Thursday, December 18, 2008


I am terribly, terribly behind on making a new post here. However, I've posted a couple stories / incidents from the past week on Perfect Duluth Day. So, for now, as I continue to finish Christmas cards and gift acquisition, these will have to do:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lesson learned, Vol. 1

Do not create a Facebook page for your dog, and absent-mindedly type the same e-mail address and password as your personal Facebook account. It will overwrite and eliminate your personal Facebook account. Then you will have to sign up again, try to remember all your Facebook friends and re-create your page from scratch. And you will lose your cherished high status in Scramble (college president, I think?).

Lesson learned.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trained spotter

We had the first decent snowfall of the season yesterday - about 4 inches total.

That meant I was able to return to action as an official National Weather Service snowfall spotter. I sent in my first report of the season a little before 6 p.m., and a little after 7 p.m. my report appeared on the weather service Web site:

0556 PM SNOW 1 N DULUTH 46.80N 92.12W


I like the sound of being a "trained spotter." I didn't receive a ton of training - I just got a packet of info in the mail when I signed up - but I'm well aware of how to take a proper snowfall measurement, so I think I deserve the designation.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Stuck on the roof

The roof repair set-up, December 2008

I have discovered a lot of quirks about my house over the past year. One of the first, and most enduring, is the "whirly" vent atop the highest part of the roof, and the difficulty in dealing with it.

Soon after I moved in, on a windy winter day, I heard a high-pitched shrieking noise while upstairs in the house. I went outside, and discovered that the whirly vent was squealing like crazy, audible well down the road from my house.

It was winter, and cold and snowy, so I thought I'd try living with it. But one night in the upstairs bedroom with that vent shrieking all night long was enough - I had to fix it.

That's when I discovered the difficulty in accessing the vent. The problem could not be fixed from inside, and there was no attic access anyway. The front pitch of the roof was far too steep to climb, so the only other place to place a ladder on the ground and get to the top was on the east side of my house. That involved taking the extending ladder I inherited with the house (i.e. an unfamiliar item), extending it to its full double length, and going up more than two stories.

On a bitter cold winter day - temps in the double digits below zero - I found myself with time and energy, and I couldn't take the howling any more. I bundled up, got the ladder set up, and went for it.

As I got to the top of the ladder - like 20 feet up - I tried to make the swing from ladder to roof. My bulky overcoat got caught, so I took it off and threw it to the ground. The ladder kind of slid from side to side, but I got up on the upper roof. I had a can of WD-40 and sprayed around the various moving parts of the vent, but I soon found that did no good. I just could not access the needed areas without taking the vent off - and I didn't have the tools.

I went back to the ladder to start the climb down, and in the course of kind of testing its stability, it shifted and the "locks" bracing the upper part of the extending ladder disengaged. It was not safe to climb down - I had no idea if the upper portion would support me, or collapse when I put my weight on it. I was stuck - and I had discarded my wind-breaking overcoat.

I assessed my options. One was to jump to the lower roof about where the ladder is in the photo above. But there was limited room for error - if I slipped (the roof was icy then), I risked tumbling off that roof and to the cement sidewalk below.

Option two involved jumping off to a larger area of the lower roof where there was a thick blanket of snow - to the left in the photo - but I had to clear the main power line to the house. But I worried - would I electrocute myself if I brushed against the power line?

Right before heading out, I had for some reason decided to grab my cell phone, and I got it out and called my dad, 400 miles away. He assured me that the line was insulated, and I would be fine if I brushed it.

So, I psyched myself up for a few minutes. I had to jump - there was no other option. Well, I guess I could have called the sheriff - but I imagined that call getting heard by the local media, and me being featured on that night's TV news.

So, I took a few steps and leaped - and emerged unscathed. The snow cushioned my fall. I crawled under the wires and got into the house through the upstairs window.


Well, I was back down - but the vent was not fixed. A few months later, when it was a bit warmer, I bought a new whirly vent - which meant I had to get back up on the roof. This time, I tried the approach pictured in the photo:

- Single ladder set (precariously, given the roof pitch) from lower roof to upper roof - stable enough for me to climb up, but not to get down; no extending ladder issues. 

- All tools pre-placed on the upper roof, so I don't have to carry anything with me up the ladder.

- In the absence of snow, a big pile of foam, quilts, blankets, insulation, etc. placed in the "landing zone" to cushion my jump.

