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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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"Worf, we're alone now, you don't have to act like a Klingon glacier, I don't bite. Well, that's wrong. I do bite." - Worf's Klingon Squeeze

After visiting the mining-deficient Tangle Lakes, it was time to head home.

One of the benefits to traveling the same highway going back the way that you came is that you see different things - at least in Alaska. I know that isn't the case in the drive from, say, Nebraska to Ohio (which, essentially looks like: corn), but it is in Alaska where we enjoy this thing called topography. It doesn't look all the same if you stand on top of your barn and look yonder in all directions.

The first thing we noted heading back is that we had driven right past a big honking glacier without even noticing it. It was sneaky, you see. Really, there had been a big ridge between us and it, and, given my propensity to drive while I look forward, I never noticed it until presented with the elevation advantage near the Tangle Lakes.

The glacier is called the College Glacier (pictured above - click on same for a larger picture - don't worry, I'll wait), which I guess throws off my theory that huge hunks of ice in Alaska can't be considered educated. I just wonder if it was named before or after John Belushi was in Animal House. Who knows, maybe all colleges in the world are named after College Glacier. Anyway, we saw a road heading that way, so we took it.

At first it was a road as good as any ever paved with gravel. Then, it became increasing obvious that at some points in the year said road moonlights as a creek bed. Then we saw the people. At first, given the pairs of men sitting together silently in pickup trucks, we thought we at some convention of "the love that dare not speak its name," but then we reasoned that the bows and arrows weren't for some elaborate love-game, but were actually for hunting moose. Maybe. Whatever. As far as I can see, few in Alaska really care who or what you drill, as long as you support drilling in ANWR. (see the dictionary under "cash")

So, we drove on. Above is the picture I took of the mountain The Mrs. Affectionately called "Butt Ridge." Is it just me, or does this mountain really look like Randy Moss? You can click on it for a larger picture of how Randy feels about Packer fans. What a class act he is.

I digress, and apologize for my indiscretion.

Anyway, we drove up this increasingly rough road until the family felt we had gone far enough. By far enough, I mean that The Mrs. indicated that she thought that it was a bad sign that the rocks we were traversing were taller than a California building lot is wide. So, big rocks. And, we had also reached the end of the road, an obvious point to turn around, given the splintered bones of past tourists littering the creek bed next to rusted out Hummers. Okay, I made that last part up. I saw Dawn of the Dead last night (the remake, which was better than the original), so forgive me this poetic license. Suffice it to say that we couldn't have gone further up the road without a tank.

Now, here I digress on purpose. These roads were put up by the BLM. Thanks. Memo: I want more of them. I like driving around the countryside, and these roads allow me to do it without tearing anything up. Again, thanks. Now, put in more.

So, I hoofed it over to the creek. It seemed like every creek we passed was a different color on this trip, and I imagine that this was due to the type of rock that the glaciers were crushing and infusing into the water. This powdered rock is called "rock flour," and unlike "rock candy," it is not hot, sweet and sticky. Baby. It is cold, wet and gray. Or, grey. You pick.

If you click on the picture you can see College Glacier lurking in the back. The water is from College Glacier. I guess that right now some of the glaciers are smaller now than they were at the peak of the last global cooling cycle (1940?). Slim-Fast?

As we headed out, I took the picture below, of a mountain called the "Hoo-Doos". Good call on the name.

We (successfully) turned around, and headed back from whence we came, ready to point our trusty 4x4 back on the road towards home. What happened next shocked me so much, well, I'll never be the same, and neither will you. Okay, that's a bit much. What really happened is we drove home and saw some stuff. But, there really is more stuff.

Thus endeth part the fourth.

Next: Moose on the Loose

Sunday, August 28, 2005

"We're on a mining ship, three million years into deep space. Can someone explain to me where the smeg I got this traffic cone?" -Lister, Red Dwarf

We got through our picnic, uneaten by bears. As we headed out of the little valley and the splendor shown above, we saw the most ironic sight on our trip, namely, the rock below. It looks like some sort of eco-gang is out tagging rocks. So, if you're in favor of keeping the environment unspoiled, what's the best way to go about telling the world? Spray paint the environment.

Actually, the above protest (as near as I could make out) was opposed to opening up a mine. I'm not sure what they're planning on mining for, but I'm in favor. Mines bring jobs, mines open up roads that I can later drive on. Mines are also how copper gets into I-Pods. It's a vital industry, and the downside is small - yes you might lose a mountain or two as the miners take 'em down to get the goodies out, but we've got more mountains up here. It's not like we'll run out in the next thousand years. So, gentlemen, start your blasting!

If you want my other views on mining, well, just watch "Paint Your Wagon." Mining really was what founded the West in America - not trappers, and certainly not farmers. The earliest pioneers were driven by greed for gold. Fairbanks was founded on mining for gold. Heck, you could even make the stretch (and it's not a big stretch) that oil extraction is just another form of mining, so, outside of the smaller contributors of tourism, fishing, and tie-dye t-shirt-making, Alaska's economy is entirely dependent upon mining.

The other nice thing about mining is that the miners often break into spontaneous, colorful song and dance routines.

