Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Saturday, April 30, 2005

Even Farther North, Global Averaging

So, The Mrs., The Boy, and I went into our car and headed north out of Fairbanks. You can go north from there, and there are even two roads to choose from - the Steese Highway and the Other Highway. I call it the Other Highway because I couldn't remember it was the Elliot Highway until just now. They split at a town called Fox, and you can go north on either one. Not really having a destination in mind, we asked The Boy which way to go. He chose the Elliot. The Elliot goes up about another 175 miles or so to a town called Manley Hot Springs. Seeing as The Mrs. is like 71 months gravid with child, we chose to not take the full trip to Manley. We did, however, get as far as Olnes City. I present its sign, and a picture of the Olnes City Hall below.

Not far out of Fox, you pass a few gold mines, some operating for mineral extraction, some operating for tourist revenue extraction. However, given the relative lack of unfrozen ground and cooperative rubbernecks, respectively, neither type was operating as we zoomed by. Olnes City was the last real inhabited place we came to. There was a gas station, complete with sign that noted "Last Gas for 125 Miles," but it was further back.

The ground past Olnes City got ugly, as did the road. Soon we were in land dominated by permafrost. Permafrost comes from the root words - perm - meaning hair style and afro, meaning hair style, and st meaning street. From this derivation, one would assume that this would indicate driving on hair. Not so! Actually, perm-afro-st means that the ground is always, one could say permanently, frozen.

This presents difficulty to living things, like trees, except for the trees that choose to remain frozen. The biological term for this type of tree is "dead."

Perm-afro-st is in a lot of places (but not all) around Fairbanks. When daring entrepreneurs build a house on this stuff, one finds that the frozen ground, after a few years of human heat input to the soil, begins to melt. The ground, once frozen mud, is now just normal mud, like you might see anywhere, say, in Ohio. This "building on sloshy mud" technique (though popular in Los Angeles) causes the houses to tilt and become structurally questionable - especially for an earthquake zone like Alaska is. Also, no bank in the universe will loan money for a buyer to purchase a house on sloshy mud. So, once you've got one, it stays yours, baby.

I heard a story on the radio news that "global warming" was causing the permafrost to melt. I beg to differ - local warming (a house at 70 degrees) is causing the permafrost to melt - under the house.

Taking a step back, thinking about global warming is funny. It's like belief in UFOs. One group believes that global warming is happening, based on some blurry photos and an analysis of the stuff that people are putting into the air. I might add, this is the same group (philosophically) that believed that we were headed to a new ice age based on some blurry photos and an analysis of the stuff that people are putting into the air (but the new ice age is so 1970's, darling).

The other group believes that it isn't. This is the same group that was (apparently) correct with their bold prediction in the 1970's that a new ice age was not immediately upon us.

We're short on facts, folks, so I'll stay out of this one for a while, and, as I said, that'll be something for another time. Stay tuned - I'll let you know in 2040 how this one comes out.

I'm not sure that there's a consensus about global warming (pro or con) in Alaska. I think that, for the most part, folks around here wouldn't have a problem with it. This is based on the scientific study of the one bumper sticker I saw that said, "Alaskans for Global Warming." I personally am worried about Global Averaging, where every temperature everywhere on the planet is the same, all the time. Help stamp out Global Averaging!

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Saturday's Treasures

This picture is from Anchorage's Ted Stevens Airport, just before dawn. A really nice, really new airport.

It's melting up here. Finally. First day that's safe for planting, I hear, is in early June. Someone mentioned that there is only one month that hasn't seen significant snowfall in Fairbanks - July. But, since our last blast of about 4" of snow on Monday, it's been up to . . . gasp . . . 60F! I got up this morning, and for the first morning since we've been here, it was warm without a fire, though my new definition of warm is "not currently at a low temperature that is immediately life-threatening."

Things are starting to melt, and 'treasures' that I didn't know I had keep appearing from under the snow - a cobble sidewalk, built hobbit size, for instance. Military ammunition boxes retasked for use as planters, for another. I have a 55 gallon drum of, well, something. I'm afraid to look inside the drum, and afraid to just keep it around.

You take a LOT on faith when you buy a house without benefit of ever seeing below the 2' of snow covering everything. On the bright side, if I find something horrid, it'll be covered with snow again soon.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Hammer Of The Gods

I took the above picture flying over the Alaska Range as I was going down to Anchorage. Work stuff.

