Way back when I first saw the ad for a social science professor at Iḷisaġvik College, I remember pulling up the college website to fight a polar bear alert on the front page. Now some might have found this a bug, but I can assure you that for me this was a definite feature. I really wanted to see this place. As it happens, polar bears don’t show up that often, and when they do, it seems that I’m always busy. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get up close and personal with one of these guys; I just enjoy seeing them from time to time, and especially when I have a camera handy.
So, I’m sitting in the cafeteria during the orientation for this semester when a notice goes out telling us there is a polar bear on the beach, just across from our buildings. The point of the alert is of course to let us know that we shouldn’t wander out that way (at least not on foot), but they do sometimes have an ironic effect. I desperately wanted to take a really long bathroom break right then and then, but I managed to hold myself together long enough to take advantage of a legitimate lunch break.
…and then the bear stuck around for a couple of days. Apparently, a walrus carcass had washed ashore nearby and he was munching on that in between naps on the beach and out on the ice. Eventually the local Wildlife department moved the carcass, but not before I and half the town got plenty of pictures.
I had already booked a work-related flight to Fairbanks when Covid19 began spreading through the U.S. I remember talking about it with Moni in the days before I flew, and especially the night before I was to go. We seriously talked about cancelling the trip, but I thought it best to follow through with my plans. By the time the plane hit ground the next day, pubic sentiment had shifted from something along the lines of “maybe wear a mask, wash your hands a lot, and avoid crowds” to something more like “don’t go out at all, definitely wear a mask, and start shutting down the businesses. By the time I left Fairbanks 3 days later, the University was all but closed and restaurants were take-out only. Touching people, even to shake hands, was not done. Needless to say, I didn’t get much done. I felt pretty relieved to get home safely.
And then there was a period when we were all just locked down and travel wasn’t really an option.
I felt this.
I felt it in my teeth.
And in my stomach.
I had already scheduled a visit with an oral surgeon. He was to take the remains of 2 molars out the right side of my mouth, hopefully before the botched cap on my left side fell out and left me on a solid yogurt diet.
As the time of Covid stretched on, and people began to realize this wasn’t ending any time soon, I started to think about flying south to get my teeth done after all. With the help of her sister (a nurse), Moni had the safety precautions down to a science, and we started making limited forays out of the arctic. I still cringe at the thought of leaving the state, but with a little planning, I feel like we can get down to Anchorage and get what needs doing done. We can even venture pout of our room a bit, in which case we figure it’s best to keep going right out of town.
One good thing about Alaska, some of the best things about it take you well away from other people.
Still got one last procedure before I can sink my teeth into a proper steak. I would prefer to hunker down completely for the next few months, but I may need to risk one more trip. In the meantime, it occurs to me that I haven’t done a proper poto-gallery in awhile. So, here are a few pictures from recent travels. This of course includes a few drives around town, and maybe a few from before the pandemic. Anyway, …pics!
(Click the pics to embiggen them. You know you wanna!)
I know! Most of y’all will get a few more of these, but no so, those of us up here in Barrow. Our last sunset was yesterday. I’m told we can expect to be overrun by vampires any moment. We hear about that every year, actually, but this being 2020 and all, it seems like it actually might happen this time.
Anyway, I was flying up from Anchorage yesterday, caught a couple pictures of the sunset as the plane came in for a landing. Turns out, my nephew, Danielito, was filming the sunset on the ground, and he caught my plane coming in.
I have papers to grade. So, I guess summer is really over.
I was planning to take it easy this summer, but it didn’t exactly work out that way. A move across town took up a lot more time than Moni and I expected. Our trip to Valdez is still the highlight of the season for me, but I also made it down to Montana on a work-related trip and down again to Fairbanks to help put on the Motif Film Festival. When I wasn’t traveling or taking boxes upstairs, I was busy working on class materials and whatnot. Suffice to say, it was an interesting summer.
One of the most interesting things about this particular summer is just how long the sea ice seemed to remain intact, and how long much of it stuck around shore. It seems like this last winter got started late (snow didn’t start sticking here in Barrow until well into October), so I suppose it’s fitting in some sense that the remnants of that winter would linger a bit. It certainly made for some beautiful views. Few sites compare to the midnight sun shining down on an entire ocean served on the rocks, so to speak.
Yeah, people do swim in this stuff, usually just for a minute or two, just long enough to say they did it.
