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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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Have you ever been on a wood hauling trip shrimp boat?" - Bubba, Forrest Gump

Winter, coming soon to an Alaska near you. First frost was this week.

I was two sentences into Sunday’s edition of Life in Alaska. The Mrs., ever attentive, asked what I was going to write about.

“Well,” I said, “This is a pivotal weekend. We now have enough wood that I’m pretty sure that we can get through the winter on our supply.”

The Mrs.: “You’re going to write about wood, again? John, that’s a bit nuts. I know you’re obsessed, but perhaps that’s the reason that your website dropped 0.02% behind google.com last week as the most popular website ever. Perhaps people are just sick and tired of reading about wood.”

I pondered this. I thought, perhaps, just perhaps, that The Mrs. was right, and I was turning into Bubba from Forrest Gump. She generally is. You remember Bubba, right? Here’s my version:
“You’ve got birch saplings, fresh cut birch, cured birch, split birch...“
Instead of writing about wood again, perhaps I could give a bit of insight into the psyche of the average Alaskan, edify and delineate the juxtaposing paradoxes that are Alaska.
“You’ve got birch stump, birch branches, aspen wood, blocked aspen, green aspen...”
It almost spawned a fistfight, and now my neighbors have taken up positions around the cabin making sure that I never leave again, at least until the riots in downtown Fairbanks finish up. They think that they’ve got me surrounded and cut off from outside contact. I fooled them. I’ve got wireless Internet.
“You’ve got spruce boughs, knotty spruce, dry spruce, black spruce...”
So, I sit here, and realize that yes, as usual The Mrs. is right. Perhaps I should write about something other than wood. It does make me a bit one-dimensional.
“You’ve got spruce branches, spruce needles, pine cones...”
Yes, letting the Fairbanks riots of ’06 calm down is probably the best course. Perhaps I could write next week about wood something else. Maybe I’ll even have a fun adventure to write up. That would (wood?) be nice.
“You’ve got gas chainsaws, electric chainsaws, log milling machines...”
As The Mrs. says, “Quit being so darn obsessed with the wood.”
“And that’s... that’s all I know about wood.”

Sunday, August 27, 2006

"You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you help your landlady carry out her garbage." - Agent Smith - The Matrix

A lovely tourist attraction, with a couple of tourists. Little did they know the horror that they would soon see . . .

Alaska is a conservative, libertarian kinda state. It says so on the label, and it says so from the opinions of the people that you meet here. Alaska would rather elect a plague-ridden flea-riddled terrier to congress than a Democrat. Our politicians talk openly about getting more guns into society, and on the local talk show I actually heard someone say, “We need a 1000 yard rifle range more than we need soccer fields for the kids. How many kids play soccer, anyway?”

I’m not sure that we need a 1000 yard rifle range. If I want to kill something that bad, I think I can manage to sneak in a wee bit closer. The other comment I came away with from the same talk show was:

“Tourists don’t pay their fair share.”

Wow. The tourists fund all the hotels in Fairbanks, plus the restaurants that I get to eat in all winter long when they’re back in Florida or Iowa working on putting Turtle Wax® on their dentures. The local airport is three times as nice as it should be for a city this size, again, all due to tourists. But, they don’t pay enough, even though I see whale-sized Winnebagos™ parked outside of every store all year long, coming out with “Alaska” themed-trinkets made back in Iowa or Florida.

Alaska, for all the frontiersy goodness, is pretty darn notme-alist. That’s because while communists want you to share in the payment, notme-alists want somebody . . . else . . . to pay for things. Alaska’s $50.00 a head tax on people arriving on a cruise ship just passed by a 5% margin, further cementing that “rugged individualist who has everybody else pay the bills” image.

The average citizen of Alaska pays a negative tax every year. It’s about $1000 a person. If you live with your wife in a $200,000 house, it’s about break even, if you count property taxes. If you have kids, you get another $1000 a head for them, too. Fairbanks has no sales tax, except upon liquor. The tax burden for each citizen is nearly nonexistent.