Dang, I live in Alaska.

Then, I realized I was living a song. I know, I know, every single teenager is convinced that they're the only one who really understands what (pick your artist) is saying about (pick your issue: love, finding beer, self-loathing, zits, etc.). But this is a Led Zep song, specifically The Immigrant Song.

We come from the land of the ice and snow,
Check. Alaska has plenty of that.

From the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.
Check. There's enough light out at midnight to bbq by right now. We live about fifty miles from hot springs.

The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands,
Umm, okay, it starts to break down a bit here. No hammer of the gods found here. I've been doing drywall in the basement. I've been using a battery-powered drill. Is that close? For the record, I flew here. Let's re-write:
The battery-powered drill of drywall will drive our airplane to new lands.
No, I like the original better. Mine makes no sense! But, that never stopped pop song writers. I'll keep looking for the hammer of the gods. Is that at The Home Despot?

To fight the horde, singing and crying: Valhalla, I am coming!
Umm, okay, really broken down now. Alaska has been Nationally Certified as "Mostly Horde Free." I do think, though, that Valhalla is somewhere north of Fairbanks.

The Thing That Came From Under The Snow

I'll be damned if I know what it is.

Is it a planter? Is it a tire?

When The Mrs. and I bought the house, we'd never seen what the place looked like without a covering of snow. We first saw our house in November, and it's now April. That's six months without seeing under the snow. Only now are some sections of the roof are starting to be bare.

This 'whatever-it-is' resides in my front yard. Sitting there, mocking me. My front yard!

One of the lumps we looked under had a camper shell for a pickup. Bought it with the place, didn't know what was under that lump until The Mrs. and The Boy went snooping. I don't have a pickup.

Is there grass under the snow? What really lurks there? This week we found we had a nice cobblestone walk to the deck.

Alas, it's snowing again. On April 17th. Snow. It'll be a few more days (weeks?) before this mystery is solved.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Seinfeld, More Guns, The Kirstie Alley-Denali Connection

On the drive to Anchorage from Fairbanks, we saw this sign. There were a string of "Adopt A Highway" signs, most from local businesses (a hotel, a concrete plant, etc.), who, I assume draft their employees into unpaid Saturday labor to do manual labor picking up trash on the highway so they can get a free ad. This one, however, was just folks who love the character Michael Richards created on Seinfeld sooo much that they volunteered for this unpaid Saturday manual labor. This shows that the Freemason conspiracy theories are correct. Michael Richards is (really) a Freemason. He has a section of road named after him. Do the MATH!!! Bill Gates (not a Freemason) may have billions and billions of dollars and a significant control of a sector of the global economy, but Michael Richards (Freemason) has a section of road named after a character he portrayed on a sitcom, seventy-five miles north of civilization, and folks willing to spend Saturdays cleaning it up. Face the TRUTH! We're in trouble, people. Ahem.

Right next to the Kramer sign, we saw this one:

Now, if you enlarge the picture (like you can with any picture on the site) you can see that there are bullet holes in the stop sign. These are not small bullet holes. These are hand-cannon bullet holes. I would estimate that you could fit a small poodle through one of the bullet holes. If you look at the street sign perched above, it was hit (I'm sure) with a slug from a 12-ga shotgun.
Firearms-related damage to roadsigns was a very common sight along our trip

This sign again proves my thesis: If x% of the population is armed, only a small fraction will view street signs as such a threat that they must be shot at until they no longer pose a threat. Therefore, given the high percentage of shot-up signs, my theory is that x is nearly 100% in Alaska. As an Alert Reader of this site pointed out, not everyone is armed. She noted that she and her friends weren't. As far as I can see, out of 600,000 people, that would be about it. You can by shotguns in lingerie stores here.

Well, after seeing innumerable mountains that were Not Denali, we saw it on the way back. My assumption was this - at 20,320 feet high (that's over 16 meters, if you're communist), and being the tallest-sticking-out part of the entire North American Continent, it would be fairly obvious which mountain it was, when it was not entirely shrouded in clouds. The assumption was correct. Part of the problem this day is the mountain itself was creating cloud cover. As the hot moist wind was hitting the slopes of this giant, it had no choice but to go up, where it was colder and the frost mites turn water vapor into clouds.