We finally made it to Paxson. Time for gas. There may be a second building besides the cafe/gas station/hotel in Paxson, but if there is, I didn't see it. The sign on the door indicated that bathrooms were only for paying customers. I did not have to go, but I guess I could have. I'm not sure if The Mrs. or The Boy could have used the restroom, since I'm the one that paid. I hate it when the rules aren't very specific.

We turned off the Richardson Highway onto the Denali Highway. The Denali Highway is not maintained between October and May, so you've got four or five months when you can enjoy it. To tell the truth, the Denali Highway isn't much maintained during the summer, either. Hint: If you'd like to catch air in a 4x4 on pavement and make your spouse and all of your kids scream, just drive the posted speed limit on this road.

The pavement on this highway is really, really rippled. Especially at mile marker 17. That's what happens, though, when you build in a place where bedrock is ice and that has the possibility of a 150 degree temperature swing from winter to summer.

We made it to the end of the paved portion of the Denali Highway, which occurs at the Tangle Lakes. A picture of the lakes is below. There was a nice little picnic area, with restrooms. We decided to use the restrooms here, since no money had to change hands, unlike in Paxson.

We had wanted originally to go all the way through on this road to Denali, then back to Fairbanks on the Parks Highway. We decided not to do that, since it was pretty late. So, The Mrs. popped the CD "Best of Blonde" into the music-making machine we have mounted in the Wilder-mobile and turned around to go back home, "Call Me" blasting into the stillness. We had achieved our main goal: we'd gotten out of the smoke.

I looked up Tangle Lakes, and the good news is that a lot of the land around them is going to be given over to the State of Alaska from the BLM in the next few years - this is good, because that will ultimately lead to greater use of the land by people. Of course, I found this out on a website that was upset about this impending change. The owners of the website wanted the land to not be developed. I can understand that, and respect it, even. However, when I went there, the ads at the top of the page on this anti-mining site (or is that pro-not-mining?), offered, "Mining Equipment." So, don't mine. But if you do, buy the equipment from our sponsors.

Thus endeth part the third.

Next: Attack of the Glaciers

Saturday, August 27, 2005

"Six pints of bitter, and quickly, please. The world's about to end." Ford Prefect - Hictchhiker's Guide

So we continued on our way through the smoke toward Delta Junction. The Boy alternated bouts of extreme boredom with bouts of irritating noises. I saw a bridge coming up in the distance, and said, "Hey, Boy, look at the bridge ahead."

He looked and saw the large supports of a suspension bridge up over the trees. He thought for a moment, and yelled, "THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE!!!!!!"

Did I mention he's a four-year-old bridge junkie? And I don't mean the sitting and gossiping about your neighbors with old ladies bridge, I mean the steel, concrete, and sweat-constructed force vectors that support our daily driving.

After I calmed him down, we stopped and talked about how suspension bridges worked. The above picture is the suspension bridge in question. More interesting than the bridge itself is what it supports: The Alaska Pipeline, as it crosses the Tanana River.

The Alaska Pipeline is important to Alaskans. It's the cash register. All of that oil produced on the North Slope is pumped through this line down to Valdez in the south. One out of every eight or so barrels belongs to the State of Alaska. If we Alaskans allowed the politicians to spend all of that money right now, Alaska could have its own space program. We could probably put something a little bit better than the shuttle together. I mean seriously. It's 2005. Couldn't we think of something better to coat it with than clay coasters?

As it is, there's this huge (about $50,000 for every Alaskan) bank account sitting someplace that has our money in it. It's probably not in France. Where ever it is, they ship us some of the money from there every year. It's officially called the Permanent Fund, but most people call it, "That check I get every year that lets me buy a new snowmachine." Complain about oil prices? Probably not too much up here. By the way, California? Thanks for driving so I can have a new snowmachine.

The "Not Golden Gate" bridge is just outside of Delta Junction. Delta Junction is the official end of the Alcan Highway. The Alcan was built during World War II because there was no road to Alaska, and we just couldn't have the Japanese in control of the tundra. So, being Americans, we built a road. The "official" end of the road marker is shown below, though there used to be one in Fairbanks, 101 miles up the road, but they got rid of it when the Official Alaskan Side Of The Road Landmark Committee got wind that the road between Delta and Fairbanks already existed when they built the Alcan. They tested some of Lance Armstrong's urine from when he was six, and after finding it tested positive for Pez, they thus ruled that Delta Junction was the terminus (from the Latin for "term" - meaning "school year", and "inu" meaning "innie belly-button" and "s" meaning "s", so, literally 'school-year-innie-belly-button-s') of the road. It was nice that the dispute ended without bloodshed. I hate it when that happens.

Regardless, there's a Visitor Center right near the milepost. Inside was a nice young clerk, a gift store with all sorts of Alaskan stuff ("I watched the Super Bowl in Alaska" shirts, etc.), free coffee, and free maps. Did I mention that the boy loves maps?

The Boy walked up to the clerk and said, "This is a nice map," indicating a map that showed the location of all fires in Alaska.

The clerk said, "Thank you."

The Boy: "I can't have it."