The thing that makes all of this possible is sweet, sweet oil being pumped down more or less continuously from the North Slope. Unlike the lower 48, nobody owns oil rights up here – those are owned by the state, so every dollar goes to the government. That keeps taxes at a zero level, but leads to the Alaska state government wanting to pay someone to come in to my house every Tuesday and shine my lederhosen.

Not that I mind shiny lederhosen, but someday the oil won’t be there. For that, I guess, there’s wisdom in getting tourists used to paying additional fees. If the government is going to shine my lederhosen forever, well, somebody will have to pay for it. Thank heaven it’s not me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"A hundred million terrorists in the world and I kill one with feet smaller than my sister." - Bruce Willis, Die Hard

This picture will make sense in a minute. I promise.

Election day (for the primaries) has passed. That’s nice. Now instead of Republican bickering, I can hear Republican vs. Democrat bickering. It’s less like sibling rivalry and more like a good neighbor feud. If we’re lucky, maybe there’ll be a bare-knuckle brawl, or at least some dog poop thrown over a fence or two.

I can (for this brief moment) listen to the radio and not hear ads indicating I should (or shouldn’t) vote for someone based upon their (alleged) acne problem when they were fifteen, or how a candidate doesn’t love children as much as the other or . . . I’ll stop here so I don’t give people ideas.

I still get the regular ads on radio, but they’re somewhat harmless. Mostly.

I was giving The Boy and Pugsley a bath the other night. The Boy was talking, as usual. Mostly I tune it out, because the last thing I don’t want to be known as is a parent who cares. It’s a weakness kids can turn against you.

In this case, The Boy lifted his right foot out of the water and pointed at his heel.

The Boy: “Why does alcohol hurt you here?”

This was interesting. I decided to see where it would go.

Me: “What??”

The Boy: “Alcohol hurts your feet-us.”

Me: “Ohhhhhhhh.”

The Mrs. allows The Boy to listen to a (monitored) number of local radio stations. On one of the stations, a public service announcement runs that indicates, “Any amount of alcohol is dangerous to your fetus.” (I almost spelled it feet-us just now). I recalled this and chuckled.

Me: “No, alcohol won’t hurt your feet, unless you’re running naked down an alley at 2AM and you stub your toe in the dark.”

The Boy: “What?”

Me: “Never mind. Long story.”

Then comes the long explanation of what a fetus is. Actually it was short. Wikipedia to the rescue! The clean pajama-clad The Boy and I looked at a picture posted there from Leonardo daVinci (okay, he didn’t post it, somebody else did, but it was his sketch) and The Boy understood. The Boy said, “Oh, it’s a baby.”

Maybe I should have waited to tell him. Say, just after college graduation. But he’d probably be faster than me then, because he had good feet-us.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

"Dang, these corners are tricky." - Jenny McCarthy, while laying carpet, Baseketball

Here it is. The room isn't finished, but yet it's already filled with crap.

It’s been raining. And raining. And raining. Given the constant moisture, well, I’m more than a little hacked off that I haven’t been able to gather wood (I would use the phrase “get wood,” but have found that leads to naughty Internet searches).

As I was grumbling, I decided to finally put down the carpet I’d been threatening to install for about a month. As I indicated earlier, it goes down just like Post-It™ notes, except it’s not yellow. And it’s carpet. And, if The Boy or Pugsley write on it, they’re gonna be in a world of hurt.

The Mrs. called me, using the wonder of cellular technology, and let me know that I had to turn to a gubernatorial thingy on the radio. After using a pressure-washer to hose the embedded carbohydrate paste from Pugsley, I decided to:
  • drink beer
  • put Post-It™ carpet down, and,
  • listen to whackos running for office.
The whacko running for governor of interest indicated that he felt (I’m not making this up) that:
  • Canada is a terrorist nation,
  • the Soviet Union still existed,
  • the Soviets want Alaska,
  • Alaska was ordained in Revelations to lead the world to destroy the Anti-Christ, and
  • Alaska was a continent.
I’m actually thinking of voting for this guy, because who the hell knows what kind of policies he’d develop. It would give Alaska the funniest government in history, except for the one that’s been in Washington, D.C. since 1853.

