Posts Tagged ‘Fairbanks’

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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I find in my writings on Alaska life, that I am constantly clarifying my writing with definitions for ‘Alaska’ terminology. It is a wonderful thing about living here, or anywhere, that a local vocabulary develops. A vernacular, by any account. Its fun, creative, and at least a little bit exclusionary.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I like knowing what Alaskans are talking about when we say ‘outside’, or ‘village’, or ‘breakup’, and that outsiders (there I go again) don’t. And of course I enjoy explaining it to them, as much as they (I think) enjoy hearing about it.

We’ve earned the right to use those words, surviving the Alaskan initiation rituals of isolation, darkness, and cold. We should celebrate them, what makes us different and unique, why we choose to live here over anywhere else.

In keeping with that line of thought, I’ve added a category “alaska vernacular” to discontinuous permafrost. I hope that my readers will add definitions as they see fit. I’ll post them and credit them to the source. I’d like to accumulate something of the local lexicon here, that we can link to out of our blogs, instead of adding a definition every time a bit of alaskspeak shows up in our writing. I’ll also add the words and definitions below as they accumulate.

And if anyone has already done this, let me know. I’d be glad to link this right to their work!

Thanks, dc



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Greenup is that brief period of time, sometime in May, that all the trees turn green (commonly called spring in the lower 48). This time varies, usually starting in early May in south Alaska and getting a little later as you move north. Literally overnight, we go from the brown world of mud, limb, and dirty snow bank, post breakup, to the lush yellow-green of a newly reawakened boreal forest. In Fairbanks, this can happen in a matter of days, you can see changes in the hillside colors from morning to night. Recent years have seen a change in schedule, with greenup appearing to come earlier and earlier each year. (You guess the reason, I’m sure it isn’t human caused.)

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After reading a post on Fairbanks girls by fellow Fairbanks blogger subarctic mama, listening to a song by her husband (who I go moose hunting camping with), followed up by an evening spent in Fanchorage, I got inspired to give “non-Fairbanks” girls a bit of press as well. (Please note, I didn’t say good press.)

Yes, non-Fairbanks girls are becoming fairly prominent in Fairbanks, particularly in Fanchorage.

And, in fairness to those men that haven’t settled into a productive life with a Fairbanks girl, I think it is fair to give some clear signs of things to stay away from if you are looking for a true Fairbanks girl. (Believe me, a Fairbanks girl comes in handy when putting up fish.) I’m going to add a few of my own observations here, then open this post up for comments. I’m sure there are plenty of Alaskans out there that can add to it.

Sure signs of a non-Fairbanks girl:

  • Stiletto heals.
  • Butt cleavage. (See Fairbank’s crack epidemic.)
  • Wearing white capris and high heals to a riverboat trip on the Tanana. (The muddy, windy, dirty Tanana River.)
  • Big hair. As one travels south from Fairbanks, as we do to visit my in-laws, the big hair ration goes up. Fairbanks, rare, probably 1 in 100. Anchorage, a bit more, say 10 in 100. Seattle, maybe 40-50 in 100. Dallas, a girl without big hair (and stileto heals) is the exception, 99 in 100. (Disclaimer: Numbers are estimates, big hair makes me sneeze and my eyes water so I can never get an accurate count.)
  • Fake tans. They stand out a mile away.
  • Low cut blouses. (See fake tans above.)

Enough from me, before I get myself in trouble.

Still, there is nothing much funnier than watching a woman in stiletto heals attempting to strut across an icy, gravel covered Fairbanks parking lot when she falls down, staining her white capris on the dirty ice as her hair, roughly the size of Texas, keeps her orange, glowing, freshly fake tanned face from meeting and melting the ice. Unfortunately, the low-cut blouse is not so kind. Any dignity she once had, gone.

Of course, the one thing funnier might be the guy she is with trying to keep his composure as he helps her back up.

Please add your comments, and help those poor, stupid guys out there that still need help knowing what to stay away from, even after memorizing Fairbanks Girls, the song.


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I normally don’t read the editorials offered by our local newspaper, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. I won’t even comment on them, because it has been so long since I read them regularly that it would be unfair to do so. Suffice to say, at one point they were so mundane that they weren’t worth reading. The letters to the editor, on the other hand, are among the best things about the Fairbanks paper, other than its ability to start a fire in our wood stove. And even that is marginal.

On any given day the letters to the editor can bring tears to your eyes, of laughter generally but also of sorrow. It is the pulse of the community. Faster and more accurately than any news articles, you can tell what is on the community’s mind by delving into the letters. It is the home of the well intentioned, the activists, the lunatic fringe. And today I am one with them all.

It all began on Sunday, when I picked up the editorials section and headed for the letters to the editor. The newspapers editorial read “Powerhouse Nation“. I could not figure out what Powerhouse Nation referred or to what location in left field, or quite possibly right, that title have come from. In the end, curiosity killed the cat and I read the opinion.

If you are from Fairbanks, or not, please take the time to read the opinion at the link above. It is a highly regressive look at natural resource development as the cure to all evils, global, local, and economic. Personally I found it highly arrogant and bordering on racist, but mostly just incredibly shortsighted.

The text of my letter, officially joining me with the lunatic fringe of Fairbanks, is below:

I found your opinion “Powerhouse Nation” in Sunday’s paper at the best disturbing, at the worst regressive and possibly even bigoted.

The truth about our oil economy is that we are nearing the end. In my lifetime, we will be heating our homes, transporting our goods, and wrapping our products in something other than petroleum products. The question we should be asking is, will we be adjusting to that life with, or without, the wilderness Alaska is renown for?

As you correctly stated, the United States has reached its position in the world through its abundant resources. However, our natural resources are growing limited, and will continue to decline. We must look to other resources to keep our economy strong, those are our people, our freedom, and our innovation.

The possible 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil you mentioned would last the United States approximately five and a half years based upon current consumption numbers (http://www.eia.doe.gov/basics/quickoil.html). Five and a half years to put off the inevitable. Five and a half more years of SUV’s, over-sized homes and urban sprawl in exchange for the loss of the polar bear and walrus. For forever.

Regarding the remote village, threatened by being washed away but saved by industry, how very ‘white’ of you. Did you consider that the villagers live there to follow tradition, to the extent possible? Is it possible that some places don’t seek to be developed, that they don’t want to be just like everywhere else? I’m sure many Alaska Natives and Native Americans could expand better than I on how their lands and lives have been improved through development by people selling the same bill of goods you offered in your editorial.

Not everybody sees wilderness as a money making opportunity. Do these people deserve a place in our world today? Or are we destined to the same fate as the walrus and the polar bear?

Ultimately we can’t control the end of oil. But we can control whether future generations have the same access to undeveloped wilderness that we have enjoyed. Will our children look back and curse us over the species and wilderness lost, all for a few more years of us enjoying oil fueled luxury?

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