Thursday, April 26, 2012

Checking In - Buckland

First, before writing anything else, I just want to let everyone know that a couple of weeks ago I worked really hard on a post that was lost by this site.  I'm still smarting about it.  After the first paragraph, I included a very short video upload.  It cranked away as I worked on writing the rest.  I had several photos and a YouTube link.  Everything from the video onward -- everything after the first paragraph -- did not save.  Just so you know...  I'll try to revisit that topic later, but I'll never be quite as satisfied as I was.  It was also very timely; next time it will be old news.  *Sigh*

So, "What's the new news now?" you ask.  Nothing super special.  I'm just checking in from Buckland.  I've been here all week.  They asked for me from Monday morning through Friday afternoon.  Lots of work, but flattering in a way.  No better way to let you know you're wanted!  I travel with my computer, but I use the school's wireless internet, and my computer is assigned a student profile, so I don't have access to much of anything.  I usually end up working on preparing program materials during the evenings if there's nothing going on at the school or I'm not walking around town or checking out the local store.  No Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, Amazon...if it's social, streaming, access.  Yet again *sigh*

I suppose I can blog, though.  I don't have much to post.  Buckland isn't exactly picturesque, so no scenic photos.  It's located inland a ways, up the Buckland River.  There are some gentle hills in the area, but no mountains and no trees, kind of like Kotzebue but without the view of the open water.  However, it's becoming one of my favorite villages.  It's the feel of the place.  The people are consistently friendly.  The school seems to be well run with a stable group of good teachers.  The kids are pretty typical.  Some are squirrelly, squirmy & noisy, but they also have that easy-going air that I get from everyone here.  They're generally good-natured and seem downright happy and appreciative to have me here.  I've particularly enjoyed the 1st graders and 6th - 9th grades.  Here's a picture from 9th grade today.  It was a lesson on nutrient cycling.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Don Quijote's Paradise

Yesterday afternoon I went out to the Kotzebue wind farm.  Last summer we all watched some heavy machinery and equipment come in on the barge, get unloaded down the beach, climb slowly up the hill, and sit there all winter.  Now that spring is here, an ice road was constructed from the staging area to the location for 2 new windmills, and the crane has been in operation to assemble them.

In this not-so-good picture (we couldn't get very close), you can see the base of one of the new windmills next to the crane.  The new ones are about twice as tall as the 17 others that have been here for a while.  Yesterday was a nice, calm day, so we thought they might be mounting the generator.  They had tried earlier, but the crane was just 8 feet too short.  I heard that they got the generator up today but still have the blades to mount.  You can't see it, but at the top of that base are two openings.  People climbed 300 feet up inside the base and were stationed at those openings to bolt the generator on.  You couldn't pay me any amount of money to do that job!

Here's an article on our cooperative's site from last year explaining these two new windmills.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Iditarod 2012

The Iditarod sled dog race is going on right now.  Everyone around here is watching because John Baker, a local guy, won it last year and is doing well again this year so far.  The racers are tracked via GPS, and I signed up to follow them.  While I was in Selawik, I was blocked from the site at the school because as a visitor I get a student profile on my computer, so lots of websites are blocked, so I'm glad to be back here. The race is 1,150 miles long.  John is nearing halfway, around mile 460 right now, and nearing the Ruby checkpoint where they run along the Yukon River for a few hundred miles.  It looks like he's in 2nd position.  The times are getting faster and faster but always depend somewhat on weather and trail conditions.  Last year with his win, John set a new record time.  The race takes 8 or 9 days, so check on it through the weekend, and keep your ears open on Monday or Tuesday to see who wins!

John Baker is #11
Check out the Iditarod website here.
Check out John Baker's website here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


I just came back from my 3rd trip to Selawik.  It was cold, but sunny and gorgeous.  There were people flooding into the village.  The Friends church is having some periodic conference.  On Tuesday, when I went out to the village, Bering Air was sending two planes at a time.  Then, this weekend, NANA will hold a meeting in the school.  NANA is the native corporation for this area and, I believe, the 2nd most lucrative one.  Someone today told me that they're taking $40,000 worth in door prizes!  She also commented, "More people are coming for NANA than to the church, it's all old people at the church," she herself being old!

Weather this morning

It didn't take more than 10 minutes to frost up
My first visit to Selawik was in October.  I went to the top of the bridge over the river and shot a picture to the main side of the village.  I tried to capture the same scene this time.  It's close but not quite the same.  Here they are.

