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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Location: United States

Sunday, March 27, 2005

The Ultimate SUV

So, The Mrs. and I have a guilty pleasure - we like to watch The History Channel. At least, I know that I like to watch The History Channel, and she doesn't throw things at me. Anyhow, we were watching a show on "Extreme Tech" or something like that, and they showed black and white movies of the silliest idea I've ever seen - a "Land Train." This Land Train was built in the 1950's to move troops around in the Arctic tundra. Now, just why the Soviets would want to claim the tundra wasn't at all clear from the documentary. Perhaps they wanted to convert the caribou to communism? I digress.

So, some defense company put together the idea of having a huge train that could move troop effortlessly about the tundra, chasing the Soviets back across the Bering to Siberia. Kind of like the 1950's version of Knight Rider, maybe. Anyway, I guess the thing never worked as intended, and the Army discovered that these things called airplanes and helicopters were continually needed to move the mechanics in to fix the train when it broke. So, adding one plus one, they noticed that they had two other ways to move people around that didn't involve massive orange vehicles that moved at 2mph. The Land Train might have been a good idea if it had actually worked, and if all Soviet pilots were legally blind. Instead, the Land Train goes figuratively into the scrapheap of history. And literally into the scrapheap near my house.

There are three lasting legacies of the Land Train:
Beyond that, I'm coming up empty. Happy Easter.

North Pole

Invariably, when people hear the town name "North Pole, Alaska" they think you're joking. Nope. There actually is a North Pole. Here is the post office there. I doubt that this zip code will be the scene of a Fox TV show - too many parkas up here. Anyhow, North Pole, Alaska is not really at the North Pole, and is still about 170 miles south of the Arctic Circle. That didn't stop the town founders in 1953 from coming to the conclusion that if they named a town "North Pole" that toy manufacturing companies would flock to Alaska so that the toys could be stamped "Made at the North Pole." If there had been actual elves to exploit with wages of like a dollar a day, this might have worked. As it is, there are no real elves here that I've seen.

North Pole is, however, a touristy sort of place. There is a Santa Claus House, and a local restaurant called The Elf's Den. Many of the streetlights are painted like candy canes, and they keep the Christmas lights up 365 days a year. This is like a bug zapper for tourists, I mean, how can they resist?

The Boy loves roads, and road names. When he and I were driving down the main drag in North Pole, he asked what the name of the road was - and he loved the answer: Santa Claus Lane. We did the big triangle yesterday: North Pole, Fairbanks, Home. Our usual visits to the Home Despot (got the wrong size fridge lightbulb, not that it mattered, the right size didn't work either - no matter how many lightbulbs you change, it won't fix the fridge) and Safeway (somehow we got out of there without the bag that contained the meat for the week - they were very nice about it and we got our meat).

The Safeway is the anchor of the Bentley Mall. The Bentley Mall is about the same size as the Safeway, but you can go to Waldenbooks or that Empty Store That Used To Have Eddie Bauer. As you can see, it is the "FARTHEST NORTH MALL IN AMERICA." I imagine it was built in the 1950's to counter the dangerous far north mall gap that had sprung up with the Soviets.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Silence Of The Dog Team Crossing

I really like the way that this picture came out. The Boy and I went out and about (The Mrs. wasn't feeling so hot) and drove up the road. To see what we could see. And, besides a few mountains, we saw this sign, so I pulled over and took this picture.

I saw nothing crossing, so the sign was incorrect. Also, the idea of dogs forming some kind of team was also a bit foreign - I mean, they have no thumbs, so what kind of sport would they play? Soccer? I tend to think that dogs have more gumption than to play a sport like that, so, the sign remains a mystery.

