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

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Midnight Madness

I'm sure you've all heard about the far north's long daylight hours.   Those of us who live here think it's normal; tourists have trouble sleeping.   It does tend to mess with one's circadian rhythm.

But, back to normal.  Coming back from cleaning up litter late late night, I noticed all the lakes along the way were dead calm.   So was Tern Lake.

About 11 PM

I loaded the kayak in the back of the truck, grabbed my PFD, and drove back to the lake.

Sunset in full bloom.   Though the sun is actually behind a mountain, the light still hits the tallest mountain tops around.

The other direction, looking west towards Kenai and Cook Inlet.

The lake was so calm, dandelion/willow/whatever fluff floated on the surface.

I used all the zoom capability my camera had to capture the loon family and ascertain they have two chicks.   In response, the camera over-compensated the exposure, making this photo much lighter than real light.

I checked out one of the three beaver lodges in the lake and saw no sign of activity.   I think trappers have taken all the beavers because I haven't seen any signs of beavers for three summers now.   Darned shame.   Used to love watching them.   The trappers left no beavers to procreate here.

Twenty-five minutes to midnight, right.   Actually no.   It's really twenty-five minutes to ten PM.

 What's that, you ask?

Here's the story:

Once upon a time, until 1983, Alaska had five time zones.   I distinctly recall  the East Coast being six hours ahead of us in Anchorage.

Here's a quote from the Alaska State Library:

Alaska Time Zone history

On October 30, 1983, when daylight time reverted to standard time, Alaska changed from four time zones to two time zones. Before the change, Alaska's time zones were:

Pacific time (southeastern Alaska)
Yukon time (Yakutat)
Alaska time (from just east of Cold Bay and west of Yakutat northward, including Nome)
Bering time (the north coast of Alaska and the Aleutian chain)
The change was done to facilitate doing business in Alaska, improve communications and unify residents.

This change adopted the two current time zones: Alaska Time for the bulk of the state, and Hawaii/Aleutian Time for the Aleutian Island chain.

Another interesting historical note on this changeover can be found in the archives of the Alaska Science Forum for March 25, 1983, which notes that there were at one time five time zones in use in the state (including Pacific time in some areas of Southeast Alaska)...

All that bold face type is the quote.  

 Did you catch that "unify residents"?    The main driver for cutting Alaska down to two time zones--Alaska Standard Time (and Alaska Daylight Time) and Hawaii-Aleutian Time (Hawaii does not go on Daylight saving time) was political.    Never mind that Alaska is as wide as the Lower 48 contiguous states that span four time zones, we were reduced to two zones.

Where I live, which was Alaska Time (the slice that included Anchorage, Fairbanks, etc.), we were moved an hour ahead.   Daylight saving time moved us another hour ahead.

It did make conducting business easier, both with Washington DC and Juneau, the state capital.  And therein lies the "unite residents" charade.   Underneath all the other stuff about how much better it would be to have Alaska closer in time to the rest of the US were the bitterly-fought battles to move the capital from Juneau closer to the main population center--Anchorage or one of its suburbs.

Wags claimed we could keep a better  eye on our legislators, maybe keep some of them out of jail.   No, probably not.  It would just make it easier to hide their nefarious shenanigans in a larger city.

This devil took offense at me coming too close to its nest and launched an attack.   The launched material landed on the back of my hand and, not thinking to take the photo shot of the year along with a perfect launch strike, I dipped my hand in the lake to rinse it off.   Darn.

Daylight saving time knocks us an hour ahead.   So here we are,  two hours off our geological time zone.   High noon is at 2 PM and midnight arrives at 2 AM.   I would not have gone kayaking at 2 AM because it was fairly dark.   Not totally, though.   Kayaking would have been possible.

Four AM ADT was another matter.  It was daylight!

Whatever.  I'll still go kayaking at night in Alaska

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 53, The Long Walk to Freedom

  The Africa Journals

Chapter 53
The Long Walk to Freedom*

Dis die Eiland! Hier gaan julle vrek!’ (This is the Island! Here you will die!)
Afrikaaner guards to Nelson Mandela when he arrived on Robben Island in 1964

Robben Island is to Cape Town as Alcatraz is to San Francisco.  Both are places where dangerous men were imprisoned, both vantage points from which their respective spectacular  cities could have been seen if those men could see through thick walls, but always a reminder of their lost freedom.

Robben Island, 22 acres, with Cape Town in the background.

Wind-swept year round, guarded by dangerous seas and—in the case of Robben Island—great white sharks, neither is a place a man would choose to live.

 Kgotso had lived on Robben Island for a number of years, though not of his own volition.  So, when he was asked to return to the prison voluntarily, he didn’t need time to think it over.   It was a resounding “NO!”   That was his answer the second and third and fourth times also.

The boat take will take us to Robben Island.   There is an eclectic assortment of boats that operate as ferries for this trip.

