"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Friday, February 26, 2010

News of Adrian's Death

You know how when some people come into your life, you know they’ll be there forever? Then, life intervenes and you wander off on separate paths, running into each other occasionally here and there, now and then, and years go by without contact. A rumor passed on from a mutual friend lets you know that friend’s general whereabouts and well-being. Or not.

Suddenly, word of that person’s death arrives at your doorstep. No, you say, I was just thinking about him a couple weeks ago. I was wondering how he was, what he was up to now, and if he had ever quit smoking. I remembered this story and that story about him, and those stories brought smiles to my sad heart. Then I tried to recall the last time I’d actually seen him, and I scanned back through the years like riffling through a Rolodex, and realized it’s been almost twenty years.

But that can’t be. It seems like only yesterday Adrian was standing at the bar in the lodge my husband and I owned, telling stories about his dad, and the time they lived in the tiny village of McCarthy where his parents owned and operated the legendary McCarthy Lodge.

A much newer incarnation of the McCarthy Lodge.

McCarthy was a boom town that sprang up five miles downhill from the Kennecott Copper Mine in the early part of the 1900s, one of those places that provided “rest and recreation” (with very little rest) for the isolated miners from the mine. When the price of copper plunged, the mine closed and was abandoned, but a score of hardy

folks remained at McCarthy. The old railroad that hauled copper to Cordova for shipment was shut down, and the railbed used as summer access to McCarthy, with many a rail spike showing up for decades afterwards to smite an unsuspecting tire.

Ruins of Kennecott Copper Mine, circa 1985.

In the winter, however, the only way out of McCarthy was by airplane, dogteam, or mare’s shank. Adrian was a teen-ager in high school then, but high school was almost a hundred miles away in Glennallen with only wilderness in between, so Adrian, age 17, flew himself to school every day in his dad’s small plane. When he and the weather felt like it, that is.

As usual, Adrian was in some hot water at school with a male teacher, so dad and the teacher had a face-to-face to resolve the latest problem. Adrian’s dad took offense when the teacher made the mistake of calling Adrian a boy. Dad set the teacher straight, in a rather colorful description of the things his son did that qualified him to be called a man, and admonished the teacher to treat Adrian as such.

Dogteams on main street of McCarthy, ca. 1985. Lodge is uphill on left of road.

My husband and Adrian worked together on several construction jobs, the last one on Amchitka Island. When my husband, the Master Mechanic for the job, needed a particularly difficult thing accomplished, it was Adrian to whom he turned. Adrian’s official job was as a Teamster tire man, a dirty, strenuous, dangerous job that involved changing tires not only on the assortment of fleet vehicles, but also on the huge heavy rubber-tired earth-moving equipment. Those tires were often as tall as a man. Or more.

Adrian was, in the very best sense of the word, a world-class scrounger. Of course, that “sense” was qualified depending on whether or not you were on the receiving end of the scrounging. If you needed something, Adrian could "find" it.

The commissary in our construction camp on Amchitka sold beer to the workers, but each employee was restricted to a six-pack a day. Adrian seemed to have an unlimited supply of beer and Bailey’s, and neither the US Navy personnel over-seeing the job nor the civilian project management team could figure out how Adrian managed to host an after-work happy hour in his room every day for a dozen or so co-workers.

Unfortunately for Adrian, one of the Navy officers was walking past the open door of the raucous happy hour room at the same time an empty bottle escaped and rolled into the narrow plywood hallway. A few words were exchanged and the officer left, but we all saw the handwriting on the pink slip. Shortly afterward, Adrian left the island for a two week R&R, and sure enough, he was not on the list of returning employees.

He did, however continue working in Anchorage for the Alaskan company that was one-third of the joint venture on the project. Eventually, one of those particularly sensitive tasks came up, and Adrian accompanied a very expensive engine on a chartered flight to the island. His job was to seethat all went well with delivery and off-loading of the engine. Once the plane landed safely on the remote island, Adrian, by order of the Navy and project manager, was not allowed to set foot on the surface of the airstrip and had to remain on the plane, all of which we thought was particularly funny and only added to the repertoire of tales about the amazing Adrian.