Other people do this.
(Click to embiggen.)
A little sea life in the fog there.
Hadda zoom a bit for this one
This little guy really wanted me off his beach
…and the world gets diagonal
Clear and peaceful evening
A touch of yellow
Okay, this might not be sea ice
Looks like I tweaked this pic a lot, but I really didn’t tweak it much
The cloud here steals the show.
An ice bow, some sea ice, and an annoying little blue dot.
Sorry, for the poor quality of this video, and in particular for my very shaky hand.
Between her new job and our move into a new apartment, my girlfriend and I haven’t had much of a chance to to travel together this summer. We did manage to sneak out for a week or so in mid June. What we decided to do this time was a quick road trip from Anchorage to Valdez. Of course, getting to Anchorage required a little flying time, but that’s old hat. We had to make a couple purchases for the new place, so that meant staying a couple days in the vicinity of Anchorage, so we found a lovely bed and breakfast in Palmer. After that, we hit the road!
Not literally, of course. I ain’t got nothin’ against the highway.
Anyway, the trip was about a 5 hour drive, but we made plenty of stops. We traveled along the Matanuska river for quite some time, made a brief stop a bit south of Glenallen, then headed off toward Valdez. To say that we found a number of beautiful sites along the way would be putting it mildly.
Valdez itself was absolutely wonderful. I hit a couple museums (The Whitney Museum and the Valdez Museum & Historical Archive) and we hung out at the docks for a time. We ate at the Fat Mermaid a couple of times and made stops at Mike’s Palace and Fu Kung. …suffice to say that we were well fed. We also ran into the folks from Sweet Cheeks Bakery, run by the parents of a coworker, but we didn’t get back in time to get our cinnamon buns. Still, …all of Alaska is just one small village! You just can’t travel through this state without finding connections to the people you meet. Eventually, we bought tickets on a tour boat, which of course meant that I got sick (yes I took some meds), but mostly that was just amazing. I almost never opt for a paid tour, but I’m very glad I did this time.
On the last day as Moni and I were strolling around downtown getting ready to say goodbye to the place, a random guy came out of Mike’s Palace and asked us if we lived in the area. The answer was ‘no’, of course, and then he proceeded to tell us that he had lived here himself once, 30 years ago. I cringed inside as he launched into his efforts to tell me about the good old days. A few minutes later I felt a twinge of sadness as he left us with tales of bar fights between Okies and Texan (oil workers) spilling out of the Palace and onto the street. Apparently, the police had once been disarmed so as to enable the fight to continue. Additional stories involved a pair of Korean prostitutes who paid him extra for a pizza every night so as to have a place to stay. Just how much of this was true, I have no idea, but the stories were a good deal more entertaining than I had anticipated. I found myself wishing we’d run into him before lunch rather than after and on the verge of leaving. Still, a few more eagle pics and off we went.
Hell, even the shopping we did back in Anchorage before boarding the plane back home went well.
I wish every vacation was this cool.
(You may click to embiggen!)
Ruins from Old Valdez
Mountains in the Background
On the Wing
Factory across the water
Snow Goose BnB
The chunks of ice on top got there when they were thrown up out of the water as the ice broke apart.
This juvenile whale was playing around the boat for about half an hour. …his mom was not amused.
St. Innocent, Russian Orthodox Church in Anchorage (Moni really wanted to see this one)
Random Waterfall empties into the sea
Yep, lotsa bunnies too!
Looks Kinda Smug for a guy that lives on the scraps tossed out by fisherman!
When you look into the scenery, sometimes the scenery looks back at you.
Are these guys ever not angry?
Water will fall
Mountains over trees
This, I’m told, is an oyster catcher.
Well hello there!
Almost an island of sorts
That mountain was framed!
Horse Tail Falls
Lotta little ice
Moni likes to stop and take pictures of the road.
Big chunk of ice
Closest I could find to street art
Random roadster (Anchorage)
Columbia Glacier has the blues!
Couldn’t get over the color of the water
You otter sea the mountains!