It worked - the vent was replaced, and no injury to me.

I had hoped that would be the end of my roof adventures for a while, but recently I noticed that the new vent wasn't spinning - which, from what I know about whirly vents, means it isn't venting the attic properly. So, I got the old vent, which I had saved, doused it with WD-40, made the epic climb up to the roof and did yet another switch.

It's spinning fine, now - and no squeaking.

The end. Wow, that was a really long story about roofs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Dreaming, Vol. 2

Last night's dream: My dog was infested with fleas. My house was infested with fleas. Fleas, fleas everywhere.

Possible inspiration: My dog has been scratching a lot - audible at night - but, thankfully, the vet declared her flea-free. I think it's just the dry air in my house.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Oh cripes, what do I do now?

I just got back from a walk with Yukon. We went up and down the back road, and were about to head back inside when some gunshots started in the distance. She flinched a bit, and I didn't want to take her in right then to reinforce her fear, so we circled the yard for a bit.

As we got down to one of the front corners of the property, in an area where I had cleared some brush over the summer, something odd caught my eye:

It's right in the middle, just a little below center - a white form on the ground. Funny, I thought, I don't remember a big rock being there.

The dog was interested, so I walked up and....

What must have been a beautiful buck - maybe even the one that scraped up a bunch of trees in my yard - crumpled in a heap, dead for at least a few days from either car or bullet. On my land. As noted in the title of this post, my thought: "Oh cripes, what do I do now?"

This happened on my family's land while growing up, but there were big, open spaces around us where the deer carcass could be dropped - and my dad was there to do it. I don't think he'll be willing to drive 400 miles to take care of this one - and there really isn't anywhere to go with it without loading it in the back of my car. I wonder what my garbage man would think if I dragged it down for next week's pickup.

For now, the thin layer of snow actually makes the situation a bit more bearable - it's almost serene. Everything is frozen, so I don't have to worry about decomposition right away. I think it's a 10-point buck - I didn't lift the head to check the antlers on the other side - and I may just leave it, and let nature take its course (no brush cutting in that area next spring). I'd like to harvest the antlers - they're really nice. I'll just have to keep the dog away from the scene.

A side note - my dad's dog, Daisy, stumbled upon one of those deer carcasses in the woods back home a few years ago. It was desiccated corpse, but she still found it irresistible - to the point that she'd wander up into the woods every chance she got to gnaw on it. Finally, one Christmas morning after presents, the whole family helped load the thing up on a sled and skid it to a distant, inaccessible location. To this day, years later, the dog still goes back to the original spot where the deer was, looking for her long-lost snack bar.

Just shoot the buffalo already!

Cape buffalo (image from Wikipedia)

When I got my dog earlier this week, I felt I needed to make a financial tradeoff. So, I canceled my cable TV.

Yukon has been taking up much of my time these first few days, but late at night, between work and bed, I still find myself with a half-hour or so when I need to just wind down. I can't watch late-night cable offerings, so I've been getting reacquainted with late-night local TV. Tonight I was introduced to a show that started out benignly, then became progressively more horrifying. The show? "The American Huntress."

The show started, and seemed mildly better than infomercials, so I decided to stick it out. It is sponsored by the likes of bullet manufacturers and a clothing line called "She Safari." The premise is something along the lines of two women from Texas who like to hunt, and they bring along cameras to film their exploits in hopes of encouraging more women to hunt. Tonight's episode involved one of the women - her name was Linda, but I'll call her "Shotgun" - and her husband ("Second Fiddle") going on an African safari.

They arrived in Africa, and filmed the interior of their luxury tents to show their female viewers how posh things can be, so they won't be so darn hesitant to join their husbands on their next weeklong trip to hunt game in Africa.

Then they headed out into the game reserve to find a big male cape buffalo, the shooting of which seemed to be Shotgun's all-encompassing desire. But then the group spotted a herd of elephants, and Second Fiddle just had to shoot one, so they stalked and took out a big elephant bull.

I was starting to feel weird at this point. I have nothing against hunting deer, or any other kind of game that is put to use as food, or clothing, or some other practical application. But it was quite clear that they weren't going to be frying up elephant steaks outside their four-star tent that night.

So then they went out the next day, in search of Shotgun's cape buffalo, when they instead spotted some kind of wildebeest that Shotgun just had to shoot. So she did.

