, there are many pressing reasons to be vegan, even if dissecting them all to prove them logically is impossible.

There are no pressing arguments for the consumption of meat. The only real reasons for a person like me to use animal products are for pleasure and convenience. Even without a cohesive ethics structure, I cannot validate my own pleasure and convenience despite all the evils that they cause.

And so, I reach my own conclusion, which is the same as it was before the discussion. My belief in the effectiveness of reason and logic, however, take one more hit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Mushroom Finally

behind my parents house. i went snowshoeing back there the other day, but i couldn't find this one under two feet of snow...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rome, as promised

I never finished my story about Rome.

The second and third day of my trip were significantly better than the first. I left the hostel early Saturday morning to walk to meet Virginia. We spent the day touring the city Virginia style - perfect. Espresso and cornetto (croissant) as the first thing. An open air flea market in the rain. A walking tour of her favorite cathedrals. Across town to Vatican City, where I saw San Pedro and the Swiss Guard and everything else. I didn't go inside, which maybe I regret a little tiny bit. No Sistine Chapel. But I don't really regret it, because I had a wonderful day laughing and reminiscing with Virginia. We went to a restaurant owned by her friend for a fantastic lunch buffet. Exhausted, we hiked it to her beautiful apartment in a wealthy area built up in the 1920s.

At any point I expected to head back to the hostel for the night. I would meet up with the Australians, I hoped, and pretend that I enjoyed myself as I tagged along on their nightlife tour. At the last minute, however, plans changed and I followed the Dao where it led me. Virginia and her husband took me to a dinner party with their group of intimate friends - all rich Roman socialites. One family owns a chain of shoe stores, one runs the restaurant, one couple were both famous models, Virginia's husband himself is a city architect. Not the elite, but definitely wealthy and happy to be in Roma. They welcomed me with warm friendliness like I hadn't seen even in Milan. They teased me for living in Milano, saying "that's not Italy. you must come to the south" and promising to introduce me to their single sons, all doctors and lawyers or their counterpart. We were served by a Filippino girl. I wondered if it is weird for Virginia, a Filippino herself, to be on the other side of society from most of her countrymates. In Milan I saw a lot of Filippinos working as nannies for the youngest of children and the oldest of grandparents. Virginia is in her element, however, and perfectly poised as she relaxes with her eight best friends.

I loved it, but I was the one who fell asleep on the couch at the ungodly hour of midnight. Virginia says that if you are the first to leave one of their dinner parties, they all talk about you after you've gone, but there was no saving me after two nights without significant sleep.

They let me sleep in their daughter's bed - lofted a few feet from the ceiling and graffitied with all her friends' names and love notes.

There was a hail storm that night, but I slept right through it.

The next morning I shared a coffee with Paul's mother who lives inside her room in the small apartment. The streets were full of inches of hail piled up like autumn leaves in the gutters and curbs. Virginia and I adventured to the Capitoline museum, where some of the most famous Roman, Etruscan, and Italian art is held. We saw the ruins buried forty feet under the current street level. We saw Nero, and Marcus Aurelius, and Romulus and Remus sucking the wolf's teat, and some of the best trompe l'oeil sculpture I've ever seen. I again, like in Florence, saw in person the works I've learned about.

Greek pottery - We learned the difference of black on red versus red on black, but it all looked the same in the textbook photographs until I could get my nose a few inches from the clay and see the scraped away bits and the painted on bits and truly relish their delicate beauty.

Humanist sculpture - I never fully understood what it meant for art to be humanist, how the Roman was revived in the Renaissance and the intervening Medieval art was truly different. In a hall of sculpture, however, where I could feel (even without touching) each muscle fiber and twitch of flesh carved into the marble, it all made sense. The importance of the human body - and the human mind attached to it - impressed itself upon me intensely. A slide in art class cannot convince the viewer of the time and effort it takes to wrestle a human form out of solid rock. In real life, however, you understand that what deserves this much time, attention, effort, expense - that reflects what is important to the ones creating, funding, and viewing the work.

Museums quickly overwhelm me. By the end I was ready to leave and find a bar for a cappuccino. Perfect.

A final tour of - oh shoot, i can't remember the name of the famous squares we visited - anyway, all the sites you are supposed to see in Rome. She took me to her favorite street, where all the artists live (the rich artists who've made it big). She used to tutor in English the modern aristocrat who owns most of the street. I loved seeing the pride she had in her own city. The day rendered me speechless, and I'm afraid Virginia misunderstood it as disinterest, but I tried to show her the rapture on my face.

Back again at Virginia's, we watched a football match on tv. It was Rome playing (I don't know against whom) and when they scored, we could open the windows and hear the cheers erupt from the stadium a mere kilometer away.

Paul gave me Grappa to try, which I am embarrassed to say I didn't like at all. I suppose my palette is not yet that refined.

Just as the night was turning dark, we went out in the car - Paul, Virginia, and Alison their daughter - for a driving tour of Rome. They wanted to hit the sights that weren't seen by most tourists because they could only be accessed by car. We went up to a mountain over the city and saw the view of the city. There was a peephole in the gate, through which St. Peters glowed like a golden diamond in a cerulean evening sky. The Garden of Oranges. Smaller, older cathedrals where I could see the simplicity that makes the famous ones ornate by comparison. They treated me so well.

