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, February 26, 2006

"Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." - Booger, Better Off Dead

The Boy prepares for a long, bone jarring journey that will tax us both - going up and down the road.

The snowmachine was home. It started up right away. It’s an electric start machine, which is quite a luxury when compared with the pull-start that I had growing up. I walked inside. I handed the free helmet that we’d gotten to The Mrs. “Well, we have a snowmachine.”

“Yeah, I thought we were going to get one when you left.” Amazingly, The Mrs. has this mind reading thing going on, so the things I’m going to do in the future are as known to her as the things I’ve done.

The Mrs. got dressed up in her warm boots and jacket, and The Boy got dressed up as you see two posts below. The funny thing is that particular snowmachine outfit (with the exception of the boots and facemask, but including the helmet) was one I used when I was his age, and seems little the worse for wear.

I suggested The Mrs. take the first ride since the machine had gotten home. Now, in her defense, she’d never ridden a snowmachine before. The Mrs. got on and was confronted with two flippers. Depressing the one on the right causes the engine to get gas. Depressing the one on the left causes the brake to engage. Simple, but that wasn’t the problem that The Mrs. was having. Her problem was that as she depressed the gas, the snowmachine just rev’d up, but didn’t go. Just one ride will show you that you have to rev the engine up for a while until the clutch engages and you translate burning gasoline to fun. I told her to push down and hold, and she gingerly drove the machine up our road. When she came back into our yard, she did a moderately fast turn.

Now, I forgot to tell The Mrs. that with a snowmachine that you’ve got to lean in to the turn, wicked hard, or else the machine flips like the top-heavy combination of fiberglass, rubber and aluminum that it is. Fortunately, she figured it out before turning over, else I would have had some ‘splainin to do.

After her first ride, she pulled The Boy up and on the machine in front of her. I could see that with each pass up and down the road her speed increased just a little more, and she seemed more comfortable.

If you’ve never ridden a snowmachine, I’ll do my best to explain what it’s like. When I was a kid I’d pretend that my snowmachine was some sort of advanced tactical fighter jet – the ride was so smooth, yet you could turn, speed up, slow down and maneuver to your heart’s desire as the spraying powdery snow danced up around you, jumping the occasional obstacle and for a moment being weightless in midair. Riding a snowmachine was like a dream. When we drove them as a family we’d scoot deep back into the woods, turn them off, and have a nice lunch twenty or so miles from the nearest road fit for traffic, the only sounds the slight breeze through the mountain meadow and the sounds of the metal on our machines going “ping” as they cooled.

Snowmachines also led to great stories, like the time my brother was riding my machine and got it stuck. He was off the machine, attempting to get traction for the track that runs under the length of the machine. As it finally got enough traction in the powdery snow, the throttle picked that time (because of a frayed cable) to stay in the full open position, dumping all the gas that the carburetor could deliver to the engine. My brother managed to grab the back of the machine as it began to accelerate past him. The machine took off over the big meadow, my brother being dragged behind like a limp doll, bouncing up and down off the snow. Finally, he could hold on no longer. He let go, and the machine (a 1975 Arctic Cat Panther) instantly accelerated, as it was not longer burdened by the need to drag and smash my brother across the snow.

My snowmachine must have been going near 100MPH when it hit the trees.

Even though my brother had just (and this wasn’t his fault) smashed my snowmachine, I wasn’t in the least upset, because even though that machine was sold over a decade ago, I still have the memory of him hanging on to the driverless snowmachine speeding across a snowy mountain meadow.

Heck, I wasn’t mad when it happened. It was just too friggin’ cool watching all that.

As I watched The Mrs., these memories came flooding back to me. The freedom and joy of being one with the machine, plus the goofy stories that The Boys would carry to their family. I was fairly sure The Mrs. would like it, but still that doubt remained . . .

When she finally brought her ride to a stop, I yelled over the roar of the engine, “Do you like it?”

I saw her helmet bob in affirmation.

“Do we need two?”

She flipped up the visor, “Yes.”

I then got on with The Boy. We drove the machine up and down the road again. He laughed and laughed, the deep-throated laugh of a boy at his apogee of joy. When I jumped a small snow hill, I heard him exclaim, “Yeah hah!”

I also learned to not let him touch the accelerator. When we were stopped, I encouraged him to depress the gas. At first he was tentative. Then he rammed the flipper down to the handle, leaving me barely hanging on as I scrabbled to remove his mittened fist from introducing enough liquid energy into the engine to drive us into the trees ahead. Fortunately, I was able to do so.

The Mrs. and I talked after our ride. She said, “I need another helmet. This one smells like tractor.”

I replied, “They’re all going to smell like tractor. That’s how snowmachines smell.”

“I need a new helmet.”

Point and match, The Mrs. She’ll get a new helmet, after all, if you’re riding, you need one.

We went shopping yesterday. The baby food aisle is next to the magazine rack. As The Mrs. and I were dumping gallon after gallon of baby food into the cart to satisfy the voracious appetite of The New Boy, I heard a small voice behind me.

The Boy: “Can I get a magazine?”

“What magazine?” I asked, not even turning back to look.

“A snowmachine magazine.”

I turned, and saw that he’d picked up the latest issue of “SnowGoer,” a magazine which bills itself as, “World’s #1 Snowmobile Magazine.”

Yeah, you can get that one. I think we’ll be needing another machine some day . . .
maybe soon, if I can find one that won't reduce me to hundredairedom.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Outrageous! This is pure snow, it's everywhere! I think I just froze the left half of my brain!" - Booger, Better Off Dead

The Mrs. and The Boy prepare to take test ride number one.

The phone rang on Sunday morning. I was sleeping on the couch engaged in educational play with The Boys. As is usual, the handset for the phone was nowhere near the base of the phone, so finding it before the person on the other end gave up is the equivalent of an audio Easter egg hunt. The Boy located the handset first. He picked it up and said “Hello . . . Hello,” yet he received no answer.

Primarily that’s because you actually have to press the “Talk” to turn it on, so he could have been talking to said Easter egg and gotten similar results. The Boy is just slightly ahead of his time. This is equivalent to being goofy.