As you got closer, paradoxically, the mountain is harder to see. All of these other mountains kept getting in the way. It's like you're at a Hollywood party at Paris Hilton's house, and you've been stapled to the floor by a drunken, samurai-sword-wearing Bob Vila (this has only happened to me once). When they release the toddlers, you just can't see around them to find Kirstie Alley, even though seeing her should be, well, obvious, but the toddlers keep swarming around you, drooling and obscuring your line of sight. I don't know if I can come up with an analogy with greater clarity.

Toddlers are to lesser mountains as Kirstie Alley is to Denali. I imagine that'll be the easy one on the next SAT. You don't have to thank me now.

I would complain about the inadequacy of the camera, but, that camera has since been fired and replaced by a camera that has resolution better than a pinhole in the front of a cardboard box.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Anchorage Dreamin', or Waiting For Denali

So, for various reasons (many of them good) The Mrs., The Boy and I headed down south to that (relative) metropolis of Anchorage last week. The weather was good, and, although Yahoo says that it takes 9 hours, 37 minutes, we found our actual time (including various stops of a couple of hours) to be closer to 6 hours. Not bad.

Here's a pic we took as we headed toward the Alaska Range (as with all pictures on the site, click on it for a bigger version). Now, I've spent tons of my life in Colorado, but Alaska is something else entirely. The Mrs. says it's more wild. It is. It's also taller, bigger, and colder. A friend says that Colorado is Alaska-Lite. After three months here, I can buy that.

This is the Alaska Range. Denali is hiding in here, somewhere.

We stopped in at the Totem Inn in Healy, Alaska for a late lunch. There were six other patrons when we were in there, but the facility is sized for about six hundred. This gives credence to comments made by local folks in Fairbanks that March and April were the best months to be here: no -50F, no mosquitoes, and no tourists. This place is sized for business. I imagine that during the wintertime, if open at all, it's just one or two people. If you're looking for work, though, the Totem Inn is hiring, right now. That's what the sign said.

Healy is a lovely place, and would likely be a great place to live, except that you could only work at the Totem Inn, and then only for four months of the year.

One of the reasons Healy would be so nice to live is that every morning you could get up and look at this:

This mountain is Not Denali. On the way to Anchorage, we saw any number of really big, really cool mountains. All were Not Denali. Denali can be translated to "The Great One." On our trip to Anchorage, Denali could also be translated as "The Missing One." The mountain itself is 20,320 feet high, even taller if you're using metric. Damn high mountain. Second tallest that I'd ever seen. If I could find it.

For some reason, Alaskans, who desperately want to have the Official Name of the mountain be Denali, are frustrated. Why?

In Ohio (yes, that Ohio), some dimwitted congressperson puts forward a motion at the start of every session that prevents Congress from acting on a name change that everyone outside of Ohio wants, specifically, to change the name of the mountain from McKinley to Denali. Well, I say the heck with Ohio. We Alaskans can get a big eraser and climb the mountain and erase the McKinley. Then we can write down whatever we want up there. Let the Ohioans try to stop us! There isn't even a direct flight from Akron to Fairbanks. They'd get lost on the way.

So, we saw many mountains that were Not Denali. Still, pretty. Maybe we'd see Denali on the way back.

As we got closer to Anchorage, there were actual signs of physical inhabitation by humans again. One sign was bathrooms not consisting of a place to write your name in the snow by the side of the road, which was important to The Mrs.

Another of these signs was the Alaskan character showing up again. We took this picture of an odd sign that someone put on their house. Wal-Mike's. What the hell does that mean? Must mean something to Mike. Enough that he took several pieces of plywood and made a sign. I'm not sure I want to meet Mike, though. There were three (I kid you not) decapitated moose heads right out front of Wal-Mike's, sticking out of a snowbank.

The rest of the trip was uneventful, but beautiful. Anchorage was gray and cloudy. Every time I've been to Anchorage, it's been gray and cloudy. So, I offer the following:

all the leaves are brown and the sky is grey
i've been for a drive on a spring day
I'd be safe and warm
if I was in Fairbanks
Anchorage dreamin'
on such a spring day

Anchorage is referred to by Fairbanksans as "Los Anchorage." For the record, I did not see Paris Hilton. I didn't see Denali, either, so that doesn't prove much.