The clerk: "No, I can't give this one to you, but you can have this one," presenting a brand new road map, complete with the signature and official seal of the governor. "Are you from around here?"

The Boy: "Yes."

The clerk: "Then why don't I know you?"

See, Alaska is like that. If emptied out Denver and moved every single Alaskan in, you'd have four empty houses for every occupied one. And then the Alaskans would proceed to cover all the houses in duct tape, for no other reason than they're Alaskan. But, the point is that Alaska is big in size, big in spirit, but has fewer people in it than in your first grade class in elementary school. The lone Alaska Congressman represents fewer people than are in a typical rap-star's entourage.

We explained that we were from Fairbanks. The clerk said, "Oh, if he was around here, I'd know him. I'm the piano teacher."

Not a piano teacher. The piano teacher. Alaska's like that, too.

Delta Junction is also home to Ft. Greely. Ft. Greely is the home to our ballistic missile defense system, where they have some missiles meant to intercept incoming bad-guy missiles. It's a pretty place, and the residents will know about a half an hour before the rest of us if the end of the world is at hand. Not a bad deal, front row seats for the apocalypse, as it were. I would so ignore my bills if the apocalypse was coming.

It was just south of Delta Junction when we saw the first mountains. I was driving and saw the outline of one slowly fade in as we passed through successive concentrations of smoke at 65 miles per hour. Not often that a few cubic miles of rock can be sneaky, but this one was. What we saw is pictured below.

Finally, I saw a road heading back to the east, a gravel road that showed promise. I whipped on to it, and we drove over a trail as rough as Mickey Rourke's face. It went miles. We stopped, and had a nice picnic, eating the sandwiches The Mrs. had packed for just this occasion. The Boy and I went for a hike, after I strapped on the .45 auto. This did look like bear country, with lots of low berry-bearing branches, moose sign, etc. Although you might not think a .45 is big enough, it was shooting full metal jacket rounds so 14 of them (two magazines) would have at least irritated a grizzly, had we seen one.

Below are a few shots of the canyon we drove up. I'll put more of them in the next post. All of them open up bigger if you click on them. If you right click on them, you can open them in a new tab or window . . . oh, okay, I won't micromanage your surfing.

If you don't think this road is pretty, there's something fundamentally wrong with you. Not to be judgmental, or anything.

Oh, there's ore in that thar hill!

Dang. Just dang. Views like this are what it's all about.

Thus endeth part the second.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"Since you're like the president and in charge of the army and stuff, could you like invade some country and set it on fire?" -Butthead, w/o Beavis

So, we decided we'd been working almost non-stop around the Casa de Wilder, and headed out for just a fun day. The other objective of this trip was to get out of the smoke around Fairbanks. It's as smokey around here now as Tommy Chong's basement, and it has been for about a week and a half. Bad mojo to leave The Mrs. with The Boy and The New Boy stuck in the house for a smoke advisory for that long. I like the kids. I don't want to have to visit their mother in prison.

Above is a clip of a satillite photo describing the smoke. You can go to get more of this sort of image here. As always, click on the picture for a bigger version. Well worth the time. For those that think there might be some sort of reason for these fires, there is. Wood burns. Alaska, like a fine old Rolls Royce, has a great wood veneer. Don't worry. If all the trees up here stopped growing today, we could only have fires like this every year for the next 340 years or so before we started running low.

Our first stop was at Chena Lake Recreation Area. This was still in the smoke, and entirely unplanned. We stopped there because we saw a sign - Big Trebuchet Event Today. Well, after watching every show on the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, and TLC build a trebuchet, I thought it would be nice to see one in person. My favorite trebuchet was the one that they built on Trading Spaces: Dark Ages Europe. It was next to the plague room.

We didn't wait around for them to start flinging things, although it was rumored that they were going to attempt to fling a car. That would normally be enough to make me want to stay, but we didn't bring a stroller for The New Boy, and now that, at three months' of age he weighs 75 pounds, grunting the little guy around is enough to dislocate your arm from its socket. Besides, this event was clearly still in smoke ground zero.

I read in the paper that they never got the big trebuchet working. Glad we didn't stick around for the non-flinging of a car, though rumour has it that many a pumpkin shall mourn the passing of kin at the hands of the Fairbanks trebuchet-masters.

We headed south. Our second stop was the Knotty Shop. You can buy t-shirts proclaiming that you or any member of your family is Knotty. I was marginally disturbed by the Knotty Grandma t-shirt. Mainly because it had spagetti straps. I did not feel Knotty, but I did feel like ice cream. The gentleman behind the ice cream counter scooped out Roseanne-Barr sized portions, and The Boy (vanilla) and I (massive amounts of chocolate) enjoyed our ice cream outside, after we had looked at the stuffed menagerie of Alaska critters, as shown below.

I like the managerie, because it makes it look like all of the little Alaska animals hold hands and sing "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore" at night before snack. Not mentioned is the thought that most of the animals are on the snack list of their neighbor. It's good to be at the top of the food chain.

The Knotty Shop seems to have based its claim to fame on having the place filled with knotty pine, or pine covered with "burls." Burls are places where the tree gets infected, irritated, and then grows a big scar. So, like the daredevil on The Simpons said to Bart, "Bones knit, wounds heal, and chicks dig scars."