Anyhow, the voice on the other end was the gentleman I’d spoken to on Saturday who had advertised his snowmachine for sale in the local paper. The person that was going to buy his snowmachine hadn’t shown up. Did I want to come take a look?

Yes I did. This particular snowmachine was the only snowmachine in the paper that had been made since Johnson (Andrew, not Lyndon) was president that wasn’t priced in the thousands of dollars.

I got directions, and made an appointment to show up at noon, and curled back up on the couch continued teaching The Boys about all things good and American.

When it was time to leave I caught up with The Mrs.

“I’m going to go look at a snowmachine. Want to come?”

“Nope. I trust your judgment.”

“So, if I want to get it . . . .?”

“Get it.”

Armed with approval from The Mrs., The Boy and I piled into the Wildermobile and went off in search of the machine. As we drove to the residence where it was, we reached an intersection. It was at this point that The Boy showed his continual doubt in my ability to ever have navigated life without him.

“Hey, you’re going the wrong way! Fairbanks is a left turn!”

“No, he said his house was this way.”

“But. I. Wanna. See. The. SNOWMACHINE.” This was punctuated by the sobbing of a disappointed five year old.

“We’re not going to the snowmachine store, we’re going to someone’s house. They have a snowmachine they want to sell.”

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?”

Actually, The Boy ended up being right. I ended up halfway to Anchorage before I turned around and headed back the way we came, which occasioned yet another tantrum because he thought we were going home without even seeing a snowmachine. The Boy wanted a snowmachine, deep down into the core of his being, he could see himself riding along the snow at high speed, all the freedom of the world at his disposal.

Despite my navigation, we finally made it to our destination.

We met up with the snowmachine’s owner, his wife, and son. I test drove the snowmachine, and all was good. The Boy explored the house while the owner drew up a bill of sale, and I drew up a check. Normally I’d dicker a bit just because I enjoy it, but the price on the machine was great, it was well maintained, plus the owner threw in a full-face helmet.

Since Wildertruck is of uncertain condition (I haven’t cranked it since October), I asked the owner if he’d bring it by. He agreed. When he dropped it off, he noted that he’d almost bought my house two years ago. Like I’ve said before, for a state that’s as large as the smallest 25 of the United States combined Alaska is still a small place. For all I know, everyone in Alaska has been or will be over at my place at least once. I guess this is okay as long as it’s not everyone at once, because I just don’t have enough beer for that many people.

To be concluded tomorrow in: SNOWMACHINE 3: RISE OF THE SNOWMACHINES

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Buck up little camper, we'll beat that slope together. " - Booger, Better Off Dead

Tranquility Base, this is Houston. You are go for EVA.

We had a run of amazingly nice weather up here in Fairbanks. It’s been warmer than usual, and as such, we’ve been making the most of the outdoors. We’ve been cutting wood, shoveling snow, sending The Boy out to do Boy things during the day.

But, aside from The Boy, we were working. While we enjoyed it, it was still work. The itch began for some fun. Fun activities in wintertime in Alaska are numerous. Some of them are even outdoor activities that don’t involve candles and giggling and The Mrs. wearing a French maid’s outfit (oh, yeah, flannel jammies). One of them that we’ve been missing out on is snowmachining. (Alaska note: they’re snowmachines up here, not snowmobiles. No real reason, that’s just the local lingo, like a “junkie” would be known as “mayor” in Washington D.C. Another, much older name for a snowmachine is “Iron Dog,” which relates to the replacement of sled dogs.)

For those of you that don’t know, a snowmachine is, well, a mechanical dogsled. Some of which have 150 horsepower engines and can go from zero to 125 mph fast enough to make your fillings puddle about the back side of your throat. So, it’s not really anything like a dogsled at all, unless your dogs are CGI animation flying dogs from the Lord of the Rings. And those are expensive, and endangered. I would buy some of those, but alas, they’re not at all real.

It was during this warm spell that we heard the snow machines distantly (oh, yeah, we live a quarter of a mile from a paved road) growling, like mosquitoes angry over competition with other shameless bloodsucking beasts, like Anna Nicole Smith.

The Mrs. and I decided to go looking for snowmachines. We decided to go look at some new ones. We went to a local snowmachine shop, and were completely ignored. When I go out to buy something expensive, I attempt to look like I have no money, leaving my tuxedo and Aston-Martin 4x4 at home. Apparently it worked a bit too well in this case, though I did have my Bond girl of the moment, The Mrs., with me. Those particular snowmachine dealers must work for Blofeld. After ten straight minutes of impenetrable inattention, I took my football and went home.

We then drove over to Northern Power Sports, where we could hardly stand unaccompanied for two or three minutes before being surrounded by troops of salesmen with velvet cushions containing prize snowmachine tidbits and pantyhose merely for our amusement. Okay, that’s a bit of an embellishment, but service was good there. I test-drove a snowmachine with The Boy. We both wore borrowed helmets, I’m guessing because brain damaged customers might be bad for business, even though they’d be more likely to accept a lease deal. The snowmachine was wonderful. We drove the least expensive machine they had there, with the exception of the children’s snowmachine. I would have test-driven that one, but a long line of Santa’s elves were ahead of me.

The Boy loved it. When I say loved it, he loved it in the “I don’t think it’s going to go, oh my gosh it does, good heavens it’s fast IS DAD GONNA JUMP THAT PILE OF SNOW oh gosh he did I LOVE THIS . . . muhahahahaha” sort of way, as only the mind of a five year old can. When we finished the ride, he was convinced that we were going to test drive every single snowmachine in the lot, all 436 of them. When he saw we were going to test drive only one, he was greatly disappointed.

Part of being five is the first glimmer of the infinite. The words “forever” and “never” begin to creep into the language. For instance, when I say “We’re not going to drive another snowmachine right now,” it translates to “We’re never ever ever ever going to ride anything as fun as that snowmachine again in your life. This was your last taste of freedom and fun. Forever.” I pulled his tiny grip from the handlebars (and heard the popping sound as the tentacle-like suckers on his hands let go of the hard plastic), and then we went shopping for food, and then went home.

