Happy Thanksgiving

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Hello from the few moments I get enough internet access that I can slip in a blog.  I’ll keep this short so y’all can get back to your turkey, or shopping, or football, or what have you.  I’m down in the Lower 48 for my annual pilgrimage to my hometown in Southwest Wisconsin, which is surprising  short of a good cell signal (at least good enough for me to get my usual feed of internet, sports scores, or cat pictures on Facebook).  Will be here through Friday before I make the slow ride home.

Coming down from Alaska requires a fair bit of flexibility.  It costs a fair bit to fly during any heavy travel season, so you have to be open to going anywhere.  What that means is that I will have to find what ever airport I can get to that gets me close enough to drive home.  Truth is, where my family lives is no where near any airport, so I have to drive a couple hours regardless, so be it Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Dubuque, or Moline (aka Strugglebus International Airport); you take what ever comes in at the right price.  This time it was the massive three gate airport of Rochester, MN.

The bonus that came with it was the drive down.  I took the interstate to LaCrosse, WI which then leads to a road that runs 60 miles along the Mississippi River south to home.  Growing up, that was the drive we took a hundred times over, heading up to LaCrosse because it was where all the fun things happened – it had ‘The Mall’, it had ‘the Burger King’, it had the concerts and movies and things we couldn’t get at home.

Driving that route this week was like heading back in time, more literally than I expected.  It must be twenty years since I been down that way. I was surprised with how little really had changed.  Things seemed updated, cleaned up, but the same stores the same roads and the same things under construction.  Some things being changed, some things under construction as they have been for 20 years.  In a way its nice to see how things remain as they are; but as time catches up with me I sometimes wonder why it doesn’t for others.

But that’s for another day.  Let’s let time slow down for today and enjoy a bit of the holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving … or as they say in Canada:  Happy Just Another Thursday.

Home & Away

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Dave Bickler, Lead Singer of the band Survivor, once sang:  “MTU Wants You to Make The Game” … so I did!

This past weekend, Michigan Technological University (aka MTU aka Michigan Tech aka ‘Tech’ … or more directly my Alma Mater) played University of Alaska – Anchorage (aka UAA) in two College Hockey Games at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.  Not only was this an opportunity for me to watch the team I followed for the *cough* five & half years it took me to get a degree from Michigan Tech, but it was the first time I’ve seen them play live since the week before I graduated.  In fact, the alumni gathering before the first game was the first Alumni event I’ve ever attended (except I think I went to something a couple weeks after I graduated – but I was drunk a lot that trip).  The MTU Alumni base is not too bad in Anchorage, seemed there was about 20 – 30 of us there (though most were fresh out of college, and kept looking at me as if I was old).  The whole of the weekend started with Pasties (a Cornish meat pie brought to and popular in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where MTU is) and beer (which needs no explanation) before heading off to the game on Friday night, followed by the Saturday night second game.  In the end, Tech didn’t do so well  against a mediocre UAA; losing on Friday and squeaking out a tie on Saturday.  But the experience seemed to transcend the score.

During those years at Tech, I spent all of it a part of the Pep Band.  MTU is an engineering school, meaning no one goes to college on a music degree – so you get 100 people with little talent but a lot of brains and a good amount of free time, you get some interesting results.  Because being in the band meant we could get back into Hockey Games for free, we tended to be the most loyal, and therefore loudest, fans.  Our school was pretty isolated, being 100 miles from the next sizable city, so it was rare we went to away games — but when we did we did en masse and en voice.

What I really learned in those trips was the fine art of trash talking taking the high road; including among other things you focus on the opponent’s team not the opponent’s fans no matter how much they they want to focus on you.  It’s really fun to get into that environment, because as you start to cheer things and see it start to irritate the other team or the other fans, you just sit back and keep doing things the right way which irritates them even more (people can complain to the usher all they want, but if you aren’t swearing, aren’t drunk, and aren’t picking a fight … they can’t throw you out).  It was easy to swallow when you finished up a weekend and hit the road back home, since of course you don’t live down the street from the other guy.

This time … not as much.

