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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Sunday, June 26, 2005


Our family has had dogs before, including a very menacing miniature poodle. We always felt that when we lived in (insert Midwestern city suburb here) that our 1/100th of an acre wasn't big enough for a big dog.

In Alaska, though, our house sits on a space we own the size of Vermont, so The Mrs. and I figured it was okay to get a big dog. We went down to the pound and picked up our new dog, a perfect complement to our miniature poodle. The new dog is a cocker-spaniel/husky mix, if you can imagine that (and I try not to). She was (in theory) 8 months old when we picked her up. She was goofy and amiable, which we thought had something to do with being a puppy. We were wrong.

Well, she's now big enough to pull my 4x4 pickup, by herself, through six feet of snow. She's huge. Still goofy, still amiable. But so darned unrefined. The Mrs. refers to her as our "hillbilly" dog, since she's still (after four months) not so comfortable with being inside. Nice, but no manners.

I'm not sure when we noticed it, but the dog developed an interesting habit. She chews up everything. Everything. Here is a (partial) list of things eaten by the dog in the last month:
  • Two garden hoses
  • An extension cord
  • The cable (for TV) coming into our house
  • A snow boot liner
  • A pull starter on the lawn mower Christine killed
  • An assortment of The Boy's toys (a yo-yo this morning)
  • The miniature poodle
Actually, she loves the poodle, and hasn't eaten him. Yet. But she'd mean no malice if she did. She's still goofy and amiable. She has, however, consumed every other thing on that list.

I see other dogs trotting across our lawn on a regular basis. Some are the size of a pony, and I can almost imagine an Alaskan dog breeding program that mixes moose with wolf and miniature dachshunds to produce this uber-dog optimized for -50 living. That would explain some of the behemoth dogs that regularly make their way through our property.

Nothing I know of, however, explains this sign.

I have my guess, which is that the trash (trash: it's what's for dinner) at the transfer station attracts stray dogs (and other quasi-domestic critters) which results in people making the assumption that someone threw a live animal in for disposal, when in actuality it was just having a tasty snack of seven-day-old ribs.

The only other thing I could think of is that the dog started eating the house . . .

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Alaska Facts No. 2

(you can click on the picture for a larger version)
When hunting for grizzly (also known as "brown bear" near the coast, or "immense scary hungry man-eating bear" on Kodiak) choice of firearms is important, since the grizzly is itself covered in a tough layer of sinew and bone. This sinew and bone forms an effective barrier that prevents the bear from being injured by minor things (branches, boulders, nuclear missles).

So, when using low-caliber rifles for hunting bear, (anything less than say, .50 caliber) equipped with a scope, remember to file off the front gun site. The front gun site is fairly useless when using a scope, and it will feel much better if that sharpened bit of metal is smoothed down when the bear shoves that tiny rifle up your ass.

You can thank me later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Fear of Flying" or "Into Thin Air"

This is Denali on the solstice. Go ahead, click on it to make it bigger. It's worth it, and I'll keep waiting. Denali looks like it does the rest of the year (it doesn't change much, being a mountain and all, not like leaves fall off of it), but, right now there is actually light so you can see it, and no cloud cover. I took this from the MiG 21 I bought after the settlement I had over spilling coffee on myself (who knew that would be hot?) due to a piece of asbestos flying off a DC-10 and hitting my Ford Pinto.

Okay, it was really an Alaska Air Flight (motto: you'll get there when we damn well feel like flying the plane) into Fairbanks.

Oddly, you get used to the sun almost setting at due north, then immediately heading up out of the same north it almost thought about setting in. It just cuts a full circle through the sky. The moon, though, does what it does in Topeka or Kalamazoo, comes and travels east-west. Odd, since you get so used to them tracking together at the lower latitudes, that the sun and moon are on such completely different paths up here. Again, like late Alaska Air flights, you get used to it.

I did however, actually take the picture during the seven minutes between ascent and descent when you can use devices powered by a single AAA battery. I must admit, the FAA treats science like voodoo when it comes to airplanes . . .

FAA Guy: "Let's see, airplanes fly through lightning, right?"

Other FAA Guy: "Yup."

FAA Guy: "So, we should be really, really worried that someone is using a device that emits 1/10,000,000th of that energy, right?

Other FAA Guy: "Yup. Can't regulate lightning, but we can make 'em turn off a digital camera."