The Mrs. and I talked about getting the snowmachine. She suggested that I look in the newspaper and see what kind of used machines they had, and compare against the new machine we’d looked at. I found one listed that sparked my eye, primarily because it had:
  • A small engine - a 340 cc (cc is cubic communistmeters, the unit of measure that the Soviets devised to enslave our soft drink manufacturers) is more than enough engine to propel the snowmachine at 50MPH, which is more than fast enough to hit a tree with
  • A small price – even though I am a thousandaire, I don’t need to spend like one
I called the owner. He was fairly apologetic when he told me that he had promised his 1997 Polaris Indy Lite 340cc to someone else. He told me he’d call me back if the person he’d promised it to fell through on the deal.

With winter ending in only 354 days from now, would he call me back?

Oh yeah, he called me back. I’ll tell you about it Saturday in:


Sunday, February 19, 2006

"You're right, no human being would stack books like this." - Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters

Cutting all the wood you see above took about thirty minutes. And you thought your hobby was boring . . .

We were working like a well-oiled machine – all four of us in concert. I was cutting through the lengths of wood with a chainsaw. The Mrs. was picking up the now stove-sized pieces and stacking them. The Boy was wandering around in the snow cavorting with animals like Charlie Sheen in search of a party. The New Boy was sleeping, like Charlie Sheen after a party, though he was sleeping alone, which I hear would be unlike Charlie Sheen.

If you get the picture, that means that The Mrs. and I were doing all the work, but The Band of Brothers wasn’t impeding us, which was enough this day.

There’s a bit of harmony in using the chainsaw. One of the things I’ve noticed is that while you’re planning to cut wood, you’re not cutting wood. I know this seems intuitively obvious to the casual observer, but I keep looking to be efficient while I do the work. I try to think if this cut will make that cut easier. This efficiency urge is in my nature, and in knocking trees down it makes sense not to go willy-nilly felling them, since one of them might end up falling on your truck. By my calculations, if a five hundred pound tree accelerates at 32 ft/s² (9.81 m/s² for those living in communist countries) through a distance of 21 feet, it will achieve a terminal velocity that is a big whump. This may void the manufacturer’s warranty on the truck, not to mention the patience of your significant other. But, I wasn’t cutting trees down; I was just blocking eight-foot long logs to the smaller two-foot size that will actually fit in the stove.

For this task, I just have to go with the Zen of cutting the wood – just cut it, don’t worry too much about the next cut, just do this one. Strangely, I find that when I’m not thinking about how I cut the wood, I end up cutting a lot more wood. The other thing about Zen is it seems to require the plentiful use of italics.

I could see that The Mrs. was in the Zen mode, too. She was stacking wood like a kung fu master, and it flew from her hands like those pointy little ninja things into Chuck Norris.

Me, I don’t care so much if it’s stacked, it should just be out of the way. My job is to cut wood. I can’t cut wood if the wood I’ve just cut is in the way. The Mrs. decided to stack it, since she’s also the type of person who alphabetizes CDs and DVDs after she’s categorized them through a system more complex, yet more intuitive, than the Dewey Decimal System. I could work with just a pile, but since The Mrs. brings the bulk of the wood to the house, well, I’ll indulge her and let her stack wood to her heart’s content.

My chainsaw ran out of gas-oil mix, and thus ended my wood cutting day. I jumped off the logs I was standing on and started helping The Mrs. stack the wood. I gathered up an armful and carried it the fifteen or so feet to the stack. I was pleased with how big the stack had gotten while I’d been cutting.

The Mrs. and I were still in the Zen, I would gather wood about the time she’d drop it off. That’s when the trouble began.

“You’re stacking it wrong.”

Now, I’ve spent years stacking, splitting, cutting and moving wood. I was curious. “What do you mean?”

“Well, you just threw it up there. I’m the one who has to go and get most of the wood, and there are some big pieces up there. I don’t want them falling on me, because you were lazy and just threw them up there. So, stack the wood right.”

I can say that I was pleased that The Mrs. didn’t use her “Mom” voice. The Mrs. “Mom” voice is much like Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi mind control voice, and could convince me that those really weren’t the droids I was looking for. I could feel the unease that The Boy must feel when confronted with the Motherly Might of The Mrs. over having strewn six or seven tons of toys on the front room floor.

I didn’t want to force her to use the “Mom” voice. I whipped out a T square and made sure that most of the wood I was placing was within a degree or two of parallel with it’s brother pieces in the stack.

In addition to having the “Mom” voice, The Mrs. also has the ability to discern the answer to questions without asking them. For example, on Friday she asked me:

“Did you put lotion on The New Boy last night?” The Mrs. knows my distaste for even touching lotion. It’s so . . . lotiony. Ugh. I’d rather clean up the inside of Dan Rather’s wrinkles.

I had my back to her, so, I answered, “Yes.” A small test, really, of her powers.

“John . . .”

“No, I didn’t grease him up, just checking to see that your powers were still unabated, oh great and powerful Oz.”

It works that way.

She even takes issue with my need for efficiency. We have a stack of wood near our door. We take the wood, put in a wheelbarrow, move it to the door, and put it there neatly so we don’t have to walk to the remote wood pile stack for a single stick of wood. I like to leave the last load in the wheelbarrow, so that I don’t have to stack the one load that we’ll take in first. Saves about two minutes of the day. Efficient, no?


The Mrs. doesn’t like it a bit, for the following reasons:
  • It’s not neat and tidy
  • If it snows, the wood in the wheelbarrow gets covered with snow, while the stacked wood does not
  • She wants it stacked
So, a bit of advice for the day: If The Mrs. ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. Stack the wood. Oh, and those aren’t the droids I’m looking for. Move along.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

"Whenever you buy a house, whatever's in the ground belongs to you, whether it's gold or oil or Claude Musselman." - Sheriff, Funny Farm

Another Fairbanks resident showing ingenuity in dealing with conditions. Apparently, they got tired of that cold window and put in nice, warm, soft fluffy pillows. I wonder if they smell like fabric softener? You can click on the picture for larger pillowy goodness.

