Monday, July 27, 2009

Only in Alaska?



My phone rang around 5:30 this afternoon. On the other end of the line, I heard a recorded message from Senator Mark Begich of Alaska. Like most people, I absolutely detest telephone solicitations, especially political ones, but, before I could make a move to hang up, I heard him say something about discussing the health care bill.

Now that caught my attention.

For weeks, I've been reading online articles and listening to online radio broadcasts in an effort to understand what in the world is going on with Obama's health care reform efforts. I'm all for reform where reform is needed, but I must admit that much of what I've read and heard has me rather concerned. So I was more than happy to hear what the new Senator from Alaska had to say.

Within a few seconds, I realized that Senator Begich was not soliciting anything or even giving a prepared speech. In fact, the phone call was actually part of a statewide "Tele-Town Hall Meeting."

Say, what???

All across the state, telephones rang with an invitation to talk with Senator Begich (personally!) about health care reform. I have no idea how many people were home to answer their telephones or how many took the senator up on his offer, but for about 30-40 minutes participants from all corners of Alaska called in and were free to ask questions.

Living in a bush village, away from the action and access of important cities, it's easy to feel voiceless and unheard. Today was the first time I've ever felt connected to my government apart from the occasional privilege of casting my vote.

I have no clue whether this "Tele-Town Meeting" thing is a new idea or has been happening for years, but I just want to go on record as saying that I appreciate having that opportunity. I applaud Senator Begich for taking the time to reach out to those he represents in a practical and tangible way. It was a great connection!

And those aren't so easy to come by in Alaska...or anywhere else.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Squirrelly

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It's not just the landscape that gets all squirrelly this time of year.

I'm sitting here, in my classroom, trying to update my blog, and I just had to close the mini-blinds because the sun is so bright that I'm beginning to see spots...at 12:45 AM.

The last few days have been cool (in the 40's and 50's), with light winds around 20 mph and relatively bug-free air space. Yes! Mosquitoes have been sparse for the last couple of days!

I'm hoping it's a trend and not just a blip.

I guess we'll see.

According to this cool chart, we have about 35 days before the sun finally dips below the horizon again. These super-long days make sleeping impossible for some, optional for others.

Don't think for a minute that parka squirrels are the only ones enjoying the midnight sun.

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What would you do with 24 hours of daylight?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Way Too Buggy!

Too many bugs!

Spring came early this year.

In fact, for a few days at the end of April, the North Slope experienced a dramatic temperature spike from the mid-20's up to and above 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Everything began to drip and slush and flow at an amazing, completely unexpected, pace. That sort of thing doesn't usually happen until June.

Unfortunately, with early spring comes early thawing and hatching of about a kazillion mosquitoes.

Now, I can appreciate that mosquitoes have a place in the "circle of life."  I can appreciate that many migratory birds feed on mosquitoes. And I appreciate that mosquitoes feed on the nectar of flowering plants and can be credited with some of the pollination of the tundra that occurs each year. I can even appreciate that female mosquitoes need protein for the development of their eggs. But I find it very difficult to appreciate being the source of that protein!

According to this article on Scholastic's website for kids, Ken Philip, an entomologist in Alaska reports that if you are on Alaska's North Slope with no repellent and lots of exposed skin, you could die from loss of blood within three hours! Although I can't verify the accuracy of that statement, my own experience with Arctic mosquitoes leads me to believe that Ken Philip has it just about right.

The movie The Snow Walker has been listed on my sidebar since the early days of this blog. Although the story is actually set in the Canadian Arctic, everything looks and feels extremely familiar. In one of the scenes, the main character, a bush pilot who has crash landed smack in the middle of the tundra in summer, tries to escape a swarm of hungry mosquitoes. I have experienced (many) similar swarms, but never without protection. I was amazed by the realism of that scene and can't imagine how they accomplished it. If you're interested, check out
this great clip. There is a short segment in the clip that shows him trying to outrun the swarm. Of course, the movie shows more.

I'm including a little mosquito footage of my own.  Though definitely not an example of high-quality camera work, it's what I have for now. It is difficult to see the LCD or manipulate the camera while hiding hands and every other vulnerable body part inside a nylon mesh bug shirt, but I just couldn't bring myself to sacrifice skin or blood for the sake of better video. 

Friday, July 10, 2009

Alaska Geographic



A couple of days ago, I caught the last half of a program on PBS previewing the new Ken Burns documentary about America's National Parks. Although I only saw part of the preview, what I did get to see was excellent! I can't wait to view the entire twelve-part series.

Yesterday, I received an email from Alaska Geographic highlighting
Ken Burns' visit to Anchorage for a special presentation of his documentary. All the proceeds from this event were dedicated to supporting Alaska Geographic and the National Parks Conservation Foundation.

That reminded me that, although I've had a little blurb on my sidebar for a long time describing
North Slope Now one book in the excellent Alaska Geographic series, I've never really taken the time to point out what a great resource Alaska Geographic's website is for anyone interested in learning more about Alaska or experiencing The Great Land for themselves.

The website has free,
downloadable travel guides and a terrific bookstore with more titles than I could ever list on my blog such as, One Man's Wilderness, the story of Richard Proenneke's Alaskan experience that began as a one-year experiment and became a thirty-year adventure. There is a companion DVD available as well which was developed from the diary and film clips that Proenneke recorded during his time there. Just watching him build a log cabin from scratch, all on his own, is worth the price of the DVD!

If Alaska has ever held any fascination for you, Alaska Geographic is a great place to begin an exciting adventure of your own!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stumped

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Four weeks is a long time not to blog.

It's not that I've been off or away or had nothing to share.

I'm here...haven't been anywhere. I have quite a collection of summertime photos cached away. Some have been on my computer for weeks and weeks, unshared, growing stale, gathering virtual dust.

The truth is, I've been stumped...baffled, discountenanced, disquieted, stunned.

Like the unfortunate comrades of the playground duck, something came along that knocked me for a loop.

And I couldn't write about it. Still can't, exactly.

Let's just say that the buggy side of the dog expanded its borders for a while. The cool summer wind that holds bugs at bay died down and an uncomfortable stillness pressed in heavily against my heart. Then began the irritating buzz of a thousand doubts around my ears, each whining a plethora of reasons to fold it up, pack it in, silently succumb.

How could I write about that?

Thankfully, the wind reappeared before any succumbing came to pass. Huffing and puffing, it sent the bugs packing, back to the grass where they'll wait and hide.

Now, instead of seeing this...

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I'm beginning to see this.

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I've missed this place, this corner of cyberspace, where the Arctic and the Tropics can be next-door neighbors, where people who've never met can be inseparable friends.

Four weeks is a long time not to blog.

I think I can write about that.