Situated 5.5 miles from Cape Town in Table Bay, across the always turbulent water near the tip of Africa and its infamous storms, the one-story concrete prison was unheated and un-air conditioned.  The guards were mostly poorly-educated Afrikaaners, raised to regard the Indian and Coloured prisoners as beneath them, and the blacks as not even human.

The Tablecloth covers Table Mountain.

Robben Island

Cape Town from the sea.

Invented by a South African, these peculiarly-shaped structures form a hardy breakwater as they lock together more tightly the more they are pounded by the ocean.

They also make a nice sleeping platform for a tired seal.

And for cormorants.

The entrance to the South African National Heritage Site, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of Cape Town and Table Mountain (under its tablecloth) from Robben Island.

Eventually, Kgotso changed his answer to “yes,” and became one of the former prisoners who are now employed to tell tourists about Robben Island prison and its famous prisoners, predominantly Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years in prison in Cell 4, B Section for crimes including four counts of sabotage and conspiracy to violently overthrow the state.   He had previously been convicted of “statutory communism.” 

This is how Mandela described the cell where he was held:

It overlooked the courtyard and had a small eye-level window. I could walk the length of my cell in three paces. When I lay down, I could feel the wall with my feet and my head grazed the concrete at the other side. The width was about six feet and the walls were at least two feet thick. Each cell had a white card posted outside of it with our name and our prison service number. Mine read, “N. Mandela 466/64,” which meant I was the 466th prisoner admitted to the island in 1964. I was forty-six years old, a political prisoner with a life sentence, and that small cramped place was to be my home for I knew not how long.

Room formerly used to assemble prisoners.    Tourists look at the thin straw sleeping mat issued to prisoners.

Kgotso, a former prisoner now employed as a tour guide, talks about the prison.

The wooden doors were closed at night.

Mandela's cell.

He slept on a thin straw mat.  Cots were not allowed until many years later.

The metal container was the toilet.   Each morning the prisoners had to take the pail to the end of the section and scrub it clean.   Their guards stayed back because of the smell and the prisoners could whisper to each other.   Talking was otherwise forbidden.

Looking out.   Prisoners were allowed one no-contact visit and one piece of mail twice a year.

While in prison, Mandela became a leader of men.  He successfully lobbied the prison administration to issue long pants, such as the Indian and Coloured prisoners wore, to black prisoners rather than shorts.   He won them the right to study and read, and eventually, in 1977, the abolishment of manual labor in the island’s limestone quarry as well as in the prison courtyard where they were forced to sit and chip rocks for many hours each day.

The yard where prisoners chipped rocks to make gravel.

Prisoners were finally given cots in 1973.

Breakfast was mealie pap porridge (like grits or polenta) made from ground corn.  Baked-until-black mealie mixes with water was “coffee.”   Lunch was boiled mealies.   Dinner?  More mealie pap, occasionally with a piece of carrot or cabbage or beetroot.   Every other day, the mealie pap contained a piece of gristley meat.

Quite often, the prisoners did not receive their full quantity of food as the kitchen was rife with graft and smuggling.

The courtyard.

Blacks received one teaspoon of sugar daily, Indians and Coloureds, two teaspoons of sugar as well as a quarter loaf of bread with a slab of margarine.   Mandela worked on that inequality and soon all prisoners were allotted one and a half teaspoons of sugar and the blacks were given bread.

South African Apartheid authorities offered Mandela release from prison several times if he renounced violence   He refused, saying, “Only free men can negotiate; prisoners cannot enter into contracts." 

Guard tower with Muslim shrine.

Visitors to the island are bused around the area and various sites pointed out.   Their tours concludes at the prison.  From there they must walk to the pier, a trek that symbolizes  Mandela’s long walk to freedom.

Walking from the prison to the pier, meant to symbolize Mandela's long walk to freedom.

There photos are of the lime quarry where Mandela and his fellow prisoners were forced to work long hours in the scorching sun.   On the fifth anniversary of his release from 27 years of imprisonment, Mandela, other former prisoners, attending a reunion on Robben Island.   Mandela quietly walked into the quarry, selected a rock, and placed it at the entrance to the quarry grounds.   Others did the same.    The inscription reads:   On 11 February, 1995, on the fifth anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from27 years of imprisonment, more than a thousand former political prisoners attended a reunion on Robben Island.   The gathering brought together prisoners who were incarcerated across South Africa during the apartheid years.   Kroonstad prison was where female political prisoners of all races were held,  while most white males were sent to Pretoria Central Prison and most black male political prisoners were locked up on Robben Island.  Among the memories that the former political prisoners left on that day of their reunion was an Isivivane, an African traditional monument of remembrance of the struggle against Apaprtheid in honour of fallen soldiers who did not get to taste the fruits of freedom.  The monument on Robben Island also represents the unity of purpose of people of different races, ethnicities and gender who opposed apartheid.

The quarry where Mandela's eyesight was permanently damaged by the glare of the sun off the white limestone.  Also visible is the Isivivane,

Guard tower.

In this cave at the quarry, prisoners could briefly escape the sun.   It also was used as a place to eat their lunch and as a toilet.  Prisoners also buried books here and the literate slowly taught the illiterate.