The Governor of Alaska has recently decided that he needs to set up a media/ad campaign to convince the United States that we’re not a bunch of shameless, greedy beggars up here. For the most part, we don’t really care what the rest of the United States thinks. Heck, for the most part up here, we don’t care what each other think.

The reason we care what the rest of the United States thinks, however, is that we want to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling of sweet, sweet oil. Some Alaskans are against this, but even they will admit that they’re in such a tiny minority that they could hold their meetings in a closet in Danny DeVito’s motorhome. Alaskans are overwhelmingly for drilling in ANWR. If we could drill in ANWR, we’d be there tomorrow. Literally. I’ve got a rig in my front yard, idling, ready to go and start drilling.

So, to start drilling, I have to convince you that we’re not shameless, greedy beggars up here. The definition of pork is money not spent in your state. I can defend one of Alaska’s infamous two bridges, the Knik Arm Bridge, which would allow an easy commute to land for Anchorage to expand. Whenever I travel about the country I see big cities with huge bridges paid for by federal funds, and this would be another one of those. The Gravina Island bridge, well, not so much. I’d use that money for roads in the Interior of Alaska, to get to ANWR to get the oil out.

I could easily put together a litany of pork projects from your state that your senator got rolled up into a defense spending bill, so I made up three of these five pork projects listed below, mainly because I’m lazy. But I could get real projects that would be just as silly.
  • California’s $23,000,000,000 International Toenail Museum
  • Texas’ $1,000,000 Lone Star Piña Colada Blender Research Center
  • Any money spent in Florida
  • Arizona’s $103,000,000 subsidy to cotton farmers
  • Nebraska’s $7,000,000 House of Corn
Why do we need to get the oil out?

Alaska is a state filled with natural beauty (we inject very few of our mountains with collagen and silicon) and natural resources (sweet, sweet oil, shiny gold, zinc, tasty fishies, and, of course, trees, our woody friends).

Our start as a state is similar to that of California or Colorado, except we don’t start with a ‘C’. We do, however, end with a vowel. When California and Colorado started out, it was mineral extraction that paved the way and created the infrastructure for the diversified and stable economy that followed. Alaska is attempting to follow this time-tested path (partially) by drilling for that oil in ANWR.

Now, when I look at drilling in ANWR, I see that this endeavor will have an immense economic benefit to Alaskans and to the citizens of the United States as a whole. That oil will be used to allow people in Portland to drive to the mall. The oil will allow the United States to keep some of the piles of cash we’re shipping in boats over to Venezuela, and allow folks at the steel mill in Gary, Indiana to make steel pipe that we’ll use to connect up all the wells.

To put it in as simple a way as I can: in ANWR we want to use 2000 acres. 2000 acres is 0.00009% of Federal land in Alaska. For these 2000 acres, we’ll create $140 billion dollars of economic value to society, without appreciable change to ANWR. Once the oil is pumped, the land will look the same as it did before, provided it hasn’t been covered in caribou carcasses created by stampeding concerned celebrities.

People call those who would drill in ANWR greedy, but think about this one for a second: is it greedy to want to develop a resource for the benefit of millions of people? Or, is it greedier to not allow that development because of worst-case scenarios of doom and thereby deprive millions of people of those benefits?

Speaking of benefits, there was also a report that came out talking about how much more money Alaskans got than they paid to the federal government, $1.89 for ever $1.00 of tax dollars we send in. What’s not mentioned is that $7 billion was spent in Alaska, while $184 billion was spent in California. I hate research, and normally employ the time-tested technique of “making crap up” but I thought in this case I should get my numbers right. You can find the basis of the tax information here.

Duh. The federal government owns sixty percent (really!) of the largest state in the Union. Did you think that owning 222 million acres is cheap? Nope. You’ve got to replace the carpet if the tenants have dogs, you’ve got to wax the moose, and you’ve got to replace the roof. And that takes employees! If you want to cheapen up on Alaska’s cost to the United States, sell us some of that land. I’ve got my plot staked out already . . . ANWR. I’ll take it off your hands. Heck, I’ll pay you double the $0.025 cents per acre we originally paid for it . . .

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

"One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I don't know." - Groucho Marx, Animal Crackers

The New Boy on Valentine's Day, weeping into his bear after he was stood up by the toddler next door.

The Mrs. has no illusions of the way I am. None. Consequently, she’s found that the best way to be happy in our relationship is to have no expectations of me.

I think it started when we were dating. I would show up at her place, and demand that she go and kill a goose just to make a nice pâté for me out of its liver. I would then yell that I hated pâté, ask why she made it, and storm out in a rage.

Oh, wait, that was just a movie I saw once.

Actually, I try to avoid overt hostility – my general rule is that I need to be more polite to The Mrs. than a random person, since The Mrs. will hit me if I’m not. So, it’s not that. I just have HADD. That’s Husband Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s not unusual to have HADD, mainly I think it just means you’re a guy.

What are some symptoms of HADD?
  • Going to the store for milk for The Boy and coming home with beer for me and no milk.
  • Forgetting to take out the trash after being asked six times.
  • Forgetting to change The New Boy for a day or so (those diapers only hold a few pounds!) after promising to do so within then next few minutes.
  • Neglecting to bring enough wood up to the house to heat a Pop-Tart™ and putting that as the first task of the new day for a freezing The Mrs.
  • Leaving a trail of socks on the front room floor like Hansel and Gretel left bread crumbs in the forest.
So, as a HADD sufferer, The Mrs. has to make concessions. First on the list is expecting that I’ll remember things like St. Valentine’s Day, or that I left the children alone at the supermarket. Don’t sneer, it’s not like that hasn’t happened to you. Besides, they found their way home after a day or two.

The Mrs. feels that HADD is a wiring problem. Women have this great big Hubble Space Telescope to detect how others are feeling. They even seem to care. Don’t ask me why. She says that men, by comparison, have squinty glasses that are the wrong prescription to detect how others are feeling.

I did, however, remember this St. Valentine’s Day. I actually remembered a day or two before, after being reminded a dozen or so times by people who understand I’m afflicted with HADD. I did something very out of character for me – I went shopping the day before.

