Wednesday, December 24, 2014

An Alaskan Husky Christmas Story

written by Simon McLoughlin
[I decided to take the day off and post Simon's letter about naughty doggies...]

Thought you might all appreciate this story.
Got home from town last night about 5p.m. it was pitch black being day after winter solstice. Had come from Freddies w/ Christmas day groceries. Whilst shopping spied some reindeer sausage meat and thought -oh a treat for dogs!

 When home I divide the 4 sausages into 11 equal amounts under interior light of truck then walk over to dogyard in the dark as headlamp elsewhere. I reach blindly into the opening of each kennel waiting for the dogs teeth to gently differentiate between my fingers and the reindeer meat. All going well until I am at far end of dogyard. I reach into Brownies kennel and long delay before I expect the wet muzzle to extricate the goodie from my hand w/ fingers intact. Over 30 seconds go by normally it'd be .3 secs and goodie would have vanished.

I feel deeper into kennel and all I can feel is empty space. Brownie is not home he has vamoosed w/ 6 feet of chain and 4 foot of 1/2" diameter rebar w/ a 1 foot 90 degree angle on end.

I walk over to give Polar his goodie  but no goodie for him as he is not a goodie and has blasted off too.

I immediately think of you Joanne and your summer experiences w/ the same two reprobates.

I find headlamp and begin wandering trails nearby calling and whistling into the black night. When I return to dogyard 20 minutes later here comes Polar running seemingly innocently to his kennel dragging 6 foot of chain.

I remove Polar's chain and then let the indomitable Porky off to help w/ search for Brownie.
With snomachine running we set off looking for Brownie. Polar runs immediately to cabin door and clueless to plan at hand. He wants to be on the couch next to the blazing woodstove in a warm cabin.

No sign of Brownie after searching nearby loop trail over the frozen Goldstream Creek.

So we  return to yard empty handed. I decide to clip Porky and Polar back to their kennels and drive snogo [translation: snowmobile] up towards road looking for the elusive Brownie.

I am now up at Goldstream store -still empty handed so go inside to ask store worker if anybody has come across a dog dragging chain and steel on his merry way. JACKPOT !!! I have a phone number for a woman who found Brownie down at peat ponds caught up in trees going nowhere fast! She extricates him w/ Polar onlooking then loads him in her truck w/ her other two dogs she was out walking trails with.

Polar declines offer for a ride and does what he does best...pisses off..!! [translation: takes off]

Sooo it's now 8 p.m. and I just arrive home with Brownie in the cab of truck and can finally give him his Christmas goodie and a happy ending to another unplanned winter adventure.

[NOTE: if you wanna see pictures of these reprobates, click Lassie's picture on right]

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Croissants of Shame

[compiled from several emails sent today]

Hi Everyone,

If you were following the news a couple hours ago you heard that one of our fellow students took his own life on campus.

The Newsminer gave the student's age: 48. By that definition, whether he'd heard of us or not, he's a non-traditional like us.

We all know how stressful student life can be. Especially at the end of the semester and the end of the year--when the fun weather and darkness sets in along with the projects and tests and grades and all that fun sh!t.

I've been reading all semester for my comps. I took my writtens the week before Thanksgiving. I got feedback from a couple of my committee members, and successfully got through some rewrites before the week was over.  On Tuesday of this week I went to take my scheduled oral exam. I got there early and sat outside the conference room for a half hour. After what seemed like ages my advisor finally came out and told me that the committee decided I wasn't ready to take the orals, because some of them were not satisfied with my written answers. 

I was completely shocked.  It was all I could do to hold back tears.

In hindsight, I should not have been subjected to that. I should have been contacted beforehand by each person who felt a rewrite was in order. Well, Thanksgiving week came and went, and blah blah blah. It (and I) fell through the cracks.  It really sucked. I spent $ on breakfast items for them, I had to request an outside examiner weeks before, and the poor fellow showed up just to have his time wasted. Worst of all, my advisor had emailed all my friends the day before to announce that she was throwing a big party for me (with CHAMPAGNE!) on Wed night to celebrate my advance to candidacy. She had to email them all back and explain why the party was being cancelled. That REALLY sucked--now everyone knew!! And so I went home in tears with my bag of croissants, and wondered whether I should continue being a UAF student or just give up and fling myself and the croissants over the Goldstream Creek Bridge.