Fairbanks is referred to by Anchoragites as "Squarebanks." For the record, I've not seen my seventh-grade science teacher here.

I don't know about you, but I smell trouble in the air.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Kitty Con Carnage

The sign above is what started it all. If we hadn't driven by this after going to see the sled dogs, well, perhaps this post would have been on the gastrointestinal tracts of weasels. But, we did, and it isn't.

Perhaps I should clarify. The Mrs. saw the sign, and wanted to go. The thing that intrigued me about the show was that it was free. I can barely see myself going to a cat show. I cannot at all see paying to go to a cat show. The Mrs. wanted to go.

So, we went. As advertised, the show was at Pioneer Park. Pioneer Park, from the outside, looks like a fort, so if we're attacked by the Chinese up here, I imagine Pioneer Park will be the last redoubt. Or, maybe the army base. Probably the army base. Nevermind.

But, there is a nice auditorium, and when The Mrs., The Boy and I got there, we were confronted by this sign:

Now, I've seen signs before, but it was quite obvious that someone had spent time on this sign. A lot of time, indicative of a lot of passion, so, hey, that's a good sign. But, it's still a cat show.

The Mrs. and The Boy went out and about, looking at cats in cages. As a person who has been a cat quasi-owner, the idea of a cat in a cage makes me chortle a bit. Dogs are big fluffy bags of id, wanting human companionship. Cats are interested if food or petting is involved. Dogs want to make you happy. Cats want you to make them happy. So, I smiled as I saw the lines of gleaming steel cages. This was an event designed to make people happy, so the cats would definitely be pissed, I thought. This might be fun after all.

I was not disappointed. I took this picture of a cat so discombobulated by the show that it hid under the pillow. This was my favorite cat. Rather than just looking stressed, like many of the other cats, this one threw out the kitty equivalent of "the hell with this" and retreated to the safety of hiding under it's pillow, looking for all the world like a big furry orb. My last cat had this sort of behavior, but all of the time. It was like not having a cat, except for the feeding and the changing of the litter box. Sort of like having a benign intestinal parasite that left black hair on your favorite khaki pants.

Anyway, there were about fifty folks there. Of the fifty, six were adult men. Two (4%) were obviously reporter/photographers for the local papers. This would be equate to having 1670 reporters in the city of Fairbanks, population 32,000, if the ratio holds true. That is a lot of news coverage.

Three men (me included) were with wives and children. One had a big, fluffy cat. That left approximately 44 women and children. Mainly, women. Women who love cats. Really, really, really love cats.

The first cat up for judging was a very strange cat. Most cats are strange, but this one (I am not making this up) was thought to be some sort of cross-bred cat. It had extra cat toes, and really short, thick fore-legs, so that it's method of movement was not a cat-slink, but a bunny-hop. The cat weighed in (I'd estimate) at thirty pounds. It looked like a cat that a Neanderthal would have around the cave. Like all cats at the show, it won a prize. There were actually fewer cats than prizes, so I'd guess that most of the felines won multiple prizes. Not that they cared. As they were being judged, the one thing that was obvious was each cat was thinking, "get me the hell out of here. Now!"

The owner of this cat got up and told her story about the cat - it was obvious that the cat meant a lot to her, and she got very emotional. She looked very normal, and not at all Neanderthal-like. But, she really liked her bunny-hopping, thick-limbed, extra-toed, huge cave-cat.

At intermission, while they were preparing the next batch of victims, er, cats, we wandered over and looked at a display of art and stories from local 3rd-4th graders. My favorite is below:

This particular picture put me in mind of a giant Satanic cat, (the anticat?) who would really like to steal your soul. This is not unlike a real cat. A story (by a different youngster) nearby referenced a cat who, when taken in as a pet, took over an entire alien species. This is more ambition than I have personally witnessed in any cat, or in any group of cats. Soul stealing: plausible. World domination: too much work.

Anyway, the attention span of The Boy was depleted by this point, and we left. I thanked the nice head-cat-lady, and we went out into the snow.