I started thinking, for God's sake, for the sake of all these animals, let some dumb cape buffalo stumble out in front of their LandCruiser so they can shoot it and be done with all this. But no.

Then, if memory serves me correctly, they went out again and found not a cape buffalo, but leopard tracks - and Second Fiddle had to shoot a leopard. So they hung the wildebeest carcass up and waited for the leopard to come along. He did, and yet another majestic African animal fell. And we were only like two-thirds of the way through the show.

Another day, and Shotgun finally, FINALLY got her cape buffalo. But then she decided she HAD to shoot a lion. Which, using the logic of the safari, meant she first had to shoot a hippo to get bait for the lion. Which she did. Ultra-condensed version, the lions never showed, so, oops, that hippo was shot for... nothing. Oh, well. End of hunt for them. Sigh of relief for me.

Other than the wildebeest and hippo used as bait, the show never mentioned what happened to all these animals that were shot. I assume they probably were mounted as trophies to sit in Shotgun and Second Fiddle's living room. What a waste.

But all is not lost. Thanks to the ads, I've got a hot tip on the most destructive bullet on the market, and I got a good look at the She Safari line. Tailored camo never looked so good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Karmic payback

Things are going well with the new dog - "Yukon" is her name now - but we had one minor "incident" today.

She is a very sweet, mild-mannered dog. She had been so timid, so hesitant to try new things, that I thought nothing of leaving her alone in the back seat of my car for 10 minutes while a few bags of groceries were in the cargo area. To get back there, she'd have to get up and over the back seat - something it seemed she'd never be willing to do at this point.

Well, she did. And she ate most of a bag of 12 dinner rolls. Fortunately, she left most of the bag; if she swallowed any plastic, I'm sure the doughy rolls will help it pass right through. The photo above shows the offender and the evidence.

I wonder if this is karmic payback for the incident described in an earlier post.

In any case, she is very attached to her crate; that is her default place to be. She comes out every now and then to see where I am, and to explore... though she tends to make a beeline to the crate if I so much at glance at her.

But a few times she has come to sit by me in another room, and today I got down on the floor with her, and she laid down and put her head on my chest. One of the nice things about having a dog.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas music jackpot

I am not a big fan of radio stations that play all Christmas music starting in early November. But every so often, I'll be in a mood for some, so I'll turn to one of those stations while I'm driving.

I hit the jackpot today.

First up: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, "Sleigh Ride." (Argh... it's not on YouTube. Well, "Spanish Flea" is as good, just not Christmas-y)

This fast-paced brass version of "Sleigh Ride" was always played at the K-Mart in my hometown during the Christmas season. It brings me way back to when that store had a full-service cafeteria / dining room in the back - as a kid it was such a big deal to get to eat there. I remember hearing the song over the store intercom when my sister and I went to K-Mart on our own to buy presents... if we're ever together, and those trumpets start playing over the radio or wherever, we both crack up.


Then, John Denver and the Muppets, "12 Days of Christmas."

A classic, in my book. The YouTube version linked to above is a bit different than the version I have on CD (yes, that's right, I have it on CD); the CD version includes Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew singing a verse, which is the best part.

When I was in college, there was a period of time when my sister, one of my older brothers and I all were in Madison at the same time. One December night we all piled in someone's car to go see the big drive-through holiday lighting display in a city park. We had a Christmas-music station playing on the radio, and this song got stuck in the rotation. I think it played three times in a row, in its entirety. Awesome.

New dog

Two-year-old yellow Lab. Left with rescue group by family that moved and could not take her with. As of Tuesday morning, she'll be mine, after I've waited almost a decade to have a dog of my own.

Given name: Gadget. I didn't like that name initially, then thought I'd try sticking with it, but now have decided I can't. So, I will be renaming her ... we'll see how that goes.

Now, I have to find a name I like. Pressure's on.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

World fame?

Musher Hans Gatt speaks to the media in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, before dawn on February 25, 2004, after winning his third consecutive Yukon Quest sled-dog race.

I took this photo within a few weeks of getting my first (and, to date, my only) good digital camera. As I did a number of other times while in Alaska, I melded together a work/vacation trip - this time, to cover a high school basketball story in Skagway while also venturing north into the Yukon to catch the end of the Yukon Quest sled-dog race.