FAA Guy: "Yup."

Other FAA Guy: "Sure wish we could regulate lightning."

I've been in a commercial plane and seen lightning hit the wing. Since I was
a. 18, and
b. drinking
I thought it was cool. Now, I'm just glad that the engineers who designed that plane had a chance to design a few B-17's first.

Speaking of which, good thing our flyboys back in World War II didn't have I-Pods. The Germans wouldn't have had to shoot us down, our bombers would have just fallen out of the sky because Horace from Michigan was listening to the Andrews Sisters singing "Rum and Coca Cola" and Ebeneezer from Florida was listening to Benny Goodman's "In The Mood."

America. Saved from totalitarianism by a dearth of compact electronic devices.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Polar Express

Took the above picture yesterday at the Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska.

This giant, brooding, malevolent figure dominates the parking lot, leaving no doubt that North Pole, Alaska leads the world in production of 40 foot tall plywood representations of mythological Christmas characters.

Hey, if you're just visiting North Pole, you really do want to visit this tourist trap. They're tourist traps for a reason, namely, they have loads of touristy stuff that you can't buy anywhere else. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law are in town, and touristing was on our agenda.

This was our first trip to the Santa Claus House. Where else could you get a t-shirt like this?

Or this?

You can also:
  • visit Santa here (and have a picture taken with him for a few American dollars - I told him I wanted a bigger 401k for Christmas),
  • buy ornaments,
  • buy a real fur hat,
  • buy oodles of Alaska DVDs, fridge magnets, etc.,
  • buy anything every produced with Santa on it, and
  • buy die-cast collectible Confederates, WWII Russian infantry or Revolutionary Hessian soldiers. I have no idea what they would have to do with Alaska, but you can buy them there.
The prices were reasonable, the staff friendly, and it didn't cost a dime to see the reindeer out back. We'll be back. The Boy wanted everything he saw, but only screamed a little when we left.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Sale of the Century

So, the Mrs. and I were out and about and saw the car above. If you look really closely, you can see that this vehicle has been in a minor traffic altercation. You can click on the picture to enlarge if you need to. I'll wait.

Look at the fine detail involved in this repair - the auto-body technician has used tape nearly the same color as the car for the repair. That's service! I don't know what shop you go to in order to get this quality work, but it must be a popular place because I see the same technique everywhere.

Anyway, The Mrs. and I had been out going to garage sales, and have come to a conclusion: like car repair and everything else, it's different up here.

Here at a garage sale, you can buy a pickup, a trailer, an ATV, a snow machine, a chainsaw, MREs, an air compressor and a single shot 12 ga. shotgun. At the same sale. And there's another garage sale down the street that looks pretty similar. The one trick is to avoid any area where people can see other houses from their front yard - those garage sales were exactly like garage sales in Des Moines.

Before I moved here, I was used to going to a garage sale and finding, well, someone else's crap. If you bought any of said crap, you would store in it an ever-growing pile in your garage until it overwhelmed the structural capacity of your garage floor and/or shelving. Then it becomes time for your sale. The same is true here in Alaska, but the crap is so much neater. I would estimate that at the places we stopped, three out of five had snow machines for sale. You could probably go to ten garage sales in Florida before you saw your first snow machine.

Our haul was impressive. The Boy got a box of vintage Star Wars toys. The Mrs. got an ATV. I got a 4x4 pickup and double-axle trailer. All of it appears to work. Gotta go - time to reinforce the garage floor . . .

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Alaska Facts No. 1

Nature John's Alaska Facts: there are two types of bears in Alaska, the grizzly and the black bear. The grizzly is far more ferocious, and has been known to hunt people. Nasty. It has a brown pelt, and you can't outrun one. Fortunately, grizzly bears can't climb trees. The black bear (which can climb trees) is usually black but during certain seasons goes through a cinnamon phase where it has the same color pelt as a grizzly. There is an easy way to tell them apart if you see one and are unsure:
  1. Smack the bear on the ass as hard as you can.
  2. Quickly climb a nearby tree.
If the bear climbs up and eats you, it is a black bear. If the bear knocks over the tree and eats you, it is a grizzly. You can thank me later.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Fast and the Furious

So, The Mrs. and I were out driving on what passes for a road in Alaska. We saw the sign above, and I had to take the picture. Now, I'm not one to promote the defacing of public property, but I must admit I liked (not licked) the ingenuity of those that defaced this one. Being older than 12, I would not have thought of this one myself.