Adrian, in his imaginative way, got his payback. On Dec. 23rd of that year, the project was completed and signed off, and the remaining workers left the island for good. We'd been on the uninhabited island since Jan. 5 of that year, with no breaks. When we arrived at the Anchorage airport that night, Adrian was there to greet us with champagne and a white stretch limo that would carry us around town to various refreshment establishments and on a tour of Christmas lighting displays.

The exciting plank bridge over the Kuskulana River on the road to McCarthy, built as a railroad trestle in 1910. It has been refurbished since, as isn't anywhere near as exciting to cross. Planks were missing off the old 500 foot-long bridge, and the river could be seen 283 feet below.

Parked behind the limo at the airport arrivals curb was a white Dodge van that was to pick up the project manager, the one who had much to do with Adrian’s banishment from the job and the island. Always polite and friendly, Adrian greeted the project manager as he held open the door of the limo for us. There would be no tour of Anchorage bars and holiday lights for the manager.

Thus, when word circulated a couple days ago that Adrian’s heart had attacked him and taken him away, and I realized I hadn’t really seen or talked to him in almost two decades, I figured Adrian had a lot of explaining to do. Which is exactly what he did this morning when he called and quoted Mark Twain: “The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Spike from defunct Copper River and Northwestern Railroad. They continue to pop up along the gravel road to McCarthy, which is the old railbed.

It was his dad Winston who had quietly slipped the bonds of earth on a peaceful Sunday morning, perhaps an out of character way to pass for a man who had lived life to the fullest. I’m sure, however, that in passing he epitomized the words of advice on the plaque that hangs above my computer, the one about skidding “in sideways, totally worn out, shouting Holy S…! What a ride!”

And, I’m sure he was every bit as proud of the stories that surround his son today as he was of the teenager he called a man to a high school teacher, many, many years ago.

And yes, Adrian did quit smoking.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

La Nina

Choose your preferred scenario:

A. You’re sitting in an elementary school classroom and the teacher is droning on about some guy and his three boats sailing west, not knowing if he’ll fall off the edge of the earth or find some country he’s looking for, the one with all the spices. India, yeah, that’s the one. You keep glancing at the big clock on the wall, the one with the white face and black hands. It seems to take an hour for each minute to tick off, and if you look away, you swear it’s gone backward. You really, really hate history class.

Oh, that thing about the Indians is a little interesting—too bad there wasn’t a big fight or something, anything to make this lesson lively. I mean, c’mon, the dude thought he was in India, for Pete’s sakes. Any minute now you expect the teacher to start saying, “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Won’t recess ever come?”

B. Parental permission slip in hand, you and your classmates board a big yellow school bus for a trip to the harbor to look at some stinky old boat. Well, it’s better than sitting in a hot classroom. Walking down the dock, you look around for a big boat, but there’s nothing there but a little old thing hardly bigger than a rowboat. Okay, maybe it’s a little bigger than that. What? This can’t be it! No way some dude sailed this little thing across the Atlantic and discovered the New World. Holy cow! We’re getting on this toy boat?

The Nina at the dock in Mazatlan.

You’re down in the hold and the guide is talking about how the four-legged animals were kept in slings because the rolling of the ship (Ship? This thing’s a ship?) would cause them to fall and break their legs. Horses, cows, pigs, all slung up to the overhead beams, and chickens everywhere. Some of the boys snicker at the idea of horses and cowing swinging back and forth. The teacher glares at them. Kegs and crates, casks of water and coils of rope fill all the rest of the room.

Where did the crew sleep? What? On the open deck? No way, dude.

Then suddenly, standing there in the stuffy hold, where grown ups have to stoop slightly to keep from banging their heads, it all comes alive for you. The smells of animal waste and creosote, tar and pine pitch sting your nostrils. The sounds of the animals, the creaking of the wooden shop, the snapping of the sails in a brisk wind echo in your ears.

The Nina crew provided platters of fresh fruit for our cruise.