The statue above is made from knotty pine, so I guess pine pain is beautiful. My favorite aspect is below. I was unaware they even made a sign like that . . . does it mean that I shouldn't let my dog strain? Sit? Squat?

After The Mrs. wiped the last bit of chocolate off of my face, we resumed our trek southward, determined to get out of the smoke.

Thus endeth part the first.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

"Well, he's got the buff spikes chillin' on top of his melon, obviously, right?" - Pauly "What the Hell was he talking about?" Shore

Above is a biologically accurate rendition of how bears actually get salmon. You can click on it for a larger version, but I can't see why you'd want to.

So, there's a new movie out about Alaska. It's called "Grizzly Man." In this movie, an amatuer amature incompetent naturalist named Timothy Treadwell spent summers in Alaska protecting bears. As you might guess, the movie doesn't end well. Spoiler Alert - They eat him.

I'm not sure that I understand the thinking (or lack thereof) of the pretend ursine biologist. What, exactly was he attempting to do? Save bears? They have claws, teeth, rippling muscles, and in most situations are quite capable of saving themselves. They certainly saved parts of him, for later snacking. These bears were also in a Federal preserve, so in theory we could send in Stealth fighters and Blackhawk helicopters to protect the fuzzy bears.

The other thing that Treadwell did was to teach the bears he encountered that being close to humans was not a threatening thing. Most grizzly bears just want to get away from people, but he taught a group of them that humans were okay, and heck, in a pinch they make a tasty pre-hibernation snack. I for one hope that bears are more frightened of me, than I of them. That's a good equation that keeps both of us alive.

I recommend all who think that bears are cute and fuzzy critters and have a Disney view of the world to watch this movie and emulate the indicated guy.

My plan is simple:
  • You feed the bears.
  • The bears then don't eat moose.
  • I then get a moose.
  • I then eat a moose.
Think of this as taking one for the team. Specifically, my team.

On a side note: I was recently puzzled when I read that they were considering removal of the "threatened" tag at Yellowstone that currently applies to grizzly bears. If they need bears in Wyoming, they can certainly have some of ours. Up here, they're numerous enough to get group discounts when they go ice skating.

Threatening? Yes. Threatened? No.

So, then, I realized that the "Endangered" tag could apply to a species that is numerous someplace, but not so numerous another. I, for one, am in favor of the reintroduction of grizzly bears and mountain lions to D.C. Those critters used to live there too, right? I'm also for the reintroduction of wolves into Pauly Shore's house. For the entertainment value. And for the fact that no one over the age of twelve should be called "Pauly."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

"It's people. Soylent Green Mozzarella Sticks is made out of people . . . You've gotta tell them! " - Charlton 'Madhouse' Heston

So, we got lucky. Alaska was visited by a Clinton!!

Hillary came and hung out at the house. She brought McCain with her, and we sat around doing shots of tequila. Man, Hillary can drink. While we were waiting for the Buffalo wings, she and McCain asked a few questions:
  • How bad has the impact of global warming been on your life?
  • Isn't it true, that today it is nearly 140 (really) degrees warmer than it was here in January?
  • When did you stop beating The Mrs.?
  • Can I get some more of those jalapeno poppers?
I'm convinced that they're right. There is global warming. And, global cooling. It's called the seasons. Why, oh, why, though, did these people ignore Alaska's true plight? I'm speaking of course, of the glaciers.
  • Despite some of them being 10,000 years old, the illiteracy rates for glaciers are higher than illiteracy rates for congresspeople.
  • Despite the very high unemployment rates for glaciers, they get virtually no direct federal support.
  • Glaciers have virtually no access to free health care.
  • Glaciers have been prevented from voting for the candidate of their choice in every election since Alaska became a state.
  • Many glaciers have been imprisoned on Federal land . . . with no access to an attorney.
Okay, so they ignored the glaciers.

Really, though, did anyone expect that these political folks were going to come up here and say, "Oh, man, it's cold. I guess that this global warming stuff is just crap. Sorry for bothering everyone. Bye." No, I don't think so. They had a position, and if it were raining chunks of ice the size of 747's, well, they'd have not noticed. I believe that Clinton and McCain are sincere, though, in their belief in global warming.

Which comes to my basic problem with global warming - it's not science, it's a belief. Like a belief in Odin, but with big computer models. It's not nice and clean like physics. Heck, it's not even as developed as biology. I for one am not willing to put global politics into the hands of a group of people who claim with a straight face that they can tell what temperature it'll be in 100 years, when I know damn well they can't tell me reliably what the weather will be like tomorrow.

On the other side of this debate are people with similar credentials who believe that any warming we've seen is a result of that great thermonuclear space heater we call the Sun sputtering a bit in the amount of hydrogen getting smashed into helium. Think of it as a rough idle. Remember, though, that these are the physics geeks that you knew in school. They can't get a date still, and now they're telling me what the weather will be like.

All in all, global warming (or even global cooling, which still has adherents) is exactly like a belief in Odin. I won't have conclusive evidence until I'm dead. I don't plan to blog from beyond, so you'll have to figure it out for yourself.

