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

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tourii or Residents?

The Early Bird tourists are back.  

But wait.

Maybe they’re actually Snow Birds.  You know, they live here in Alaska but fly out before the first snow and spend the winters Outside.

So, what are they, actually?  Tourii or residents?

Well, they spend more time away from Alaska than they spend in Alaska.  That makes them tourii.

But they have their anchor babies here.  Does that give them resident status?

They certainly can’t vote, and the way they move about from precinct to precinct makes it impossible to determine an actual address for them.

Still, there is that anchor baby thing they have going for them.

Ah ha!  They aren’t eligible for the Permanent Fund Dividend—too much time out of state.

Shoot.  I really don’t know what to call them, other than by their given names:

Trumpeter Swans and unidentified sidekicks

Yellowleg Sandpipers
Common Mergansers (both males)
Barrow's Goldeneye (male and female)
Northern Pintail (male and female)
Common Mergansers (male and female)

All I know for sure is that they certainly are a flighty bunch.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On the Semicolon


Behold the mighty semicolon,
Undaunted, audacious hieroglyphic symbol,
Thy name implies a power halved—
Neither period stop nor comma pause,
But something in between
And rarely understood.
Power halved?
Ah, thy power to strike fear in the heart
of one who dared employ thee
Ranked first amongst thy kindred marks.
Generations feared thee;
generations avoided thee.

Behold the mighty semicolon!
Once upon the slippery slope,
falling inexorably into dis-use,
Rather than mis-use.
Fear not, oh semicolon.
Now is thy time upon the stage.
Thou will not disappear into obscurity,
But live in perpetuity
As a sly and winking emoticon.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saturday and the Ensuing Sabbatical from the Computer

 I haven't been on the computer much lately for a couple reasons.  One reason is depicted in the photo below:

The other reason is that.....    Well, if I make it through this post, I'll tell you the other reason.

Mother Nature was watering my lawns and everything else in this vicinity Saturday morning so I decided to go to Anchorage.  My puny little list of errands compiled over the last few weeks increased exponentially Friday night when I took time out from the woodpile and cleaned my two vehicles and the garage.  My cell phone had been missing for more than week by that time, and I was on a hunt, hoping to say, "Dr. Motorola Livingstone, I presume?"

I removed all the tools and trash from the pickup, all the stuff that had accumulated during the great woodlot project.  I vacuumed each vehicle, searching under and around the seats.  Nothing that could be called a cell phone appeared.

Then, because I needed to take my two chain saws to the dealer in Anchorage, I took them apart and cleaned them with gasoline, removing all the oily sawdust.  I didn't dare show up with them in their previous state.  The counter guy would have thrown me out the door, chainsaws and all. 

That led to cleaning up most of the mess I'd tracked into the garage during this project.  Still no cell phone.

With Saturday morning rain guaranteeing I'd not be working on the wood pile, I loaded up the saws and dull chains and my incredibly long list of errands, and headed out the driveway towards Anchorage, a hundred miles away.

The seagulls have claimed the southern end of Potter Marsh as their nesting grounds, and everywhere across the water and islands, pairs of gulls were perched.

The first store I went to, the Stihl chainsaw dealer, was still on winter hours and closed Saturdays.  Bummer.  It got worse from there.  The second store, my stopgap for a Stihl dealer, also was closed.

The hardware store where I hoped I could buy a new sharp chain didn't carry chains that fit Stihl saws.  They also had stopped carrying the blue insulsated cotton work gloves that I dearly love.  Triple bummer.

The big box store didn't carry anything for my saws.  I also needed some vacuum cleaner bags.  I asked four different employees, and they all pointed me in different directions.  I walked several miles through that huge store and never did find vacuum cleaner bags.

The parking lot at Costco looked like pre-Christmas.  I parked in the north Forty and hitchhiked to the store.  (A wee exaggeration.)  Remarkably, when I arrived at the checkout aisles, I walked right up and put my items on the conveyor belt.  Sweet.  Something had gone right for the first time that day.

After I loaded my purchases in the van, I remembered what I wanted from Costco in the first place, so I went back inside.  I wasn't so lucky this time, and had a long line ahead of me.

By this time it was nearing 5 p.m., too late to call Patti and catch the 4:10 showing of Water for Elephants, even if I'd had a cell phone, which I didn't.  And I haven't noticed a pay phone in Anchorage for years.

WalMart didn't have the vacuum cleaner bags I needed.  By this time, I was completely frustrated.  I gassed up the van and headed down the highway towards home, stopping to take these photos of wind surfers taking advantage of tide changes and wind.

