Archive for the ‘Fairbanks’ Category

My summer officially starts today.  Work for the season is done, and my summer schedule, if not completely wide open, is at least the next thing to it.

Perhaps a fishing trip with my two girls.

The ice has just began to go out around the edge of the local lakes, and the winter starved fish will be congregating at the open edges for a fresh meal, perfect for little girls to perfect their casting and still benefit from the reward of a catch.

And tasty too.

So why do I have this nagging feeling of guilt?

No, it isn’t really about killing the fish.  While I hate the process of killing something (I’ve been known to release the first indoor mosquito of the season back outdoors), I find great reward in harvesting my own food.  The act of taking a living creature’s life- in order to nourish your own- is for me a spiritual and grounding event.  I hope to share that with my daughters- they need to understand our food often comes from a life taken, not just a meat counter at Fred Meyer’s (grocery store).

No, this has more to do with what I like to describe as a puritanical work ethic- either inherited genetically or beat into my being (not literally) by parents who spent most every free moment of my years growing up trying to get our family on firm financial footing.

I wonder now, a parent myself, if they ever just relaxed and enjoyed a day off?  Or if they, like me, spent all their “downtime” worried about not working?  They certainly didn’t take many down days- if that is any evidence of how much they enjoyed them.

Even though they often didn’t insist my brothers or I participate, neither did we experience the freedom of knowing at week’s end we would have fun time with Mom and Dad.

Mom, Dad- what was that?

Could you repeat yourself?

Oh, ok, I got it, you said :

” Do as we say, not as we do (or did).”

Easier said than done.

I read somewhere recently that unless an adult undergoes significant psychotherapy, they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes their parents made.  Unless my own twisted form of introverted introspection is considered psychotherapy- I’d say to my ten and six year olds I am well on my way to instilling a 7-day a week work ethic (and/or guilt complex- which is worse) upon them.

The truth is, I’ve tried the working-all-the-time-to-get-ahead thing.  It didn’t work.  It made me miserable, my family miserable, and took a toll on my health; not to mention a significant drop in productivity and creativity.  I’ve (we’ve) made big changes and in many cases concessions to move away from that, which brings us full-circle back to today.

How do I shed that snakeskin of guilt that threatens to keep me from enjoying a day (or weekend) off with my girls- without turning to mind and/or mood altering substances?

Once upon a time, a few beers might dull that feeling.  Today that’s neither a dependency I’m comfortable having nor a healthy one.

Oh, sweet oblivion, where is your sweet kiss?

It’s in the smiles of two young children, running on the beach, throwing rocks, teaching things my father and grandfather taught me to do,  enjoying the sun’s caress on a beautiful day, all the while swallowing back the guilt derived from the thought of others doing without and tasks left undone.

It’s in a Saturday morning, in the great state of Alaska, taking advantage of the natural beauty that still surrounds us, and the blessing to be free to enjoy them.

It’s in the thankfulness to recognize these things, and for the time to acknowledge each and every one.

Tomorrow I’ll pack the cooler, the girls.  We’ll go to the store and get those fishing poles I promised them last year- that Grandma and Grandpa sent money for last year.  We’ll get some worms, and suntan lotion.  And bug spray- a can of the non-toxic environmentally friendly kind and another of the paint peeling, genetic altering DEET containing kind (just in case the bugs are REALLY bad).

Then we’ll go fishing.

And I’ll leave everything else behind.  Even if only for a while.

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We are on the front side of a cold snap, up here in the interior of Alaska. It’s just starting to get cold, with temperatures this morning in downtown Fairbanks hovering right around 30 below Fahrenheit.

The weather forecasters are threatening us with an extended cold spell, indicating temperatures should drop into the negative 40’s in the days ahead, with no break to the cold in the foreseeable future.  But what do they know?

I like the cold.

More honestly, I like extreme weather.

I find that it is nature’s way of reminding us who is in charge, of the limits to our own knowledge, technology, and power.

The wilderness, or natural world, restores my spirit. Whenever I can, I like to go to the mountains, the forests, or sea to do just that.  I don’t get there as often as Id like.

So when the weather turns inclement, it’s like a house call from God.

It redeems me, renews my understanding of my place in the world, and the universe. Despite all our folly, our destruction of ecosystems and life (possibly even our own), weather reassures me the natural world will persevere.