Driving around the Coliseum in their car, I was happy.

Finally we went to a little (and expensive) Italian restaurant where they treated me to a final Roman meal before dropping me at the train station. I waited a few hours in the station before finally catching my 1130 train home.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Thanks for the Super Cool Link

This is great. Lego Steampunk.
Also, have you noticed the new Steampunk Esurance ad featuring Cloud Cult? Makes me want a steampunk band SO BAD.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Grammar Games

The title and byline for a New York Times article reads: "Who Owns Your Great Idea? That depends. Where did you have it and whom did you brainstorm with?"

"Whom did you brainstorm with" is an unusual use of half proper, half colloquial grammar that ends up sounding just plain odd.

In the author's sentence, the use of whom is correct. Whom is generally underused and misunderstood but actually not too difficult to master. Knowing when to employ it (and then actually using it effectively) takes you that last step into sounding like an intelligent, educated person. Which is what you want in a job interview, but not necessarily at the pub with your friends.

'Whom' is to object as 'who' is to subject. Whom stands as both direct object and indirect object: "Whom did you introduce to Evan?" and "To whom did you introduce Michaela?" The easy way to remember how to use it is to reword the sentence using 'him' or 'he.' He is a subject; its correct substitution is who. Him is the object; use whom. So, "Did you introduce him to Evan?" and "Did you introduce Michaela to him?" But "He introduced Micheala to Evan" becomes "Who introduced them?"

Please excuse the gender-biased use of 'he' and 'him' instead of 'she' and 'her.' I chose the male pronouns because the common use of m and the end of him and whom makes the pneuomonic that much simpler to remember.

My students in Upper Intermediate English told me that their textbooks taught them not to use 'whom' in any situation, calling it archaic and insisting that native English speakers never use it. I disagree. I was forced to learn who versus whom in high school English, and I have both used it and seen it used - usually correctly - ever since. Grammarians across the English speaking world take pride in the details of the language and how to employ them properly.

Referring back to the article's byline, we can dissect the positioning of 'with.' In proper, Strunk & White grammar, a sentence should never end with a preposition. In fact there should never be any lingering prepositions at all; a preposition is a linking word that must be followed by a noun or noun clause.

We ignore this rule all the time.

On one hand, all kinds of idioms and phrasal verbs have snuck into our language over time that throw wanton prepositions here, there, and every whichwhere. A phrasal verb is any verb + preposition that collectively takes on a new meaning. The components often don't clearly relate to the new meaning. Some common examples from my Business English course this fall include: hang up (the phone), put off (a meeting), call off (a meeting), put through (a connecting call), etc. For native speakers these are easy and intuitive because we've heard them since birth, but for someone learning English as a second language, these prove a big challenge. Some of these also become idiomatic expressions, like 'a hang up' which has nothing to to with the verb 'hang up.' Sometimes the phrasal verbs are followed by a noun to complete the prepositional phrase, although often we let the noun go unsaid, leaving the listener to fill in the difference. With idioms, however, the preposition lingers with no realistic partner at all. Look at the use of 'ends up' in my first sentence.

A British English teacher told me that phrasal verbs entered the language thanks to the Americans in World War II. Rising concern over lingering prepositions during this era would explain Winston Churchill's famous quote, "This is the sort of English up with which I will not put." Since hearing that bit of American defamation I noticed that both Alfred Lord Tennyson and even Shakespeare have examples of phrasal verbs in their writing. Clearly not all abuse of the English language is America's fault.

Another example of problematic prepositions occurs when we rearrange the order of a sentence. Variety is an important tool for any speaker or writer of English. The standard format, "We take pride in our school," needs some spice (or shall I say, spicing up) and might become, "It's something we take pride in," leaving 'in' lingering. The noun for that prepositional phrase came all the way at the front of the sentence ('it').

English always rearranges the order of questions, leaving interrogatives with prepositions a messy tangle. "I brainstormed with him" should translate into "With whom did you brainstorm?" but these days it's normal to say "Who did you brainstorm with?" even though there are two errors in the sentence.

Americans usually know these mistakes and choose to ignore them. We don't expect daily speech to be grammatically correct. Our most common errors then translate back into written language. High school teachers wade through these errors, trying to teach how to write proper English even if the pupils aren't going to speak it. Until ten or fifteen years ago most of what we read went through the filter of an editor who corrected those things, but with the internet, it usually rests solely on the author to consider whether her grammer is correct. Furthermore, language texts like New Headway are choosing to teach spoken, colloquial English rather than the proper language we learn in school. The text had my students practicing ending sentences with prepositions, which was even against what felt natural to them.

As casual language becomes more and more common, proper English sounds increasingly convoluted and eventually falls out of favor. It is still the standard for writing, but use it with your friends and they might throw something at you for being pretentious.

In the article's byline, the author has chosen a strange combination of what neither is correct nor feels natural. If she is going to use 'whom,' she should put 'with' also in the right place. Or she must embrace the casual nature of her online readership and stick with what she probably says in real life, "Who did you brainstorm with?"