All right, I've made it through this post.  The other reason I haven't been around here lately is something resembling carpal tunnel syndrome in my right wrist.  Said wrist is overworked, the muscles enlarged.  When I try to type, the hand goes all "pins and needles-y."  My diagnosis, based on multiple experiences with the same malady.

With my adventure in the woodpile nearing an end, I can say this with some authority:  I most likely would not be able to accomplish that project a year from now.  Also, this problem, though it will go away sometime in the near future, will severely limit my ability to clean up litter from the sides of the highway.  Squeezing the grip on the grab stick will aggravate the wrist.

I might have to go back to bending over and picking stuff up by hand, though that won't rest the wrist much.  Right or left handed, the wrist will have to work either by picking litter or holding the bag.  Rats.  It's the perfect time of year to do it--most of the snow gone and no green foliage hiding beer cans and candy wrappers.

Maybe I should just go on a cruise for a while...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Firewood: Days 7 and 8

 Something was missing in the wood lot today and yesterday.  That something was energy.

Mine.  As in, I didn't have any.

Therefore, what little was accomplished resulted from bribery.

There are goats up there.

Yesterday I straightened up the wood shed so I could start moving all this new wood into it.  I had to move around some wood that was already in there.  Not much, but a bit.  Then I unloaded the wood  that had been stacked on my vacant lot, and which I'd moved over on a trailer earlier in the week.

I got a late start yesterday, so I quit early to make up for it.  If that went by you too fast, it was supposed to be a joke.

And then there were five.  Those oblong blobs are goats.  Trust me.

Today was no joke.  Today was all about bribery.  I had to bribe myself to keep going.  I went to the first pile of newly-split wood and loaded the cart. 

This wasn't the first load of the day, but more like the tenth.

 After ten or twelve cartloads, I wanted to quit.  My hands ached.  I didn't want to be out there.  I wanted to be inside reading a trashy novel.  Or something.  Anything other than using my hands, outside on a chilly, windy day.

I persevered.  Finish filling this side and you can go home and have a nice cup of cocoa chai, I promised myself.  I finished it, and went inside as promised.

A half hour later, I was out there again.  It was even windier.

 I started filling the other side of this bay.  My hands ached.  I wanted to quit.  I wasn't at all unhappy when the rain started.  Only, some of this rain was mighty opaque and didn't fall straight down.  There was substance to this rain.

I finished one row on the other side.  There's a reason I stack the wood like this.  It has to do with not exerting too much pressure on the sides of this three-sided woodshed.  I built this thing thirty years ago when my husband was out of town on a construction job, and I didn't tell him until he got home. 

Not only did we have a new woodshed, but it was filled with fifteen cords of split firewood.  It measures ten feet wide by forty feet long.   I worked late into the nights on this project.  My hands would "go to sleep" on me at night, keeping me awake.  I think it was from muscles swelling.  Towards the end, I had to use both hands to swing a hammer.  

That, I'm afraid, goes beyond determination.  I felt traces of it today, out there working when I didn't want to be out there working.  I wanted to be inside drinking cocoa chai.

The new, almost finished woodshed in early 1980s.

By the time I finished putting away the wood in the front pile, which was slightly more than two cords, the rain was more earnest.  I picked stuff up, put things away, and covered the last big pile of split wood with a blue tarp.   That procedure would have made a good routine for Charlie Chaplin.  Did I mention the wind was really blowing?

Front pile is all stowed away; only the rear pile remains to be moved.

For those of you who know better than to get involved with nonsense like this, a cord of wood measures four feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long.  Double that mass.  That's how much wood I moved today.

Then I went home and had another cup of cocoa chai. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Firewood: Day 6

There they are, sound asleep in the afternoon sun.  There are only four goats in this super-zoomed photo, which explains the fuzziness.

With only a little optical zoom, this is what they looked like.

I counted thirteen goats on the mountain face today.   Every day, it seems, more appear.

And this is what my woodpile looked like after I finished sawing yesterday, and Eric came to help split wood.  Eric lives in the apartment above the garage behind him.  It's on my property, and where I used to live before my husband and I built this big house farther away from the highway.

My dear friend Carlene e-mailed today that she is grateful she is still able to mow her lawn.   "At our ages," is what she implied.  I'll be seventy in a few months, close enough that I consider myself  seventy.  I'm at that age where we are totally amazed that we're still around, and begin to brag about how old we are.  I often think about my mother and my grandmother and wonder if they felt as young as I do when they were nearing seventy.  Somehow I just can't imagine that.

I've been asking myself why I do this.  I could just buy a cord of wood from the nearby sawmill, already cut and split.  Save myself a lot of work for not too much more money.