The stadium was quite empty for both games, which made Tech fans the loud element there; but UAA fans (at least near me or weren’t high schoolers) were pretty smart fans.  They were pretty supportive of their team and knew a fair bit of where the flow was going.  I stayed pretty quiet (being the old guy of course) but these UAA fans still got pretty ticked off with some of what we were saying bugged them.  Okay, after getting UAA failed to score on the power play, us saying ‘You suck on the P P’ crossed the line a little … but calling their goalie a ‘sieve’ was really getting to some of them, and that is hockey’s equivalent to calling a Norwegian dumb, it’s being funny by stating the obvious.

Yet I couldn’t stop thinking that I am surrounded by my neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, even curling friends.  Made it a lot harder to be my old college self, or for that matter listen to the responses to what was my old college self.  Sure my team was the “away” team, but I was home.  This is home.  Strangely enough, it was the first time I didn’t feel at home since moving to Alaska.

But that’s what happens when you relive the past a bit I guess.  At least until next year.

My Number is 25

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The recent fad about Facebook these days is for someone to get thrown a number, and they have to reveal facts that they might not think other people might not know.  The downside is that if you like what someone wrote (like as in ‘click the like button’) you get stuck with a number and you have to return the deal.  I liked the idea, so I jumped on it – but then when I clicked that ‘like’ button I got stuck with more numbers.  In total, I was given 7, 8, and 10 — making my number 25. Sure, I could have cheated — its facebook, not something that is important, but it got me thinking that I wouldn’t mind making in a blog post.

So the Bear Feed Rule is — Read these, comment on them, like them, but you have NO Obligation to do anything like it on your own.  Bear Feed Rules, Facebook Drools.  Let’s begin:

1. While I am notorious for going through hobbies like some people go through clothing, only hobby has stuck with me since I was 10 years old and it is the one I typically am reluctant to talk about because of it’s personal / introverted nature — fiction writing.  Probably not hard to believe, because the whole of this blog is lies I make up (Kidding!!!).

2. In 2006, I visited the Great Wall of China, scaling a steep section of the wall up the side of a hill. The whole time, I was horribly hung-over from a night singing “Living Next Door to Alice” in a hotel bar.

3. In 2005, I was on the subways in London when a failed copycat bombing took place 2 weeks after the 7/7 bombings.  If I would have missed one of connections I took, I would have been on the same subway train as one of the bombers.

4. The furthest south I have been was in Singapore, where next to a beach I stood on the Southern Most Tip of Asia, it was just 1° north of the Equator.  The furthest north I have ever been is Prudhoe Bay, AK – which is still another 1200 miles to the North Pole (or  approximately the distance from New York City to Kansas City).

5. The most memorable and life changing vacation I have ever been on was in 1995 when I drove from Saginaw, MI to see my brother in Las Vegas, NV.  I spent 20 days on that vacation, only 3 in Las Vegas, and spent the rest of it living off of $40/day (including gas money, meals, places to sleep), seeing multiple National Parks, visiting the Dakotas, Montana, Colorado, Kansas, watching baseball, and many many many other experiences.  As much as I enjoyed countless Denny’s Grand Slam Breakfasts ($7), finding a state park that only charges $4 for a campsite, and going days without a shower — it is one night in Rifle, CO where a radio talking head said the words “No Matter what you do in your life, do what you love to do” that made me rethink every step I took the rest of my days.

6. In Late November 1991, I totaled my car on Staten Island, 1000 miles from anyone I knew, after an audition with the Cadets in New Jersey. The accident didn’t physically hurt me, but going through it all, staying in contact with my parents to help get me home, and dealing with the aftermath was the most traumatic experience in my life. I didn’t drive a car for two months after that.

7. I have been to all 50 states at least once, but I didn’t stop there. To count my “second lap” I started using Geocaching as a way of measuring a re-visit to all 50 states again. Since I started this “second lap” in 2006, I have been to 49 states – leaving only Michigan (the state I lived in for 5-1/2 years in college).