On the upper deck, you imagine the ship heeled over in a starboard wind, waves washing over the deck of the heavily-laden ship, drenching the sailors trying to sleep on it. Only those lucky enough to find a coil of rope to lie on are staying somewhat dry, though rainwater drips down on them from the sails. Salt water dries your skin and thick calluses form from handling the ropes for the sails.

Bow and rigging.

The only sheltered spot is under the poop deck where the tiller is manned, a long thick wooden pole attached to the rudder for steering. But, there are twenty-seven crew, and not enough room for everyone under there.

The pole at left is the tiller. It took quite a bit of strength to hold it steady and stay on course.

The cook is hunched over a firebox near the bow, trying to keep a large pot from sliding off the fire and dumping dinner all over the deck. Rainwater pours into the pot as the cook fastens a piece of flapping canvas around the windward side of the fire in a frantic effort to keep the fire lit. Maybe it’s hard tack for rations tonight.

“The Niña,” says the guide, “was Columbus’s favorite ship. The Santa Maria was his flagship because it was the largest of three three boats chosen for the voyage, but Columbus disliked its heavy sailing. The Niña, the sixteenth century caravel—a common trading vessel, was his favorite because of her shallow draught, maneuverability, and swift sailing qualities.”

photo from postcard sold by Columbus Foundation, Morgan Sanger photographer

“This caravel,” the guide continues, “is the most historically accurate replica of the Niña that has ever been built.” He recites the ship’s dimensions: 93.6 feet long overall, with a 66 foot long deck. The beam is 17.3 feet wide, and the draft is only seven feet. She has 1919 square feet of sail, and her displacement is a hundred tons.

Wow, you think. She looks like she could fit in a swimming pool.

After many years of research, looking at recent discoveries of ship-wrecked fifteenth and sixteenth century caravels, the Columbus Foundation began building an accurate replica of the Niña at Bahia on the coast of Brazil, where shipwrights still use an archaic building process known as Mediterranean Whole Moulding “in conjunction with mechanically generated geometric progressions known as graminhos, techniques that may be similar or identical to those used by the builders of discovery period ships.” In Whole Moulding, three different shaped patterns are used to cut directly from timber.

In Brazil, the shipwrights used traditional tools, such as axes, adzes, hand saws, and chisels. The various naturally-shaped timbers required were found in the surrounding tropical forests.

You are glued to every word, and pepper the guide with questions afterwards. He tells you this Niña was used in filming the movie “1492” with Gerard Depardieus playing the part of Columbus. Since then she has been used as a floating maritime museum, visiting ports on both the East and West coasts, and inland on the waterways of the United States. Unfortunately, with liability laws being what they are in the U.S., she is not available for sailing trips.

But if you had been in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 1996, you could have sailed out of the harbor and along the coastline, getting a good idea of what Columbus and his crew experienced.

So, which scenario appeals to you? You could even have had held the tiller, but you had to wear a pirate hat to do so. And, if you were a veteran sailor like my husband was (he sailed as a Merchant Mariner beginning on his 16th birthday and during the waning months of WWII), the captain of the Niña would have given you a special behind the scenes tour of this fabulous, historic vessel.

He was so used to wearing caps, he forgot he still had the pirate hat on.

(NOTE: More information on the Niña can be found at the Columbus Foundation’s web site: http://www.thenina.com/

She has been joined by her sister ship, the Pinta. From early March through early May, the ships will be in various ports in Florida, Georgia, and South Caroline. There are many other East Coast and inland ports of call on the schedule for the remainder of this year.)

photo from postcard sold by the Columbus Foundation, Morgan Sanger photographer

Sunday, February 21, 2010


...on the mountains, makes me happy.....

Sunshine in my kitchen makes me ecstatic.

Today, for the first time since mid-November, sunshine flooded through my kitchen window. It should have been here a week ago, but the sky has been cloudy and stormy all week. So, this morning it was here.

And welcome.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Columbus, the Nina, and Me as Crew

Had I not missed a sidewalk transition on a dark sidewalk in Mazatlan and injured my ankle, I never would have sailed on Columbus’s ship the Niña.