Before I left campus that day, however, I met with the members of my committee who were not satisfied with my written answers, and we discussed the issues. They gave me a framework for rewrites.  I just sent rewrites to one of them a little while ago, and I am in the process of rewriting for the other. 

If all goes well, I should be able to reschedule my oral exam for early January.

Sounds easy. But it wasn't.  I was doing everything I could to hold it together. My advisor had hugged me and apologized. It wasn't her fault.

That poor student. I know how he felt. I came close. [I didn't tell anyone about that part]

When I got home, I sat in my house and cried for hours. I didn't eat or drink or light a fire, and the house got cold. I thought about driving up the Elliott Highway some ways past Fox and pulling over and just walking out into the snow. I thought about the thirty thousand dollars in loans and scholarships that would need to be given back. And I thought about my Dad, who went to college on the GI Bill after surviving the final campaign through Europe during WWII. I emailed him and he called me; we talked for over an hour.  

When something like this happens, it's not good to internalize your feelings. It may be embarrassing for others to know, but holding back the pain can seriously damage one's health and prevent us from going forward, which is what being a student is all about.

My advice to you guys, if this should happen to you, is to keep your chin up.  Also, don't harbour angry feelings. Faculty are human, miscommunication happens, holiday weekends happen, and sometimes everything comes together to create the Perfect Sh!t Storm of Humiliation hitting you, the student, in the face. Allow yourself one day to scream your head off, cry your eyes out, eat Ben n Jerry's, whatever [my Dad's advice]. The next day, get up and do your student thing as usual. Day by day it will get easier.  I talked to my girlfriend in California (a UC Davis non-trad) and we ended up laughing about my croissants of shame which I ended up giving to my neighbor's sled dogs (that felt good). The day you laugh again, you will be out of the hole.

I'm not saying you will be the way you were before. No. You won't ever forget it, and certain things may trigger bouts of tears for a while. But (my Dad again), you must let go of the bitterness. 

If you continue to feel resentment it will poison an otherwise awesome education opportunity that you worked so hard to be part of. And I'm sorry to say, it can poison your whole life from that day forward. 

If you want to use this group as a forum for this kind of support, please feel free.This group is whatever you want it to be. We all have a voice, we are all in charge. And I wish this group to be a safe place to fall for all of us.

OK, so I had my horrible experience on Tuesday. Today I am feeling much better. Writing this, I am feeling much better.  It helps to let it out. University is meant to stimulate our curiosity and develop our intellectual skills, and I often feel I learn more from my mistakes than I ever could by doing something "the right way" which, remember, is often subjective and consensus-based. By that logic I ought to be a frickin' genius by now, but oh well...

Albert Einstein's teacher supposedly told his father that the kid was an idiot who would never amount to anything. (and they didn't have Title IX back then when Einstein was a college boy...)

We all know student life is peer-oriented and can be very judgey and cliquey.  You can't stop someone from judging you negatively, but remember, judgments like that are fear-based, and very different from the constructive criticism that shapes a student into a critical thinker, a skilled writer, an impassioned and highly skilled doer. In the culture of academic excellence it's easy to feel inadequate, and the quickest ego boost for low self-esteem is to look down our noses at someone else. But don't forget that you are individuals.  Nobody can place a value judgement on another person's individuality. What you have is unique and irreplaceable, it's really your hard currency. Each one of you struck me as a kind of maverick when I first met and talked to you. This is what is so interesting to me--perhaps that's why we're all in this Non-Trad boat together!

So continue to be the awesome Non-Traditional mom/dad/grandparent/soldier/community leader/artist/mountaineer/philosopher/engineer mavericks that you are. And make friends with some sled dogs just in case you need to ditch a wasted committee meeting breakfast in a hurry :-)

And please have a wonderful break.

Your friend,


Friday, November 14, 2014

Last weekend before comps...

OK, I'm ready. I think.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Simple Green: Not simple, DEFINITELY not green!

Warning:  this is gonna make you really mad. At least I hope so.

Taking a break from studying for comps, I decided to Google: Is Simple Green safe for washing dishes?

I had run out of dish soap (I use the natural stuff, the stuff you get in the Organics section of Fred Meyers), and I thought: why not make a simple solution of baking soda, water, and Simple Green?