8. In 2011, Queen Elizabeth II was less than two feet from me as I stood in a median and her car drove by me.  As she passed, she looked me directly in the eye.  And on that subject:

9. QE2  was not, however, the closest I came to meeting a celebrity because I did meet Drew Carey (before he was famous) as we chatted before his stand-up set.  Thankfully the closest I DIDN’T come to touching a celebrity was when Brian Denehey warned me on a train that the bathroom had no toilet paper; you can guess for yourself why I didn’t ask to shake his hand.

10. Because Eric Lee Olson (who gave me 7) left out something on Monty Python, I will add something — In my opinion, the most awesome thing that could ever happen to me to make my life complete would be if Micheal Palin stood outside of a door in a red frock, big floppy hat, fake beard; while I stood inside the room reciting the line: “I was told to come in here and say there was trouble at the mill. I didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition.”

11. Top five favorite movies (in no particular order, and probably needing some kind of explanation – even if there is consistency between them):  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Joe vs. the Volcano; The Fifth Element; The Fisher King; Brazil

12. From 1990 to 1992, I was a College Radio DJ (my tag line was: “Serving the Greater Metropolitan Houghton and Hancock Area, this is WMTU”)

13.  The first time I was ever drunk was the summer of 1989.  I was on drum corps tour, and we stopped in New Orleans for a free day.   Knowing back then they would serve you if you could see over the bar, some friends and I decieded to spend the day sober while seeing what we could see.  Then within an hour before getting on the bus, we talked ourselves into “just one” … that would be ‘just one hurricane’.  One became two, and honestly, two was all I could handle at 18 years old.  That walk back to the bus was an adventure though.

14. I am a Green Bay Packers Shareholder and they are the only team I have remained committed to whole life (I did cheat on them with the Bills in the ’90s but did you see how sexy they looked back then?).  I have been a New Jersey Devils fan since the 1980s mostly because I thought their uniforms looked the coolest; but became on and off for most the last 15 years (or reverse band wagon – I typically follow them when they suck, and completely missed two of their Stanley Cup years).

15. I have a bucket list in theory, and much of it is around sports.  I want to attend a Soccer World Cup, an Olympics, an Outdoor NHL Game (coming in Jan ’14), an Aussie Rules Football Match, and a Green Bay Football game at Lambeau Field (life long fan, never seen an NFL game live, most recently because I want my first game to be at Lambeau during a regular season or playoff game).

16. I maintain in my head a number of “Theories” including: The Pillow Theory, The Ketchup Theory, The 50-Mile Radius Theory, The “Everything’s Applicable” Theory, “Coming Off the Mountain”, The Law of Anecdotal Value (that was stolen), The Old Bull/Young Bull Theory, and of course the ‘Achey Breaky 8 Mile.” Comparative Hypothesis.

17. Of all my theories – “The Unicorn” is one that haunts me.  It is the theory that a nearly unobtainable goal is possible if I work really hard and commit to giving up an awful lot in the process, while knowing ‘capturing the unicorn’ is greater than any pain it takes to get there.  Currently, there is one unicorn that seems to get further and further from reach – but if I hadn’t captured one over 20 years ago, I would have given up on this one already.

18.  I love computer games, but rarely am all that good at it.  For instance, I love the Sid Meier Civilization games, but rarely do I play above a ‘beginner’ level of settings and almost never finish/win a game.

19. I am an on-again, off-again internet gaming/program addict; including a four-year period where I spent most of my free time on Second Life.  What you learn about the internet is that best part about it is the people you meet (and the worst part of it is the people you meet).  Some of my best people, and at times some of my closest friends, have been people I have only known through avatars, screen names, or player IDs.

20. I am a classic (though not stereotypical) introvert.  I hate parties, I hate social gatherings where networking is going on, I rarely like to have group discussions that don’t focus on me; yet I love to listen in on interesting subjects, I am a great public speaker, and I love telling stories to people around me making me a bit of the life of the party at times.  As all introverts are, I need my space, need to be away from people recharge, and need know what I am going to say before I say it.

21.  My job is a Supplier Quality Engineer – meaning I work with my companies’ suppliers to comply & improve on our expectations.  I love the field because it is like being a consultant to these suppliers; and spending a couple days with them makes them better.  It’s a theory of mine that we are put on this earth to leave it better than when we left it – and I believe my job is the easiest for me to succeed in that way.  That is the same reason I chose to work for BP, because with all that was wrong with them, they have the ability to make the world a better place.