Instead, I chose to lay in enough wood for the next few years, thinking that perhaps I won't be able to do this in a few years.  On the other hand, maybe by that time I will have sold this house and moved into an apartment in the senior housing complex in nearby Cooper Landing.

See the uncut log that the wood splitter tongue is over?  That and the half log just to its right are the only two left to cut.  They will have to wait until I get a chain sharpened.  I couldn't even whittle my way through them yesterday.

Seriously, there's only one reason I do this stuff "at my age":  I love it.  I've always loved hard, physical labor.  I'm a glutton for this kind of punishment. And, I like the feeling of accomplishment, of being able to see how much I've accomplished each day.  There's a lot of satisfaction in that.

There's one more thing.  These logs were on a logging truck parked at the sawmill I drive past when I go to the post office in Moose Pass.  There was a "For Sale" sign on the logs.  I couldn't resist the challenge.  I think, down deep in those places we seldom examine, there was a hint of doubt, that I would be biting off more than I could handle.  I think I had to disprove that evil suspicion.

I replied to Carlene's e-mail.  I wrote that she didn't resemble a poster child for battered women when she finished mowing her lawn.  My forearms, the right one in particular, is an interesting pattern of bright red scratches and olive drab bruises.  I counted twenty-four bruises on my legs, and one nasty red scratch that would have needed stitches (but probably wouldn't have gotten any because I wouldn't have stopped working) had it been any deeper.  I didn't check it until I quit for the day, even though my jeans were torn and I thought I felt something trickling down my leg.

I'm not going to tell you how I got that scratch.  Suffice it to say, it's just a scratch.

Today is the seventh day of working on the wood pile, time to start transferring wood into the wood shed.  Eric has to go to work later today.  In the meantime, I'll do some rearranging and straightening in the woodshed and start that process.

After Eric leaves, I'll probably split wood.  It's a good day for it, cool, cloudy and a little breezy.

As of this morning, I have lost exactly a pound and a half after a week of this hard labor, even with skipping lunch every day.  Because of that, I am led to one inescapable conclusion:  Bruises weigh more than fat. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Firewood: Day 5

Self photo; camera in a flower pot.
I’m pretty angry with my state legislators right now.  It served me well in the wood pile today.  Nothing like a little burr under the saddle to liven things up.

While I cut logs down to size, I groused internally about what those politicians down in Juneau were doing, or rather, what they weren’t doing.  What they weren’t doing is what they were elected to do.

Instead, they appear to be playing games, political games, the kind of games that make voters really, really angry, especially in these days of widespread antipathy towards politicians as a whole.  While I sawed logs and thought about those yahoos in Juneau, I was reminded of some lessons I learned when I was in high school.

Start today.  That big freaking log is still on top at left, threatening to roll on me.

One day Mr. Madden, the sophomore English teacher, called four of us girls to the back of the classroom and kicked us out of class.  Not because of any misbehavior, but because he felt we would waste our time and his if we were to sit through the last semester of his class.

Therefore, he continued, in exchange for a hall pass (which gave us permission to be out of class) and  freedom from his class, we had three responsibilities:

1.  Show up every day for roll call.
2.  Stay on school grounds.
3.  At the end of the school year, submit a term paper worthy of a semester’s work.

Four goats.

He pulled the hall pass forms from his pocket and handed one to each of us.  I think we probably spent the first few days of freedom in the library.  Then we discovered it was much more fun to sit in one girl’s car in the parking lot and chatter for the allotted hour. 

While Mr. Madden may not have known the specifics of how we spent his class time, I’m sure English teachers talked with librarians, and he would learn we weren’t always in the library doing research.

I thought this was snow until two goats got up and walked away.

I spent four evenings in my bedroom doing my term paper before the deadline.  I can still picture myself sitting on my bed with my “portable” manual typewriter on my bedspread, the typewriter bouncing as I banged away at the keys.   The subject was “characterization in fiction writing,” and the title, a quote,  “…the lady was alive…” a reference to bringing characters alive.

At the appointed hour, I turned in my “term” paper—thirty pages typed on erasable bond (I’d taught myself to type and erasable bond was obligatory) with a cover page and table of contents, and fully annotated with footmarks and bibliography.   A couple days later, Mr. Madden returned my paper, graded as to form, organization, research, original contribution, and mechanics:  All “A,” or  “One,” as our school graded.

I was surprised a few years ago when I found I still had this paper, and I’ve thought a lot about that experience, what it meant then, and what it means to me today.