Anyhow, The Boy and I continued to put the carpet down. In reality, I was putting the carpet down, and The Boy was using the (very small) amount of unusable carpet to line an empty cardboard box as a house for his imaginary friend, Smurphy, who I believe to be a forty-year-old female. Because The Boy says that Smurphy is a forty-year-old female. That lives with him. I’m thinking this is okay now, but if it continues until he’s thirteen we need to talk to a therapist.

I digress. The carpet (Legato®) went down like Paris Hilton. Which is to say, it was installed without difficulty, like I imagine Paris Hilton’s latest, say, car stereo was installed. The Boy kept me company while I put the carpet down. Eventually we finished, completing a room (mostly) that I’d been working on since The Mrs. was carrying Pugsley. (Safety tip: If your Mrs. is pregnant, finish a room during the whole pregnancy thing. It’s better than, well, being around a pregnant Mrs.)

So, in Alaska, we may end up with a Canada-hating, afraid-of-USSR guys as governor, but at least the carpet is done.

Dang. The carpet is red, and I thought we were better dead than red. Maybe taupe would have been a better choice?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Not killed. It was only a gut shot. I'm stronger now with less appetite. " - Pete Hutter, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.

A horse is a horse. Of course. Unless it's a paper mache State Fair ribbon-winning sculpture. Then it's not a horse at all, is it?

I was changing the laundry in the bathroom while The Boy washed the sticky parts of his dinner (pizza) off his normally grubby face.

“Give me your badge and get outta here,” he said, with all the authority a five-year-old Sheriff of the Back Seat can muster.

Huh? I don’t need no stinkin’ badges.

Then I realized. The Boy was quoting a sheriff on The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which just turned up. It turned up at my house after Amazon.com used their creepy-psychic purchase software to make me drink a glass of merlot (from the Latin roots Mer meaning sea, and Lot meaning how much The Mrs. and I had while chatting that Saturday night) and order this one on impulse.

Dang you, Internet, for catching The Mrs. and I when we were weak and vulnerable consumers. We’re victims, do you hear?

Anyhow, The DVD’s showed up the other day, and I brought them home. The Mrs. looked at them and said, “oh, yeah. I remember that.” We’d pre-ordered them about a month ago.

For background, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. was shown on Fox over a decade ago, and cancelled after one season. It was the funniest Harvard lawyer-turned bounty-hunter to avenge his father’s death science-fiction-western ever. It starred Bruce Campbell, which is fitting for the subject matter.

I pulled my prized DVD out and showed The Boy. “Do you want to watch a DVD with cowboys and horses and trains?”

“No.” Duh.

After duct-taping him to the couch, I put the first episode of Brisco on. The Mrs. went off to work at her job teaching wayward salmon how to swim upstream and spawn. The Boy watched the episode with me. And then we watched, at his request, the second episode. It's now his favorite show to watch, no duct tape required.

The following night, we watched another episode. Given that there are 27 or so hours on DVD, we’ve got several weeks of western geek fun (what other show has a black-hat villain extolling the virtues of realism while demeaning expressionist painting while commenting on a rock that a painter is painting a landscape on so a train will think it’s the track and run into it, a la Wile E. Coyote?) we can start again.

Brisco is eternally optimistic, searching for “The Coming Thing,” his term for new technology and ideas that will create opportunity and wonder in the new century (the show is set in 1893). Alaska’s state nickname is “The Last Frontier,” and here’s to hoping that The Boy spends his time looking for, and creating his own opportunity and wonder in this century. And learns not to shop while sipping merlot.