22. I trust Wikipedia way more than I should, but tell me where else I can easily search to learn anything about anything.

23.  I have been in emergency landings in an airplane, twice.  At no time was my life in danger, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a real emergency landing.  One required me to miss my cousin’s wedding.  The other resulted in our pilot being detained by Italian Authorities for 2 hours.

24. If money was no object, nor a job was no factor, I would live in London, UK.  Conversely, it would take an awful compelling reason (like go there or you are fired … and still than maybe) to get me to ever go back to China.

25.  Someday, I plan to retire to Gettysburg, PA.  I want a nice place along or near Baltimore St walking distance to downtown and the battlefield.  Maybe open a little coffee shop (had the name picked out: “Boiled Beans & Hardtack”), maybe just find a nice quiet porch to sit and let time flow.

 

Thanks for your attention, we now return you to your regularly scheduled blogs about Alaskan weather and my puppy.

Getting Off the Slope

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What do you get when you combine one of the harshest environments in the country with the only way to leave is by the Boeing 737 you are booked on?  You get crazy flight delays.

When you talk to anyone who has worked up on a rotation on the North Slope, they are bound to tell you about a time they either couldn’t get up to or couldn’t head home from Deadhorse.  I was scheduled to return home yesterday from the North Slope yesterday on a 3PM flight to get me home by 4:40 with more than enough time to pick up the pooch, change clothes, then make a run for a night of curling and beer.  However, signs were coming early that it wouldn’t be that easy.  Instead I made it home by nearly 9PM, and the pooch was still in lock down and the curling match was over.

When I arrived on slope on Sunday, the rumor of a Monday night/ Tuesday morning blizzard was all over.  The slope issues weather restrictions using Phase Conditions.  Phase 1 means there is problems out there, and if you aren’t careful you could be in some weather related trouble.  Phase 2 means the visibility is so bad you need to convoy from place to place.  The worst is Phase 3, where the visibility is inches or feet in front of you; security and safety requires you to lock down where you are at, and if it looks like it will be a while they will send a crawler out to get you.  As a reference, at the worst point the blizzard was so bad, we couldn’t see buildings along the road from the road itself — that is Phase 1.  There was a threat of Phase 2 or 3, but that was never issued.

To get home, you just need a plane on the ground.  If its Phase 2 or 3, the plane doesn’t even depart Anchorage to come get us.  Phase 1, they let the pilot make the call.

On Tuesday, our flight departed on time from Anchorage, which was a great sign.  We checked in, got through security, and waited to see what will happen.  As the pilot approached, he made the call that the visibility was too bad to land.  Since he used up most his gas, he landed at an airport an hour’s drive away (Kuparik Airport).  Typically, this means that we all jump on a bus and ride the hour to Kuparik, and they load us there to fly home (at least that was what the old hands said, that’s a good 40 minutes farther west than I ever been up there).  Trouble is, the main road between the two airports had an oil rig on it being moved from one pad to another, meaning no busing.  So we were told to load up the bus and head back to our camp.  The drive back only made it more obvious we were up against, as we couldn’t see more than 100 feet in front of us.  Once we got there, we all got work calling our billeting office to get a place to sleep for the night, but as we checked with security, and they told us straight up not to go too far.  Thirty more minutes, and the buses were reloaded and we made our way back to the airport.  The pilot was going to make another go at it.  In that 30 minutes, we went from barely no visibility to over a half mile.  It was still blowing but we looked good to see a plane.   When we made it to the airport, the plane was leaving Kuparik for the 20 minute flight.  It landed safe and in an hour we were buckled in ready to fly.

Here’s the thing though.  Remember a couple days ago when I blogged about what it was light to fly to the slope?  The thing that is hardest to get across is that you couldn’t as a passenger treat the flights like it was just another airline.  Everyone on the plane was heading home … not just heading from a place to a place, heading home from work.  This would be like riding a bus or in a car pool.