Recently, there have been a spate of commercials on the radio advertising that if you do not wear a seat belt while driving a car you will:
  1. get a ticket
  2. gain 46 pounds
  3. be forced to have Paris Hilton over to cook dinner and you be forced to eat it
  4. possibly spontaneously explode
  5. die a hideous instantaneous death if you hit something as small as a mosquito in your car.
I heard the commercials, then saw signs like the one above spring up like flowers after the snow melted.

One of the local radio hosts made a comment that he thought that there had been more people drown in the last year than die as a result of not wearing seat belts. I must confirm that (by doing no research whatsoever, just agreeing because it suits me) he is correct.

So, the solution may be to make all Alaskans wear life vests whenever they leave their beds. It would save a life, so, could it be wrong? I assume that they would fit under the seat belts.

Another leading cause of death in Alaska is wildlife. Wildlife generally has two ends, the pointy one and the soft one. If you shoot the pointy bits off, you generally don't get treated as a chew toy for one of the Berenstain Bears Gone Wild (now that would be a DVD). So, in addition to the seat belt and the life preserver, why not an option here - either require full chain mail or a 12 ga. shotgun loaded with slugs? I think most Alaskans already have the 12 ga., so that might be popular. After all, it might save one life . . .

Actually, I just actually checked the real statistics, and it looks like suicide is a big killer up here, too. Now, chain mail won't help, so, probably the only solution would be some sort of happy medicine that you would have to take or a personal therapist hanging around. So, as a compromise you could have an I-Pod playing affirmations continually in a pocket in your life preserver . . . .

Yet another cause of death in Alaska is heart disease. Perhaps if we all had those paddles George Clooney used on ER, and had them welded to our chain mail, we could save another life or two.

Let's make all of this mandatory, because it's worth it to save just one life.

The radio talk show host noted that this was part of some sort of Federal enforcement effort, where they send money to states to have them help us help ourselves by wearing seat belts. As I am too lazy to check this either, so I will again confirm it as possibly an actual fact.

I think that seat belt laws particularly rankle Alaskans. You've just moved to a state with a population of about one person per square mile. That's closer to the population density of the Moon (0 per square mile) than to that of New Jersey (750,000 per square mile), although I hear that the Moon is still slightly more hospitable than Trenton.

So, you're here, in the middle of this vast wilderness where just walking around there are:
  • bears more hostile than an Ozzy Osbourne crowd forced to listen to a Michael Bolton medley wanting to eat you,
  • low temperatures so extreme that being caught out in them without proper gear can freeze you more solid than Ted Williams' head in 10 minutes
  • Natasha and Boris still chasing Moose und Squirr-el with all sorts of explosives and fiendishly overcomplicated plots,
and someone, who is not your mom, is telling you to put on your seat belt to be safer. You're taking personal responsiblity with your life on (potentially) a day-to-day basis, making the incongruity of this message is absolute.

Anyway, all of you residents of New Hampshire who sent your Federal tax money up here to buy radio airtime on the local radio station to tell me to wear my seat belt, thanks. I'll put it on, over my life preserver and my chain mail suit.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Red Dawn

So, I got the newspapers shown above in my newspaper tube yesterday. Two papers, both drenched in blood. I was thrilled. Let me explain . . .

I tried to subscribe to our local paper, the News-Miner, three or four weeks ago. I wanted the Friday-Saturday-Sunday delivery, so when I subscribed on a Wednesday, I thought that there might be a chance that the paper wouldn't show up for Friday. For those of you who don't know what a paper is, it's a handy, compact, portable version of the news on the Internet, printed on actual paper, hence the name.

