Saturday, January 28, 2012


Holy Balls is it cold out!

This morning it was -54F.

That's colder than Hell.

Colder than a Witch's Tit

Colder than Fuckall.

At -43 propane turns to gel. At -54 it turns over on its side and says: Fuck this. You can go rub two sticks together for all I care. I'm goin back to bed.

Thus, it's too cold to use the propane stove or the water heater. Too cold to cook your food, take a shower, or wash dishes.

It's too cold to go outside because the air is too cold to breathe.

It's so cold the snow is as dry and fine as flour. It's so cold there's no new ice being formed because everything's already frozen. Except for the used kleenex in your pocket--that turns into an iceball.

Although it's not too cold to use the outhouse--when ya gotta go, ya gotta go--it's too cold to wipe your ass. Properly anyway. Better have some baby wipes in the house is all I'm sayin.

It's so cold, everyone that shits in an outhouse will sooner or later comment to their closest friends and relatives that it's almost time to knock their shitspike over.

And what is a shitspike?

It is a stalagmite of feces that has piled up and frozen over the winter, at the bottom of your outhouse.

Day by day the stalagmite grows, because it's too cold to decompose. Eventually someone (usually the man by Alaskan custom) cuts down a stout spruce sapling and strips the branches, making a fine, Friar Tuck-ish staff which he uses to knock the damn thing down. Depending on its height and mass, a falling shitspike can sound like a falling tree, or a bowling alley on league night.

At this point some readers may find this offensive. But trust me, it's too cold right now to be delicate anymore. Cold makes us all a bit more blunt. In my case, maybe a little more than usual.


It goes without saying it's too cold to drive. Even if you can start your car (with Joe away at Toolik, Simon very kindly came over to charge my battery yesterday so I could get to work) you'd better have somewhere to plug in your car's block heater during the day. By the time I drove home in the evening the ice fog was so thick in our valley at times it was a complete whiteout. I had an invitation to a party last night but I forgot to plug in my car after I got home. By the time I remembered, it had dropped to -46, and I would have needed at least three hours warm-up time to start the engine without harming it. So I did what anyone in my situation would do: I grilled a plate-sized steak and potatoes on the Pig, opened a bottle of wine, and had my dinner.

Hmmm, Joe better cut down a bigger spruce sapling this year...

In other news, this morning's outdoor activities at fifty below consisted of piling 1/4 of a cord of wood on the porch: my heat for the next 4-5 days.

Lest you think it's so bad up here we've lost touch with beauty and poetry, think again. It is a privilege to be a tiny part of all that is Alaska in winter.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Cabin Fever!

Last Sunday Joe and I were taking a walk to the General Store when we looked up to see---a smoking tree???

Look closer: it's a raven's breath! It was so cold even his CAW! was visible.

In other news, I decide to try micro-bakery:

Oh, c'mon, just try a piece!


I showed it to Simon and he said I should contact the Guiness Book of World Records :)

But, the real reason I did it

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spaceman, man!

Holy cow, this planet Joe and I landed on is, like, cold.

you definitely need your space suit on just to walk to the mailbox.

if you can find it in all this white stuff. Remember when our old planet, Earth, still had snow?

when we landed we wondered if the ground was covered in snow, or possibly orange sherbet?

Some parts of this planet remind us of Dr. Seuss

And it is in the process of being spoiled. There is the Case of the Mysterious Cigarette Butt Litterbug who lives in our neighborhood:

and we create ice fog with our woodstoves and our cars

if we're not careful we could turn it into a big toxic waste dump just like we did with the old planet.

Joe calls this place "unspoiled". It's true, at least for now.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Welcome to 2012! A time of looking back and of looking forward...

This will be the start of my 52nd year of life on earth. In all this time--five decades, holy shit!!!--I've never felt I've really accomplished anything. True, I got an art degree way back in the 1980s, but after graduation I never seriously attempted to make my living as an artist. Back then I labored under the unfortunate delusion that if I wasn't a famous artist by the age of 25 I might as well hang up my painter's smock. I didn't seem to realize that talent was only half the battle, that you had to believe in yourself enough to produce a body of work and keep going in the face of the piles of inevitable rejection letters before you could actually call yourself an artist. But I was a sensitive little flower back then, before I knew I had thorns...

Fast forward twenty-five years later: in 2009 I got my master's degree in plant biology. Now I work in an arctic ecology lab at the University of Alaska, I've been to one of the coolest remote science stations in the world, and I'm applying to the PhD program in biology. In all truth I still don't know if I'm really cut out to be a scientist. I guess there's only one way to find out. Apply, collect some data, and if I get rejected, keep going until it makes sense not to anymore.

One -30 F day last week Joe and I took a walk around Toolik camp over to the sauna, where Faye had spotted a small herd of caribou on her rounds the day before. I wanted to see if we could spot them out on the lake, which stretches away from the sauna railings to the North and West for a couple of miles to the far shore. We started to walk down the bank onto the lake, and before I knew it I found myself creating spiral footprints in the untracked snow. Joe followed my tracks and made the spirals more deeply etched. I didn't want to short cut over them because the otherwise pristine white lake would be marred by yet another intrusive member of our species leaving random ugly footprints over everything like a cockroach tracking over a just-mopped kitchen floor.

Each day I went out and added a few more fresh spirals, and I found the experience very grounding and immediate, nothing more. There was not much thought to it other than not wanting messy looking footprints everywhere. The spirals seemed more respectful, more thoughtful, and they looked pretty.

After taking a series of photographs and looking them over I realized this was probably my best ever attempt at "art." Yes, it looks just like Robert Smithson's "The Spiral Jetty," but that isn't the point. For the first time I made something that satisfied my wish to make something of beauty that didn't have to last forever or prove anything. It happened on the spur of the moment. It was pleasant to walk over the frozen lake in the glowing light of the arctic afternoon and not think too much about anything. I was able to enjoy a walk, get some fresh air, and make something that made sense to me, for some reason. If I never do something like it again that is OK. It is now a happy memory, which is enough.