If it was like any other airline, what do you think would have happened if a flight was delayed?  There would be a mass of people waiting in line at a counter asking questions — there was none of that.  An announcement came to head back to our buses and find a room there.  What do you think would have happened if any other airline threw you on a bus, drove you to a hotel, and said you’re on your own?  How often do you think would that hotel tell you, “don’t go anywhere, the flight is going to happen”.

Now what do you think when I tell you Shared Services is not your normal airline, eh?

Little Note Nor Long Remember

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((A Non-Alaskan, Soapbox, Civil War Post))

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the most famous, and in my opinion the most continuously applicable, speech in American History: The Gettysburg Address.  Written and delivered by Abraham Lincoln, it was to fill with a “few appropriate remarks” the a small portion of the dedication of the National Cemetery in Gettysburg following the battle earlier in the summer of 1863. After a 2 hour oratory delivered by Edward Everett, Lincoln chose to beseech the audience on what they should ask of themselves so shortly after a devastating battle, and more importantly during a war that would continue for another 2 years.  His words were symbolic but direct, and in just a few short minutes embodied what it meant to be true to the American cause while pointing to those who died in battle as the symbols we should follow.

It is a speech I’ve known since listening to people say it at different ceremonies, and still remember the joke from “The Music Man” where the mayor kept saying “Fooourr Sccoooorreee” before getting interrupted.  Yet it was when I started getting into the Civil War and visiting Gettysburg that I had a good hard listen to it.  As with the way how history can be frustrating, what is most memorable is what is least important to me.  If asked to recite a line, most will say like that mayor did in The Music Man: “Four Score and Seven Years ago”.  That line, specifically noting the time since the USA’s Independence, was no longer applicable just a short month and a half later, when it was no longer four score and seven, but four score and eight.  To give the speech now we should be saying “Eleven score and seventeen”.  This is getting picky, but it leads to my greater point.

Besides the opening line, every other section of that speech remains applicable today and has remained applicable every day for the last 150 years.  The speech rings with the key elements of our nation’s principles of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.  It questions whether or not the country is strong enough to test the idea of making “all men equal”.  More than anything, it says to look to those who gave their “last full measure” and increase our devotion to those principles they fought for.

The speech was humble, bluntly so.  The address even predicts wrongly: “The world will little note or long remember what we say here ..” yet even this blog is noting and remembering what was said there.  It says that it’s intent was to dedicate the cemetery, then rebuking that claim — saying that those who died did far more than anyone else there could do to dedicate, concentrate, or long endure.  It was a common thread, those who are living can not be the ceremony, they were to realize what the ceremony was about.  The speech was quite simply, a call to action; and that is what remains true to today.

While this country no longer fights for slavery, we seem to fight every day for simple principles like liberty, equality, and the pursuit of happiness.  Many of us don’t see eye to eye on things our politicians and leaders want from us, we are bound together as Americans under the banner to ensure what our country is founded upon shall continue even if we don’t agree.  The world will little note nor long remember what I say in this blog, what is said in Facebook, on Fox News, on the Left-Wing Media, by any list of pundants, politicians, and PACs — but we cannot forget what those brave souls did in Gettysburg, in Normandy, in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.  It is for us living to continue their work and ensure that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.

[Full Text]

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

((End of the Soapbox, now back to your regularly scheduled series of weather reports and dog pictures))

Flying to the North Slope

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Sometimes, the idea for a blog post is as easy as seeing a bunch of people getting confused with my Facebook comments.  For some reason, y’all were confused with how I get to the slope.

As a reminder, “the slope” is short for “the North Slope” which is considered to be anything north of the Brooks Range of Mountains in Alaska (because that part of the state ‘slopes’ down to the Arctic Ocean … now you get it?).  Specifically, when I come up to “the slope” I am flying into Deadhorse, Alaska and taking the buses the 15 minute ride to the Greater Prudhoe Bay oil field.  Deadhorse is a town, but there isn’t anymore than 10 full time residents, if there is at all.  If it wasn’t for the oil fields, there likely wouldn’t even be an airport here.  If you watched the show Ice Road Truckers, you could be familiar with the Dalton Highway (locally known as “the haul road”), which is the only road that connects the rest of Alaska with Deadhorse.  While there are some that come up to the slope by the haul road, but that is a minuscule percentage, and would basically be people who are hauling on the haul road.