Abandoned structure along the Matanuska
Athabascan footwear (Copper River Heritage Center)
Yes, there are still Blockbusters in Alaska, at least two of them as I understand it; one in Fairbanks and one In Anchorage. I haven’t seen the one in Fairbanks, but Moni and I visited the one on Anchorage a couple weeks back. The one pictured above was still operating in Wasilla when we passed through on our way to Talkeetna this last Spring. Sadly, it has since closed down. Almost a year ago, we stopped into another Blockbuster in Soldatna, but that one too seems to have closed down. So yes, the great Alaskan Blockbuster lives yet in the wilderness of this great state, but it is an endangered species to be sure.
Why have Blockbusters lasted this long here in America’s ‘last frontier’?
Well ironic frontier jargon aside, the issue really does have something to do with the rough edges of our state. Simply put, the internet has not fully replaced video rentals in much of Alaska. Many of us have data-caps, and net usage can be quite costly up here. This fact makes video rental a more attractive option, and along with the various rental kiosks, it enables a precious few blockbusters to do business here in Alaska. But times, they are a changing, and we’re now down to two.
It’s a funny thing when you walk into one of these stores. You can’t help but feel as though you’ve been transported back a decade or two. They look just like you may have remembered them, which is of course the impression store managers want to create. But seriously, what else were they gonna look like? You might find moose in the parking lot, but inside the store, it’s pretty much the same.They will even ask you to be kind…
(You may click to embiggen)
Many thanks to Moni for contributing the Soldatna pics.
Well over a thousand miles separates Barrow from Juneau. It’s enough to make the place as different from Barrow as either place would be from much of the lower 48. I imagine many of my friends and family must themselves imagine the sights Moni and I have been enjoying here this last few days are common experiences. But we don’t have eagles in Barrow, nor trees or mountains. We don’t have glaciers either, unless you count the whole ocean as a glacier for part of the year. (Jokes aside, I’m pretty sure that’s not how glaciers work.) Southeast Alaska is a truly beautiful place. It’s one we don’t often get to enjoy.
This guy was a little ways off, which is why Moni and I weren’t immediately sure what we were looking at. I was busy snapping stills of this eagle with as much zoom as I could. Moni scooped me with a vid.
…the persistence of seagulls pays off.
A needlessly hurried spin around Mendenhall Lake.
…and a short photo gallery (click to embiggen):
Chilkat Weaving demo at the Alaska Native Studies Conference
Form Line Art on a Utility Box
Dancing at the Folk Music Festival
Sunset at the Anchorage Airport
Denizens of the University of Alaska, Southeast
Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
A Bit of Street Art
Shore of Auke Lake
Mountains Overlooking Mendenhall Lake
The Visitor Center and a small Pond at Mendenhall Lake
Couple friends walking under a rainbow
Mendenhall Lake in the evening
This was Auke Bay as seen from the University of Alaska, Southeast (taken through a chain link fence)
It’s always fascinating to see the slippage commonly coming between a story and its headline, and again between a headline and a social media message about it. The hackwits at Fox News are always happy to provide examples of this sort of thing. Last week I couldn’t help but gripe about their misrepresentation of a major story on twitter. Today, the angle isn’t all that clear, but sloppy slippage is a habit that seems to serve them well.
What got my attention a few minutes ago was this tweet:
So, I see this and I am thinking; Really? I always thought Bonnie and Clyde were in their car when they were shot. Or was that just the movie? No, I’m pretty sure they were in their car. So, when was this? Just before they got in? How long before… No, this says the pic was taken right before they were shot. But…
…and thus I clicked the link (which is admittedly to say that I fricking fell for this click-bait bullshit. Still kicking myself over that.)
So, anyway, and at the expense of providing a link to a common source of right wing propaganda, here is the story.
The opening passages of this story are fascinating in much the same sense that grading a freshman essay is often fascinating. By ‘fascinating’ I of course mean saddening. It’s not just the brief, blurby, writing style that jumps out at me. (Seriously, this is clearly written for people with the attention span of not-even-gerbils.) What really irks with a vengeance here is the complete inability to stick to a consistent account of the story.
Check it out!
Mini-paragraph 2 says the photo was taken ‘days before’ Bonnie and Clyde were shot down. Mini paragraph 3 says ‘shortly before’. I guess ‘days before’ could count as ‘shortly before’, at least if you aren’t paying attention enough to wonder why they are re-framing the time-scale in the very next sentence. Most sensible people would think that was at least a little odd. And most sensible people would think that change of wording does shift the meaning, at least a little bit. Either way, it would certainly be a stretch to say that ‘days before’ counts as ‘right before’ or ‘moments before’, as indicated on the Fox News twitter account.