Before I explain how I seemingly managed five centuries of time travel, you need to read the following treatise I wrote on the law of liability as it is applied in Mexico. Mind you, I didn’t write “libel,” which relates to printing bad things about someone. I wrote “liability,” which relates to who is to blame for your personal injury.

A Treatise on Liability Law in Mexico

If you don’t watch where you’re going,

you’re liable to get hurt.

That’s it. Period and Amen. You can’t sue the town, the city, or the state. You can’t sue the cement company or the contractor who build the sidewalk. And, you certainly can’t sue the wheelbarrow company, if one was used in the construction of the sidewalk.

Further, because sidewalks in residential areas all seem to be built by the homeowner, there are many different transitions, surfaces, slants, and levels of maintenance. In Old Town Mazatlan, the sidewalk curbs, if there are any, are often more than twelve inches above street level, the better to funnel off torrential rainfalls. On streets that slope, I have seen transitions of sixteen inches from one shop sidewalk to the next. That’s the sidewalk.

Sidewalk curbs in downtown Mazatlan, often more than twelve inches high.

If you stumble and twist your ankle, or fall, or whatever, on Mexican sidewalks, it’s your own darn fault. You are responsible for yourself. The feeling of personal responsibility is one I recall very clearly from my childhood. The feeling of personal freedom and responsibility is prevalent for Americans in Mazatlan.

The US, on the other hand, has enlightened itself into believing that everyone and everything else is responsible when you walked down a dark sidewalk and hyper-extended your ankle ligaments. Now you know about Mexican liability law.

Sidewalk upheaval.

Before I tell you how that relates to me and the Niña, let me tell you everything I knew about sailing—before I crewed on the Niña, that is.

Almost all driveway/parking spots have gates, which drivers leave open the time they are away in a vehicle, thus blocking the sidewalk. Or, they just park across the sidewalk.

One: boats need water to float.” Water moves. Movement equals inner ear disturbances, which equal mal de mar, which equals barfing over the rail. And, because practice makes perfect, I was once the self-anointed queen of motion illness.

Two: I knew some nautical terms. I knew port and starboard, fore and aft, bow and stern. I knew galley and head, deck and keel, cabin and cockpit. Also, “that she blows” and “land ho.”

Three: I loved sea shanties:

Come all ye young fellows that follows the sea
To me, way hey, blow the man down
Now please pay attention and listen to me
Give me some time to blow the man down

I especially loved them when sung by Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers. Or, really, any lad with an Irish accent.

In fact, I loved the whole idea of sailing on multi-masted ships. The romance of the seas, scrimshawed ivory from Lahaina, sailing the bounding main (whatever a bounding main it) under full and billowing sheets of sail. Crow’s nests, mizzenmasts, quarterdecks! OH! MY! WORD!

There was just one problem. It was that little motion sickness thing that kept my feet on dry land.

So, imagine my surprise when a group of us were wandering around Mazatlan one day and I spotted an advertisement for sailing trips on the Niña, and suggested we do that. And, we bought tickets. This was not, by the way, in 1492, but circa 1997. Walking away from the ticket booth, I had the same sinking (pardon the pun) feeling that I’d had fifteen years earlier when I signed up for expensive SCUBA lessons, without knowing how to swim and being terrified of water.

Gullible and husband aboard the Nina. The long pole next to hubby is the tiller. Other than the hold, this is the only out-of-the-weather spot on the ship.

Again, this was in Mexico, not in the US, because, while you are welcome to climb aboard the Niña when it's in the US, wherever it happens to be docked, it will remain tied securely to the dock. You cannot sail in the Niña in US waters. Why? LIABILITY laws and the horrendous premiums it would require.

You used to be able to, before people sued because they tripped walking down the dock TO the Niña. Not on it, in it, or around it. But on the way to it.

Remember this photo? This is a swimming pool at the El Cid resort in Mazatlan. Pay particular notice to the big rocks. Kids jump off those rocks into the pool. Think you’d ever see that in the US? Not on your boopkus, baby.