I was quite pleased then with those top grades, even though I thought I’d pulled a fast one.  Today, I suspect Mr. Madden knew also.

I learned that self-satisfaction fades rapidly when there is no honor behind it; that an agreement is an agreement.

And finally, I learned that when I really put my mind to something, I can get a lot done in the time allotted.

Finish today.  That big log is down on the ground in pieces.

Which brings me back to my state legislators. 

With a voter-mandated 90-day session in play, our legislators failed to pass a state budget, their primary assignment.   The governor has threatened to veto portions of the capital budget—construction items—unless the senate acts on his request to lower taxes on the oil companies, something he feels is vital in encouraging oil companies to further exploration and development.

The senate inserted language into the proposed budget that would deny funding for all energy projects if the governor vetoes any of them, effectively denying the governor veto power.

Yesterday the governor called a special session—overtime, if you will, with all its attendant expenses—for the legislature to pass “must” items.  Some expect this to last a week; others think it could go on for a month.

But, fourteen of our sixty legislator are going on a junket to Norway April 30.   As far as I’m concerned, there should be no recess if they don’t get their homework done.

Hard work.
Hard work.

So, why am I angry?

1.  An agreement is an agreement.

 2.  Self-satisfaction fades rapidly when there is no honor behind it, especially when pulling a fast one.
3.  When you really put your mind to it, you can accomplish much in a short period of time.


I don’t have that old typewriter any more.  Now I have a computer and a printer.  I’m thinking about printing a list of those legislators' names and keeping it right next to my voter registration card.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Firewood: Day 4

I was looking through the newspaper the other day and saw another one of those lists that rate the various states according to how much federal funding flows their way in relation to how much tax money flows the other way.  It always makes Alaska look like it's a money-grubbing greedy pig, taking far more than it pays back.

I worked on the left side of the pile today.  This is of the original pile.  See that big log on top in the middle?  Use it to orient yourself through the various pictures of progress.

What those lists never tell you is that almost seventy per cent of Alaska is federally owned and controlled.  The exact number I found in a bit of online research is 69.1 %.  Federally owned.

You can see I made it up to the big top log in this picture taken yesterday.  This is the right side of the pile, looking at it in the first photo.

Within the boundaries of Alaska are the two largest National Forests in the union, the Tongass and the Chugach.  The Chugach is where I live.  It's literally right out my back door.

The largest National Park in the U.S., the Wrangell-St. Elias, is located in Alaska.  It has nine of the sixteen highest mountain peaks in the U.S.  It's also as large as nine states.

The highest peak in North America is Denali, located in Denali National Park, also in Alaska.  The park is as large as Massachusetts.

Working the opposite side of the pile, this is where I finished up for the day.  See the big top log?  Go back and compare with the top photo.

Located within Alaska are fifteen National Parks, four National Monuments, and two National Wildlife Preserves, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest in the U.S.  There are four National Wildlife Refuges.  Plus a National Conservation area as well as a National Recreation Area.

In addition, there are nine military bases in Alaska--three Army, three Air Force, and three Coast Guard.

Some of those big logs come in handy.  I use them for workbenches.

I'm probably missing some more things, like wild rivers and so on, but you get the idea.  More than two-thirds of Alaska is federally owned and controlled. 

If you're wondering what all these statistics have to do with laying  in a firewood supply, it's this:  These logs came from the Chugach National Forest.  That's right.  They came from federally owned land.

Spruce bark showing beetle damage.

See the black spots on the spruce trunk above?  Those are beetle holes, bored by a nasty little quarter-inch long critter called  (what else) the spruce bark beetle.

There's been a plague of them here on the Kenai Peninsula working their winged way north towards Anchorage for three or four decades.  The beetle bores a hole through the bark and lays eggs.  The resulting larvae burrows around the phloem layer between the bark and wood, eventually girdling the tree and killing it.

Ready for tomorrow.

These particular logs came from the Hope area, about forty miles from here.  The Forest Service held timber sales there to get rid of the beetle-killed trees.  Their removal also is to clean the forest of fuel in case of wildfires.

The wood is good for lumber for several years and excellent for firewood as most of it is "standing dead."  In other words, the tree is still standing after it dies and dries in that position, rather than rotting on wet ground.

I marked this log with orange tape at both ends because it has a lot of dirt on it.  Dirt dulls a chain quickly.  I'll probably take a hose to clean off the mud later.

I bought this load of firewood logs from the loggers who have a saw mill nearby.  With the firewood I already have in my wood shed, and the six cords or so I'll cut from this pile, I should have enough wood to last four to six years, depending on whether or not I stay home to burn it in the winters.