Is the climate changing? I don't know. If global warming is happening, is it really that bad? Again, I don't know. Are the mozzarella sticks done? Yes, they are, McCain. Hillary, stop bouncing on the sofa. Okay, okay, McCain, I'll go look for Jenga if you're absolutely jonesing for a game.

Yes, the mozzarella sticks are done. That, at least, I know. Mmmm, fried cheese.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Gregg Rolie's Brush With Fame

So, pictured above is Gregg Rolie. He's the singer for The Gregg Rolie band. Met him in the airport. He was gracious enough to shake my hand, and pose for a picture or two. His website is here.

Our conversation:

"I hear you're playing a show at the State Fair in Fairbanks."

"Two" holding up two fingers "shows." He sounded, really, ecstatic (I'm serious. He sounded happy and excited). "How big is Fairbanks?"

"Small. Like Waco."

"Mind if I take your picture?"

"No problem."

"Can I post it on the Internet? It's not a porn site or anything."

"Sure. Wouldn't be the worst picture of me posted on the Internet."

For the record, I do not want to see those pictures.

For the life of me, though, I couldn't remember his name when I met him. I knew he was coming to town to sing at the state fair. The local paper, the News-Miner (link at left) had his picture in it, so I recognized him. All I could remember is that he was the guy who sang "Black Magic Woman" with Santana. Now, Santana, his name I could remember. Gregg Rolie was making me draw a blank. So, not wanting to call him "Black Magic Woman Singing Guy," or "Guy Who Sang For Journey Before Steve Perry," I made a hasty retreat. Gregg Rolie seemed like a genuinely nice guy.

I got home and mentioned this to The Mrs. She said, "Oh, that's Gregg Rolie."

"Ah, Greg Rollie."

"No," she corrected,"Gregg Rolie."

How she can correct my spelling when I speak is beyond me. Anyway, I went on and described my airport encounter. This was my sixth such encounter, also having met John Goodman (Friggin' HUGE), Ronnie Milsap, two congressman (watch your wallets!!), and Benjamin Franklin in airports.

"You know," continued The Mrs., "He should probably blog about how he met you. I mean, your website is kinda famous now. He's just the guy who met Santana's cousin once while in middle school." The Mrs. is not easily impressed. She's met everyone from Gene Simmons to Gwen Stefani. So, if there is a rock star with a first name that starts with G and a last name that starts with S, The Mrs. has it covered. Do NOT engage in music trivia with her. You will lose, shredded into tatters.

Gregg Rolie did, for the record, sing at Woodstock. I think I was just there as a naked infant. Who remembers the 60's anyway . . .?

Well, I doubt that Gregg Rolie will remember me or be blogging about me. He's a better dresser. I'm not on Tour, and never have been. We both flew coach. That's okay. I just wish I could get the song "Black Magic Woman" out of my skull.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

"The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands," -Robert Plant, thinking about Alaska

Above is a picture of the Space Needle in Seattle. I know it's not in Alaska, but it is part of the long-term plan, where Alaska becomes the new source for Neo-Vikings to spread Viking-like pillaging up and down the West Coast. Think of it as being what Enron did, but only with longboats and axes this time. I'm thinking I'll set up Seattle as my feudal kingdom. Perhaps later invade King Harold's Oregon. But again, that's more of a long-term plan. I'm working to secure a source for horns for our hats - probably have to be moose-horned Vikings up here.

Actually, I took that picture when I was Outside. Outside, for you Outsiders, is anyplace not Alaska. Not a bad definition, because things are different there. You see, when I went Outside, it was the first time that I'd seen stars in months.

On the Outside, people take the dark for granted. I haven't seen an honest-to-Odin night-time, inky black as Oliver Stone's itty-bitty soul, star-studded sky in months. Months! And, to top it off, I was Outside when I saw the night.

There are advantages to it being daylight all of the time in summer:
  • It's the only time warm enough to do work outdoors, so it helps to have extra light so you can work 10 hours at a job and then come home and work 10 hours on the house and then not get much sleep and repeat until you're exhausted.
  • Really messes with semi-nocturnal animals like cats - when do they prowl?
  • No electricity to keep the house lit.
  • No worries about vampires, unless they have sunscreen and maybe Oakleys. I bet vampires would drive cool cars. With funny bumper stickers, like "I stop for bloodbaths."
  • Can play "Blinded By The Light" all summer long and not feel silly, except for not really knowing what the damn song is about.
The Sun up here never gets to overhead like it would in say, Arizona. It's up in the sky, but if you're used to telling time by how high the Sun is in the sky, well, it's always 9:30 AM. It also messes with your ability to tell direction by using the Sun. To tell direction with the sun, you have to know what time it is . . . for instance . . . if it's midnight, then the Sun is due north. If it's 6pm, the Sun is due west, and that means it's time to start drinking.

So, enjoy your summer meteor showers down in the lower 48. We'll take the aurora in the winter. And the meteor showers in the winter. And the free beer the State of Alaska gives out. And, soon enough, we'll take Seattle. I've been measuring the place. You know, to see if my stuff fits. I think the place pictured above would be a nice throne room . . .