So, they have cat shows in Fairbanks, on Sunday, when it's 20 above in April. This still seems a bit surreal, but, hey, this is Alaska. And, the cat show was free.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

More Dogs, More Sleds, Hockey

So The Mrs., The Boy and I went to a Mush for Kids Event. Really, a very nice thing. All sorts of dogs (many larger than ponies) were there. One of the first things that we saw is captured in the picture below:

My first thought was that this was quite a canine con artist. I mean, he'd talked (woofed?) his way into being pulled around on a sled. Quite a feat for a 12.5 pound dog. Even better, he'd convinced his human to wear a dog suit. Reminded me very much of the scene in Planet of the Apes where Heston says . . . "It's a madhouse!"

Well, I really don't think that we have to worry about the dogs taking over, (they still don't have thumbs - that, my friend, is what we have to worry about) but the dogs ruled this day.

There is something wholesome about dogs and kids, somehow they know and deal with each other on some sort of unconscious level. Our Dog, when she's out with The Boy, won't leave his side. Maybe it's because he still wipes food all over his clothes, and she just knows he has bacon in his pockets.

Anyway, there was mushing that kids could do, and two varieties of that. The first was an exceptionally short course. The Boy got on the sled (below) with two other young men, and bravely faced the parking lot.

Top speed in this event was almost walking speed. The boy was in front.

Since it was in the 30's (above freezing!) we had left our gloves at home. It was, however, just a bit colder than we'd anticipated, so we opted away from the 700' (this isn't much of an exaggeration) line for the longer course. The Boy, The Mrs. and I walked back toward our car, parked with just about every other Fairbanks parent alongside of the road. A nice firewoman gave The Boy a plastic firehat (he's wearing it now) and we stopped by a net that the UAF Nanooks (earlier post on hockey here) had set up and he played with one of the college players. They related as well as a college guy could to a four year old, though they don't have many common interests beyond walking, eating, and watching the Three Stooges on Spike.

The Boy wanted to hold the stick with one hand. A very nice player attempted to explain the rules - put the puck in the net, and then raise your hands and go, "wooooo," which is all most people really need to know about hockey. The Boy finally managed to do that, but then drew a two minute minor for whacking the goalie with his stick during the celebration.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Read This Blog Or I'll Kill This Car

The Mrs. really noticed the (unintentional) humor in this one - she thought it was advertising car jackings. I really can't imagine that car jackings are much of a problem in Alaska, since Alaska law allows anyone who can legally possess a gun to walk around with one tucked wherever they darn well please. You may be for or against guns (this is not a political blog) but, you are darn well polite to those that have 'em. In Alaska, that's everyone. I was talking to a friend at work, and she was talking about a great place to hike, filled with wildlife. She mentioned coming across grizzly tracks when coming back down the trail after her hike. I indicated that it might be wise to be armed in such a situation, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that she essentially packs an arsenal that would make a third world dictator envious when she's out hiking. I'm guessing an Alaskan pacifist is someone who draws the lines at owning more than fifteen guns.


So, just driving along, minding our own business, and this massive creature dressed in red appeared at the side of the road, spewing atomic fire from his eyes. Terrorized the whole community. You heard about it on CNN, right?

Oh, no, it's just a huge hollow fiberglass statue of Santa Claus alongside the road, south of North Pole, AK 99705. Nevermind.

Tote 'em? I can barely lift 'em.

This was taken on Easter Sunday. It was snowing. Heck, it was snowing this morning. The Mrs., The Boy and I went off to visit some friends. As we got close, we saw this, so we took a picture, so we could share it with you. I always put you first.

While the totem pole is not an especially common sight, since there are no building codes or zoning laws most places, people tend to revel in their own independent spirit. So, if you've got the money (or time) and want a totem pole right out front of your house and Your Mrs. doesn't think that's a leaving-you offense, you just put one in. I imagine the very concept of this would make the gated community homeowners association mavens living Outside (Outside - noun - Alaskan term used for anyplace not Alaska) prepare for a stroke, (you simply can't paint your house that shade of beige, darling), but up here it's very common to see massive personalization of dwellings, (often this involves not putting siding on . . .).

I could make fun of this, but, fact is I'm thinking of putting a totem pole out front of our place. Mine will have bears. And maybe Captain Kirk. I think The Boy would vote for The Incredibles. Thank heaven he won't have a vote. I mentioned that to The Mrs. (not the Captain Kirk part) and she didn't say anything. Sounds like approval to me.

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