Am I worried about this infested wood carrying beetles that will attack the spruce on my property?  Nope.  This wood has been dead several years and the bark is flaking off, which means there is little chance of a beetle/larvae surviving in it.

So, the next time you see one of those charts showing how much money each state gets from the federal coffers, remember that 70 per cent of Alaska is federally owned.  Those lists never tell you if all the money went to the state government itself, or also to the federal agencies that manage federal lands.

Here's a site that has a jaw-dropping map in blue and red showing what percent of each state's land is owned by the feds:

Anyway, I'll leave you with this.  I took it a couple evenings ago from my loft window.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Firewood Day 3

 I had big plans and high hopes for today.  I was going to split all the wood I'd cut yesterday, plus cut a bunch more.

Things Mechanical had other ideas.  Things Mechanical decided to remind me of a Life Truth.

When Things Mechanical didn't work, I spent a lot of time cooling off by watching two mountain goats.  See 'em?

See the goats?  They're right there--the three white spots like Orion's Belt?  I think that's Orion's Belt, that is.  One is snow; two are goats.

I started my day's work sawing logs (really, not metaphorically).  Then I decided I was tired of sawing logs and instead would split yesterday's bounty.

First, I had to air up the tires on the wood splitter to make it easier to move around.  Then, because I really hate rolling up the air hose, I aired every tire in the vicinity--lawn tractor, cart, wheelbarrow, etc.  That's when Things Mechanical began their lesson.

I'd already used up my supply of Things Mechanical Magic a couple days before when my four-wheel ATV wouldn't start for the first time this season.  After several tries, and fearful of flooding it, I removed the spark plug and cleaned it up with a piece of emery cloth:  VROOMMM!!!

Okay, I'll zoom in for you, but they'll be out of focus.  See?  One is standing, one is still lying down.  You think the bottom one's snow?

A tire on the cart that I'm going to use to move all this wood into the woodshed was near flat and wouldn't take air.  A simple little chore like that, must have taken 20 minutes to air up that tire.

Look, I'll prove it to you.  They're both standing.  The bottom one has moved over to the left.  Snow doesn't move.  When snow moves, it's called an avalanche.  Goats don't avalanche, except when they're caught in one.

I split wood for a while.  I will admit to taking many breaks to watch the goats.  And drink Coke Zero.  And anything else I could think of to get out of working.

This is what I got done today, in spite of Things Mechanical.

After one break, the wood splitter wouldn't start, no matter how many times I yanked on that !#*&# cord.  I will admit I haven't much strength when it comes to yanking on cords that start engines that are acting all mechanical and such.

I had to dig a drainage furrow around my work site.  Ground's still frozen and not taking water.

I'd yank a while, sulk a while, yank a while, pout some more.

Then I changed the spark plug and it started on the first pull.  I swear it was laughing at me.

This is something I'd forgotten about.  It's on a vacant lot I own nearby.

After I quit playing with wood for the day, I still had to pump the septic system.

I couldn't get any suction out of that darned pump.  That might have something to do with the fact that I lost the flat gasket that seals the suction line to the pump and I'm substituting an O ring.  I messed with that for a half hour or so and gave up, so my house is under strict orders to limit the amount of fluids going down the drains tonight. 

Well, lookee there.  Split spruce and birch from last fall.

Years ago when my husband was alive and I threw a hissy fit about a Thing Mechanical not working, he would say, "It's just mechanical."   Then he'd remove the offending Thing Mechanical from my vicinity, work his considerable mechanical magic on the dad-ratted thing by waving his hands over it and maybe chanting under his breath, and have it purring like a kitten in his hands.

He would pet and cuddle and whisper sweet nothings to the Thing Mechanical while I stood nearby and glared at it.  Then with obvious reluctance, he would place the offensive offending Thing Mechanical back in my vicinity where it would continue to purr until he was out of sight.

A lot of this is still green, so it will go in the back of the woodshed.

Oh, I hated those words:  "It's just mechanical..."  "Exactly," I would respond.

He and I lived in two different worlds.  He in a place where Things Mechanical succumbed to his charms; me in a place where I succumbed to his charms, but where Things Mechanical obviously were jealous of that and thus worked at counter purposes to the domestic peace and tranquility.

As far as I'm concerned, Things Mechanical have two jobs in their miserable lives:  Work and Not Work.

Which is exactly what I told the supervisor of a building where I was trapped in an elevator for an hour and twenty minutes on a Christmas Eve, after he told me I was "perfectly safe."

"I'm in a machine that has just failed," I said.  "That's what machines do.  They fail."

And elevators don't use spark plugs.