I did, and it was fantastic. With my limited supply of funny-colored water, I have to say my dishes never looked cleaner.  The solution was much thinner than dish soap, however, so I ran out after a week or so. No problem: I have a gallon of Simple Green under the sink. It will be months until I run out!

I bought this jug of Simple Green from our local Home Depot about a year ago, and I’ve been using it in an old spray bottle to clean my countertops, walls, etc. It does an amazing job of removing grease. Some time ago, I’d heard that SG is not all that great for the environment.

But I kind of pushed that aside and went on with my life.

The other day, looking at the late afternoon sun winking on a perfectly sparkly water glass sitting in my dish drainer, I felt a wave of X-Files skepticism: This stuff was cleaning my dishes really well, AND kind to the environment? Too good to be true.  

I googled “Simple Green MSDS”, and downloaded it (you know, the Material Safety Data Sheets: the comprehensive label for any chemical product listing its reactivity, flammability, and of course its ingredients).

Simple Green is a mixture of 78% water, and 5% each of the following:

Ethoxylated Alcohol
Tetrapotassium Pyrophosphate
Sodium Citrate
It also has 1% or less each of “fragrance” and “colorant”
OK, so what is this first one, this 2-butoxyethanol?
It’s a type of synthetic chemical known as an organic compound. Organic because it’s made with carbon, not because it’s harmless to the environment. It’s composed of 6 parts carbon 14 parts hydrogen and 2 parts oxygen (and when I say MADE, I mean this molecule does not occur in nature, it was made in a lab). It’s mainly used as a solvent in a variety of industrial applications because it’s great for removing oily substances. Ironically, it’s used in fracking as well as in oil spill cleanups: 
(Hey Bernie, I got an order for 50,000 gallons for the Alberta Tar Sands, and another 50,000 for Prince William Sound--Hooters tonight, my treat)
It’s made from butanol, itself a very toxic 4-carbon alcohol that's widely used in a bunch of commercial applications (Hey Joe, the Simple Green people just gave us another order for 500,000 gallons of butanol--Hooters tonight, my treat)
The molecule is a sturdy-looking little thing, but don't let that fool you. If you made a 2-butoxyethanol using balloons, it would look like a dachshund with many bumps along its back and sides (the C-H bonds) and a big head made out of oxygen and hydrogen (the reactive part).
Once this stuff hits the air, it forms a bunch of different peroxides (molecules with reactive oxygen - oxygen bonds), many of which are very flammable if not downright toxic.
But, it degrades in a few hours into presumably harmless compounds. Thus, the Simple Green people are allowed to label it “biodegradable.”
Furthermore, it takes a relatively high amount to kill lab animals. This is known as the LD-50 test. LD stands for “lethal dose,” 50 refers to 50% of the test population.  They basically give the animals enough of the stuff until 50% of them die. We do this in the US for every chemical substance used in industrial, medical, commercial, and home purposes (exceptions are products that specify not tested on animals). For rats and rabbits, that comes out to 5g of 2-butoxyethanol per kg of body weight (5g is about a shot glass). Since your average laboratory rat weighs about half a kilo, that's about 1% of its body weight; presumably it would act pretty quick and painless. For a rabbit (2-6 kg) a bit slower. And probably squirmier.