Quote of the Day: "Nobody's had hot chocolate today. Why are there mini-marshmallows stuck to my shirt?" - The Mrs.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

"Sneaking into the movies is wrong, as wrong as spilling juice on a new carpet." - Hank, King of the Hill

The Boy’s picture of morning in Fairbanks. Notice the two-lens-finger technique. That’s a pro!

A rainy weekend in Fairbanks is much like a -55ºF weekend in Fairbanks, since you don’t want to do much outside. I’d had plans. I wanted to paint the house, wander up into the forest and gather wood, and sleep in. I managed to sleep in, so I guess one out of three isn’t bad.

I had backup plans, though, even more energetic than sleeping in: we would finish the basement floor and prepare it for carpet.

Our carpet had arrived at the Home Despot last week. Spending money causes me physical pain. It hurts. In this case, I purchased top of the line, Stainmaster™ 10-year-warrenty carpet, with the only exclusion being having Robin Williams spend the weekend. The carpet is good stuff, rather than the $0.10 a square yard stuff that you’d think I’d buy.

I did get it on a 20% discount at Home Despot. If I’d dragged my next-door-neighbor down, I could have gotten another 10% off, since he’s in the military. But I would have had to kidnap him, since I don’t think he likes us all that much, and I would hope the training at Home Despot covers hostage situations, at least for the Store Manager.

I spent the big bucks because the carpet could be installed by us rather than having to pay someone to do it. Putting the carpet down consists of tossing the squares of carpet down on the concrete and then moving the sofa on. They have a semi-sticky back, so I’m thinking putting this carpet down is like covering your floor in Post-It® notes. Regardless, The Mrs. liked the color.

I read through the instructions, and saw that installation over “irregularities” in the floor bigger than 1/8” was discouraged. There were divots in the concrete floor of my basement that you could store a Volkswagen in, so I figured I should spend the time and money to fill them.

The Boy and I used a joint leveling compound and a trowel to fill the low spots. I spent the time filling the low spots with the leveling compound, while The Boy spent the time getting me beers. One day he’ll graduate to putting the leveling compound down between getting me beers. This may not be a great dream, but it’s all I’ve got.

So, it was a slow, wasted weekend, the time where I caught up on interior chores and wished that I’d done more outside. In that respect, it’s good. It will help focus me on the tasks required for winter, like gathering more wood and stocking up on more beer. Oh, and finishing the basement. Somebody’s got to put all the Post-It® notes on the floor.

Quote of the Day: “Sometimes I sneak into your bedroom and stare at you in the dark while you’re sleeping.” – The Boy to The Mrs.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

"Niagra Falls, up the Canadian Rockies, and then it's only a few hundred miles to Anchorage." - Rogue, X-Men

A typical Alaskan house. As you can see, most Alaskans are between two and three inches tall. This saves on heating bills. (Photo of prize winning entry at State Fair)

I was talking to my brother, also named John (this is a True Fact™ - our parents weren’t very creative), who was contemplating a trip up to Alaska to see Denali me. Since he regularly travels to places where cannibalism is not only practiced, but considered due form (this is also a True Fact™), he has about 50 kajillion airline miles, not to mention vaccinations for diseases that most doctors can’t even pronounce: diseases that make you lose your eyebrows, or worse, your eyelashes. Unfortunately, these airline miles are on airlines that, if they come to Alaska at all, only stop in Anchorage.

My Brother John: “So, I’m planning on visiting for five days or so.”

John (Me): “Okay.”

My Brother John: “I was going to fly into Anchorage, since I can get there on my frequent flyer miles. Can you come pick me up?” (My brother is as cheap as I am.)

John (Me): “Uh, sure. It’s approximately a 361.7 mile (22 km) drive from here, one way. It’ll be a long drive there and back in a day, but I could do it.”

My Brother John: “Really? I thought it would only be an hour or two from Fairbanks to Anchorage.”

I think people think that way because they put Alaska down and to the left on maps, it must be near Hawaii and it’s probably about as big as, say, Arizona. Nope. Cut us in half and Texas would be the third largest state, not the second. Rhode Island is still giggling about that one.