My paper didn't generally cover sled-dog races beyond what the AP sent us, because there wasn't much connection to Juneau (little level land = little room for sled-dog events). But, this particular year a musher with a Juneau connection was involved in the race (as a dog handler, not a competitor), and I wanted to see a sled-dog race. And, the Yukon Quest - arguably the second-biggest sled-dog race in the world behind the Iditarod - which switches directions each year, happened to be finishing at the end closest to Juneau - Whitehorse - instead of the other possible ending, in Fairbanks.

So, I headed up into the Yukon in my Saturn sedan in the dead of winter, caught up with the local handler at a checkpoint called Braeburn Lodge, north of Whitehorse, and then headed back to the territorial capital to catch the winner crossing the finish line - Hans Gatt, a well-known musher who that year won the race for the third consecutive time. Because the work I had to do - covering that local connection - was done, I was free to roam around and play "paparazzi" at the finish line, jostling in the crowd to get a good shot of the winner.

I had sent photos to the AP wire before, but I had been using film cameras. So, I'd have to wait a few hours to get the shots developed, and then try to find a place to scan in film or negatives, tone them, and then post them. This time was my first experience with digital - I uploaded the photos to my laptop, worked them up and sent them to AP in a fraction of the time.

The photo above was one of the first - if not the first - finish photos on the wire, and as such got picked up by the Anchorage paper and one of the big papers in Vancouver (the Province, the tabloid-y one, which used my photo big with the headline "Praise be to Gatt").

The experience really drove home the possibilities that digital photos opened up - and was doubly cool because I got to see my photo used in other papers. It wasn't the New York Times, but ... a paper in the U.S., a paper in Canada - I guess I can say that my photo was seen by an international audience.

Spotted on my way home

I was driving home tonight when my headlights caught the glare of a deer's eyes on the right side of the road ahead. I slowed down, then saw a deer on the left side. As I neared and slowed down some more I saw two deer on each side, directly across the road from each other.

I stopped my car a few dozen feet from the deer. The pairs of deer looked at me, looked at each other, looked at me, looked at each other....

Finally, after maybe 20-25 seconds, all the deer ran off into the woods on their respective sides of the road.

I wonder if I broke up a West Side Story-ish rumble.

Friday, November 21, 2008

OK, I'll admit it, I still love this movie

When I was about six or seven, I was introduced to "The Incredible Journey," a 1963 Disney movie about three pets - two dogs and a cat - who traverse the Canadian wilderness to get from where they are being boarded to their real home. And, to be very, very clear, I am NOT talking about the decades-later "Homeward Bound" remake that is far inferior.

I don't know if I was caught at a very impressionable moment, or if it is my love of animals, or my love of the northern Ontario scenery, or what.... but I have been a total sucker for this movie ever since I first saw it. I have it on videotape - not available on DVD - and, maybe once a year, I pop it in the VCR. Maybe it's something that has just perpetuated itself over the years - good memories of childhood getting reinforced every time I watch.

If you've never seen it, the movie consists largely of the animals getting into life-and-death scrapes on their journey, with a richly voiced narrator and a orchestral score offering the "play by play," such as it is. You can get a taste of it with this YouTube clip, and the others that follow. Some of the shots are pretty incredible when you think about the animal training that was involved (and, yes, some shots are a little cheesy looking back from 2008 - especially the "bear attack" scene). Humans are only side characters, assisting the dogs and cat here and there, and providing the final, if-you-don't-at-least-get-a-little-misty-eyed-you're-not-human scene.

One thing I like is that the movie is not "dumbed down" for kids. There are no gratuitous off-color jokes, and - unlike the 1990s remake - the animals aren't given celebrity voices to spice things up. It's a sweet and simple tale, told matter-of-factly, letting the animals, the scenery, the narrator and the music do their thing.

I'm still waiting for the movie to be released on DVD. In the meantime, I'll have to be content with my well-worn tape, the YouTube clips and the reproduction of the movie poster (above) I bought off Amazon a couple years ago.

The Incredible Journey. Awesome.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ethical dilemma

I added about a dozen stale flour tortillas to my compost pile last night, thinking that ravens or other birds would enjoy them today. I've seen ravens scavenging out of that pile many times.

But, I had noticed lately that food had been eaten out of there with some force - that is, it was ripped apart and scattered about. I didn't think much of it until I saw a neighborhood dog chowing down on the tortillas just now.