The first time I landed I noticed this old plane just "parked" near some houses.  I don't know what the story is.  I asked a couple of people at school, and they didn't know either.  I'm used to the idea of having a junker car in your yard, even a bus...but a plane!

Here are a few more shots around town and a parting one that I couldn't shoot fast enough of the village as we were taking off.

Not sure if Selawik has a main street, but this looks like a good one. 
 Selawik is built in the middle of a wetland.  In the summer, you can't walk just anywhere.  The whole village is built with a road system of boardwalks and bridges that you can drive ATVs over.  In the winter you can branch out more with snow machines, but people still use the boardwalks.

I couldn't snap this picture fast enough as we were leaving, but you can see here the main part of town and the big bridge over the river.  There are buildings all over the point that's cut off too, and the river on the far left has a little bridge over it to where the airport is off of the left side of the photo.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rule of Threes?

I was looking forward to this 3-day weekend.  March will be an impossibly busy month, so planned to get ahead and have my apartment in perfect order to be ready to deal with a hectic schedule.  I was also planning to finally shovel out my storage conex and get my skis out; I haven't been skiing at all this year, and the combination of more light and warmer weather is making for some beautiful days.  That was the plan.

Friday I got a call from a neighbor headed out of town...could I cat, dog and goldfish sit?  Sure.  So, after hanging out with the critters that night, I headed to bed after a long week.  The next morning, on my way to check on the neighbor's pets, I notice their snow machine is moved around.  My thoughts:  concern that someone was trying to steal it, relief that it was still there, I should let them know.  It wasn't until my way back home that I noticed what was actually Honda!  My thoughts:  incredulity that this happened again, dismay that it happened again, embarrassment that it happened again (because I didn't have it chained up the night before).  This was the third time it has been stolen, second from the same location.  The last time it happened, the police officer told me it was kind of my fault for not having it locked up.  Of course, fundamentally, it wasn't my fault, but there is a reason you end up with adages such as, "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."  Apparently I'm a slow learner.  After last time, I had been faithfully locking it up.  Then, I got complacent.  I did, however, have my bike locked up.  I was so focused on the ATV, though, that it wasn't until a few moments later when another neighbor came out that she noticed my bike was gone.  Somehow, they got the lock open, and it was laying there on the ground.  That bike was Antonio's, and it's just an object, but for someone to take something of his away from me makes me indignant because I'll never be able to attach memories of him to other objects, ever.  It gets harder to hold on to memories over time.

After it was first stolen
Saturday, then was spent on the phone with Kotzebue police and with KOTZ radio station.  Since it's the only radio station and only truly local media outlet, lots of people listen to the radio, and they provide the service of making public announcements for everyone, including descriptions of things that are stolen so other people can keep their eyes out for them.  I was discouraged that day and trying to find the balance between disappointment with myself for making it easy for the thieves and indignation at the thieves themselves.  Everywhere you look there are ATVs not locked up.  In the summer you'll see some kid's bike lay in the middle of the sidewalk for days without being touched.  Why is it that for certain people, if things aren't chained down they walk away?  Mull it over, and I'll get back to that later.  Thankfully, someone who knew my bike saw it just a block away and happened to ask why it was over there.  The chain was off, so it was just leaned up against a truck.  I walked over, brought it back, and locked it up again.  One down.

Sunday I started getting calls from the radio station.  I did a lot of walking, but no luck.  Finally, when it was almost dark, someone reported seeing one behind the school.  I took a cab to get there before it was dark, and sure enough, it was my machine!  It wasn't wrecked, and it even had gas in it still.  I can't get it started, though, so something's wrong with it.  Grrr!  I tried for a while with the pull start, but no luck.  My neighbor towed us home behind her snow machine, and I locked it up.  That was that.

Phone almost buried
Monday...Late Sunday night, I realized I didn't have my phone.  I traced my activity in my head and concluded it must have fallen out while trying to get the ATV started.  When will the madness end?  The next morning I walked the route we took home, and when I got to where my Honda had been, sure enough, down in the snow, almost buried, was my phone.  I picked it up, wiped off the snow, and it was fine.  Three lost items recovered in three days -- the three days of my three-day weekend.  Now I'm back at work wishing I had a three-day weekend.  I'm not ready for this week let alone March.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ooooh, Sparkly!