London Bridge Is Melting Down

The ice festival is still going on. The Boy and I went last weekend, and saw that much of the ice art was looking a bit melty since it had been above freezing for the previous few days. However, it was really, really windy this day, which, coupled with the 15F temperature, resulted in it being very uncomfortable to be outside with exposed skin for more than five or ten minutes. By very uncomfortable, I mean that the fleshy bits attached to say, your face, would freeze right off. I generally make an effort to get to shelter when my fleshy bits become numb and just a tad crunchy. The Boy and I walked about as far as my fleshy bits would let, and then went back to the car.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Dogs On The Run

So, The Mrs., The Boy and I were out returning extra home improvement parts at Home Despot and Lowes, and we got in the car. We stopped first at the transfer station to drop off our trash. I have to comment about that - while I think it might be possible for you to pay someone to come and get your trash, the Borough (they don't have a county system here) has set up very convenient places with lots of dumpsters where you just go and drop your trash off. Very nice. You get rid of it when you want, and it's all in the property taxes anyway. We drop off ours on our way into town, and there's no extra time required. They even have covered areas where you can leave things that still work but that you don't want.

Where was I? Oh, that has nothing to do with the picture above. Well, in our vehicle we have a handy device, one that allows us to listen to audio signals that originate from a location remote to us - in real time. It's called a radio. Very nice - you should check out this promising new technology if you have a chance - they even have a techie abbreviated name for the one we were using - AM.

We turned on this 'radio' and were surprised not to hear the talk show that's usually on at that time, but a team of reporters covering a sled dog race in real time. The race course was through the town of Fairbanks - not in some remote forest. We still don't know all of our way around the place, but one of the checkpoints was at the intersection of the roads that we knew. It was described as a golf course, but every time we drove by, it was just another snow-covered field. As we drove by this time, there were about 20 cars parked there, and we stopped. Sure enough, still a snow-covered field, but this time I noticed a snow-covered sign that said "Golf Course."

The Boy and I got out of the car, and went to the top of a snow hill. We waited about a minute, and, boom, here comes a gentleman riding a sled while a bunch of dogs pull him along. The Boy was excited. He enjoyed it very much. Of course, my digital camera wasn't ready, so I took a picture of some lovely trees. These same trees are visible in the picture posted above (click on it for a larger size) but this picture has the virtue of having an actual musher and some actual dogs in it.

Mushing is a big sport up here - lots of people participate in it. We have a dog. One dog. These folks sometimes have 22. Dang. I complain about how much it costs to feed our dog - but 22?? Anyway, talking with some people associated with the sport, they are passionate. One fried is related to a guy who just finished in the Ididarod (officially 1049 miles, in reality sometimes a couple hundred longer than that - why would you understate that?), in the top 10. He talks about how much the dogs really love to mush. They were bred to do it, and, the dogs I saw when looking at the race sure looked happy - they were loving the run. They looked happier than the joggers I saw when I was driving to our next destination after taking this picture (although The Mrs. says that most joggers look just like those fleeing the law). Our dog is a husky-cocker spaniel mix. The husky part is often used for mushing, I can see it in our dog, which is a real snow loving dog. He complains at about -50 that his paws get cold after about 10 minutes, but that's about it.

Dog mushing is the NASCAR of the north. There are magazines devoted to it. As I mentioned, they took normal programming off of the radio just to comment on it. They closed down streets in town for this race. Every Saturday, the mushers are out when there is enough snow. Now, there was no noise as the mushers went by while The Boy and I watched, and they were spread out by minutes on the groomed trail. I doubt that the sled would catch fire and crush the musher if it rubbed up against the snow bank next to the trail, but the folks watching were very excited.

Crushed Ice

Well, the ice tower that I yakked about a few posts back has developed a bad case of gravity poisoning. As always, click on the picture for a larger one.

It happened all at once, according to the paper. The guy who lives in the house on wheels was asleep, and heard what he thought sounded like an earthquake. Now, were I the one setting up the ice tower, and expected it to be, say, 200 feet tall, I would have everything I owned some distance greater than 200 feet away from the thing. Especially me.

The blocks are big - the little thing out front is a saw horse with floodlights, so that would give you some scale. If you do the calculations, the ice from the tower, accelerating at thirty two feet per second squared, falling a distance of 160', would seriously cut into your free time away from the hospital. I wonder if the guy's homeowner's insurance covers guests getting knocked on the noggin by three-ton ice chunks traveling at the speed of sound?