Saturday, August 13, 2005

"Well, like I told Max... I was trying to cut my way through your wire because I wanta get out." - Steve McQueen

So, finally we're finishing the construction (groan) under the deck. Construction under the deck wouldn't be so bad if I were only 12" tall. But then The Mrs. would complain. I digress.

As The Mrs. always says, find the right person for the job. The right person in this case is The Boy. I know that there are many laws and probably some international treaty that would call using child labor a crime. Fortunately, most of those don't call the use of child labor by parents a crime. For those that do, the following is a complete and utter work of fiction. The photos are a work of Lucasfilm. Not real, if I have to do jail time. I can't do jail time, I'm just too pretty. Anyway . . .

For those of you who remember, I've been building an escape tunnel an enhanced insulation and drainage zone under the deck. The deck doesn't have much room. It's as packed as the all night insulin store (meaning it's sweet, so there would be a raft of hypoglycemics in there) after a concert by The Carpenter. It used to be The Carpenters, but, you know.

As it is, I figured we had one two three four five wheelbarrow loads of dirt to move under there. Enter . . . The Boy.

The Boy has several attributes for work of this type:
  • He is short,
  • He thinks I like him,
  • He can be motivated by fear,
  • I can convince him that the work he's doing is actually some sort of elaborate play scenario,
  • He is MUCH smaller than me,
  • He is motivated by sugar, and
  • He is four.
If you haven't yet read "Management for Dummies," you can send the $14.95 to me directly, because beyond that, there isn't much more.

So, I sent my little catspaw (not a great episode of Star Trek, but, you know, taught me that word) off, heaving bucket after bucket of freshly excavated dirt into the great crevasse from the excavation caused by the poor construction techniques of the former owners of Casa Wilder, Cletus and Ma Kettle.

That worked for wheelbarrow number one.

For wheelbarrow number two, I broke out the beer. Root beer. Like I waited for him to start my beer. Sugar and a four year old is a great combination. Sort of like giving an addict the fix they want. I'm not proud of it, but the dirt got moved.

For wheelbarrow number three, I had to break out imagination. The bucket was a roller, and he was building roads. That worked for a bit. Started to get old about halfway through. That's when threats come in handy. As a coach, I could make him do laps. As a dad, I could send him to bed. The power of authority flew through my veins like logic through Jennifer Aniston's brain. That, though, worked pitifully. He just cried.

So, I jumped in under the deck, and had The Boy deliver dirt to me. Bright idea, but, the first bucket came back full, the second half full, the third, well, it took 15 minutes to get the third back.

Finally, I did what Dads always do. I finished it myself, while The Boy frolicked like a poodle with a porkchop in his filthy, dirt covered clothing.

So, later that night, I got my revenge. I had him rebuild the engine in my Ford Explorer. Blindfolded. If I can make do with a Play-Doh clutch, I think it's going to turn out to be quality work.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"A man's got to know his limitations." - Harry Callahan

Like I said, we went to the fair. We got all the way to the Democrats and then I had to stop, mainly because I saw a few of you in the back, nodding off. So, assuming you're rested, here's more. The picture above is more like what you'd normally see on any given drive through a neighborhood in Alaska, a nice friendly "Welcome Neighbor" greeting. My only beef with these signs is I have never heard of a .357 in a semi-auto pistol.

We also were in time for the Big Friggin' Cabbage weigh off. Below is a picture of a Big Friggin' Cabbage. You can click on it for a larger version.

These cabbages are huge - as big as the pods that turned into people in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." I'm not sure I could sleep well with a batch of these growing out back of the log cabin. First, I hate cabbage. Second, I would wake up and find that Donald Sutherland, Kevin McCarthy, or, worst of all, Kiefer Sutherland had taken over my body. Then I would have one of their careers, and, well, eww. The only bonus to waking up and being Kiefer Sutherland is that I would not have been married to Julia Roberts. Kiefer dodged a bullet on that one. (For those of you purists, I know that Kiefer wasn't in an "Invasion" movie. I just like typing "Kiefer.")

As a buddy of mine says, "It's all about the cabbage." And, given the long daytime during the summers, I'm willing to bet that even if you drench your garden in Miracle-Gro down in Missouri, Alaska probably produces the biggest cabbages in the world. Not that I'd want to eat it, no matter how big it was.


And cabbage sucks. There was also some big honking pieces of broccoli. Although this was impressive broccoli, it was still broccoli. Now, a 700 pound steak . . .

Anyway, we progressed our way down the booths until we got to the midway/carnival.

I didn't think The Boy would even want to ride one of the rides, but he surprised me: he saw "The Sizzler" and wanted on. I bought the tickets (after he won stuffed animals by picking up ducks) and away we went. He loved it, laughing like a mad scientist whose creature has just come alive while the Sizzler continued to spin us at 750 rpm. He bounded away and wanted to ride the squirrel cage.

The squirrel cage is like a Ferris Wheel, but the carts can do a full 360-degree rotation. It also rotates around its central axis near the speed of sound. The squirrel cage reminded me why people my age should not be fighter pilots. Inertia, like cabbage, sucks. The Boy got into the squirrel cage, and all was well, until it started moving. Then, his enjoyment was replaced by abject terror.