Now, I didn’t buy the flowers the day before. I live in Alaska, where am I going to put them so they aren’t flowersicles? No, day-of purchasing of the last batch of wilting roses on the shelf is the way to go. I also figured that there would be at least one card left in the supermarket, so, even if it were written in Russian and had a picture of a goat on it, I could pretend that specific card expressed exactly what I felt.

No, I got smart.

I bought The Mrs. pajamas.

See, after being married to The Mrs. for nigh on a decade, I finally got a clue. It happened one night in the kitchen. I brought the mail home from the post office, and in it was a catalog from Cabela’s. Cabela’s is the Armani of Alaska, the Dior of Denali, and the Prada of Prudhoe Bay all rolled into one. When The Mrs. and I were fighting over the catalog, it finally hit me.






The Mrs. didn’t like frilly, lacy, sheer things. She liked lined jeans and sweat pants and t-shirts that are a size or two too big. Makeup? I think she wore some for her high school senior picture. Dresses? Well, to church. The last great clothing find she bought was a pair of flannel lined jeans and some Sorel boots.

So, I could purchase every single one of Victoria’s Secrets (does the NSA know what that secret is???) but still not get The Mrs. what she was looking for.

Which was: a flannel set of pajamas. That was it. A decade of searching, and it was flannel jammies. I think she enjoyed those as well as any St. Valentine’s Day present she’s gotten.

If I can conquer HADD, so can . . . what was I saying?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria." - Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters

The start line of the Yukon Quest, which I could join if they would let me mush with two terriers, a minature poodle, and a goofy husky/cocker mix.

The frenzy started about 10AM. By frenzy, I mean the argument.

Me: “Get your socks and shoes on.”

The Boy: “Okay.”

I go back to doing what I’m doing. He’s said okay, right? I hear motion, The Boy moving hither and yon. I assume he’s doing what I told him to do.

On the way to get yet more coffee, I look and see his feet are still as bare as Jessica Simpson’s résumé. I’ve got to think that Jessica Simpson’s résumé is as Zen-like as her thought, stripped of all the superfluous parts of life (such as knowing how to read, or how to fill out the name block on the SAT) and just concerned with staring blankly. Sorry, went down a side road . . .

Me: “If you want to go see the dogs, you’ve got to get ready. Shoes and socks!”

The Boy: “Snow boots?”

Me: “Okay, socks and snow boots. Get a move on.”

He’s right, of course. We’ll be tramping all through the snow, so snow boots make sense. The place we’re going, of course, is the start of the Yukon Quest.

The Yukon Quest is billed as the “Toughest Sled Dog Race in the World.” I think I’d believe them, since the race starts either in Fairbanks, Alaska or Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in February and covers a distance of about 1000 miles (175,000 kilometers). We start the race in Fairbanks in even years, and it starts in Canada on the odd years. Given that the race takes place in February, it can get darn cold on the trail. Boots would be a good idea, especially if I decided to strap The Boy to a sled dog and scoot him off to the Yukon. Heck, even the sled dogs wear boots on this trip (that's true - read the rules).

So, we get dressed in a frenzy. I look out at the thermometer in the front yard, the same one that indicated only last month that it was below -50ºF, and see that today it’s in the 30’s. I opt for a rugby shirt. I don’t want to overheat with weather this warm. The Boy puts on his jacket, and off we go.

We arrive in downtown Fairbanks just in time to see the first dogs heading off. We park illegally, and then make our way down to the river. In Fairbanks, in winter, walking on water is no big trick, since it’s all frozen. I show The Boy the ice of the Chena River under the coating of snow. He's unimpressed - in Alaska the river is frozen a great deal of time, so what's the big deal, Old Man?

We finally get to the end of the start chute, and because he’s short, I offer to put him on my shoulders so he can see the dogs take off.

The end of the chute is perhaps the worst place to watch the race from – it’s crowded, and the pictures are all obscured by folks moving into the camera field of view, as if they’re gigantic people-moths that are drawn to the photon catching thingamabob that turns light into digital photos. Dang people-moths.

The Boy wants to move on. I spy that the crowd is much thinner back behind the starting line. The Boy and I make our way there, and proceed to watch the mushers and their dogs (the reason we’re here, after all) drive on up to the starting line. The start is staggered at two-minute intervals (except when one musher decided to give everyone else a head-start and miss their time. My guess overall is that since the closest finish in this race was a five minute interval, so the extra ten seconds is probably not worth mentioning, except perhaps on a psychological level – after all, the record time to complete the race is 10 days).

A musher getting ready to go. If someone told me that for the next 10-20 days I'd be freezing and staring at dogs, I might look a bit more apprehensive

A video of a typical start is will be linked up here as soon as Google observes it's not pictures of Roseanne and George Clooney in an intimate moment (she says it happened . . .). It’s about 6.9MB (the video, not George Clooney) so if you’re on a slow connection and only want to download one thing today, I’d probably choose something else. Notes if you watch it: The hay bale is bedding for the dogs, and the snowmachine holds the dogs in place until it’s time to start.

In the midst of this, a kindly lady observed The Boy was cold. As it was:
  • 36ºF
  • his choice of clothes (no gloves or hat)
  • and he’d also chosen not to zip up his jacket,
I didn’t feel guilty if the little bugger felt a chill or two. Probably did him good. The nice lady, however, struck up a conversation with him:

Nice Lady: “Are you cold, little boy?”

The Boy: (Hamming it up, in his best Oliver Twist voice) “Y-y-yes.”

Nice Lady: “Would you like me to zip up your jacket?”

The Boy: (Attempting to look as waif-like as he can) “Y-y-yes.”

So, Nice Lady zipped up The Boy’s jacket. I marveled at his manipulation – here is a kid who regularly jumps outside and spends a half-hour or so out in -10ºF merely so he can scam some hot cocoa off the back end, and is perfectly capable of zipping up his own jacket. Perhaps he thought Nice Lady would take him home and pamper him with bon-bons,cartoons, and Hot Wheels. He was disappointed.