We may not recognize the outcome, or be able to exist in it, but nature and all its intricacies will remain.

And that comforts me.

So today when I come in from the cold, fingers swollen, icicles and frost on my beard, don’t pity me.

Celebrate with me.

For I’ve been dancing with the gods.

In the oh so, glorious cold.

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I’ve been walking to and from work downtown recently, depending on when I go relative to kids going to school or my wife going to work.

Today I rolled out of bed while everybody else was sleeping in, taking off to work in one of those beautiful mid-winter mornings in Fairbanks. New snow had blanketed the town during the late morning, and was still drifting down.

Snow in Fairbanks is unique to any place I’ve lived. It falls silently, rarely accompanied by any wind, and stacks quietly on any limbs, wires, or even twigs; forming an intricately woven organic lace of white on every tree, willow, or blade of grass long enough to still emerge from earlier snows.

It was a beautiful day for a walk, even if just to work.

After work, I headed home via the post office. It gave me an opportunity to cross the Cushman Street Bridge and pass by the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, as opposed to the pedestrian bridge where I usually cross the river.

I grew up Catholic, and although my views on religion stray far from the church these days, I still long for the spirituality and mysticism that can envelop a traditional mass. So much so, as I passed their front door, that I eyed the times for mass and even considered recruiting, or drafting, my family for a Christmas service.

I continued down the path, freshly cleaned of snow (the only disturbance during my early morning walk was the snow blower running over the church’s walks); to the little altar of stone for the Virgin Mary built in the Church’s front yard. The snow had been carefully brushed away from the altar. Within the apse, a statue of the virgin mother stands, surrounded by pots of brightly colored plastic flowers.

The irony of this little scene didn’t escape me.

So I stood there, in the low winter light of the Alaska midday sun, rays filtering through the branches of the snow covered birch trees, snow still softly falling upon me, surrounded by divinity as it was meant to be, in front of a poorly crafted altar to the mother of a god made in mankind’s own image.

I walked on, struck by the folly of man.

Of religion.

Of the obscenity of plastic flowers replacing real ones made by god.

Man does do it better, after all.

Meanwhile the pope is in Rome, railing against the evils of homosexuality, proclaiming how it will be the downfall of humanity.

Not overpopulation.

Not the disease, starvation, war, torture, abuse, injury, rape, environmental ruin or death brought on by overpopulation.

Just homosexuality.


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Last night, I attended a vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fairbanks for the victims of the Sunday shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville. As of this afternoon, two victims of that tragedy have died, four remain hospitalized and two have been released.

We met in the somber grey of another rainy day, one of many this summer in Fairbanks. People wandered in, many straight from work, finding a place to join with a circle of friends to mourn this event, recognize the lives that we lost, and search for grains of meaning. Music played gently in the background, echoed by the rain on the roof overhead.

The lights of the sanctuary were off, our only light came from above, filtered first by the grey of the sky, then dappled by the dripping green of the birch tree leaves. Candlelight centered our attention on one side of the circle, eight flames casting warmth, each representing a spirit damaged or lost to us by Sunday’s events.

Jeff led our vigil, leading us through songs and an update on Sunday’s events. Members took turns speaking from the podium, then from the chalice.

For the first time since I’ve attended our Fellowship, barring one Sunday when I lit the chalice itself, I lit a candle.

I spoke of the heroes from Sunday’s attack.

Of how often these attacks occur, and the shooting goes on for hours.

Or until the police arrive and dispatch the gunman. Which is exactly what this fellow was hoping for.

I wondered aloud how many lives were saved by the quick action of those in the Church. It was reported that only 3 rounds of the 76 brought into the Church were discharged.

Today the evolution of that thought has continued. I’m not alone.

Unitarian Universalists are, by my experience, peaceful people.

Peaceful, but not passive.

We are used to protecting those who can not protect themselves. We are cursed at for attending peace rallies, spit upon for supporting the rights of gays and lesbians, and damned for allowing atheists and agnostics in our midst.

In the case of Sunday’s shooting, members quickly disarmed the suspect at great risk to themselves. At least one fatality is reported to have fallen victim to the shooter while sheltering others from the gunman.

I believe the shooter, like society, made a misjudgment. To value peace is not equitable to being weak.