Thus, the Simple Green people are allowed to label it "non-toxic.” 
In other tests it wreaks biological havoc. If it doesn't kill them, it effects their neurological systems, causing loss of equilibrium and coordination. It causes skeletal defects in their litters, it reduces their red blood cell counts, and causes lesions in their livers, spleens, and bone marrow. And it causes cancerous tumors in the forestomachs of rodents.
It enters the body via inhalation or absorption through the skin (all those times I washed my dishes bare handed, OMG!!), and once there, it breaks down into substances called metabolites that clog up our biological filters, including my favorite filter, the liver. Concentrations of these metabolites are toxic.
Should I skip my glass of wine tonight?
I am sure I’ve poured at least a shot glass of concentrated Simple Green into my dish soap bottle, and added water to make a nice, foamy detergent for my dishes, counter tops, and dish cloths, which I’ve rinsed liberally in the stuff, over and over and over.
Needless to say, I never made it to the other ingredients.  I threw away the bottle of “dish soap” and the tainted sponge, wrote in big black magic marker on the jug of Simple Green “DO NOT USE, CONTAINS CARCINOGENS” capped it tightly and stuck it in the farthest corner of my cabinet where it sits from now on, lurking like an evil green time bomb.
How THE FUCK were we supposed to know, especially if they slap a label on that says “Simple Green is a safer alternative to toxic cleaners, bleaches, and solvents”
One website says that OSHA does not regulate this product as carcinogenic to humans because humans lack forestomachs.
Another website says the US EPA classifies the chemical as a Group C, Possible Human Carcinogen.
New Jersey by the way. They’re not taking any chances. They’ve got pages and pages for you to read.
I consider myself pretty savvy—I research lots of things (it’s kind of my default mode as a student)—but I’m really angry. This company has deliberately deceived millions of unsuspecting people by saying their product is safe, simple, and green.
You have to ask yourself: why do they put this horrible chemical in their product?
Simple: Green.
It costs very little green to manufacture, it cleans really well, and it makes them lots of green.
Look around at your friends and family. Count how many have/have had cancer.  Are you really surprised cancer is so common? Don’t argue with me it’s because modern medicine allows humans to live longer and diseases of old age like cancer are a natural consequence of longevity. Bullshit. Cancer is getting children, teens, adults, the elderly, men, women, black, white, fat, skinny, athletic, sedentary, rich, poor, you name it. Like it or not, we eat, sleep, breathe and absorb these manmade poisons day in and day out. These and hundreds more.

OK, I admit this is not a very scientific thing to say. I'm reacting more as a human being than as a scientist. But...I lost my mom and my aunt to cancer. I was told I have to be very careful because of my family history. Yes, Blah, Blah Blah....
And, I’m fucking sick of it. Yes, I drive a car. I fly in planes. I live and participate in a fossil-fueled world. But can’t I at least have a say in what I decide to use in my home?
Physicians for Social Responsibility says cancer is the SECOND leading cause of death in the US.  And—news flash--it’s largely preventable. 75 to 80% of cancers diagnosed in this country are believed to be from exposure to carcinogens in the environment.
Where's that (sparkly, sparkly) glass of wine. Sorry liver.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Q: why do flies always drown themselves in my water glass?

A: Murfleas Law

Click here to see delightful images of dead flies having fun

Saturday, September 13, 2014

how to save water

A hard, steady rain fell earlier this month, and when I thought I couldn't take the sound of rain pounding on the roof anymore, I had the presence of mind to run out in the pouring rain and drag my clean 30-gallon bin next to the wood pile to catch the runoff from the tarp. It helps to have a new tarp, but an old one will get nicely power-washed by that much rain.

You can bottle and drink fresh rainwater right away. I filled three 2.5 gallon jugs that way, and stored the rest in the bin.

After a few days I knew debris would begin to affect the water quality, so I skimmed off the leaves, poured it through a colander to catch smaller particles, boiled the water, cooled it, and Brita-filtered it before decanting into the jugs. It took all afternoon, but I got another ten gallons of drinking water and did some laundry with the rest.

Why do I bother? Because I have to buy water. My main water supply comes from a one thousand gallon tank buried in the ground, and an electric pump that draws the water from the tank.  At least once a year, I have a water hauling service come and fill it up (at eight cents a gallon that's about $80). The tank is fairly old, and has about an inch of sediment at the bottom, which affects the water's color. I consider my water tinted rather than tainted: the water has no odor, and is kept at a fairly constant temp of about 40 F due to the insulating effect of the ground.  It's fine for doing the dishes or showering, but I won't drink that water unless I boil it. So I take my portable jugs to the local fill-up place, and I go through ten gallons of drinking water every seven to ten days--another $40 a year.