I guess the Jimmy Kimmel show called, and wanted to put the ice tower on national television, but only if the guy who owns it would agree to blow it up for the show. 160' ice tower plus explosives? I was looking for language to express the absurdity of this, but, find myself once again speechless when life is more absurd that what I can make up.

So, the ice tower is gone for this year. I imagine next year it'll be even taller. Like a duck returning to Capistrano, I'll be back there, too.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

View From The Deck

So, if you're sitting on a deck, in a hot tub, in Alaska, this is what it looks like. The Mrs. and The Boy are enjoying some nice warm bubbly water. It was about 20F when this picture was taken. Not the hot tub water - that was 100F. The air was 20F. I must remind myself to be a bit more specific.

The view of the trees from my front deck and huge picture window is irritating. The trees surround our property. Heck, when I drive to my house, I drive through lane after lane of spruce and birch trees, towering toward the crisp blue sky until I get to the wooded five acres that our log cabin (next post) sits on.

Another irritating thing is all of the wildlife. Saw a cow moose munching on a tree yesterday as I was driving home. Drove within 10 feet of her. It really bothers me to be surrounded so often with such nature. I would much prefer to live in a congested concrete suburban paradise, living four feet from my next door neighbor near a busy street with fast moving, noisy traffic and street lights that block out the stars (which are so vivid and bright here that a yard light is superfluous). Yeah. That's my dream.

Anyhow, they delivered the Hot Tub on Thursday. Since it was 20 F, I had to make sure that it had power available to it. That involved getting into the electrical panel. I was using an exterior grade electrical cable for the fifty amp, 220 volt power. For those not conversant in power, that translates into "enough power to turn you into that burned french fry that got stuck in the fry basket at Burger King." I am certain, certain, that there is some quick and easy way to strip the exterior polyconcretebutalenewhatever covering off of the wire. I have no knowledge of this easy way. My only advice: do not use a really sharp knife, unless you have adequate first aid supplies on hand. Do not ask me how I know this. Let's just say that when your left index finger isn't usable in typing, that you tend to type an 'r' instead of a 't'. It's like Scooby Doo (rut ro, Raggy) is channeling through your computer.

Anyhow, I digress. It seems that I sometimes make assumptions that are incorrect. Mine was that the circuit breaker that I had would fit into the electrical panel that I have. Since the house is of recent vintage (1980's) I made the assumption that the breaker would fit. Nope. Now, as all of you who have done time critical repairs on a house know, the time that you find this out is typically within 10 minutes of the hardware store closing. Yup. Discovered the error of my assumption right on time.

In my defense, the Hot Tub Delivery Man and his Trusty Minions moved the delivery up on me, and I had intended to take my time in putting everything in, with no time pressure. Since Hot Tub Delivery Man had to go to Anchorage to have his teeth waxed, I could either have the tub delivered on Thursday or June 15, 2012. I opted for the earlier delivery.

Went to Home Despot (emperor of all things home related), and found that, for some probably pagan reason, they change their store hours on the equinox to be open later than 9pm. Really. Is there some astronomical reason to switch store hours based upon the relative position of the Earth in it's orbit 'round the Sun? I'm not sure, but I imagine Stonehenge, robes, and virgin sacrifices fit in here, perhaps in the kitchen cabinet aisle?

So, Home Despot was closed. I got in my car and scooted to an equally deserted-looking Lowes.

It was, despite the apocalyptic barrenness of the parking lot, open. The make of my service entrance (place where you go with the flashlight to click on the circuit breaker that went off after your three year old pour orange juice into the toaster and made a lovely blue torch next to the sink) seems to be entirely different than any circuit breaker made in the recent memory of any living man. Except for the one that cost $138.

So, armed with the platinum covered moonrock encrusted circuit breaker, I went home, stripped more wire, and installed the breaker. I asked The Mrs. to step back as I flicked it on. We heard a low rumbling outside. I felt like Thomas "juice me" Edison. Power was restored and my rapidly cooling hot tub was now once again blessed with heat. The end result was that The Mrs. and The Boy got in last night, and enjoyed a nice soak, having to stare at those damn irritating trees and the equally irritating bright starlight and moonlight.