To stand up to the majority for what is right, at great risk to one’s self, one’s livelihood or home is a sign of great strength.

Peaceful, but not passive.

I recall an image from the movie Ghandi though I’ve seen the movie once, when I was in the 4th grade. In my memory, Ghandi and his followers lined up to harvest salt to break a British monopoly on the commodity. British soldiers met the single file line, beating each person as they took their turn at the front of the line. As a person recovered consciousness, they returned to the back of the line. On and on they made their way through, each taking their turn over and over again until the British gave way.

Peaceful, but not passive.

Sunday’s shooter bought into one of the great lies of the right, that there is not enough for all.

If the shooter had taken the time to listen to the UU message, that in an equitable, just, and free society each person can and does have work, a place to live, education, freedom to worship, and love as they choose. There are many paths, one doesn’t preclude the other.

Instead he chose hate, and a violent solution.

Our response must be love, and peaceful.

Peaceful, but not passive.

Somehow we must use this event to reach out to the marginalized, those people like the shooter that have been touched by hate. Our country, and our faith, must offer them hope.

On a global scale, we must raise people up to our standard of living. There is enough for all.

To borrow the the words of a burgeoning orator “this is our time.”

It is time for our faith to re-emerge from the shadows, and take up our roll as leaders in society. To show the world how to move forward in the face of violence.

Peaceful, but not passive.

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A week or two ago, as describe in Alaska Vernacular (a glossary), I decided to start adding “Alaskana” words to my blog, with definitions. I like being able to link to the word from my other posts, without providing a definition of what I am talking about. After some consideration about my blog’s discontinuous nature, I decided it best to move Alaska Vernacular to its own blog where it can range free from the constraints of discontinuous permafrost.

Which probably means it will be pretty focused compared to what you find here.

I hope to add one or two more words there every week.

As I said in the original post on discontinuous permafrost, I’d love to add some authors or additional definitions to Alaska Vernacular besides my own. Please let me know if you have a word or entry you’d like to make, or if you would like to add them yourselves.

Thanks, dc

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My mind has taken a turn towards Alaska today, and what our geographic location contributes towards making us culturally unique. I think living here requires a certain amount of humor and fortitude, both of which combine for some useful nuggets of wisdom.

I’d like to start this post with a few of my own nuggets of wisdom, and then encourage any readers, Alaskan or otherwise, to add their own so that we can create a thread of Alaskan knowledge here.

Note, the wonderful thing about folk wisdom, by my definition, is that it was learned the hard way.

I’ll confess to learning some of the below the hard way, but not all.

  • Don’t eat the yellow snow. (Enough said.)
  • When riding as a passenger on a dog sled, keep your mouth shut.
  • Don’t pee into the wind.
  • Don’t dive for anchors.
  • Always keep a sleeping bag in the car, you never know when you might break down.
  • When in Chitina, always clip the tails on your king and reds before you string them.
  • When in Chitina, always fill out your harvest card before leaving the rock you were perched on.
  • Don’t buy a cheap tent.
  • No matter how bad your voice may be, always sing when picking berries. In fact, it is a little know fact that the best singers are always the first to be eaten by bears. So sing, but do it poorly.
  • Shaggy manes don’t grow on horses.
  • Highbush cranberries aren’t really cranberries.
  • When hunting, never kill anything more than a mile from your vehicle, boat, etc.
  • Don’t try to drive across the tundra to rectify ignoring the above. Story
  • Don’t crash the riverboat with your in-laws on board, if you like them. If you don’t, go for it.
  • Don’t set your glasses on top of the car to glass for wildlife. (Especially when they are prescription glasses, I still haven’t had the nerve to ask my wife if I can replace them. Again.)
  • When swarmed by mosquitoes, don’t breathe deeply.
  • Don’t play in the cow’s parsnip before lying out in the sun.
  • Don’t eat the mussels until someone else has, and survived.
  • Off bug repellent, when used liberally enough, doubles as fingernail polish remover. (Who knows, it might give your children that genetic defect that proves to be an advantage someday.)
  • Don’t stash goods next to the trail and expect to remember them, or even find them, later on. (True outcome yet to be determined.)
  • Cold porches work well as freezers from October to March, and refrigerators in September and April. Longer, if the weather holds out.
  • That fishy smell never really goes away.
  • When visiting a village, and somebody offers you smoked salmon, don’t eat the whole jar or bag. The plane ride home can be awfully long.
  • Driving upstream against flowing water is more difficult than driving downstream. Better yet, don’t drive in the stream at all, despite how much fun your 7-year old is having.
  • When the oil industry starts running advertisements, more than they normally do, watch your back and check into your legislator’s bank account balance.
  • Never mistake and orange construction cone for a caribou, you will never hear the end of it.
  • Never take hunting advice from a fellow hunter, particularly if they are hunting the same thing at the same time.