This is the deal if you live on permafrost-ridden ground: you can't have a sewer system delivering water to outlying areas--so most people here in Goldstream Valley just dig outhouses and leachfields and buy their water, either by the jug or by the tank. We do our dishes using as little water as possible (having a dog or two helps with the prewash stage, so I've been told) and we toss our dishwater from slop pails out on the ground. My sinks and shower drain into a leachfield (when Simon built this cabin two decades ago, he used a backhoe to bury a bus filled with river rocks in the yard, and connected the sink and shower drains to it), but by midwinter the drain reliably clogs up with ice so I just don't use it very much.  I can still take a shower in the winter as long as I stand inside my 30 gallon bin like Oscar the Grouch and catch most of the water before it backs up from the drain all cold and foul smelling. Those who have no such setup must take their showers in town. Tinted water or not, I'm grateful to have my very own hot shower in a place where I can still see moose from my window.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Just keep doing it

Many moons ago, in a past life as a young artist in Chicago, I knew a guy, a friend of my roommate, a cinematographer and experimental filmmaker, well-liked and well-respected in the artist community.  We'd gone to a screening of a film he'd recently completed, and everyone we knew was talking about it. The film was a three-part portrait of the filmmaker's grandfather. 

There's a scene where the grandfather suggests they pray together. The filmmaker admits to his grandfather, rather sheepishly, that he doesn't know how to pray, and then begins to weep uncontrollably.  As a young art student I had seen plenty of people reveal their own naked bodies in their art, but never their raw, naked emotions, and I was impressed with the humanity of this artist.

We hung out only one time that I can remember: my boyfriend and my roommate and I met him and his girlfriend somewhere near Maxwell Street; they invited us to their loft to watch films. They lived in a huge, old warehouse; I remember washing my hands at their bathroom sink and looking up thinking I’d never seen so many cobwebs in my life. But their life wasn’t about housework, it was about following your vision by making art.  At one point he asked me what I was working on, and I told him I wasn’t working on anything at the moment.  I had recently graduated and was working full-time in an office, and found myself too tired at the end of the day to do much else. He practically stuck his face in mine:


“I can’t; I just don’t have time.”

“Yes you can. Just keep doing it: keep filming, keep working on your stuff. Promise me you’ll do that.”

I hadn't expected such a strong reaction.  His manner was confrontational, yet kind and encouraging. Then he smiled as if to say: I dare you!  He was a few years older than we were, and we looked up to him as an elder brother figure/journeyman artist showing support for his newly-fledged artist brethren.

Over the years I lost touch with him, and I left art-making altogether. Then one day a friend sent me a newspaper article. Our friend had gone missing, and nobody seemed to know where he was.

When I met him he had been a film editor for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and then got hired as a cinematographer working with a German documentary filmmaker. That was as far as I knew.

Apparently in the early 90’s he'd left Chicago and gotten married.  Several years had passed by the time I received the article about his disappearance. There were rumors he'd joined a satanic cult and was buried somewhere out in the desert. It sounded so ridiculous I dismissed it as a load of crap. He was an experienced, globe-trotting filmmaker; he could be anywhere.

A few more years passed, I got my Master’s and left town myself.

Then one sleepless night, I thought of him and googled his name. There he was: tall, skinny, intense and quirky, just as I remembered him.

Every posting said the same thing: in 2000, his body was found in the basement of a house in Wyoming.  He had been murdered five years earlier.

There had been a documentary about his disappearance, made by his friend and colleague, but it was unavailable.  Besides written articles--including an online archive of the one my friend had mailed me several years ago--the only videos I could find were a short clip from NBC news and a 43-minute made-for-TV episode for a true murder mystery series that I had to rent in order to see.  I expected it to be a repetitive, over-dramatized affair, but when you lose touch with someone you once knew--only to learn bad things happened to them--you take pretty much any scrap of news you can find.

The story was centered on the woman he left Chicago to marry: a charismatic but mentally unstable leader of a religious cult who preached dowsing by swinging a pendulum. Her teachings were initially positive but grew increasingly darker as she began to believe she and her flock were surrounded by demons and zombies. In 1995, when things were at their weirdest, he decided to leave.  In the heat of an argument, she shot him in the head at close range, and buried his body in the basement with the help of another cult member.  By the time it was discovered and a formal investigation was launched, the leader had died, and the other woman was charged as an accessory.

Of all the people I've known, however briefly, he is the last person to have deserved such a fate.  He was a good, kind person, with many friends, and had he lived, one wonders how great his mark upon the world might have been.  Some artists become more renowned in death than in life, and I think it sad that more people got to know of him as a murder victim than as an artist.