The paper didn't arrive at all that weekend. This condition persisted the next weekend, so I called and left explicit instructions for delivery the following week (turn left at the Ford truck up on blocks, right at the creek, go straight past the moose antlers nailed to the tree . . . ). One reason I don't blame the carrier is that this is Alaska. Alaska has a couple of fundamental problems with a service like this:
  • It can't be easy for the paper delivery guy, since addresses are, at best, sketchy. The Mrs. and The Two Boys and I went to various garage sales (more on that in a later missive) and some places, I kid you not, you can only get to by winding around other people's yards dozens of times on dirt trails that wouldn't be fit for a goat. Imagine a group of houses put in a heavily treed area by a group of people who for the most part don't want to see or hear any neighbors. Those would be social butterflies compared to some of the places we've seen up here.
  • A sense of urgency to help a customer appears to be mainly non-existent. This applies to most services. It's not rudeness, just most folks don't appear to be in anything approaching a hurry. ("Fire? Yeah, umm, could you call us back in just a bit . . . ?)
I waited another week. Finally, a Saturday paper showed up. Victory at last! No delivery tube, so I had to hunt for the paper in the tall grass by the road (the carrier had tipped me off by phone that he had actually delivered the paper, but the Easter-egg hunt for it by the roadside made it so very much better, kinda like an Indiana Wilder and the Hunt for the Lost News, but without poisoned arrows), but there was a paper there for me. I felt giddy, drunk on the moment.

So, the following Sunday morning afternoon (yeah, it takes me a while to get going) The Boy and I plodded down the road to get the paper. I even whistled the theme from The Andy Griffith Show. So wholesome, so nice, a boy and his dad getting the paper. But, the paper wasn't there. Then not there again the following Friday. The only thing we collected was mosquito bites.

I called the News-Miner and they told me they'd call the carrier and have him deliver both papers, just so he'd remember to put our tube in.

He remembered.

When I saw the tube by the roadside I smiled. I pulled the papers out then, and noticed the blood smeared over them.

I processed it. Poor carrier had smashed a finger or thumb while putting in my tube. Given the amounts of blood (it was a lot - big smears), I'm guessing the poor guy may have needed stitches, though in Alaska duct tape is also a preferred medical alternative. Either way - ouch.

But, I have my paper. Now, if the Sunday paper shows up today, my victory is complete.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

All Your Bases Are Belong To Us

Saw the sign above while driving home the other day.

What's an Eielson, and why would someone want to save one? Is it a rare inland walking whale species? Alas, no. Eielson is an Air Force base, up here in the Great Land.

(Note for those of you on the Outside: Alaska translates to "Great Land," just like Colorado translates to "Red," and Texas translates to "Ya'll take a look at this here thang.")

The original Eielson was Carl Ben Eielson, a true hero pilot who lost his life while attempting to save other folks. But, he's been dead for the last 75 years or so, so any attempts to save him are just a bit late.

When they built the Air Force base up here, they named it after him, and now the military has put it on the list of bases to close. When Eielson showed up on the list of bases to basically be closed, Fairbanks was collectively stunned. It's like you'd whiffle-batted the lot of us.

For those of you who look at the map and see a tiny-tiny Alaska somewhere south and west of San Diego, let me remind you that's an artifact of the map projection techniques that allow us to not put the living evil that is Canada on the map. Alaska is actually north and west of San Diego, and bigger than the rest of the continental United States, if you exclude about ten states and the love that exists between Tom Cruise and Mimi Rodgers, Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz, Katie Holmes. I don't really have a good comparison, so I'm making that part up. Let's just say it's big.

Alaska is also far away from some things, but is central to the world. How can that be?

Alaska is of a similar distance to New York, London, Moscow, Beijing, and Tokyo. We regularly sit in the hot tub at night (whenever there is any night) and watch planes heading north out of Anchorage up over the pole filled with I-Pods made in Shanghai destined for the residents of Poland. Heck, maybe the planes are filled with gumballs, pantyhose, and elephant saddles for the residents of Prague. Whatever, Alaska has a centrality to the rest of the world that is fairly strategic. Air freight companies regularly exploit that by stopping in Anchorage to fuel before heading to their final destination. We are the Stuckey's of the interstate of the air. You can even get nut logs here, I think. (Has there ever been a food concept more disgusting . . . nut . . . logs? I shudder.)

Anyway, in the infinite wisdom of military planners, some group of junior officers decided to remove the fighter wings (and the rest of the fighter, too, I guess) from Eielson, because it's expensive to operate here. Now, this alone is shocking. I had no idea that it would be expensive to operate an Air Force base in a place where milk is $75.00 a gallon, and expires 15 minutes after you buy it. And, if the Air Force has suddenly decided that expense is a concern, heck, I learned from the movie Independence Day that drunken crop-duster pilots can fly fighter jets pretty well, and you don't even have to pay them.