I'll get in after my hand heals back up.

Little House in the Massive North, By John Ingalls Wilder

So, somebody said I hadn't posted a picture of where we live. This one was taken about two months ago. Boxes are gone now, but the snow remains. To make the obvious even more so, it's a log cabin.

We live on the inside part.

It has an 'arctic' entry. In the Midwest, that'd be known as a mudroom. It is a nice feature, because you can put your dog in there.

Log cabins are, I hear, nice to have in your neighborhood. They're pretty to look at, but require (as it has been explained to me) continual massive maintenance to prevent them from collapsing into a flammable pile of unrelated sticks. I guess that's what the 24 hours of light in the summer are for - log home repair.

I'll update you as the repairs occur. Keep in mind, though, no building permits here, so heaven knows what sort of stuff I'll run into. The original builder was, umm, eccentric, according to the folks that knew him before he invented Spandex, moved to Hollywood, and married Angelina Jolie.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Aurora, Yet Again

This week, I got to see the Aurora.

I know I've mentioned it before, but this time, I got to see the Aurora.

Wow. Anything I saw before this was simply silly. This was quite literally the most awe inspiring sight of a natural nature that I've ever seen. To put it into words is really hard, but I'll try.

About 10pm on Tuesday we looked outside, and saw a tower of light shooting up from the northwest. We watched it, and it was stable for a while. Then, I got the bright idea that maybe there was more to it then you could see from the back picture window of the house. Was there ever. The wide band (wider than a full moon) went from northwest to southeast. The Mrs. bundled up and came outside to watch, too. As we watched, it evolved, it pulsed, the streams split, and motion was visible.

The Mrs. got cold and went inside. I stayed out. You could see waves moving up and down the Aurora, crashing soundlessly into one another, coherence meeting in turbulence. Secondary walls of light spikes formed, in colors of green, gold, red.

I eventually went inside as well. A few minutes later, I looked outside and saw nearly the entire sky erupt in a cascade of undulating green fire. It was moving as fast as a bad 1960's movie special effect.

Okay. I said I saw the Aurora. I guess I did, but this was something entirely different. Amazing.

I'd show you the pictures we took outside, but, again, the digital camera won't pick up a thing. I'm going to grin an evil grin now: guess you'll just have to see it for yourself.

Fairbanks Ice Festival

Went to the World Ice Art Championship up here in Fairbanks last weekend. In a land of fairly high prices, the tickets were $15 for each person, unlimited access through the end of the Championships. A good bargain, so The Mrs. and I got one each, and The Boy didn't need one, being four and free. If you click on the various pictures, you can get more detail. Believe me, these are worth it. Despite any fun I might poke, the people who did this work are very talented, and the sculptures that they've made are wonderful.

The clock above, despite being pretty, appears to be entirely non-functional. I didn't see the pendulum swing (despite sitting and waiting for some time) and it was about 3pm when we were there, versus the five 0'clock shown. Maybe the mechanism is frozen.

Anyhow, I've heard some lore about the Championship that I thought was worth passing along. When the Championship was first getting in gear, I hear that several people were very upset - they trucked in ice from Minnesota to using in the carvings. Now, imagine that.

To Alaska.

Yeah, sounds silly. I hear, though, we have the recipe down now, and that these are made of real Alaskan ice.

Das Frog

I really think what I enjoyed most about this sculpture was the frog's tongue. The whole thing, being made of ice and all, is neat. The tongue is really out there, and polished mirror smooth.

The ice art was mostly back in the trees, where it was a bit colder. The days recently (except for today, when I'm planning on going and working on the deck, naturally) have been warm, 30's-40's, and when we were at the Championships it was almost t-shirt weather.