When we read stories about people who ended their lives this way, we usually don’t stop to think about how it must feel for their loved ones.  The murder mystery genre is a form of entertainment for everyone but them. 

I wish he could have written his own story. But I’m so glad to have known him and for receiving his message:

Keep doing what you love.  Don’t give up.

My friend's name was Allen Ross.  A really cool guy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A guy walks into a dentist's office...

Receptionist:  Do you have an appointment?

Guy:  Tooth-hurty.


Shortly after I learned to fish, I learned I have two impacted wisdom teeth. It was so long ago I had my wisdom teeth out, I'd assumed they were all pulled.  Not so, of them has partially erupted in my lower jaw like an ancient, long-forgotten volcano.

In a short amount of time, thanks to the internet, I've learned an awful lot about wisdom teeth and student health insurance.

I won't bore you with health insurance. It is the tangled jungle we all walk through.

Wisdom teeth are much more interesting. In dentist-speak they are known as 3rd molars. We typically have four of these things: two upper and two lower, although some people have less, and some people have more, known as supernumerary teeth (which makes me think of sharks for some reason).

Wisdom teeth are a relic of our bygone days as apes, when we were all--sadly--a bunch of raw-food vegans. Back in those days we needed bigger, stronger jaws and extra molars to grind plant fiber.  Over time, as we developed a taste for easier-to-chew foods, our jaws got smaller. But for some reason we still have those extra molars hanging out in our heads--as backups?  Evolution does have a thing for redundancy. And leftovers.  Maybe in a few generations the raw vegans will happily chomp away again on three sets of fully functional molars? Until then, think of your wisdom teeth as a completely useless gift from your monkey ancestors.

ook ook OOK, thanks Lucy!

Ah now, why do we call them wisdom teeth? Compared to most teeth which come in when we're children, wisdom teeth typically appear in young adulthood, when we're supposedly wiser.

Which might explain why only half of my wisdom teeth came up.

Regardless of whether they come up or stay impacted, they're far easier to extract from a younger jawbone, because the roots have not reached their full length and the jawbone is a bit more flexible. As we age, the roots grow longer and become more firmly attached to the jaw (just in case, people!) and our bone loses its flexibility.

So why remove them?

There are two schools of thought: some experts argue impacted wisdom tooth surgery is far more traumatic and costly than necessary (it often requires surgical removal of bone, and can end in fractures and nerve damage)--so if it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Apparently many people live out their lives with their wisdom teeth intact, pain-free and just fine. On the other hand, plenty of people develop problems: pain and swelling from gum and tooth infections, compounded by all kinds of weird angles of impaction. These are the people whose wisdom teeth are like rotting time bombs for whom surgery is not optional.

This is not to say it's all black and white...

My case falls somewhere in the not-too-bad zone: a partially erupted tooth at a slight angle that caused a mild gum infection. There were a few days of swelling and pain and a yucky discharge that gave me much anxiety until I saw my dentist. Thankfully it cleared up with the help of oral antibiotics and lots of rinsing.  My dentist showed me the xray and said I did a good job: neither the monkey molar nor its neighbor show any signs of decay. He referred me to an oral surgeon in case I want it removed.  Apparently for me it is still optional.

He did suggest it might be a good idea, because infection can re-occur.  New teeth are sharp before they've had a chance to wear against the opposing tooth, and until that happens the gum is vulnerable to infection (in babies that's called teething).  In my case the part of the crown that is aboveground, so to speak, may remain trapped in the soft tissue because the back end of the crown is firmly nestled under the curve of my jawbone.  Caught between a rock and a hard place, you could say.

Armed with this new information, a flurry of emails to the student health office ensued. My university's student heath office is nothing if not awesome, prompt, informative and professional.

I made an appointment for a consultation with an oral surgeon to discuss my going under general anesthesia to have Monkeytooth removed as I watched online videos and read all I could. Tooth-hurty indeed.

"Don't read about oral surgery. Especially on the internet," was Jojo's sage advice. I ignored it.

Besides the sheer gaggyness of watching a surgeon digging a crowbar-like thingie into this gaping, bloody hole that is supposed to be some poor person's mouth, issues related to this surgery include (but are not limited to):

Loss of muscle function in tongue and jaw

Slurred speech


A fractured jaw

Bone loss in the jaw

Resorption of heathy teeth (your body basically eats your good teeth to get calcium lost from the surgery)

And last but not least:

paresthesia in the mouth (numbness and tingling) which can make things like eating and kissing less pleasurable.