I endured the, “I know it seems so warm after -50ºF a week ago but it's really cold out here." (Complete with the unspoken, "Some people.") lecture. I smiled politely, knowing that The Boy would bike naked at 10ºF if we didn't keep a close eye on him. There would be no cocoa for The Boy when we got home.

After a bit, we left.

We climbed up the banks of the Chena to the waiting parking lot and my illegally parked car. The Boy pretended he was climbing a great mountain. Elapsed time, ninety minutes, shoes and socks to back home, shoes and socks flopped about the front room like congressmen at an open bar. The Boy ended up with Skittles instead of cocoa. I didn’t have to check back and make sure that he ate the Skittles.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Boris, how are we going to steal car from moose and squirrel?" - Natasha, The Bullwinkle Show

Guess who's coming for brunch?

Above is yet another moose.

At this time of year, they show up a bit closer to settled areas, looking for food. The ones pictured above are eating some sort of viney thing that grew next to the house last summer. I guess that makes my place the salad bar for today.

The Mrs. took this picture. As it was, she put the dogs out, and they took three steps out, turned around and trotted right back inside. That’s unusual, since it’s morning and normally their internal bodily systems have, shall we say, pressured up.

The Mrs. didn’t think much of it, until she went back into our bedroom and ran the shade up. She was standing staring back at a moose not six inches from her, though separated by a triple pane of glass. It was a cow moose, and it had a calf moose with it.

She then opened the door and snapped a digital picture of the moose in action. And, no, she didn’t let The Boy out, since the moose were stalking our house all day, kinda like a renegade satanic motorcycle gang from a 1970’s made for TV movie starring Robert Wagner. Perhaps they were waiting for more vine to grow. Eventually, the moose left, and our big doofus dog waited until they were out of earshot. Then she barked, as if saying, “Yeah, that’s what I’m sayin’. Come on back if you want a piece of me.” The dog is pretty tough when the moose are a mile away.

But, the above story shows a reasonable, rational way to deal with a wild animal. The moose are not our pets, we don’t feed them, we don’t let our young out near them, and we don’t taunt them when they can hear us. Those moose have a wicked sense of vengeance.

But moose have nothing on grizzly bears. I’ve been waiting for Grizzly Man to show up in the video store, but to my surprise, Discovery Channel picked it up and showed it last weekend. It was like watching a train wreck – you just can’t turn away. In truth, had I not known that the story was a real one, I would have thought I was watching “The Blair Bear Project.”

The movie, appropriately, starts with the death of Timothy Treadwell. Mr. Treadwell was the guy who became Grizzly Chow® after living thirteen summers with various groups of grizzly bears down south. By down south, I mean south of Fairbanks. Oh, I guess that means most places. In this case, he was down south of Anchorage on the island of Kodiak.

I think the movie was fairly well balanced. If you thought Mr. Treadwell was a tireless defender of the bears, or if you believe him to be an utterly gibbering idiot that shouldn’t have been allowed to play with sharp objects, your belief won’t change after watching the movie.

I hadn’t made up my mind, but I’m leaning more towards the gibbering idiot side. As The Mrs. put it, “You don’t go hunting grizzly with a camera.”

As a friend of mine put it, “Down in Kodiak, if you go bear hunting, chances are the bear is hunting you at the same time.”

Yup. I think the fundamental thing Mr. Treadwell missed was that these weren’t critters who would break out into “The Bare Necessities” and then help him along his way. Grizzly bears are wild. If they’re hungry, they don’t really care if you love them. They’re not big furry people: that would be Roseanne, not a bear. Bears will eat you. Mr. Treadwell always left before the bears got too frenzied in preparing to hibernate, until that last year.

Perhaps the greatest disservice Mr. Treadwell did was to the bear themselves. I know it’s hard to imagine anything that could make a ten foot tall, 1100 pound critter with claws and fangs more scary, but there is: they’re comfy around humans, which makes them more dangerous. They should fear us, we should fear them. Breaking that rule makes it more likely that more people may get injured, and more of Mr. Treadwell’s bears will be killed.

Oh, and if you go to a costume party in Alaska, don’t pick the bear suit. Or, the moose suit in September. And avoid the Blair Bear.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

"Wow, he's coming after those teens with a McCulloch 10-10S chainsaw; a damn fine choice. Nice job, ghoul!" - Tim Taylor, Home Improvement

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more like a chainsaw.
-with apology to Wm. Shakespeare

So, if you’ve been reading the news lately, we’ve had a volcano and a runaway oil tanker, not to mention a girl state wrestling champ.

Alaska has the most interesting news.

Also interestingly, Alaska Airlines won’t fly into a cloud of volcanic ash. I think they’re worried about the paint jobs on the airplanes, but I really can’t be sure. I do know that a flight I had was delayed to the point that I said, well, the heck with going to England so the Queen could knight me. That’ll have to wait. It’s time for the Superbowl™.

On Superbowl™ Sunday, The Mrs. decided to sleep in. That may have had something to do with The New Boy squalling his head off at 3AM and demanding polar bear bites sautéed with whale butter or he will, I don’t know what, continue crying. As regular readers might know, I have a medical problem that prevents me from hearing him cry at night.

It’s called being a male.

Evolution has taught us that males are unable to feed a child at 3AM, because we’re pretty sure that the noise will lead the saber-toothed tiger to it instead of us. And, we’re also pretty sure that it’ll wait until morning, when we can give our baby ham sandwiches or something, because no one has ever starved to death three hours after their most recent meal. Does anyone know what a baby eats? I think it’s just a mystery. I just know mine keeps the carpet clean, though slightly damp.

So, The Mrs. is asleep. When The Mrs. is asleep and I am awake, she uses her patented Home Despot™ ear plugs so she doesn’t hear the chaos and mayhem that a father-led household produces on a regular basis. Not that it’s all bad.

The Boy will complain no matter what. Given that disposition, I worry that he may be the secret love child of Meryl Streep and Sean Penn.

The New Boy, however, actually doesn’t cry much around me, especially since I’ve done my best to lower his expectations about the relative level of attention and care he will receive from me vs. the loving ministrations of The Mrs. So, if I toss him a half-chewed rawhide bone, wet and dripping with dog saliva, he’s learned to be happy with that.