Anchorage is the cosmopolitan population hub that sits so near Alaska that you can literally see Alaska from there. Anchorage is exactly like (as near as I can tell) any other urban/suburban town in the US – laws, zoning, no legal shooting in the city limits, building permits. Travel an hour, and I think most of that regulation necessary for polite living lower 48 thinking disappears.

When I’ve visited Anchorage (Los Anchorage), I feel much like I’m in any thriving urban area. You see the parks behind little fences, as if to keep the forest in, and the houses built an inch or three apart. This is not to disparage Anchorage – it’s a nice place with great restaurants (Gwennies comes to mind), but it’s, well, the ‘burbs with moose and the occasional bear. The weather might drop to -20ºF in winter.

In and around Fairbanks (Squarebanks), life tends to farther extremes. As I’ve written before, a house made entirely out of used pallets, a vintage 1938 Folsom Prison bus and duct tape is right next to a house made from spun diamond, and both neighbors go out moose hunting together. In the wintertime, it gets as low as -65ºF. Fairbanksans don’t throw anything away (where you gonna tow that junker to, anyway?) so some yards get a bit . . . cluttered.

Anchorage is nice, sophisticated, and polite. Fairbanks is the weird uncle that drove your mom nuts. On behalf of weird uncles everywhere . . . rejoice! You have a home, so now stop asking me to pull your finger.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"I'm studying for the math fair. If I win, I'll get a brand new protractor." - Lisa, The Simpsons

This is a huge cabbage from the fair. The state fair? It's all about the huge cabbage that you need a forklift to move, yet which still tastes like . . . cabbage. When is somebody going to give me a steak larger than Texas?

The 75th Annual Tanana Valley State Fair started on Friday, and our first foray was on Saturday. Part of the fair is seeing people you know. Since living in Fairbanks is pretty close to living on an island, going to the Fair means running into oodles of people you know.

Even people you don’t know tend to be nice. The people at the Alaska DOT were excited to see The Boy amble over to them and begin to talk with them about roads. As a five-year-old, he probably knows more about road design and the various pros and cons of different material (asphalt versus concrete) than most adults, and had a great conversation. We went further down the line and people were falling all over themselves to give The Boy things. He ended up walking away from the Fair with a flashlight, a dozen pencils, five comic books, three coloring books, a dozen buttons (various governor candidates) and enough stickers to patch Bill Gates’ roof.

This is a combination of Santa Claus and Uncle Sam. He'll leave you coal in your stocking if you're bad, or maybe indict you on Federal charges.

We hit the midway. The games were fun, but the big attraction for The Boy were the huge hydraulic and electric solid steel contraptions whose primary intent was to flip a human body around at about half the speed of barf. I should know, since my older self is much more barf prone than my eighteen-year-old self. The Boy and I hit two rides, and we quit after he found the Tilt-A-Whirl just a bit too challenging.

The Mrs. put up with this, despite an increasing level of boredom. The Mrs. was stuck with our 15-month old, Pugsly. Pugsly and The Mrs. sat and waited while The Boy and I made each other miserable by riding in rides that made us want to hurl. This drove The Mrs. a bit nuts, and made Pugsly hungry, but opening his eyes makes Pugsly hungry. If your job were to stand around with a baby while other people went and had fun, well, you’d feel like Madonna’s employees. The Mrs. just felt a bit chapped having to sit around while her men went out twirled.

All of us (queasy or bored) then flitted off and went to the livestock show barns. As we were entering, the sign indicated that this barn held “Lambs, Goats, and Cavies”. The Mrs. was pretty sure that they’d misspelled “Calves”. No.

This is a cavy. It's not a prize from the fair for putting a wooden ring around a bottle, but a real animal. I squeezed this one and it did not squeek.