This is a dog that is allowed to roam free, and on more than one occasion it has run up to about 20 feet from me, in MY yard, and started barking madly. It also harassed the elderly dog I pet-sit for last spring. So, the thought of it throwing up a dozen stale tortillas on the carpeting at its owner's house does give me a touch of satisfaction.

But, now that I know it is eating out of my compost pile, should I stop putting food out there? Put up a bigger fence? Do nothing? I'm not sure.


I keep hearing on the news that "stocks are lower today as (insert bad news) sparked investors' fears of a recession."

I don't know a lot about investing, but what more do "investors" need to hear to reach that conclusion? Aren't we there already?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Things found, Vol. 2

Found yesterday: My can opener

Location: The bag of kitchen-related items I had packed for use while camping on my cross-country trip last month. Which, of course, I never got to use after hitting the deer in North Dakota; the bag was left with the car while I flew to Seattle. I packed it away with my camping gear and forgot about it - can opener included - until suddenly remembering it yesterday. Mystery solved.

Cans of Spaghetti-Os consumed since can opener was found: 2

Friday, November 14, 2008

Giant raven? Small dog? Whatever the case, odd.

This photo is one of those times where you don't really notice how odd a scene looks as it happens - it's only later, when you look at the photo, that you realize that, hey, that bird looks as big as that dog!

I took this photo in September 2004 in the village of Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, Canada. After covering the Klondike Road Relay race from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, for my paper (an awesome event that I'll have to do another post about), I took about 10 days off to drive north on the Dempster Highway.

The Dempster Highway is a gravel road from Dawson, Yukon Territory, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. It traverses beautiful country and is one of only two roads in North America to cross the Arctic Circle.

Aside from a lodge at the midway point, Fort McPherson is the first town you reach on the highway - 340 miles from the starting point. In Canadian terminology, it is a First Nations village, where the modern world mixes with a subsistence lifestyle. There is a factory there - Fort McPherson Tent and Canvas - that makes tents and bags; I bought a duffel bag.

On the north side of town, I noticed some sled dogs out in a yard, with a hungry raven hanging around, waiting for scraps. I took a few photos - including the one above - and watched as the raven waited until the dog was done, and then chowed down on whatever was left in the bowl. Then I went on my way. 

Only later did I notice how huge that bird looks next to the dog. It is standing behind the dog, so it isn't just a perspective issue. The dog must have been a puppy, and the raven must have been a big raven, and the photo above was the result.

The rest of the trip went fine - a couple flat tires, a couple cold nights sleeping in the back of my Saturn sedan, some unexpected snow. Just what I was hoping for when I set out. (No, really, that all made for a great trip in my book.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unsolved Mysteries

When I was growing up, I liked the show "Unsolved Mysteries." It was a scary-but-not-too-scary show for a kid, sometimes had cool stuff on things like the Loch Ness Monster, etc. Plus, the baby brother of a kid I knew was used in a cheesy reenactment for a segment on a demonic haunted house in Horicon, Wis. - not for from my hometown.

A few years ago, mostly unedited reruns started airing on Lifetime. I always wondered if there was still someone staffing the phone line, or picking up mailed-in tips, for these crimes that were 10 or 15 years old. Every so often I'd flip through channels and catch part of an episode, which, of course, was heavily interspersed with promo ads proclaiming: "Lifetime, television for women." Ugh.

Now I see that reruns of Unsolved Mysteries, with a new host, and new graphics and music that are ... would the term be?... "amped up," are airing on Spike - the cable channel aimed at men ages 18-35. I caught a bit of an episode, and it still had the same cheesy reenactments. But now there are promo ads for ultimate fighting events. Here is the link to the new-look show's Web site.

I guess I can feel better about watching it now.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things that get eaten out of my compost pile, Vol. 2

I've been on an eat-it-or-get-rid-of-it tear through my freezer. Contributed to the compost pile yesterday:

- ice-encased frozen pizza
- frozen fish sticks well past expiration comfort zone, even in a freezer

This morning, the fish was gone, as was most of the pizza. Some cheese and pieces of crust were left.

Things found, Vol. 1

Found this morning: New black fleece hat

Location: Under a coat on a chair in the downstairs bedroom

Things missing, Vol. 1

My old black hat, pressed back into service upon the disappearance of my new black hat.