So, after spending hours slaving over my last post, I was prepared to join the rest of the free world (does that include Berkley?) and watch the Superbowl™. I was then that I made a mistake. I looked out the window.

It was 29ºF. Plus 29ºF. Another three degrees, and water would melt.

Immediately a list of things that I had to do outdoors jumped into my mind. At -50ºF, these things receive a mere sliver of cognitive awareness – you don’t do anything outside at -50ºF that you don’t have to do. At 29ºF, all bets were off. It’s 80 degrees warmer!

I broke out the chainsaw, and put it and the chainsaw oil by the stove to warm it up. It would be easier to start that way, and the chainsaw oil would be loose, like Bono is with my money, not all bunged up, like Bono is with his money. I did not put the gasoline for the chainsaw near the fire, since I wish to live another year. In addition, I went downstairs and got my drill and some bits. I prepared to make the most of the wonderful weather. 29ºF! It might not get this warm again until April!

So, I took my chainsaw out and cut wood until the saw ran out of gas. That would be wood for more than two additional weeks (about six weeks out from today). I drove my snow blower out and repaired the auger that moves the snow to the choppy thing that slings it out onto my neighbor’s property.

I then scooted inside and watched the last three quarters of the game. My dog wasn’t in this hunt, so I could watch with the detached viewpoint of a fan of the game of football. Given the quality of the game, I spent a lot of time watching commercials, and wishing I were cutting more wood.

But in retrospect, I had a man’s pentathlon on Sunday:
  • Used a Chainsaw
  • Fixed a Major Mechanical Thingy
  • Watched the Superbowl™
  • Drank Beer
For all of you Greek language majors, I know what penta means. Figure it out yourselves.

Duh, I watched Family Guy.

By the way, this is my "Bacardi" post, #151 on Life In Alaska, even though you know I'd rather give up my chainsaw and duct tape rather than drink anything alcoholic but beer. Thanks for being here.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"Excuse me, do you know if these gloves are good for killing a man?" - Dale Gribble, King of the Hill

Trees. Snow. Thought that you might think they were pretty. I know it's cheap, but it's the thought that counts.

After a week spent at -50ºF, -20ºF sure feels good. 0ºF, like it is today, feels nearly summery. It doesn’t even hurt to breathe from the moisture inside your throat freezing as you draw in that next breath. -50ºF is a great temperature to chill beer at, but it does wear on you. It’s omnipresent, and you can feel it pressing on you even as you stand by the fire, which is as hot as The Mrs. after I’ve gone to the store for baby food (why don’t they sell it in fifty pound sacks, like dog food?) and come back with fixins for a three course Mexican dinner, hardware for the next three home projects, beer, but no baby food. You might think that was a silly thing to do, and, so did The Mrs. The first three times I did it. I guess she expects it now.

I’ve written before that I often don’t zip my coat up in this weather, and that’s true. Without a breeze, it’s not all that bad. My hands, however, have to spend their time touching things that are at -50ºF (like the steering wheel for driving, like wood for the fire) and my hands get cold.

I’ve got a pair of gloves that are old and crappy. Seams are split, and whatever foam used to provide the insulation in them has smashed down to the point that the gloves have ceased being protective clothing, and become fashion accessories, since they match my coat. By the time I get to work, my fingers are numb from the cold.

The Mrs. noticed my plight. She went out and bought a pair of gloves for me for Christmas. They were nice, and fit well. They even had a little tag that said, “waterproof.” I started to wear them, and discovered that they were waterproof, as in they kept the water from my hands (sweat, you call it in the Lower 48) inside the glove. Said moisture would then get cold. Although they’re better than nothing on a cold day, they aren’t all that much better.

Strike two.

I think they look more like the shoes the apes wore in that documentary I saw the other week on The Discovery Channel.” You know, Planet of the Apes.

I bought a pair of gloves from Cabella’s specifically for working on the wood pile. They’re pictured above, and cost about $10. I think they’re some sort of military surplus, but I have no idea which military they might be surplus from. Estonia? The Czech Republic? I’m pretty sure that they’re not from the Tahitian military.

They’re nice. They have an internal woolen liner. They also are halfway between mittens and gloves, and can’t make up their minds of which they want to be, like Hamlet. Or Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is a good thing though since if it’s cold out and I don’t need my finger to start or run a chainsaw or turn a car key, I can pull my finger out of the index finger slot and put it right into the mitten part, where my index finger will be joined by three other fingers to form some sort of commune wherein they decide to tie-dye t-shirts. Or something. But they’re warm.

Anyhow, the woolen liner will still insulate even if at –40ºF it can somehow find enough liquid water to get wet. The outer covering of canvas will breath. The leather is good for work. They also had a string that come with them for stringing them through your jacket so you could take them off and not lose them. It’s as if they were designed for an army composed of second graders.

The Boy, however, had other ideas.

“Why does your glove have two thumbs?”

“It’s doesn’t,” I explained. “This one is for my index finger. I can use it to grab things. See?”

“Why does your glove have two thumbs?”

Okay, they do look silly. But I can run a chainsaw wearing them and, most importantly, keep my hands warm. It’s a trade off. Besides, with the handy string, I won’t be losing them when the bigger boys pick on me.

Hey, who pinned the note to my jacket?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

"Arthur, that belt is an accessory of evil, and evil is never in fashion." - The Tick, The Tick

The Moose of the fields, they do not toil, neither do they spin. Lazy Moose.

When did common sense become a law?

Most of the time, I’ve got nice things to say about the laws up here in Alaska, since we’ve had far fewer years to muck up the system with “good ideas.”

Recently, a law was passed that allows police to pull you over and give you a ticket if you’re not wearing a seat belt. Previously, the law had been that you could be cited only if you were pulled over for another offense, such as driving like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit with the sheriff’s daughter in the passenger seat.

Now, should a member of our law enforcement community see you driving without protecting yourself via a seat belt, they can pull you over and cite you. I imagine that there are lots of states where that’s the case, since the Federal government ponies up some cash to your state if it has that law, and politicians have incredibly flimsy backbones when someone’s waving cash in their face.