A Cavy (plural, Cavies) is a real animal, though I can’t see how something that so resembles a ball of trembling fur could have ever stayed alive in the wild with, well, a tame toothless 22 year old mouse not eating it. That a cavy exists is perhaps the best argument for creation science that I’ve ever seen, even though I’m thinking that he pointy clawed animals of the world would argue for evolution, after they’d finished eating me.

Notice that a cavy has no hind legs, which makes it even more of a bed-covering stuffed animal of a creature.

I looked on Google, and couldn’t find any use for cavy fur, nor could I find any recipes for cooking them. I think that’s because a cavy is essentially just a pet. That’s okay, I don’t (often) think how my dog might taste if I were really, really hungry, but when I did have that thought the recurring theme was “barbeque sauce.” Maybe that would be good for cavies, as well. Mmmm, bbq’d cavy.

We finally decided to leave. As the Fair receded in our rearview mirror, I reflected on the day. We’d had fun, seen cavies, and ridden rides, which is what the Fair is all about. Now if I could just figure out how to cook a cavy.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

"You spend your time thinking about death, like you're going to get killed by eggs, beef, global warming or asteroids." -The Dr., Doctor Who

This moose posed for pictures last March, but only because she was young and needed the money.

The start of August (hot as it’s been – almost up to 80ºF today) marks the start of the end (or the end of the start of the end, or perhaps even the start of the end of the middle) of summer in Fairbanks. In 45 days the normal low will be below freezing. I expect that the horrific ravages of global warming might push the first freeze in Fairbanks back by minutes, or maybe even hours. This scourge must stop. If continued unabated, we might be caught unaware as the sea level rises by an inch or two over the course of centuries and forget to take two steps back! Global warming is nearly as scary as SARS or bird flu.

As it is, we’re down to only 21 hours and 12 minutes of visible light during a day. On occasion I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and see that it’s nearly as dim as Keanu Reeves outside. In a month or so we’ll even be able to see the stars again. I call this phenomena Global Darkening and at seven minutes less daylight each and every day, by next year we’ll have negative daylight. I can’t even imagine the consequences of that.

In the morning, it’s been as chilly as the audience reaction to a Mel Gibson speech at a bar mitzvah. I was especially chilly this morning since my eyelids were frozen to, well, whatever it is that an eyelid connects with when they’re closed, since I don’t think the bottom part is technically an eyelid. Is it the eyelid holder?

Anyway, The Boy has taken to opening the bedroom window during the day. Since the window is behind a set of blinds, I didn’t really notice that the window was letting in the cold air until my dog’s tongue stuck to my hand when it licked me in the middle of the night. It was a bit embarrassing for both of us.

I speculate that this “leaving the window open” is a gift from The Boy to thank The Mrs. and I for having The Boy spend time in the corner, but, as I said, that’s speculation. At about 4AM when the thermometer starts to drop, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that The Boy keeps trying to convince me that “butter is better for you than lettuce,” and “exercise is for sissies” tends to bolster the whole revenge thing.

After the chilly start this morning I looked out to see that it was about 40ºF outside, so I could estimate that it was about 40.00005ºF in the bedroom. The Mrs. has a natural protective metabolic mechanism that allows her to survive at subzero bedroom temperatures while sleeping, something she calls an electric heating pad. Being from the lesser-evolved and smellier gender, I simply shiver in my sleep.

The nice thing about getting up in a chilly house is that you don’t tarry getting dressed. It took me about three seconds to become fully clothed. I moved last night’s load of laundry from the washer into the dryer, and noticed that the dryer vent kicked out a nice plume of steam into the morning air.

An additional indicator of the impending change in temperature is that some of the weeds that I pretend are a lawn have started to turn a deathly straw-yellow. Since the other weeds that comprise my lawn are a bit hardier, this gives a nice Salvador Dali-feel to the lawn.

It’s the calm before winter, and only a month or two remain to get all of the work done I need to do outside. Beyond the long days and pleasant temperatures lies the lurking, looming, lingering threat of the dark winter and -55ºF temperatures. Something tells me I’d notice if The Boy left the window wide open then. He’ll have to think of something new.

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