My can opener (I have looked at the cans of Spaghetti-Os at lunchtime for a week now, with no way to open them)

My new black fleece hat


I'm about ready to give up on the can opener and buy a new one. I had the old one since college; it has opened cans of Spaghetti-Os in three dorm rooms, eight apartments in three states, and now my house. I find it hard to give up on something that's been around so long, even if it is a can opener. I guess that's why I'm a packrat.

I've reverted back to my old black fleece hat. It's OK - I've had it for years - but it has lost its fleeciness. I finally replaced it a month ago with its identical (but new) twin, and enjoyed its fleecy comfort for a few weeks before it went missing over the weekend.

My old black hat and I have been through a lot, so we'll be fine. I bought it at a sports store in Tacoma, Wash., in 2003 or 2004. It - like the new one - is a plain black Columbia hat. One winter in Juneau, I lost it. I thought I had maybe dropped it in the parking lot at work, but I wasn't sure. I mourned for it. Then, a few months later, I was walking out to my car after work, past the massive mound of melting snow that had been plowed over the winter, and I saw it - encased in gray snow and ice, bedraggled, wet and forlorn. Apparently it had been picked up by the snowplow. I washed it a few times, and - though never quite as soft as before - it was put back into service.

Then, a few weeks ago, I happened to be back in Washington state on vacation. I was driving from Seattle to Portland, Ore., and as I was going through Tacoma I recognized the sports store where I bought my old hat. It was a different chain now. I was ready for a new hat, so I pulled off the highway, went in and found a rack with new Columbia hats, identical to my old one. I bought one. I kind of like the coincidence. It's also a souvenir of sorts - a useful souvenir.

Now, if only I could find it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dreaming, Vol. 1

I don't often have memorable dreams, but on the rare occasions I do, I remember them in great detail. I had one of those last night. Here's how it went:

I woke up to a noise - inside or outside, I'm not sure. I got up and looked outside, and it was dusk, and there was a old pickup truck in my driveway but no one around. I walked out into my yard, and suddenly a man on an ATV zoomed by me, did a lap around the edge of my yard, and headed back toward me.

-- break in recollection --

Then I found myself back on my front porch, and noticed that the old pickup truck was resting on a newly paved driveway. For some reason, I hadn't noticed earlier that my gravel driveway had been paved over. Then I looked out toward the road, and saw that the pavers had done multiple, elaborate turnarounds (to sum up, a huge part of my front yard was asphalt). But they had not finished - the area in front of my garage had been excavated to prepare for a new paved surface, but it wasn't done, and I worried about how I was going to get my car out.

Then I looked out toward the road again, and noticed it seemed farther away. And then I saw that huge amounts of earth-moving had been done, and my house was now perched high above the road, with a big, tiered embankment.

Suddenly, I looked back toward the garage and noticed, posted on a wall, some kind of work order that indicated that the previous owners of my house had arranged to have all this work done in 2003. Then a man appeared - the owner of the company that had done all the paving and earth-moving; I think the same guy who had been on the ATV - and I told him I hadn't asked for any of that work to be done. He said his company had been really busy, so it took them a while to get around to doing the work, and that he didn't care WHO had ordered it - I was responsible for paying. I said I couldn't afford it. Then he asked for my checking account number so he could verify that I couldn't afford it.

I told him no, and then he said he would call my bank - at which point I worried because my checking account is unusually flush with money right now, thanks to an insurance check to cover my car-deer collision repairs. I ran into the house.

-- break in recollection --

I found myself in my living/dining room, at a table that I don't presently own, looking for a pen and paper to write something down. Then my siblings were there, helping me look for a pen and paper. Then I woke up.

End of dream.

What does it all mean? I had argued with my cell phone company about a charge on my bill the previous day - that could factor in. Home repairs are pretty much always on my mind. I had thought in the past couple of days about some questions I wanted to ask my siblings, and was planning to give them all a call.

Now, I can wait a few months for the next memorable dream.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Things that get eaten out of my compost pile, Part 1

Added to the list of items tossed on my compost pile that the local wildlife finds delectable:

- overcooked hot dogs
- frost-encrusted, expired Eggo waffles

On the list of stuff that doesn't get eaten:

- old oranges

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Gunshots, gunshots everywhere!

First day of Minnesota's deer season = guns firing in all directions around my house.

Note to hunter to the northwest: I'm not a hunter, but I don't think you're supposed to fire five shots in a row to bring down a deer. That's probably overkill (though I'm guessing that volley didn't kill anything)

First snow

First dusting of snow of the season, as viewed from my kitchen window, November 8, 2008.