Kiddie Park

At the Championships, one of the very nicest things was the Kiddie Park. Wow. The Boy was in heaven, and there were various things that he enjoyed:
  • A whole lot of slides like the one above
  • A snake made of ice, but hollow inside so little folks could crawl through
  • Ice baskets that The Boy could sit in and I could spin
  • 'Hands on' sculptures of bears, elephants, etc.
  • Little ice houses with ice furniture inside
  • An ice rink with ice walls
  • An ice maze in the form of a Chinese castle
One of the neatest slides was made to look like the Great Wall of China. Inside the ice were various colors of fluorescent tubes. At night it is gorgeous, and my pictures of it are lame, so, imagine. As a slide, it looks cool, but the long, shallow slope was not conducive to high speed terror. First, The Boy got to the top, but appeared to leave much of his courage at the bottom. It was pretty high. So, he didn't want to slide alone.

I went with him. He was wearing nylon pants, gloves, etc., and I was wearing jeans, a tee-shirt, and a flannel shirt. He didn't slide very well, and I didn't slide at all. I inched down the slide on my rapidly cooling butt and pushed him along with my foot. We both made it. It would have been nice to have ridden this one on a sled, but that was, according to the sign out front, prohibited.

All in all, the Kiddie Park was great.

Surreal Ice Art

Okay, the ice art is all neat, but this one was just amazing. You must click on the link for this one. I really have no idea what this is, but, it's neat.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

More on the Aurora

So, it's nearly midnight last night. The Mrs. is feeling tired, ill, etc., and we're getting ready to go to bed. I go to the window on the northern side of the house, all the lights off. I look up and see the northern lights in the sky. Fantastic! They're a diffuse glow, but I can see them ebb and flow and dance across the sky. A sharp spike in the aurora, moves quickly, painting the sky. I remind myself that this is good, since the atmosphere is doing its job and catching the high-energy radiation that the Sun is kicking out and turning it into a lovely light show. All the components of good exist: removal of the element of mortal danger plus entertainment. Kind of like a bullfight without a matador, but I guess that would translate to just watching cattle wander about a ring. I'll have to work on a better analogy.

Anyway, The Mrs. comes and checks out the aurora. She stumbles over a chair in the dark on the way to the window, and then she finally gets to a chair and sits down by the window. We see the aurora spread and move from east to west, from the horizon to as far up as we could see, given the overhang of the house. Slowly. Beautiful, but she misses the sharp spike dancing and whipping in the atmosphere above. It was the difference between a laser light show and a lava lamp.

The aurora is a pale green, a green that Stephen King would say, "suffused an alien device." And not the good "give mankind presents and Pez" kind, but the bad, "we're going to eat your brains and take the planet" kind. I've heard the local folks talk about reds and oranges, but we could see none of those colors. Regardless, she suggests that we take a picture. I go get the digital camera, and discover it is possible to take two different types of picture from inside of the aurora at night: one where the flash brightens up the window, essentially turning it into a great reflective mirror, and one where you put your finger over the flash, and the camera takes a completely dark picture. Pictures of the aurora (not the one I saw, but generic) can be seen here.

Well, The Mrs. goes back to bed, and almost as soon as she leaves the room, I saw the spike moving rapidly across the sky, my laser light show was back. I guess, for now, I'm the one who is cursed to see it, much like the guy on the old Looney Tunes who finds the frog (I think it was Michigan J. Frog) who would sing (Hello my baby, hello my darling, hello my ragtime gaaaaal . . .) but only when other people weren't around.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Crazy Snow II

So, here's a section of the same fence as in the post below. I assure you, this fence is nothing special, just corrals for a bunch of horses that we don't and won't have. We have enough damn animals already. Snowmachines are nicer, and cost less in the long run.

So, over the course of this winter (Alaska has four seasons, just like everywhere else but they call 'em by different names- Winter, June, July, August) the snow has dropped on a pipe, and made contact with the rope "mid-rail" of the corral. No intervening structure, except for the concrete-like snow.

Crazy Snow

One of the things that we first noted when we moved up here was how strange snow behaved. If you look at the fence post here, you can see that the snow has migrated as time went on. I know that you can't touch it, but let me give you a virtual idea of what the snow is like: concrete.

The snow here comes down in huge flakes, next to no wind. Very powdery, for the first day or so. Then, it settles down, compacts, and becomes hard as a rock. There's a bunch of this stuff on the wood pile, and you really can't knock it off - it's like you dipped the wood in concrete. Amazing!

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