Drooling scares me. Fractures scare me. But no kissing? Really?

It really makes you stop to realize how little we value or understand the complexity of our body's basic functions, and how much they contribute to the joy of living. Take any one of them away for good, and I guarantee we become fully aware of what we have lost.

My plan is to see the surgeon, ask lots of pointy questions, make my decision, and live with it.

If there's no reason to have it done then I will be mindful and grateful of the sheer beauty of eating (and kissing) and life will be good.

If the doctor says it's a problem and it must come out, I hope I don't end up drooling in class. Then I'll have to run away and join the circus.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hunting and Fishing (part 2)

Our volunteering mission for science accomplished, we regrouped at Boardwalk Fish & Chips for halibut on a wooden stick, followed by white wine on a wooden bench. We sat amid sun and surf, contemplating our next move.

The night before at our motel room in Soldotna we looked out at the Kenai River and noticed that fish were jumpin'.  And the anglers were high. High on fishing, anyway.

Jojo proposed we drive back to Soldotna, book another night at the Kenai River Lodge, get a rod and reel, bait and lures, the whole nine yards--and go fishing.


I thought--really?   Can we do that?

I've never been fishing before.

Fishing is one of those things someone teaches you at a young age. In high school my boyfriend went fishing, but I never accompanied him. I had my mind made up that hunting and fishing were cruel sports that I would never, ever be part of. And I lived inside that reality most of my life.

In Alaska, fishing is not so much a sport as a way of life. It is just part of what it means to be an Alaskan.

Practically speaking, this is because we still have more fish than people. One day that will change, and we may change the way we think about it.

Fish--in particular the salmon--have shaped the Alaskan wilderness.  They are a keystone species. The annual pulse of spawning salmon is jaw-dropping.  They swim in enormous numbers from the sea up the waterways to spawn and die in their natal streams which they locate by smell. What people and bears and bald eagles don't catch turns into thousands of tons of nutrients that fuel the ecosystem. Without this fuel, life here would be very different. There would be no bears or eagles or moose or squirrel or vast, productive forests that depend upon the nutrients in salmon carcasses.

You could think of the salmon as the red blood cells coursing through the arteries of the wildnerness, delivering their loads of nutrients to keep the living tissue of the forests alive and healthy.

And we got to catch some!  Or--try to. The silver and pink salmon are running as I write, the kings (or reds) are just finished for the season.

Jojo (aka my "Fishin Buddy") looked very confident in Fred Myers trying out rods, inspecting lures and lines. She had no fear walking up to the young man behind the sporting goods counter, asking all kinds of questions, admitting we were newbies. But in our rubber boots and Billy Bob caps I guess our money looked green enough to the store employees. We walked out with a rod and reel and line, sinkers, bobbers, a hook or two. And my very first fishing license!

That's when you know you're really an Alaskan.

Then a stop at a bait and tackle store for some eggs (on the advice of a silver-haired gentleman at Freddy's). Not hard-boiled eggs as I thought, but salmon eggs.

Salmon eggs? Really?  Isn't that like eating their own children?

Ah, well they are salmon...

Back at the Lodge we used my Fishin Buddy's iphone to look up handy things on the internet such as how to thread the reel and tie an "egg loop" to hold the salmon roe above the hook. And by we, I mean her. She did it all.

By late afternoon we spent a glorious time on the little pier just behind our Lodge, casting and fishing our little hearts out until dark.

Did we catch anything? We sure did--we caught Fishin' Fever!

It would have been nice to catch a fish, but for me, it would have been the icing on the cake. The real fun (the reel fun?) was learning how to cast, to feel the line in the water, to move it in a way to make the fish bite, then to feel the fish nibble, to feel the crazy force of the fish pull the line, to know when to fight and when to relax--just to figure out the mind of the fish was the most fun of all.

I can't wait to retire from grad school to become a full-time fisherwoman :-)

Jojo threads the reel from scratch by watching a video on her phone.

A true Alaskan woman, she carries her leatherman tool everywhere. Doesn't that make it a leatherwoman tool?