So why do this? It really doesn’t seem like deliberate spin. It seems more like a short attention span. Perhaps, it’s a habit of a mind accustomed to spinning an inch into a mile every chance it gets. These micro-shifts in meaning can be damned useful if you are spinning a story with a purpose. A mountain is easily reduced to a molehill with a little crafty word choice. The folks at Fox News are well accomplished at this technique. Still, it’s a little odd to see this much slippage crowded into such a small and simple account. The only clear pay-off in this particular instance is the added dramatic value of the click-bait, but even that doesn’t explain the shear quantity of equivocation in the Fox account. The story itself uses two different time-frames, and that shift isn’t explained by the desire to generate click-bait. Neither does the use of two different time-frames on the twitter account. A subtle shift is one thing, but these guys are all over the place. I find myself wondering if they folks can stick to a simple account even when they don’t have an axe to grind on the story.
Seriously, I can’t figure out how this will help to advance the war on the poor. Neither will it enable the Manchurian Man-Child to gin up a war to help keep all our minds off the Mueller investigation. I can’t even tell how this proves Hillary killed Han Solo in the living room with a candle stick. It’s not all that agenda driven. It’s just drivel-driven. it’s also a hell of a way to hack up a simple story.
Regular readers may have noticed already, but when I (and now Moni too) experience a bout of southiness, we frequently do this somewhere in the southwest. Santa Fe is a common destination. We mostly travel through nearby Española on our way up to Taos, Pueblo, but this last summer, we also traveled through on our way up to Ghost Ranch, and that meant going though more of the town. The murals were very cool!
Moni gets mad at me when she sees these, because she doesn’t remember many of them. I think she was on the phone while I ran loose with a camera.
So, brought to you with just a trade of schadenfreude, the murals of Española!
So, I flew out from Barrow a couple weeks back to spend a few days at a conference (Whalefest) in Sitka. I don’t get to spend much time in southwest Alaska. When I fly out, I generally go through Anchorage and then down to the lower 48. I can visit the villages of the Northslope about as often as I care to, and I can often spend extra time in Fairbanks or Anchorage, but a chance to veer off into the southeast is a rare treat.
To say that Sitka is beautiful is putting it more than a little mildly. It really is gorgeous. In the end I found myself plotting various schemes to stay longer, or to come back. Moni couldn’t be talked into spending Thanksgiving down that way, something sensible about money and inconvenient flight times, but I’d still give up a turkey for a few free days in this town, preferably while the humpback whales are still in town.
Which reminds me, whalefest did (oddly enough) include a chance to go on a whale-watching cruise. Grumbly me, wasn’t all that eager to get on a whale-watching boat. I get seasick easily and the last time I did that with my family in Hawaii, we barely saw a tail come up out of the water. This time was different, though, remarkably different!
So, yeah, that was cool!
My accommodations were at the old Sheldon Jackson College. The campus itself was beautiful. I wandered into the Sheldon Jackson Museum a couple times and found myself spending way more time in there than I originally planned. I also got to the totem park (otherwise known as the Sitka National Historic Park. I definitely needed more time in both those spots.
The conference itself was a fascinating mix of presentations on a diverse range of subjects. Oh yes, whales were the dominant theme, but speakers also addressed issues such as climate change, biology of other sea mammals, and sundry things-oceanic. The keynote speaker, Jacquelyn Gill, gave a wonderful talk on climate change and extinction, or rather persistence.
At some point I took a longish walk and found myself watching a sea otter playing in the harbor. It’s an oddly calming thing, just snapping amateurish pictures of an otter, waiting for him to do something interesting, like bring up another shellfish.
…just like the last one.
Damned cute, these little buggers!
It hasn’t escaped me that this is the Alaska that most people think of when I tell them I live in this state. They imagine trees and mountains, and moose, and bears, and all-manner of different forms of wildlife. My own experience of the state is very different, but that’s to be expected. Alaska is a whole buncha cool states.
Ah well, I really must get back to Sitka some time.
And to Whalefest!
Anyway, click to embiggen!
Tiny islands …er islets.
Swimming Off into the Sunset
Dining in Blue
Beware! When touristing, take care not to become the tourist attraction yourself. When staring at the otter, the otter stares back at you.
Sheldon Jackson College
Great collection of Alaska Native artifacts in there