Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Type II Fun

a few weeks back, friends P & C invited us along on a memorial day bike trip on the Denali Highway. the Denali Highway is an unpaved road, approximately 130 miles long, that connects Cantwell to Paxson, south of the Alaska Range. seemed like fun, P & C are fun, biking is fun, memorial day is fun - what was there to say "no" to?

after tempting us with such fun, P & C were unable to make it, so we invited other friends, Kristin and Jeremy. after some negotiation, we modified our trip to two days and 60 miles, which seemed ambitious enough, and headed south. and yes, we checked the weather: partly cloudy, scattered showers on Sunday, highs near 60F both days. but, this is Alaska where weather can change on a dime and the last thing you want is to be in the middle of nowhere with no dry clothes.
we decided to bike from the Tangle Lakes campground to the Susitna River, so the boys shuttled a car in while Kristin and i busily packed the bikes, or maybe we took naps. Kristin's impersonation of a blue tarp burrito:

the weather looked a little less optimistic than "partly cloudy with highs near 60" but we were confident until we hit this:

biking in a cloud.

as we climbed up to the 4,000 ft. MacClaren Pass, we stopped to put on another layer. then we stopped to put on a third layer. then a rain jacket. then panier covers. then rain pants. and still we climbed. oh yeah, and there was wind. once we reached the top of the Pass, we faced the long downhill - cold, wet, windy. nothing like a screaming downhill in those conditions! we reached MacClaren Lodge none too soon and warmed up with some hot chocolate.

with hypothermia no longer knocking at the door, we were able to come to our senses and ask for shelter. unfortunately the lodge was full but they offered us the musher's cabin; there was no heat, but at least it was dry. Cob, a man i'm now convinced knows EVERYTHING about fire, reassembled the small woodstove and had it cooking in no time. so, now we had dry AND warm. it just doesn't get any better than that!

the next morning, we faced another rainy day, which might explain why we weren't motivated to leave the lodge until noon. while my socks dried out over night, i couldn't afford another long day of wet feet, so some plastic bags between two pairs of socks kept at least some of the rain and mud out the next day.

with 35-40 miles in front of us, we set off, climbing out of the valley and up a hill that pretty much didn't stop until what felt like 35-40 miles later at the car. it pretty much rained the whole time except for that brief, shining moment when it hailed slightly. we stopped for lunch under a bridge to get out of the rain.

Jeremy modeled Kristin's pink hat (she was wearing his):

and then we set off again. now, i've biked/run/canoed/hiked in the rain - rain doesn't bother me. what bothers me is to be in one of the most beautiful places on earth and not be able to see more than 50 ft in front of me. which means no expansive vistas, no looming mountains, no magestic glaciers. but we did get to see mud - on our clothes, our bikes, our water bottles, our faces. mud everywhere.

at one point in the day, it must have warmed up to about 50F, which felt downright balmy, and the clouds lifted enough to see this:

now, just imagine that as an entire mountain range in the distance. that's what we missed. but what we did have was good company, and good fun - "Type II fun" as one friend called it (the kind where you're glad you survived and feel damn virtuous for it) - but fun nonetheless.

p.s. on our way out, we added one more precipitation to our experinence - snow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ruby Tuesday

last week, Lisa Kangas, intern extraordinaire, and i traveled out to the village of Ruby along the middle Yukon River that cuts through interior Alaska. We were doing fieldwork, conducting interviews with Ruby elders and fishermen about their local knowledge about non-salmon fish species like pike, whitefish, grayling sheefish, and others. i've been doing this kind of work for the AK Dept of Fish & Game for a little while now, and it's the best part of my job! Lisa came along to help out because not only is she super-duper cool, but she's also from Ruby. so, we got to visit with her dad as well as her aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins, and friends. very cool.

this is the village of Ruby as seen from the bluff just down-river of the village. Ruby is a community of about 200 people with a pretty diverse of history of gold mining and subsistence hunting and fishing. the little white things closer to the bottom of the frame is left-over ice from the river break-up a few weeks ago. the river is mostly clear of debris this year and the water is really low, which is unusal at this time of year.

most of the work we did consisted of interviewing elders and fishermen and mapping significant fishing areas, habitats, and placenames. whiel i've been working with interior folks fro a long time now, i'm always excited by these conversations - it's so cool to learn about an area from the people who've lived there for their entire lives and have some intimate experiences with the land.

mapping old spring, summer, and fall subsistence camps

that's Lisa with elder Zeta Cleaver, showing us a fish netting needle made by her mom, probably back in the 1930s.

while we mostly worked, we did have time for some fun:

checking out the budding leaves of a birch tree (I get sucked into spring everywhere around AK!)

tooling around Ruby on a 4-wheeler:

where we saw bear tracks and so went the other way...