There were some flurries in the air in October, but this morning was the first time anything actually stuck on the ground. Winter is here!

Friday, November 7, 2008

I like "the"

When I think of places I've been, or places I'd like to go, some have a quality that makes them stand out in my mind: having a "the" in front of their name.

When I lived in Alaska, I could take a weekend trip up to the Yukon; drive the Alaska Highway, or the Dempster Highway, or the Klondike Highway, or any number of other "the" roads; go for a hike near the Mendenhall Glacier; etc.

I still get nostalgic when I occasionally look at weather forecasts for places I've been in Alaska, and see the National Weather Service's regional forecast for the Upper Tanana Valley and the Fortymile Country. "The Fortymile Country"... that sounds so awesome to me.

Here in Duluth, as I've noted before, "the" is overused on everyday places and roads that don't merit the designation. But that doesn't mean there aren't legitimate "the" places - the Iron Range, the Gunflint Trail, the Arrowhead, the Porcupine Mountains. Again, all places that call to me.

Then I think back to the year I spent in Manitowoc, Wis. - a year that just wasn't all that good for me, for a whole lot of reasons. I have great affection for pretty much every place I've ever lived, but I'm indifferent to "Manty." It just never got to me. Could it be, in part, the complete lack of "the" places? I can't think of a single one in the immediate vicinity. The closest might be the Kettle Moraine, but that's a stretch - it's closer to my hometown than it is to Manitowoc.

So I'm happy to be in a place within a day's drive of so many "the" places. And maybe someday I'll be able to visit the Fortymile Country once again.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Prudhoe Bay, 2005

Wading in the Arctic Ocean, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, June 2005.

In spring and summer 2005, after leaving my job in Juneau and before heading back to the Midwest, I took about four months off to travel around Alaska and the Yukon. I had anxiety about it at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

One of my big trips that summer was a roughly three-week odyssey driving up to Prudhoe Bay and back. I have TONS of photos from that trip that, by themselves, could sustain this blog for a year. I'll focus on the end of the road in this post.

Only part of the Prudhoe Bay / Deadhorse complex is accessible to the public - an area of maintenance bases, a handful of hotels, a general store and a few other services. The rest of the area - including most of the oil drilling and processing facilities, and access to the Arctic Ocean - is closed off. To get out there, you have to go on an arranged tour - which is how I got out to the ocean to take the photo above. I think there were about 20 people on my tour - most had flown up as part of a package trip. I was one of maybe four or five who dared wade into the water; one guy took the full plunge (wading was good enough for me).

There were two hotels operating when I was visiting. On a tip from a friendly older couple staffing a visitor info booth about 1,000 miles back, I went to this place, the Arctic Oilfield Hotel:

It, like pretty much every other building in the camp, is a prefab structure built on pilings. At the time I was there, I think it was run by VECO - the oil services company involved in the Alaska political bribery scandal.

The couple had recommended it because it serves oil field workers, while the other hotel was overpriced and "touristy." They were right. I was the only non-oil field worker staying there. The rooms were like dorm rooms, and there was one super-awesome feature: A 24-hour, all-you-can-eat, included-in-the-room price cafeteria:

I still think about this cafeteria. Because oil workers come back at all hours, they have to keep food available. There was a hot food line open most of the time, and even when it was closed, there were refrigerated cases full of sandwiches, salads, cakes and other desserts, etc. As someone who loved college dorm food, this was like culinary heaven.

When work crews came back in their Carhartts, boots and helmets, I did kind of stand out a bit. But everyone was nice and, as I said, the food was great. I've never been to a tropical resort, but I think this was the kind of "all-inclusive" accommodations I'd prefer.

There were a few things to look out for while staying at the hotel:

I never saw polar bears while I was there, but the hotel office had a wall of photos of polar bears hanging around the camp. I DID see some caribou grazing a field behind the hotel.

One other detail - they posted a daily room roster for workers to know who was staying where. My name was at the top of the list:

I don't know that I have a greater appreciation of our nation's energy situation from having visited Prudhoe Bay, but it was an awesome trip - one that I'd like to do again in the future.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sea lions at rest, July 2005

Sea lions resting on Poundstone Rock buoy on a sunny summer day, north of Juneau, Alaska, July 2005.