"Make it stop!!!!!"

"I can't, you'll have to wait. Calm down."

About 90 seconds later (probably like 10 years for him) the ride stopped. Then five more minutes to get off the ride. A bonus of the ride was that while waiting in line to get on the squirrel cage, some older boys gave The Boy a toy plastic gun, a machine gun about three feet long. He was thrilled. His little brother, The New Boy (three months old) shakes like Jello during an earthquake when it makes its faux machine-gun sound. This is, no doubt, the first of many indignities that The New Boy will have to live through at the hands of The Boy.

After waiting with The New Boy while we waited in line for and then rode the squirrel cage, The Mrs. was ready to go home - The New Boy's conversation skills mainly involve drooling. Just standing there watching The Boy and I standing in line proved to be a bit much for her patience. I was also a bit worse for wear after being on two rides. I am no longer 18, and have no reason to impress anyone at a carnival.

So, after the brush with total terror, what was The Boy's response?

"I want to ride that one." (Pointing at The Octopus.)

Okay, I'm impressed. He's a keeper. Or, he doesn't know when to quit.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"Man walk on road. Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk down middle, sooner or later, get squished." - Pat Morita

We decided to go to the Tanana Valley State Fair this weekend.

Admission to the fair was $8.00 per person, which, going in, I thought was a bit steep for what I expected would be a pretty small event. Not the biggest fair I've been to, but I was surprised just how big this one is.

As in all fairs, there were booths of exhibitors. Above is a picture of Mr. Sushi, King of the Fighting Salmon. Mr. Sushi was in residence over the booth of the local Tang Soo Do Karate class. I think the proper word for that would be a Dojo, but for all I know, a Dojo could be like a Ding-Dong or a Ho-Ho. For the record, I did not see Ralph Macchio or Mr. Miyagi, but did meet a very nice guy with salmon pictures all around his booth. I do not know the connection between salmon and Tang Soo Do. Is there something fishy about this martial art?

Perhaps the most fun was watching the placement of the booths. Occasionally, it looked like someone with a sense of humor was doing the layout - the local teachers' union booth was right next to a booth for homeschoolers. I saw no bloodshed, but I did see one of the teachers sharpening a knife. I was really worried that this would be something like you would see in LA when rival street gangs take one another on, but, we moved along quickly. From personal experience I've seen what mad teachers are capable of.

Fortunately, Planned Parenthood was very far away from Right to Life.

The Teacher Union/Homeschooler Booth was right across from the local electrical utility booth, where I won a small electric fan that The Boy is right now playing with, seeing if he can use the flimsy plastic blades to cut apart one of our coffee tables. As of now, he has had no luck. I won said fan by answering a question that described the difference between alternating and direct current. You got to choose your own question, so I did not choose the one, "Who is the CEO of GVEA?" I have no idea. I just write the checks for the juice.

Then there were the actual entries, you know, the other reason the fair exists. Below is a picture of a big paper-mache moose. Now, I don't know about you, but I think this one deserves several different prizes - how the hell do you even transport a big (5' high!) paper-mache moose without having it turn into all sorts of random paper-mache moose parts? I'm fairly certain they didn't transport it in the hatchback of a 1976 Pinto. I'm glad this one won a ribbon, you can see the detail.

Anyway, after taking in all the exhibits (and there was a TON of swag for The Boy, stuff from the Alaska DOT, a button from a local coal mine, and a comic on Smokey Bear from the Forestry Extension Office, etc.), we ventured outside. It was pouring rain - I perhaps was hit by three drops during this cloudburst of Biblical proportions.

We looked at tent after tent, and were rewarded by seeing a local dance school do an interpretative dance to Kashmir. Led Zepplin's Kashmir. Somehow, the dance involved a guy in a mask trotting around various young females, and putting black blankets over them at different parts of the dance. I'm all for the arts, but this was beyond me. It did look, however, that the guy signed up for the class not because of a great ambition to be a dancer, but because he had a great guy to girl ratio in the class. Why did Willie Sutton rob banks? That's where the money is . . .

We also saw the tent pictured below:

It's the "Interior Democrats." I'm not sure if that's a psychological term describing that I might have an "Interior Democrat" like I might have an "Inner Child," but whatever the case, from the dearth of people at the booth, it looked for all the world like the "Interior Democrats" were giving away plague, or maybe cooties. A lonely booth in a crowded mall. Gotta give 'em credit for being spunky, though.

This Saga to be Completed in Part II: Revenge of The Carnival Ride

Saturday, August 06, 2005

"He fixed up the planet as best as He could; then in come the people and gum it up good"-A Singing Lee Marvin

Above is a picture of the Nenana. It's a paddle-wheel boat that was in use from the 1930's into the 1950's moving people and things around Alaska. After that, the state gave everyone rocket backpacks, so we had no more need for boats. We use the rocket backpacks when tourists aren't around.