Ooh, the shiny beads and sinkers

Jo tied a perfect egg loop

And the eggs held!

she shows me how it's done

This is my very first cast. And I look like my brother Bill.

Good job, Fishin Buddy!

Woo Hoo!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hunting and Fishing (part 1)

Some friends in the world of Cakile (sea rocket, the annual beach plant I researched for my Master's) want to know the extent of the spread of two closely related species (C. edentula and C. maritima) along the west coast of North America, including California, Oregon, and Alaska.

Sea rocket originated in the Middle East a long, long time ago, eventually migrating on the ocean currents across the Atlantic to North America. The seeds of this plant are quite remarkable. The seed is about the size of a grain of rice, encapsulated in a very buoyant, fleshy, salt water-resistant fruit that looks kind of like strings of shiny little plastic green beads arranged along a stalk. Because of this floaty quality, the seed has hitch-hiked around the world to seek its fortune as a kind of biological stowaway in the ballast water of ships. After a long ocean voyage, it loves nothing better than to germinate on the bare sand a few feet from the surf. Once established, it grows quickly into a large, sprawling weed, topped with unremarkable little purple flowers.  The non-showy flowers can be either self-pollinated or get somebody else's pollen from a visiting bee or fly. The plant puts most of its energy into developing those shiny little beads to perfection. A good half-meter sized Cakile (or "Cakilezilla" as I like to call them) can contain hundreds of fruits, and all this weight eventually results in the plant collapsing upon the sand, which is perfect, as you will see. The fruits consist of two very cleverly designed segments: the segment closest to the branch end is usually cross-pollinated, while the segment on the very tip is usually self-pollinated. Once the seeds have ripened, the fruits at the tip can detach and float away, while those on the branch end stay put on the mother plant. Alas, Cakile is an annual, so Mom always dies in the end, but her attached children--half siblings for the most part---overwinter in the sand to germinate the following spring.

Two years ago, I'd spotted a single specimen of American sea rocket (Cakile edentula) on the little beach behind Two Sisters Bakery in Homer, Alaska. I told my friends I'd try to make it down there this summer. As luck would have it this year was good timing, and Joanne, who makes her living among humans as a nurse practitioner, was game to accompany me for a couple of days of exotic plant sleuthing.

I honestly didn't think we'd find any.  I'd decided on Homer Spit, a 4.5 mile stretch of sand that sticks out from the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula like a long, skinny finger into Kachemak Bay.  I chose a half-mile transect along the beach beginning at the RV park near the tip heading west toward the bright red wooden barn housing Lucky Pierre Charters. From my past experience, sea-rocket is usually found among people and their boats, and as we started out, we found lots of things that resembled sea-rocket: sea purselane (Honckenya peploides), seabeach groundsel (Senecio pseudoarnica), seashore saltbush (Atriplex drymarioides), and oysterleaf (Mertensia maritima) among others. Then Joanne called me over: she'd spotted it: Cakile edentula. The good folks of the West Coast Cakile Project had provided a great visual guide of both species that we'd printed for reference, and Joanne, who has no botanical training outside of gardening, was a natural. Once we saw the first one, we found others rather few and far between. We came to the end of the transect with just 24 plants, and then in the shade of Lucky Pierre's we found more than three times that many: some were tiny little things with one or two fruits, most were medium-sized, and some were big honking Cakilezillas loaded with beads.  Although European sea rocket (Cakile maritima) has been documented in Alaska, we did not find a single one in our beach walk.

But this was just Part One of our excellent adventure...

our sampling map

Homer Spit looking East toward Seldovia

Sea rocket growing among rocks by the sea

C. edentula fruits resemble shiny green beads

me with a Cakilezilla

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer comes undone

August in Fairbanks begins full and lovely, and then slouches incrementally toward overripe decadence

Warm, lazy mornings seem to point their long green fingers laughing at clothing and tidiness and schedules 

Life is hypnotic, seductive. And then summer breaks down, weeps uncontrollably, and turns frosty cold.

At this writing, we are not quite there yet.  We are still under the spell

of so many tiny golden-green winged fairies winking in the evening sunlight.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Blueberries, Take Two

Ahh, this is more like it!

We chose to take only ONE dog, the smartest and most loyal (Lassie, of course)..

And thus we three lasses spent a lovely afternoon.