This photo was taken while out on a fishing trip with my friend Brian, a photographer at my former paper, the Juneau Empire. He has a boat and is a remarkable fisherman who has taught me more than I ever imagined I'd know about halibut and salmon, and where to find them (but, of course, in fisherman tradition I can't share that information). If I remember correctly, on this day we launched from Amalga Harbor, had just finished up trying for halibut in the vicinity of South Benjamin Island, and were heading to North Pass or Hand Trollers Cove to troll for salmon. En route we spotted this buoy and circled a few times to get photos. It was a rare warm, sunny day in Southeast Alaska, and the sea lions were enjoying it as much as we were.

I don't remember what we caught that day fish-wise, but pretty much every time we headed out on the water we came away with some pretty great shots of scenes like this. Then there was the time a humpback whale almost surfaced right beneath the boat... I'll get to that some other time.

Black River Harbor

Setting sun shining through the trees, Black River Harbor, north of Bessemer, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, August 2008.

One of the things I love most about Duluth is how many cool places are within a day's drive. Every so often I like to zip out of town for a weekend - heading north to Canada, northeast up the Lake Superior shore, east to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, etc. Last August I headed east to the Black River Harbor area of the far western U.P. There are a bunch of waterfalls, a little wharf tucked along a riverbank off Lake Superior, a nice beach and a campground. It's also just north of the massive Copper Peak ski jump (link to another of my stories).

I pulled into the campground in the afternoon; it's located on high ground about a quarter-mile from the harbor. I found an awesome spot a stone's throw from the bluffs over Lake Superior, where there was a wide-open view of the lake and, later, the sunset. After dinner I decided to walk down to the harbor. It was a pleasant trail through the woods, winding down a slope to the harbor below. There were ripe berries everywhere. Right as I got to the end of the trail, I saw a massive pile of bear scat - full of berries, in case you wanted to know - in the middle of the path. In the middle of the trail I had to take to get back to the campground, unless I wanted to walk well over a mile out of my way on the road. The trail full of berries I had to walk back on at dusk, with underbrush and twists and turns.

I spent some time walking around the harbor area and out across a cool suspension bridge to the beach. But before it got too dark in the woods - the sun was still up, but it didn't penetrate the leaves very well - I steeled myself to head back into the woods. In a throwback to my solo hikes in Alaska, I repeatedly kicked stones and banged my walking stick against trees in a surely-comical-to-anyone-watching effort to make my presence known to any animals up ahead. On some occasions - not here - I've been known to yell, moderately loud, "Hey, bear" when rounding a blind corner. It takes a lot, though, for me to break my Midwestern modesty and do that.

Anyway, I made it almost all the way back - I could see the campground ahead - when I noticed the sun breaking through the forest canopy. I found a good spot, and snapped a series of photos that included this one. The ensuing sunset was awesome, and I took a series of photos I hope to frame someday of the sun sinking beneath the Lake Superior horizon.

I realize now that this whole story was totally setting itself up to have a bear sighting... sorry, there wasn't one. Not this time. But I have had close encounters with bears other times. I'll save those for another post.

The beginning

Northern lights and a shooting star over Lake Superior. Taken from Middle River Beach on the Wisconsin shore, east of Superior, looking north toward the Minnesota shore, October 2007. 

I was driving on Highway 2, heading home after visiting my aunt and uncle's house near Ashland, when I saw the clear sky, and a hint of the northern lights. I decided to take a detour up to this beach, which is at the end of a long gravel road off Highway 13. I had been there on a 90+ degree day the previous summer when I had to get out of sweltering Duluth and picked it off a map. (Nice swimming beach, but the water is COLD.)

It was a cool night, and the beach, of course, was deserted; there are no houses nearby. As I often do in those circumstances, I psyched myself out imagining some criminal, or a bear, rushing out of the woods. But I stuck around long enough to get my tripod set up and snap a series of photos. I knew I got some good northern lights photos - the best display I had shot since leaving Alaska more than two years earlier - but I didn't realize until after I got home that I had caught a shooting star on this frame. That was the icing on the cake.

So begins this blog, started the day before my 30th birthday. I have a big archive of photos - some really good photos, in my opinion - that have been hidden away for far too long. I plan to share those photos and the stories behind them, as well as share some stories from adventures old and new as I travel, fix up my misfit house and in general try to make my way through the ever-changing world.