then found a much less scary fishwheel just waiting for the summer season. these are neat contraptions - they are put in the water close to the river bank where the baskets are spun around by the river current scooping up fish along the way. they were introduced to the river way back in the early 1900s.

and finally, Lisa's dad took us for a ride up the Poor Man Road, an old 42 mile mining road that ends near the Sulatna River. PoorMan offers access to some of Ruby's richest mining histories - and we heard about 4 hours of old mining stories from Lisa's dad - he had us in stitches the whole time! this is a picture of one of the placer mining spots he worked as a younger man:

on that trip, we stopped at Long Creek, where Lisa remembers spending time with her family as a kid. these guys came out to greet us:

see how these two beavers seem to be swimming in opposite directions? they're actually swimming in a zigzag pattern towards us - curious llittle guys!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

at the swift

yesterday it rained. actually, if you were on top of Ester Dome (as Lisa and i were on a weekly trek up the hill), it snowed. yep, it snowed. it might have even hailed a little since the snowflakes seemed to be bouncing off us at one point. i don't think snowflakes bounce, do they? at any rate, yesterday was a great day for what we had planned (except for the run): meeting Cara, Lynne, and Mia at Inua (our local yarn shoppe) to help them pick out yarn for their new projects and the getting them started on said projects.

Lynne couldn't make it to Part II of our plans, but Mia and Cara showed up fashionably late with Stevie in tow. our first activity: the swift. the swift, for all you non-knitters, is simply the coolest thing ever.

coupled with a ball winder, the swift transforms twisted hanks of unruly yarn into neat adorable little balls. balls that are squat and flat on both ends so they sit on most surfaces (a table, a couch, your husband's thigh as he sits next to you - wherever you're knitting) and obediently stay put as you pull yarn. most of all, a swift liberates us from asking our partners to hold the yarn between their outstretched arms while we laboriously wind a ball by hand. they don't like it, we don't like it. the swift saves us. it is a wonder. really, the eighth wonder of the world. plus, it's cool looking. mine has taken up residence at the end of the dining room table, in eternal vigilance against the chaos of magazines, paperwork, and the general detritus that my husband brings to the table. it is a beacon of creativity and hope shining over us all.

Mia and Cara also like the swift. in the interests of time, they wound only one ball each (save some for later, i say), so that we could get started with the cast-on. 96 navy blue stitches for Cara and 112 green/yellow sts for Mia that reminded me of a frog, in a good way. (check out the swankin' new poncho Mia made for herself, and the extremely cool green felted slippers she made for Cara!)

in no time, they were off, casting on and knitting! the pattern, a freebie from Lion Brand, is a painfully cute little baby hoodie, all in garter st. all 4 of us will knit the same thing for 4 different lucky babies.

Norma came to offer some moral support (and to pick up her knitting instructions that she left here the other day) and spread a little love around while she was here. That's Nuchie, the love hound (when he's not being the 'bad dog.') Nuchie also ran up Ester Dome in the snow. i think he's pooped.

while all this creativity and creating was going on, this is what the boys did:

who can blame 'em?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007


ok, i have no idea what i'm doing with the editing of this blog but this picture needed to be posted to the web in order to update my profile...but for anyone reading, this is a picture of me and Nuchie, who will likley figure prominently in this blog, 2 falls ago on a berry-picking trip to Tabletop Mtn, north of Fairbanks. this was after berry-picking and shortly after his - or should i say our - adventure with the porcupine. this adventure also included a fair amount of blood and my leatherman. he looks no worse for the wear, as usual.

this picture reminds me that there is nothing like a Fairbanks sunset, no matter the season!

Monday, May 7, 2007

baby plants

spring has sprung in Fairbanks. i'm conveniently forgetting that Lisa Be-Naughty and i ran into a little snow at the top of Ester Dome last Saturday morning when we were silly enough to run up the "hill" for the first time this season. (presumably, we do this because we might run Fairbanks' Equinox Marathon this September after many more of these early Saturday morning runs.)

no matter that snow, i know spring is here because of this:

and this:

delphiniums coming up for the first time after being established last summer. delphiniums, along with a rhubarb plant and chives in the back.

and then there's the starts that are currently exploring their potential inside by the big window. i live for these guys - nasturtium, daisies, bachelor buttons, calendula, dwarf sunflowers, lupine, allysum, along with some lettuce and kale. Cob teases that i need a "plant cam" to keep track of their progress. he's only half-joking. ok, maybe he's not joking. i love little baby starts.

that's Pheles helping me keep an eye on them.

and then four days later. see the difference? i need a plant cam. we have big plans for these little guys. i have dreams of a cutting garden smack dab in the middle of the yard lined by river rocks (same old schist, Cobbie says).

All i need to do is keep this guy out of them!