Next installment, about the Niña herself.

The Nina, photo from a postcard purchased from the Columbus Foundation. Photo by M. Sanger.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Lick and a Promise

Had I not missed a sidewalk transition on a dark Mazatlan sidewalk and hurt my ankle, I never would have sailed on Columbus's Nina.

You remember the Nina, right? The only ship that survived the 1495 hurricane? The ship was was Columbus's favorite of the three for his voyage of discovery?

Yes, that Nina.

(Sorry, that's all for today. Have to go to Anchorage this morning, and miles to go before I sleep. More later.)

As promised, but...

In the post below, I promised an explanation and I intend to deliver.

However, I have a writing class tonight in Seward. I have had two weeks in which to do the homework for it, and of course I jumped right to it and got it all done so I'd have two weeks free of homework pressure.


I'm racing to get it done. It involves reading and commenting on three essays, plus working on pieces of my own.

Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Diametrical Opposites or Close as Kin?

The photographs below, taken in Mazatlan, Mexico, are all related in a strange but exacting way.

Want to know how?

Stay tuned to this station. I'm writing the explanation as we speak.

The four above made things like this possible.

The explanation is forthcoming.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


For Valentine's Day...

Beyond My Ken*

Would then that now I know,
need sorrow ever been?
Need loving tears been ever shed?
These things, beyond my ken.

The years do ease the hurt,
and hardened should I be.
but heart and mind so seldom meet,
that still I think of thee.

No day shall pass without
a loving thought of then,
when love was new and so unwise,
like now, beyond my ken.
ca. 1967

(click to read message--and it was SO him!)

*ken: 1. range of vision 2. range of understanding

Top photo: 1963

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gullible's Gazette

Item 1:


A Marine called the Dennis Miller show today to pay tribute to a fallen comrade in Afghanistan. The Marine choked up, and after a moment of silence, Miller said:

“That’s the thing about sincere emotion, my friend. It doesn’t give you a glide path. It just drops in on you.” After a few more moments during which the Marine tried unsuccessfully to compose himself, Miller said that the Marine’s silence was a tribute to his comrade.

Item 2:

Fishing, Alaskan Style.

Eagles fishing along the Kenai River. The one wading in the icy cold Kenai River flew off before I could turn on the camera. Look closely between the two birch trees at the right, and the spruce tree. There’s a second eagle there. And, in the middle of the two birches, a magpie waits for scraps.

The swans are still hanging out by the Kenai River bridge. Couple days ago there were several fishermen in the water or ice fishing, but today’s rain must have discouraged them.

Item 3:

Size Matters.

See this pathetic rainy day picture?

Four miles away, and a couple hundred feet elevation rise, there's another world altogether.

Item 4:

Giving Credit Where It's Due?

Vice President Joe Biden, on the Larry King TV show, gave the Obama Administration credit for the success in Iraq.

Darned if he didn't forget to mention that that success was "inherited" from the Bush Administration....

Item 5:

Credit Where It is Due.

Greg Mortenson’s second book, Stones into Schools, is every bit as astonishing and inspiring as his first, Three Cups of Tea. Most of the events described take place in Pakistan and Afghanistan just before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists’ attacks on New York and the Pentagon, and after the horrendous earthquake on October of 2005. It concludes in the fall of 2009, when winter arrived to isolate the high country of Afghanistan for six months.

Mortenson, quoting Wohlid Khan, a veteran mujahadeen and tribal commander at the opening of another girls’ school in Afghanistan, wrote:

In our country, our people have suffered through three decades of war,and as you know many of our mujahadeen have died in these hills and mountains… We have fought hard and we have paid dearly.

A wise man from my home once told me that these mountains have seen far too much suffering and killing, and that each rock and every boulder you see represents a mujahadeen who died fighting either the Russians or the Taliban. Then the man went on to say that now that the fighting is finished, it is time to build a new era of peace—and the first step in that process is to take up the stones and start turning them into schools.”

This book, along with its predecessor, is a must-read for every American. It is reassuring to learnt that Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea is required reading by much of the military.