So, I was listening to the radio (for all of you outside of Alaska, a radio is like an I-Pod, but transmits the same sound to everyone at the same time!) the other day and was dismayed. There was a Borough (we don't have counties) board voting whether or not a guy could chop up his property into parts to turn one 10 acre lot into four 2.5 acre lots, build houses on 'em, and sell 'em to Californians who have never seen lots big enough to park a moped on. (Side note: I heard recently that some Californians were paying over a million dollars for a trailer home, plus $2500 a month trailer park land rent. No joke. If any of you are listening, I will sell you two trailers plus acres of land for a million dollars. Just e-mail me.)

Well, the poor guy who wanted to subdivide his land lost. His neighbors complained that itty-bitty 2.5 acre lots wouldn't be like the area they moved into. They convinced a (by one vote) the board. I'm willing to bet there won't be many block parties in that neighborhood soon.

Dang. Just dang.

This doesn't bode well. I mean, (personal philosophy) if you own the land, and want to build a nuclear power plant or a strip club on it, good luck to you. But the real reason this bothers me is that building permits can't be far behind. If I wanted to replace my roof in (insert name of midwest city here) I had to go down and purchase a permit to have some yahoo come inspect what I'd done. Or I was breaking the law. Here, you build what you want, and if you sell, let the next guy deal with it.

Well, I'm the next guy. And I'm dealing with all of the bizarre construction techniques left over from the previous resident, and I'm okay that my house has never been inspected by a Borough-approved inspector. Really, I am. I hired an actual engineer to inspect my casa before I bought. He cost $300, and identified $5,000 in repairs. Not a bad return, plus unlike a government inspector, if he messes up, he's got liability.

But, let me explain further. I'm pretty sure that no building code in the country references the use of grass as a roofing material. But, look at the picture below:

Yes, that's the Visitor's Get An Alaska Pamphlet Building (we were in it a total of 35 seconds). With a grass roof.

I was talking the other day with a Home Despot employee during my weekly pilgrimage, and he told me his roof was made of straw. Straw, you know, just like in that epic novel The Three Little Pigs. He said it was, "cold as hell" in wintertime. "But that's the price we pay in Alaska for privacy."

My own roof is made of foam. Not like sea foam, but like styrofoam. It keeps the water out, and the heat in. I like it. Not sure it's code in the lower '48 either, but it's closer than grass or straw. I've spent about 40 hours this summer fixing mine. No permits, either, and I limit the number of beers I have when I'm on the roof, so I don't experience gravity poisoning.

Is the era of building permits coming to my neck of Alaska? Possibly. I think folks move up here from wherever to experience Alaska, and are frightened to discover it's not the place that they moved from, and then *poof* new laws. I just want to know how that first inspector is going to deal with inspecting repairs to that straw roof. . . heck, soon there might even be roof mowing laws . . .

Thursday, August 04, 2005

"You want the truth? You can't handle the truth," Col. Jack Friggin' Nicholson

Above is (yet) another picture of Denali. It's on the right. The mountain on the left is Mt. movingnorth.blogspot.com, named after I purchased the naming rights. I think that Denali (McKinley, if you're from Ohio) will soon be changed to "Campbell's Cup of Soup Mountain." Regardless, if you click on it, it will get bigger.

So, my burning question this week is:

Do I look like Dear Alaskan Abby? I mean, really, if you look at the picture, it's a friggin' moose. When was the last time you asked a moose for advice? Nevertheless, I get questions. I mean, moose cheese is understandable, but I got the following letter this week (note the care I've taken to remove all traces of identity):
My wife DOMESTIC PARTNER and I are seriously thinking about moving to Alaska from INSERT WEST COAST STATE HERE (for lots of reasons). My only real concern is that my wife DOMESTIC PARTNER, who is English FROM SOME COUNTRY WHERE THEY DRIVE ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, will go nuts. I grew up in the Canada SOME COUNTRY NORTH OF THE US so I think I can handle it. Do you have any advice/input etc regarding how she might handle it? I only ask because everything I read says the men do well but the wives go squirrelly. What do you think? Thanks, Dave SOME RANDOM NAME.

Again, do I
look like Dear Abby?

So, Dave SOME RANDOM NAME, you've opened a whole can of worms, here. It's an interesting question: is Alaska so tough that it turns women into furry. tree-dwelling, nut-gathering, rodents?

In the case of The Mrs., no, she has not turned at all . I will also state, swearing on a stack of my unsold novels, that I have never once viewed the transmogrification of a female human into either sex of any genus of squirrel. Note I am ONLY referring to squirrels here. Maybe I saw a were-moose. I'm not saying.

If the question is: will wives who move to Alaska become somewhat irrational (irrational=not agreeing with husband)? Then, the answer is
absolutely. As near as I can figure it, we here in Alaska have absolutely no regional monopoly on irrational wife behavior. But, as referenced numerous times here, wives who agree to move up here are generally more able to kick your butt silly. And, many of them are armed.

In reality, I sent Dave SOME RANDOM NAME actual information about life up here in the 49th. He sent a reply. I was enjoying reading the reply, when my blood ran cold:

"Great, thanks for the advice, I'm sure Alaska needs another attorney . . ."

Could you hear my scream in Anchorage??

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