The rest of the staff up here come up by airplane.  It’s said there is a rotating work force of up to 3000 people here at any time, all of which average 2 weeks up here before heading home and no more than 3 to 4 weeks straight for anyone.  With that many people coming and going, there are a fair number of flights.  Thing is, it makes no sense for a company like BP who operates most of the field to put everyone on a commercial flight and fly them up here; same thing can be said for the other major owner up here ConocoPhillips.  So rather than buy everyone tickets all the time, they bought their own planes … in fact, they have their own airline.  Because it’s a shared service between BP and Conoco, they thought they would come up with a jazzy and exciting name for this shared service; and that name is: Shared Services.

Just so you understand the scope of the number of people going — Shared Services runs six days a week out of Anchorage flying to either Deadhorse or Kuparak (an hour drive from Deadhorse on the western side of the oil field, where ConocoPhillips has more of their operation); sometimes the flight will layover in Fairbanks for about 20 minutes to pick-up or drop off people from there.  There is anywhere between two to five flights a day back and forth.  The planes are Boeing 737 that hold over 150 people; and are typically packed to the gills.  The flight is a little over an hour and a half and run like clockwork.

There are ups and downs to Shared Services.  Since it is basically like a charter flight, its not affiliated with any other airline — so no Frequent Flyer miles, no upgrades, no bonuses.  There is no first class on these planes either & seating is managed by someone with a sheet full of stickers for each seat, which could mean you are sitting on the aisle, a leatherneck is on the window, and the CEO is wedged into the middle next to you.  That being said, people are on the plane for work – either going to or coming from — so boarding is no nonsence.  Baggage is free, and because most people are hauling a lot with them and bags go directly to the camp, its rare anyone has a carry-on bigger than a backpack.  Overhead space then is pretty open.  Because Deadhorse and the oilfield is an alcohol free area, all you get on the plane is a cookie, peanuts, a soda, and if you want it a cup of coffee.  Heading south, though, alcohol is served (2 drink maximum), and since its the first drink most the folk have had in 2 weeks, that southbound plane becomes a party bus.

That all being said, my flight home this time is a real challenge.  I am booked to leave at 3pm, getting me home with enough time to spring the pooch from lockdown, stop by the house for a quick belly rub, then head off for a night of curling.  Problem is, a blizzard is coming in tonight, which could delay flights – or worse yet keep all of us on lockdown.  Fingers crossed I get out of here.

Sunrise, Sunset, Sunrise, Sunset

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I got to see something I don’t think I ever seen in all my travels — not one but two sunrises in a single day, and if it wasn’t as cloudy I could have chalked up a second sunset too.

I flew to the slope today.  Since its way further north they have greater swings of daylight.   When my plane took off at 9AM this morning, I was able to see the sun come up over the mountains east of Anchorage.  The further north we flew, the further the planet earth blocked the sun from us, until the sun went behind the horizon.  As we were coming in for a landing, it was making up for time and peaked up just before we went into cloud coverage.  Today, Deadhorse, AK is getting a massive 3 hours 2 minutes of daylight, with it coming up just past 11AM (a half hour after our plane landed), and if it wasn’t cloudy I could have seen the sun set at 2:10 this afternoon.  All of that reminded me how close the solstice is coming.

Somehow, I only partially noticed the waning daylight in Anchorage.  Yeah, days are getting shorter – but with November half over, the rate the days are getting shorter are getting shorter.  Confused?  Good.

Currently (Sun Nov 17th), there is 7 hours and 4 minutes of daylight in Anchorage.  It goes up at 9:12AM and goes down at 4:17PM.  Tomorrow, we drop below 7 hours as we lose just under 5 minutes of daylight.  The thing I keep reminding people when they ask about the daylight is that when the days are really long during the summer and really short during the winter the change is really fast in between.  During the thick of it, you lose (or gain) almost 5 -1/2 minutes of daylight every day.  As we grow closer to the solstice, this rate slows, and that’s when you really know you are in the thick of it.  At the solstice, we will only have 5-1/2 hours of daylight, but most of the change to the daylight will come in the next three weeks.  After that, everything slows to a stop — and you are faced with day after day of darkness.