The snow has changed with the warmer temperatures lately.  The variety of sounds it makes, the many textures you can detect beneath your boots, and the way it looks and changes throughout the winter are all pretty fascinating to me.  I'll try next winter to describe it a little better and keep track of the changes. I'm sure it all comes down to chemistry, temperature, and the amazing properties of water.
Do you ever stop to think about water?  Any thought at all?  You could have millions.  It's all over the place, all the time, and carrying out so many functions of life, geology, name it, that it's staggering!  It's the only chemical compound to exist naturally on earth in all states: solid, liquid, and gas.  In fact, the whole earth was formed from water.  Read the creation account, or read 2 Peter 3:5.  (If you don't believe in God, go ahead and read verses 1-13.).  

So...water....  I don't know the science behind it, but I do know that for a couple of days we had temperatures around 30.  Right away the snow felt spongier, almost cushiony but not punchy like it gets in the spring when it's melting and every step has you post holing to the bottom. 

Then, this morning I noticed something that I absolutely love about this place!  It reminded me of Bluebell ice cream.  If you have a dad who eats out of the carton until the ice cream is starting to go soft and then puts the rest back in the freezer, you know exactly what I mean.  (Ok, so maybe I've done it on occasion too.). We all hate being the person who comes along next, though, because the texture (and I think taste) is different.  At least the top layer is crystallized or grainy. 

I think that's what might happen here. The top layer of snow melts ever so slightly and refreezes, changing its structure.  Whatever happens, it seems so much more reflective to me under the moonlight and streetlights.  It's like having a continuous disco ball at your feet or walking on glitter.  I really enjoy walks before sunrise and after sunset.  When the temperature is warm, you feel like taking your time and soaking it all in.   

I've tried very hard to capture some image of this, but I can't get it to work. The best I could do is the following video clip. As it plays, look for the little white specks that show up in the shadow.  It's nothing like being here, though.  Sorry, you'll just have to come see for yourself!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Wild Weather

Before anyone says anything else, yes, I do understand that I'm living in the Arctic where the tendency this time of year is for the temperature to be very cold.  I'm not complaining (much), just commenting on some weather phenomena and an extended, prolonged, seemingly never-ending cold spell.

It seems to me that on a bright, calm day, the minus teens or even down to -20 F can be quite comfortable.  Towards -30 F is chilly but bearable.  Drop to -40 F and throw in some wind, and you spend a considerable portion of your day planning out your dress and routine -- at least I do -- and you might even postpone some errands for a while.  Based on my experience during the last two winters, that strategy would work.  If it was very cold or very windy (thus making it feel much colder), you might wait a day or two, and then the weather would be nice again.  Well, for the past few weeks we've had temperatures staying steadily around -25 F to -35 F with varying wind chills, and a few days with - 40 F or less.

It did get a little colder than this screen shot, but this was the closest one I captured.  That day, at that moment, the wind was calm, but it's amazing how much of an effect wind chill has.  I have a much better understanding of it having lived up here.  (I've come a long way from when I was a kid and thought people were calling it the "windshield factor."  Hey, it makes sense...the windshield of the car on a cold day tends to feel colder than the air feels to the touch!)

When you get temperatures this cold, things do start to happen.  Materials react differently.  Clothing that once seemed to be the warmest feels like you're wearing next to nothing.  Travel becomes more dangerous.  So you start to see weather warnings like this one.  I especially like the part that says "exposed flesh will freeze in less than 10 minutes."  I wear mittens most of the time because they keep your fingers warmer, but it's hard to get your keys out of your pocket, find the right key, and open the door with them.  So, I take off my mitten, get keys with bare hand, and open the door.  It's really no big deal.  It's not like you're standing around in liquid nitrogen.  But after reading this, I sometimes laugh at myself because I hurry just a bit more to get the key in the door and get it open!

Another thing that happens at around -40 F is ice fog.  Water freezes at 32 F, right?  Well, not always.  If it doesn't have a nucleating agent -- some kind of molecule that encourages and ice crystal to form around it -- water can become supercooled.  It's still in liquid form with a temperature below its freezing point.  However, at around -40 F, even the cleanest, purest water will freeze.  Cold air can't hold as much water as warm air, and at -40 F, saturated air "squeezes out" its water vapor as liquid or ice crystals.  The fog that forms is called ice fog.  In places like Fairbanks where you get temperature inversions and there's pollution from cars (giving something for the ice to nucleate on), ice fog will form at warmer temperatures of around -20 F.  Here are a couple of pictures.  Of course, they just look like any old fog, but now you know what causes it!  The one with the sun was taken close to 2:00 which is about noon -- when the sun is highest in the sky -- for us, so you can see how low it still is.  We're gaining 7 minutes a day, though, and tomorrow we'll be up to a 4 hour day!

Ice Fog

Sun burning through ice fog at high noon