To start with, Alaska has fewer miles of road than Los Angeles, and driving is one of the tamest things we do. Besides, if people wish to drive around without seat belts, why should we deprive Mother Nature the opportunity to enhance the species?

I can remember when I was young that seat belts weren’t worn all that much by anybody. Car seat for the children? Nah, you can hold ‘em. Booster seat? No, then junior couldn’t crawl around on the floor. Strangely, an entire generation survived, yet turned into the weenies that are now passing seat belt laws. How the heck is the kid gonna get the Skittles he dropped off the floor before he mashes them into the carpet with his clumsy foot if he’s belted up?

Seat belt laws are first trotted out as being “for the children.” Whenever I hear that particular argument, I’m certain that the person saying it is as intellectually bankrupt as a major airline. Any major airline. Except Southwest.

P.J. O’Rourke calls the mindset that comes up with regulation after regulation to protect us (mainly from ourselves) Safety Nazis. And, he’s right. This cadre of humanity wishes for everyone to change every action to be safer. But, I’ll let P.J. speak for himself:
The forces of safety are afoot in the land. I, for one, believe it is a conspiracy— a conspiracy of Safety Nazis shouting "Sieg Health" and seeking to trammel freedom, liberty, and large noisy parties. The Safety Nazis advocate gun control, vigorous exercise, and health foods. The result can only be a disarmed, exhausted, and half-starved population ready to acquiesce to dictatorship of some kind.
The ultimate in irony is not that this bill is now law in Alaska, but that right under the story announcing that the law had been signed, was the story of a gentleman who drowned in a creek after his vehicle flipped over and he couldn’t disconnect the seat belt. Now, I know that had he not had the seat belt on, he might have flown headfirst into Paris Hilton, and died of acute embarrassment for being associated with her. True fact: Paris Hilton doesn’t know what country London is in, she stated recently in court. Where do I go to sign up to be her financial advisor? I can see how that could go:

Paris: Where’s my money?

Me: That’s complicated, Paris. It’s in a series of trusts and annuities, compounding tax free.

Paris: Can I have some money?

Me: Well, no. You see, in order to make sure you don’t spend the money wastefully, you signed over authority for me to manage it for you and buy myself nice things. Here’s five dollars.

Paris: That’s confusing. I’ll come back later for some money.

Me: Bye, Paris, I have to go talk to Alec Baldwin about the money he used to have.

Yeah, I could so take care of money for stupid rich people.

I think Paris Hilton proves my point about seat belts. What does it say about us as a society that we would want to have her protect herself from danger in any manner whatsoever? Why wouldn’t we pass laws allowing her to play with sharp things, and have taxpayer-funded gasoline and matches delivered to her on a daily basis? Paris needs loaded guns about her house!

Now those would be common sense laws. You know, for the children.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"If she weighs the same as a duck... she's made of wood." Logical Peasant, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The Sun at Noon, 1/28. As you can see, even now the Sun (like the UPS man) can’t really find our house except by accident. This makes me wonder why Fairbanks stores stock sun screen during the winter. You can click on the picture for larger Sunny goodness.

The shortest day so far at the Wilder Ranch was December 21st. That’s a matter of simple geometry and celestial mechanics. The coldest day so far, however was –51F on the 26th of January.

Regular readers know that the Wilder house is heated entirely through three sources:
  • wood,
  • children outputting heat during tantrums, and
  • dogs panting.
It’s wood, though, that is at issue today. You see I made a little miscalculation.

I started the winter with over eight cords of wood. That doesn’t mean that I had wooden cords with which to bind my children, no, it means that I had 1024 cubic feet (each cord of wood is 4’x4’x8’) of wood, or, the equivalent of a ten foot by ten foot room stacked nine feet high, filled with wood. That appears to be not enough, since I’m now down to a half of a cord of wood cut to fit my Earth Stove™. Looks like I’ll need 14 or 16 cords to make it though a winter in the house.

I’m not going to complain. Inside, we keep the house quite warm. It’s a log cabin, so there is no insulation other than the foot-thick solid wood walls between the outside and us. I figure that we use about 1.3 million Btu’s (a Btu stands for British thermal unit, devised by Monty Python to calculate the heat put off by burning witches, and is the amount of heat required to raise one pound of witch one degree F) of heat on a day that it’s –51F outside. I would have to burn 9.5 gallons of heating oil to get the same heat, at a cost of about $25. Instead, being the frugal guy I am, I have The Mrs.

Since The Boy is too little to get wood (for about three more years) I have devised a cunning system to get wood to the house with little or no effort myself: I let The Mrs. do it. Having the incentive to keep herself from freezing to death, she bundles up and trudges out to the wood stack and will get load after load while I’m out and about playing with friends, eating Cheesy Poofs and generally not getting wood. It’s a good system.

I spoke to her when I looked out at the thermometer. It read –48F.

Me: “Hey, wood stack by the door is getting a bit low.”

The Mrs.: “Yeah, I was going to get some today, but I thought –30F was too cold.”

Me: “Hmmm. Supposed to be –50F tomorrow.”

The Mrs.: “Yeah. Miscalculated that one.”

Me: “Bet that’ll be cold. Do you know where the Cheesy Poofs are?”

And, it probably was cold. In truth, she does bring most of the wood up to the house, and did so last year when she was thirteen months pregnant. She never complained a bit. My guess is that Superman wears pajamas with pictures of The Mrs. on them. Also, when she gets wood, she complains less about pushing a wheelbarrow through snow at –50F than I do when there isn’t ice in the ice tray in the freezer. I hate not having ice in the tray, but don’t get me started.

So, we’re nearly out of wood that is cut to fit our stove. The good news is we have another eight cords or so of wood that just needs to be cut up into suitably sized pieces, since our wood stove isn’t eight feet wide. The bad news is that I’ll have to cut it into two or three foot long chunks. Outdoors. In February. In Alaska. One piece at a time.

Hey, is that The Mrs. I see inside, eating Cheesy Poofs?

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