Unlike the summer, I get to see nearly every sunrise and sunset (weather depending).  I may miss it because I sleep in on the weekend, but when it goes up at 9AM, I have to really really sleep in. It is a lot darker a lot more of the time these days, but still doesn’t feel like the non-stop dark that I remember back in November thru March last year.  It’s still early … and with a travel schedule I am on I may get to see the differences a lot more.

 

Moose Are Loose

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Of all the things that make living in Alaska unique, the funniest are the moose.  For the uneducated, moose are the largest of the deer family (and behind only the bison the second largest land animal in North America) that stand typically seven feet at the shoulder, over ten feet long, and males have large, palm/finger-like antlers that can spread over six feet.  They look like tall horses with long, thin legs, a tiny tail, and antlers.  Okay, they look like dumb horses, with rounder snouts.  Okay they look like dumb moose.  For the record – the plural for moose is moose (as in “look at all them dumb moose, they sure is dumb them moose”).  While moose only wander a short distance south of Canada, they are quite numerous in Alaska.  In 2011, it was said their population was over 200,000; that’s nearly one moose for every three people. The numbers are high enough for annual moose hunts in the autumn to coincide with their mating season and when the antlers are at their largest.  Funny thing about those numbers, they are one of the few creatures like them that don’t travel in herds.  Basically mommies hang with their babies, but otherwise if you see a moose you will only see the one.

Now it needs to be mentioned that moose are quite dumb.  Okay, I already mentioned it, but I guess I can’t make that point enough.  They are really known for only doing three things: eating, sleeping, and making more moose.  Outside of mating season, they wander around from one place to eat to another, and occasionally stop to have a nice nap.  During the fall, they wander from one girl moose to another, and occasionally stop to have a nice nap.  Mostly, Moose don’t care where they do any of this.  If the moose sees a nice treat to eat 100 feet away, he’s going to head there – even if that means walking through someone’s yard, crossing a street, or holding up traffic.

This of course is the main danger with Moose.  Hitting a moose isn’t like hitting a deer with your car.  For one thing, their legs are so tall, you have a chance of just lifting them up so they roll over top of you and come out without a scratch.  You, on the other hand, are in trouble – because your car just hit a 1000 lbs of dumb roadblock.  Every year there are hundreds of “moose vs. car” accidents, and most of them ends with the score being Moose 1, Car 0.

Moose can be aggressive, usually during mating season for the males, and during calving season for the females.  It’s easy to tell when they are upset and usually heading in the other direction works to calm them.  There is a story of an “Alaskan Moment” when a guy was spotted riding his bike in a sprint downhill while a full sized bull moose chased after him; but again, more funny than scary.

What always shocks me is when I am just driving and spot a moose.  A month ago, one was sitting in someone’s front yard near a major street — just sitting there.  I had moose tracks in the snow in my yard as well.  Last night, I had to stop to let one cross the street in a part of the road that was fenced in.  My funniest moment was when I was slowed on the way to work when a moose decided to walk up the road from my house.  Besides only going 5 miles per hour, he stayed on the right side of the road, stopped at the stop lights, and otherwise followed all the rules.

What’s nice about it is that the moose are so goofy that I never get sick of seeing them.  So go on Marty, take yourself out for a wander, and just don’t get yourself hit by a car.

Making Up For Lost Time

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Typically, the first snowfall in Anchorage is recorded in October.  Long time residents say that it is quite common to be trudging through snow for Halloween.  While we had a good amount fall on September 23rd, it did accumulate for long enough to be counted as “the first snow fall”.  So here we were almost 10 days into November without a recorded snow, and it’s one of those things you know you will get hit with, you just don’t know when.

That when was Sunday Nov 10th.

Actually, Nov. 9th we counted for snow, but it was an ugly mess.  We had about an inch or two come down on Saturday, only enough to cover the streets and make the grass funky looking.  Rains came Saturday night, though, which melted it all and made every road an ice rink.