One thread that is showing up as a concern in the local papers is security - removing fighters from Eielson isn't the same as removing them from, say, Ohio, since Ohio is nestled near lots of other places where fighters could come from, and if Ohio is the front lines in a war, dang, we're trouble. Alaska is far away, and getting fighters up here to do the job that they ultimately are designed for, namely flying real fast and blowing things up, isn't something that's real easy if the fighters are in Nevada because you're on a budget. And, if you remember history, Alaska is the one place that's actually a state now that was invaded (although in a half-hearted way) by the Axis powers during WWII.

But, it's not like Alaska is close to potential geo-political adversaries, like North Korea, China, and Russia. Oooops, I forgot, we are.

And, it's not like Alaska has any strategic targets like the North Slope oil fields, the Alaska Pipeline, the Missle Defense Battery, or my house. Oooops, I forgot, it does. (I know that from a military standpoint, my house is probably not strategic. But, to me, it really is. I doubt Mr. Kim Jong-il thinks my house is strategic either, but, maybe he doesn't like satire. If he does hate satire, Trey and Matt, look out.)

Anyhow, this drama has yet to fully unfold. There are about 300,000 committee meetings, briefings, dog shows, etc., before it's all complete. Now, where did I put that Chinese phrasebook . . . ?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Glaciers From Space

Sunday, June 05, 2005


This is my backyard. If you click on the picture, it'll get bigger. I'm actually in the picture, waving. I've just finished mowing it. With a 15 year old push mower.

I don't think I'm exaggerating much if I say that my backyard is bigger than some baseball outfields. Heck, you be the judge. It takes four hours, and three tanks of gas (not to mention, umm, more than one beer) and my push mower to get through all of the mowing.

I have many things against me:
  • the lawn is the size of Donald Trump's ego
  • it's light here 24-7 until August - the grass grows continually so you have to do it weekly
  • I have to use the push mower
Why, you might well ask (as The Mrs. does) do you mow this lawn the size of a Kansas wheat field with a dinky push mower?

The Mrs.: "Let's get a riding mower. Here (looking in the classifieds) is one for $800."

What guy could resist - his wonderful wife wanting him to go out and buy power tools? I want that mower, I really, really do. But I can bring myself to do it.

I mumble something under my breath. She understands Christine, but, you know, she doesn't understand.

Christine is the mower. Her picture is below. And she's dangerous.

As you can see, Christine is no longer a show-room model. I checked her sticker, and she was made in September, 1990. Soon she'll be old enough to vote.

As far as details go, when I bought her, I overfilled her oil tank with oil. She blew black smoke from the engine. I thought her days were numbered, back in 1990. I have yet to change (or, in the past five years, even check) her oil. Yet, she keeps running. The black smoke stopped in 1992.

The handle broke. I responded, first, with duct tape. That worked, for a while. Finally, the metal in the handle fatigued, and I got out the welder. You can see in this picture the result of four years' worth of welding. I've added enough structural steel to the handle to effectively double Christine's weight. The speed control, and the bar you let go to stop the mower are gone now, as well. Yet she runs.

The Mrs. took an instant dislike to Christine when they met. "That's an ugly lawn mower, John."

Me: "It works."

I sharpened her blade once, back in 1998. Now, rather than doing precision cuts through the grass, Christine mashes the individual stalks with a blade that must be rounded smooth from the constant mowing. Yet she runs.

I first became aware that there was something amiss when my brother-in-law, Manolito, moved to Tangiers. He left his mower with us. A nice mower, it was - power driven wheels, 5hp engine. The Mrs. was thrilled - a new mower! We used the mower, and I doggedly held onto Christine. Soon, though, the new mower developed problems. Eventually, it became so unreliable that you couldn't even start it.

This I could write off as coincidence. Christine was running great, and The Mrs. understood, a bit, when she said, "Why get a new mower? This one runs." Christine was perfect for our postage-stamp lawn back in Akron.

Now, Alaska. When we bought the house, a new 6hp, power-driven mower was left. I filled it up with gas, and started to mow. Within 15 minutes, the mower belched a thick cloud of black smoke and became utterly inoperable. The pull start would not even pull. Christine had claimed her second victim. She and I have now mowed the place, twice.

I don't know exactly what she'd do if I bought that riding mower.

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