I could go on, but I’ll give others the chance add their points of wisdom.

Potential contributors, I’ll keep your identity secret if your wisdom is embarrassing.

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The other day while dropping Jolie off at the orthodontist for their monthly adjustment to my bank account, I came across an ugly but all too common site.

Cigarette butts.

Not just a few, but a pack’s worth. All right there, in one pile.

I found myself looking around for the cancer riddled corpse that left them there.

Nobody. Someone that smoked that much at one time certainly would perish, wouldn’t they?

I expected someone without the decency to throw their trash away would have hung around, hacking and wheezing in our faces as they collapsed into their soft deathbed of cigarette butts, not even showing us the common courtesy of dying in private.

But then, why should they. All their smoking life, they have fouled our air, tossed cigarette butts out the car window, sparks flying into the dry roadside grass, even as smoke from forest fires nearby roll into town. Outside the grocery stores, convenience stores, schools, offices, and yes, even hospitals. Cigarette butts. Everywhere.

If I stood outside a public building, throwing gum wrappers on the ground, would people look the other way. I chew gum like some people smoke, 10 packs a day. That’s a lot of gum wrappers. Chances are I would get reported and ticketed for littering. Or at least asked to clean up my mess.

That’s what was on my mind as I walked out of the orthodontist’s office, through the drift of butts and back to my truck. Thank goodness I have a 4-wheel drive or I may have gotten stuck.

Of course, the other thing on my mind as I left the orthodontist’s office was money. In my mind, the two came together in an instant of shear brilliance. Either that, or I slipped and fell, completely missing the cigarette butts and cracking my skull against the pavement, returning to consciousness dreaming of money, eyes focused on cigarette butts.

Pick whatever story you like, personally I like brilliance.

The light bulb, we should tax cigarette butts. More accurately, we should tax cigarettes and offer a rebate for butts. 10 cents a butt. Not only would it clean up the streets, but I could collect enough cigarette butts right there in the orthodontist’s parking lot to pay Jolie’s bill, and probably have enough to make a down payment for Ali.

I could just go home, get my wheel barrow, a rake, and maybe a broom. And rubber gloves. Certainly rubber gloves. I could fill it up and wheel it up to the counter, redeeming my 10,000 cigarette butts for orthodontia for Jolie.

On second thought, maybe I should get that law passed first. They may not want 10,000 butts until they are worth something.

So, I came home and did a little research on the Internet to see who had stolen my idea. Google “cigarette butt tax“.

Wow! Apparently I’m not the only one to regain consciousness staring down a cigarette butt. Some people were so moved by the event they even acted on it. While I found people with the idea, I didn’t find anywhere that had actually passed an ordinance. If anyone out there knows of one, please share it along with news of the tax’s effectiveness.

What did catch my eye was the alarming amount of waste the butts generate and the negative environmental impact they have. That raises the stake from a momentary lack of reason to something worth getting worked up about.

Please check out the following links for some facts on the problem and it’s environmental impact.

Now, back to idea of a tax. Taxes work. In this instance consider every smoker paying 10 cents more per cigarette funding butt cleanup. Redemption could be done through machines (maybe Diebold could retrofit all those ‘reliable’ voting machines they’ve been selling us) so that nobody would have to handle the butts when redeemed. Smokers could get their money back when they turn their butts in.
Think about it.

“Hey dude, I’ll give you five butts for that last swallow of Thunderbird. Ten butts if you got any I-90 left.”

It would be like a new currency. People would wander the streets picking up cigarette butts instead of throwing them down.

And I could pay for my daughters to get their teeth straightened.


Pure brilliance.

(I didn’t really hit my head.)

(At least not that I remember.)

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