Sunday, there was a prediction of snow, but it didn’t seem to be all that serious.  It started falling just past noon, and didn’t seem to be all that heavy at first.  By 5PM, however, the story-line turned.  While just falling snows (no windy blizzard or white outs), it was really starting to build up.  In the end, Anchorage saw seven inches of snow, as big of a storm as we saw all last year.  In the Mat-Su Valley to the north of here, they had as much as 13 inches.  All this time waiting for winter to begin, and here it is — plus making up for lost time.

Spending the morning digging out everything made for a rough Monday, but the skies are clearing and traffic is moving.

Usually, I would guess this stuff will be here come April, but the forecast doesn’t support that.  Rain and in the 40s come Thursday will mean all this white will become a mess of soupy ugly.

I guess, though, we can now agree that it is winter time.

42

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One of my favorite books, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Deep Thought, the second greatest computer of all of history, is asked for “the answer to the ultimate question of life universe and everything”.  His answer, after 10 million years of calculating, is:

“Forty-Two”

The punchline was, he just gave the answer, without giving the question (which in the most underrated joke of the whole book was later to be revealed as: ‘What’s six times nine?’ proving that the universe was fundamentally flawed).

Today is my birthday, and if anyone asks – I am going to say I am “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything!” (because I turned 42 today).

So, what am I going to do today?  Great question!  I am going to do what I always do on my birthday — “Whatever I Want!”

November 5th is a surprisingly awkward time of year for a birthday.  Thankfully, it’s not right on top of a major gift giving holiday so I avoid the old “This is your birthday & Christmas gifts all in one GI Joe Action Figure” parent trap; though I did get the “your birthday is right around the corner” for six months and got “Christmas is right around the corner” when my birthday came.  It’s at a transitional period of the year, though.  Fall activities are just about finished, winter activities just started, and an awkward balance exists between the two.  More directly, those fall activities are reaching their peak, where the fun is at it’s top, but the finish is so close it gets depressing. If they finished early, you are stuck in the stupidity of the start of winter and not where you want to be yet.  It’s also that pre-holiday time when you should be getting into shape so you don’t put so much weight on before you can eat like a pig for a month.  In all honesty, there are things to feel depressed about, to feel guilty about, and to feel apprehensive about having a birthday on the 5th of November.

Something I fell into a long time time ago was a great way to overcome it.  When I was in high school, I was the symbol of being an inbetweener, doing both nerdy things (quiz bowl, forensics, and yes, even being in the band made me a nerd) while still being in three sports.  The day I turned 17, we played a football game that got us into the State Championships.  The day I turned 18, I was featured in a School Musical, Oliver.  In it’s own conflicting, awkwardness, those two birthdays I spent doing what … at the time … I wanted to do.    Sure, those days weren’t about me, but if you know me you know that doing things I want means doing things with others around me, not others doing things for me.

Since then, the most memorable birthdays I had were days when I did things because I wanted to do them.  I remember turning 29 in Milwaukee, buying my first keg of beer, and putting it up at The Lower Box – just so I could rely on all my friends showing up and having a laugh.  I remember turning 37, doing an audit with Jeremy Phillips, and enjoying a few back at a hotel in Cleveland.  I remember turning over the clock to my 21st sitting at the Library in Houghton, MI and doing my first legal shot of Tequila, more interested in the music playing than fact I wasn’t going to get arrested.

Probably the last couple years stand out moreso (maybe because I am losing my memory with age).

When I turned 40, I spent a very long, full, enjoyable day judging marching bands in Kings Mills, OH.  I remember the excitement of each show, I remember hoping around & nearly dancing to the music, and I remember hanging out with other judges that night to go over what we saw and what we liked.  Barely anyone knew it was my birthday, but I didn’t care – all I wanted to do was judge, and I loved it.

Last year my birthday was way more subdued, yet still incredibly memorable.  My birthday gift to myself pooped on my couch, puked in my car, and cried non-stop all night.  But that day one year ago was the day I became a dog owner.

So, what do I have planned for tonight?  Whatever I want!!

And I want to go curling.