The island once had a hospital for lepers.   This is their graveyard.

Boarding a boat for the trip back to Cape Town was dicey as the seas had become much rougher and the loading ramp bounced up and down.

Not until we were back in the somewhat protected waters near the Cape Town harbor did I dare remove my camera from its waterproof bag.   The seas were exceptionally rough with spray cascading over the third deck.

The clock tower in the V&A harbor where we were to meet.   Brian and others of our group returned on a later boat.  I went back to the ferry terminal nearby and when I returned, everyone was gone.   Once again I had been abandoned by Brian.

This map of South Africa shows Cape Town's location on the southwestern coast, as designated by the red arrow.

This map of Cape Town (red arrow) shows Robben Island off its coast (blue arrow).   At the tip of the peninsula (south) is the Cape of Good Hope.

* Nelson Mandela's autobiography is titled The Long Walk to Freedom.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Africa Journals, Ch. 52, The Fairest of All

The Africa Journals

Chapter 52
The Fairest of All

This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.” – From the journal of Sir Francis Drake, on seeing the Cape for the first time, 1580

I am now in Cape Town, South Africa, and it is as fair as Sir Francis Drake said it was.   More populated than when he first saw it, to be sure, but nonetheless beautiful. 

The victualing station (resupply station) started by the Dutch East India Company in the mid-1600s took root and for decades was the most populous city in South Africa, until a little gold and diamond rush near Johannesburg changed that seemingly overnight, dropping Cape Town to second, where it remains with a population around 3.74 million in 2011.  

Table Mountain from Capt. Cook's ship HMS Resolution by William Hodges (1772)   Photo of painting from Wikipedia   And here we have Capt. Cook again, before he was the entree in Hawaii, of course.   Fella sure got around.

The central area of Cape Town stretches from the sea in Table Bay to the 3000 foot near-vertical rise of extremely hard quartzite sandstone called Table Mountain Sandstone.

City center

Table Bay

There are two ways to see Cape Town the best.   One is from the sea and the other is from the top of Table Mountain.  For those who have no desire to climb straight up, there is the Table Mountain  Tram, a decidedly more gentile and less sweaty method of ascent.

The lower tram terminal, through the coach window and hence the glare.

Everyone gets the full 360 degree view because the tram car rotates!

Table Mountain, along with its buddies Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, and Devil’s Peak, are at the northern end of a mountainous spine that begins at Cape Point on the Cape Peninsula.

Table Mountain is the most prominent landmark of Cape Town.  At certain times of the year, it is instrumental in creating a mad and damaging dervish called the Cape Doctor.  This south-easterly wind picks up moisture from False Bay on the other side of Cape Peninsula, blows through the Cape Flats near Cape Town, swirls around and runs head on into the escarpment of Table Mountain and then all hell breaks loose, along with everything else that isn’t fastened down well enough to withstand winds up to 160 km/m (100mph).

Imagine trying to hang onto your cap in that or prevent yoour car door from folding back onto itself.   The city adapts to these winds, though.  There are railings on certain street corners, said to have been installed not to block the way for pedestrians but for them to hang onto.   Some buildings have architectural wind deflectors on their exterior to prevent windows from blowing in.   

And, there is said to be a fountain somewhere in town controlled by an anemometer.   When the wind reaches a certain level as measured by the anemometer, a device turns off the water in the fountain so passersby don’t get drenched.

The folks that suffer the most are the squatters living in shanty towns, with homes made of tin and cardboard and scrap lumber.   Frequently you can see roofs weighted down with tires or blocks or boulders.

The Doctor actually performs a good deed while swirling around the city bowl because it cleans out all the pollution so the folks can start messing it up again.   All the damage it causes is just an unfortunate side effect.

Ah, but there’s another effect of The Doctor.  That moisture it picked up in False Bay runs into Table Mountain and forms into clouds that cover the flat plateau on top and drips down its sides.
This is called the “tablecloth.”

Photo from Robben Island

Again, taken from the coach and hence the reflection.

Up on top of Table Mountain, the view is fantastic.

Oh, and there's also this sign in the upper tram terminal:


And these winds are the main reason why Cape Town is famous for windsurfing and kitesurfing, out there in the blue waters where there are other reasons Cape Town is famous—great white sharks.

Of course, there's a much more interesting fable about the Tablecloth:

Table Mountain is flanked on the east by the legendary Devil's Peak. As the story goes Van Hunks, a pirate in the early 18th century, retired from his eventful life at sea to live on the slopes of Devil's Peak. He spent his days sitting on the mountain, smoking his pipe. One day a stranger approached him, and a smoking contest ensued which lasted for days. The smoke clouds built up and a strong wind blew them down towards the town. When Van Hunks finally won the contest, the stranger revealed himself to be the Devil (hence Devil's Peak), and the two disappeared in a puff of smoke. Legend says that the cloud of smoke they left became Table Mountain's tablecloth - the famous white cloud that spills over the mountain when the south-easter blows in summer."  

Table tops in a cafe on Table Mountain: