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Archive for the ‘Alaska’ Category

Dear Alaska,

Thank you so very much for sending the beautiful snow on Christmas.  I really, really enjoyed such a lovely, sentimental taste of home!   I have been missing your majestic beauty, yes that’s true.  I have been missing my friends there very much as well.  However, could you please not send me another ice storm?  Really, I’d be happy if you kept them to yourself.    Or, at least wait until I’m properly prepared with a snow shovel, ice grips and ice melt?  This having to chip ice off the driveway to make a safe path to carry water to the horses with a clam-digging shovel the Landlord has laying around is really for the birds!  And where in the heck is he digging clams here?  The ocean is more than 5 hours away!

Really, I don’t mind the hauling of multiple buckets of  water for 100 yrds a couple times a day or the cold, but better footing is much appreciated for future reference.  Oh, and can you wait until I’m not sick and Bad Pants isn’t injured?  K, thanks!

Love,

OS

PS I don’t think Molly enjoys the crunch of the ice covered snow under her hooves much.  It’s weirding her out!

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This afternoon, my study session with Dude was interrupted by a couple loud thumps on my front porch.  My house shook with the thumps.  When I went out to find out the cause, I found a small white box that the mailman apparently “dropped”.  (Cranky, maybe?)

Once inside, I opened the box (photo withheld to keep address private), and this is what I found:

Tillamook!

Yummy Chummies for the dogs!

Books and keychains!

Did you get a close enough look at the cheese?  Well, look again:

 

Thank you, AKPonyGirl, this is one of the most touching gifts I’ve ever received.  We will think of you with every bite!

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And They’re Off!

Or, they probably will be by the time I’m done writing this blog.

The Last Great Race, aka the Iditarod will start in an hour and ten minutes from the time I scribe this sentence.

History

Most of us know the story of Balto and how a mushing relay was set up to rush the diptheria vaccine to Nome, to save the entire village during an epidemic in 1925.  But the history of the race itself tends to get lost in the romance of the story that happened many years previous to the first Iditarod race.

The very first full length Iditarod race, from Anchorage to Nome was run in 1973. A few years previous, a shorter race was run on part of the trail in 1967 for the state’s bicentennial and then later again in 1969.

trail map, click on the picture to see it larger

Originally, the trail was created in the 1920’s.  It was a major thoroughfare for land travel, used to deliver mail overland to the villages that had sprung up during Alaska’s gold rush.  Priests, ministers and judges traveled the trail via dog sled, performing ceremonies, giving last rites and upholding the law.

All too soon, the airplane became the main way of travel in Alaska and the dog-sled started to fall out of favor.  Then snow machines replaced dog-sleds pretty much all together.  People forgot that there was an Iditarod trail.  It became overgrown from disuse.

A woman from Wasilla, Alaska, named Dorothy G. Page was a self-made historian.  She recognized the importance of Alaska’s dog sledding history and set out to raise awareness.    With the help of some long time recreational mushers, the first short course Iditarod (27 miles) was held in 1967 with a purse of $25,000.  It ran again in 1969 with the short course.

Then, in 1972, the US Army cleared the trail as a winter exercise.  So, in 1973, the race ran 1,049 miles from the Mat-Su Valley to Nome.  Twenty-two mushers finished that year despite comments that it just couldn’t be done.  The winner that year was Dick Wilmarth and he completed the race in just over 20 days.

To date, more than 400 finishers.  Mushers from all over the world come to compete from as far away as Norway, France, Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Japan, Italy, Canada, Britain and about 20 different states right here in the US.

Malamutes aren't usually used for racing as they only run about 8 mph. Huskies on the other hand, run 15-20 mph.

Today

The race is over 1,150 miles and starts in downtown Anchorage at the corner of 4th and D Street as it has since 1983.  The length of the trail varies depending on which trail is used as it alternates between two different courses each year.

The fastest completion time was in 1995 by Doug Swingley.  He completed the race in 9 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes and 19 seconds, to become the first musher from outside the state of Alaska to ever win the Championship.

So today, here in another 25 minutes approximately, dogs and mushers from around the globe will set off on this great race.  Teams will leave the starting line two minutes apart.  It will take between 9 to 12 days for the first musher to cross the finish line in Nome.  The length of time varies greatly and depends on conditions sometimes beyond man’s control.

In Anchorage, those that put up Christmas lights this year will leave them on for a while yet.  Anchorage, the City of Lights, will continue to keep those lights burning brightly until the last musher crosses the finish line and the race is officially over.

Quick Facts

There are two routes, the Northern and the Southern. The trail alternates each year.

The teams average 15 dogs in size, which means that more than 1,000 dogs leave Anchorage for Nome each year

The most mushers to finish the race was 63 in 1992

Although most of the competing mushers are Alaskans, many other states have been represented in the Iditarod, including New York, Montana, Ohio, Alabama, Texas and California.

This year, there will be a dog sled team from Jamaica.  You can read more about it here.

Possible Temperature Extremes During Race: +45 ° F to -60 ° F

Age Range of Mushers: 18 to 81

Checkpoints: There are 27 checkpoints along the trail (the first in Anchorage, the last in Nome) where mushers must sign in and where each musher’s 2,500 pounds of dog food has been distributed. A veterinarian is stationed at each checkpoint to provide care to the dogs.

Distance: 1,049 is a symbolic figure. (A thousand mile race in the 49th State.) The actual milage is closer to 1,200 miles, depending upon the route taken. The Iditarod is the longest dog sled race in the world.

Yep, I was right.  The race started 7 minutes ago.

Just a reminder: I’m trying out new themes for my blog.  I’ll be changing them every evening for about the next week, then putting up a poll you can vote on.  Please feel free to leave your input about each theme I try in the comments section.  Today’s new theme is “Pressrow”.  The header is customizable and rotating, so just imagine blackberries and grapes and ponies alternating up there (because I’ll be having Bad Pants change it if it’s chosen) when you leave your comment with your opinion.  Also, this is the last theme I’ll be trying out so a poll will be going up by Monday.

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Another strange search term!

Today’s strange search term was:

penguins living in Alaska

Ok folks!  Penguins don’t live in Alaska.  They live in Antarctica.  Now, please don’t confuse penguins with puffins!   I’ve witnessed many a tourist in Alaska call a puffin a penguin to their children or tell their children that there are penguins in Alaska.  (I don’t remember there even being penguins in the Alaska Zoo)  Heck, I have friends who make that mistake often.  Their ignorance irritates me to no end!

Penguins

live in Antarctica, do not fly, are colored as though they are wearing a tuxedo, starred in March of the Penguins and Happy Feet

quoted from Wikipedia: “are a group of aquaticflightless birds living almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere. Highly adapted for life in the water, penguins havecountershaded dark and white plumage, and their wings have become flippers. Most penguins feed onkrillfishsquid, and other forms of sealife caught while swimming underwater. They spend about half of their life on land and half in the oceans.

Although all penguin species are native to the southern hemisphere, they are not found only in cold climates, such as Antarctica. In fact, only a few species of penguin live so far south. Several species are found in the temperate zone, and one species, the Galápagos Penguin, lives near the equator.”

penguinjck-jul05ct-vertwl-w

Puffins

have a wider range, make nests on cliffs, have colorful beaks

quoted from Wikipedia: “are any of four auk species (or alcids) in the bird genus Fratercula (Latin: little brother — probably a reference to their black and white plumage, which resembles monastic robes) with a brightly colored beak in the breeding season. These are pelagic seabirds that feed primarily by diving in the water. They breed in large colonies on coastal cliffs or offshore islands, nesting in crevices among rocks or in burrows in the soil. The Tufted Puffin was formerly placed in the genus Lunda.

All four puffin species have large bills. They shed the colourful outer parts of their bills after the breeding season, leaving a smaller and duller beak. Their short wings are adapted for swimming with a flying technique under water. In the air, they beat their wings rapidly (up to 400 times per minute[1]) in swift flight, often flying low over the ocean’s surface.”

1_proud_as_a_puffin_470x470

Now let’s please not get these two very different speices of bird confused any more!  Thanks!

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Moose poop

Do any of you that blog ever check to see what search engine terms bring readers to your site?  I do.  And most of the time it’s about moose poop.  Oh, sure, they usually call it moose droppings.  But I never knew so many people were into moose poop!

Here is a list of my most common searches:

moose dropping ornaments

pictures of moose droppings

moose dropping craft

moose dropping christmas decorations

moose dropping earrings

moose drop festival

moose nugget ornaments

moose dropping souvenir Alaska

There are more, but fully 75% of my search engine terms are about moose poop!  Is this all I’m good for?

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The Definition of Aurora Borealis

The name ‘Aurora Borealis’ is Latin and aptly describes the phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis! A basic definition of Aurora Borealis is luminous arches or streams of light which appear in the in Northern regions of the earth. The Latin words ‘Aurora Borealis’ are roughly translated as ‘ Northern Lights’ – hence the alternative name! Aurora pertains to the lights ( the red dawn ) and Borealis pertains to the North. The term  Aurora Borealis was named by the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). It is interesting to note that ‘Aurora’ was the name given to the Roman goddess of dawn.

The Legends and Myths surrounding Aurora Borealis

Long ago the appearance of the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights caused a range of emotions in the people who witnessed then – alarm, fear, wonder, dread and excitement to name but a few! People did not understand what caused these amazing spectacles of lights in the sky. The phenomena of the Northern Lights were explained by different stories – the legend and myth of bygone days:

The lights were God or Goddesses appearing to  mortals

The lights were spirits or souls dancing in the sky

The red colour was associated with legend or myths relating to blood – murder, death, armies, wars and suicide

The Cause of Aurora Borealis

The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is caused when material thrown off the surface of the sun collides with the atmosphere of the Earth. The emission of light from atoms is excited by electrons accelerated along the planet’s magnetic field lines

The Sun and the Aurora Borealis – Additional Information about the Cause of the Aurora Borealis

The sun emits high energy ion particles. A cloud consisting of ion particles is called a plasma – also known as the solar wind. The ion plasma cloud, the solar wind, interacts with the edge of the earth’s magnetic field and some of the particles are trapped by it. These particles are drawn magnetically down into the ionosphere, above the earth’s surface. The particles collide with the gases in the ionosphere and produce the colors and the phenomenon called the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights. 

The Colors of Aurora Borealis

The array of colours in the Aurora Borealis consist of red, blue, violet, and green. Red is the dominant color. (yet I’ve still only seen green)

Aurora Borealis Forecast

The appearance of the Aurora Borealis can be forecast by following events on the sun in relation to the speed of the gaseous matter being thrown off its surface. Various types of forecasts and predictions regarding the appearance of the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, are published on several websites on the Internet. The best months to view the phenomena are between October and March. The NASA Space Weather Bureau www.spaceweather.com provides a forecast of viewing the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights

Location to view Aurora Borealis

Locations in the Northern hemisphere including Scandinavia, Canada, Northern America, Northern Europe and Siberia. Auroras occur around the magnetic poles in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.

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This is a blog I had planned about the Northern Lights a few winters ago and never got around to posting.  Even though I am no longer in Alaska, occasionally I’ll blog about things there anyways.  It’s the state that captured my heart and made me who I am today.

I’ve heard of people being able to see the Northern Lights throughout most of the country when solar activity is high, as far south as Arizona.  If one can find an area far away from the lights of humanity. 

The only color I, myself, have seen is green.   And that was just above the tree tops when I lived in Soldotna, Alaska.  In addition, I’ve been told that on a quiet night, you can hear the ribbons of light move.  That they sound like a tinkling of bells.  I never got to experience that for myself, but I can imagine that it would leave one in awe…

Legends and Folklore of the Northern Lights

The aurora borealis has intrigued people from ancient times, and still does today. The Eskimos and Indians of North America have many stories to explain these northern lights.

One story is reported by the explorer Ernest W. Hawkes in his book, The Labrador Eskimo:

The ends of the land and sea are bounded by an immense abyss, over which a narrow and dangerous pathway leads to the heavenly regions. The sky is a great dome of hard material arched over the Earth. There is a hole in it through which the spirits pass to the true heavens. Only the spirits of those who have died a voluntary or violent death, and the Raven, have been over this pathway. The spirits who live there light torches to guide the feet of new arrivals. This is the light of the aurora. They can be seen there feasting and playing football with a walrus skull. 

The whistling crackling noise which sometimes accompanies the aurora is the voices of these spirits trying to communicate with the people of the Earth. They should always be answered in a whispering voice. Youths dance to the aurora. The heavenly spirits are called selamiut, “sky-dwellers,” those who live in the sky.

Evil Thing

The Point Barrow Eskimos were the only Eskimo group who considered the aurora an evil thing. In the past they carried knives to keep it away from them.

Omen of War

The Fox Indians, who lived in Wisconsin, regarded the light as an omen of war and pestilence. To them the lights were the ghosts of their slain enemies who, restless for revenge, tried to rise up again.

Dancing Spirits

The Salteaus Indians of eastern Canada and the Kwakiutl and Tlingit of Southeastern Alaska interpreted the northern lights as the dancing of human spirits. The Eskimos who lived on the lower Yukon River believed that the aurora was the dance of animal spirits, especially those of deer, seals, salmon and beluga.

Game of Ball

Most Eskimo groups have a myth of the northern lights as the spirits of the dead playing ball with a walrus head or skull. The Eskimos of Nunivak Island had the opposite idea, of walrus spirits playing with a human skull.

Spirits of Children

The east Greenland Eskimos thought that the northern lights were the spirits of children who died at birth. The dancing of the children round and round caused the continually moving streamers and draperies of the aurora.

Fires in the North

The Makah Indians of Washington State thought the lights were fires in the Far North, over which a tribe of dwarfs, half the length of a canoe paddle and so strong they caught whales with their hands, boiled blubber.

Stew Pots

The Mandan of North Dakota explained the northern lights as fires over which the great medicine men and warriors of northern nations simmered their dead enemies in enormous pots. The Menominee Indians of Wisconsin regarded the lights as torches used by great, friendly giants in the north, to spear fish at night.

Creator Reminder

An Algonquin myth tells of when Nanahbozho, creator of the Earth, had finished his task of the creation, he traveled to the north, where he remained. He built large fires, of which the northern lights are the reflections, to remind his people that he still thinks of them.

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I’ve heard a lot of myths and misconceptions about Alaska and Alaskans from the “Outside” since I moved back to the lower 48.  I thought I’d take this moment to debunk a few…

“Alaska is a vast wilderness”.  Ok!  Well, in addition to it’s natural beauty, Alaska has a thriving and abundant cosmopolitan side as well.  Most of the state’s 600,000 residents are concentrated around the main trade hubs of Anchorage and Fairbanks.   Alaskans are far from cut off from the world!  On any given evening, we can take in a Broadway musical, have dinner at a 5 star restaurant or go to Walmart.

“Alaskans live in snow year round”  Um, no!  Actually, it gets quite warm.  Our summers average 70 degrees with it getting much hotter in the Interior by Fairbanks.  It’s been known to be 90 degrees here.   And with almost 24 hour sunshine in the summer by May, that snow melts off rather quickly!

“Alaskans live in Igloos”  No, we don’t.  See the above statement.  We have modern houses just like the rest of the US.  An igloo wouldn’t be practical here.  It gets too warm in the summer and the snow does melt.  Besides, we like the comfort and convience of modernization.  Like plumbing, electricity and the internet.  None of that is practical living in an igloo!

“You can’t drive to Alaska”  Oooh!  One of my favorites!  Yes, you can drive up the Alcan highway through Canada to get here.  And, for the most part, it’s paved now.  Many, many tourists come to Alaska every summer via the Alcan.  Don’t confuse us with Hawaii.  We all live in igloos here, not grass huts on the beach, remember?

“Alaskan mode of travel is dog-team”  While that is true in some parts of the bush where driving your average sedan is not only unreasonable, but impossible, most of us get around via car, truck, snowmachine and for those in Anchorage, we have the city bus as well.  We don’t just “mush” everywhere or have to wear snowshoes when we go for a stroll.  Refer to the above myth as well.

“You can see penguins walking down the street”  Penguins are indiginous to the Southern Hemisphere.  There aren’t any penguins living in Alaska.  However, it’s not unusual to find moose mosey-ing down the road…

“Alaskan women are hairy mongrels.  Alaskan women tend to be pretty ‘butch’, rather manly”  Oooh!  Another good one!  I can assure you that most of us do shower and shave our legs regularly.  And we do have day spas here and access to such things and upscale perfume and makeup!  While a good number of women here aren’t hothouse flowers (we can and do go play outside when it’s cold), most of us are equipped to shovel snow, break ice and chop wood.  However, most of us don’t!!!  We simply don’t have to.  We have modern conviences like gas heat, garages and snow plows.

And now for my very favorite…

“Alaskans don’t use American money”  Nah, we still use beads and shells for currency!  I do realize that Alaska is kinda isolated from the rest of the country.  But, we still use American currency, speak english, have the right to vote and go to school.  We Alaskans aren’t some odd ball breed.  We’re still normal, red blooded Americans like the rest of you!

Got an Alaskan myth you want debunked??

 

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Just about everywhere in Alaska can you find souvenirs made of moose droppings.  These moose nuggets are shellacked and sold as everything  from earrings and jewelry to swizzle sticks and Christmas ornaments as well as other “fine” touristy collectibles.   Moose droppings abound!

It was something odd that I encountered repeatedly when I first moved here.  Still have no real idea why Alaskans or anyone visiting Alaska would want to collect moose poop souvenirs…

There’s even a festival held yearly that celebrates moose poop!

From Anchorage Daily News:

 

Only in Talkeetna is moose poop worth $1,000

MOOSE DROPPING FESTIVAL: 5-K run won by Grizwald and Pratt is just a part of the fun.

 By RON WILMOT

Anchorage Daily News

 (Published: July 10, 2005)

In 1989, a woman who said she was with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals contacted board members of the Talkeetna Historical Society. She was indignant, outraged, and disgusted.

She somehow got the idea that people in Talkeetna drop live moose from an airplane — and have the gall to organize a celebration around it. It took some work to convince her that, no, the good people of Talkeetna do not drop live moose from airplanes. They drop moose droppings.

Gina Hansen, manager of the Talkeetna Historical Society museum, was on the board at the time.

“She was aghast. She was outraged,” recalled Hansen with a chuckle. “That was priceless. That will go down in our history.”

And so on Saturday it once again rained moose droppings at the 33rd annual Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival.

According to local legend, the event was hatched over a round of drinks at the Fairview Inn as a way to raise money for the historical society. Locals combed the woods and gathered the saw-dusty moose nuggets and painted them, then sold each dropping with a number printed on it. The droppings were then dropped out of an airplane toward a target. The dropping closest to the target won a prize.

The droppings no longer fall from a plane, said Clarence Wells of the local Myron F. “Ace” Ebling VFW Post 3836. That’s because the original target area, the softball field near the old Talkeetna airstrip, bustles with activity during the Moose Dropping Festival softball tournament.

 One year, he recalled, the droppings were released from a helicopter. That didn’t work too well either.

“The downwash of the helicopter just blew them everywhere,” he said.

So this year, the droppings were released from a bag suspended high above the ground by a cable. The cable ran from a large tree to a tall post.

People lined up at a booth in downtown Talkeetna to pay $5 a nugget. As they bought the brightly painted nuggets, VFW members wrote numbers on the nuggets and gave each person a ticket.

Two thousand nuggets were dropped at 6 p.m. Saturday, and the nugget closest to the target won $1,000. Second place earned $500, third through ninth paid out $100, and the nugget furthest from the target was worth $250.

“That way everyone’s got a chance,” said Wells, 70, with a smile.

The throngs of people who flocked to Talkeetna Saturday were there for more than moose droppings and sunny skies.

A 5-kilometer run attracted almost 200 runners and walkers. The softball tournament, played on a cozy field nestled amongst the trees near the old airstrip, attracted 12 teams from around the state. A parade featured floats from local businesses, marching    bagpipers from the Anchorage Scottish Pipe Band, blaring fire trucks from the Talkeetna Volunteer Fire Dept. and women from the Red Hat Society.

There was also live music and booths featuring pottery, crafts, prints, food (deep-fried halibut, burgers, turkey legs, bratwurst, Cajun-fried catfish) and one craft product that is certainly unique to Alaska:

Cucumber-melon-scented moose poop fire starters.

Proprietors Robert Georgeson and Casey Steinau of Big Lake soaked moose nuggets in paraffin wax and stuck them together to form a candle-shaped fire starter.

“It’s Alaska sawdust,” Georgeson said as Steinau, wearing a baseball cap festooned with droppings, talked with customers. “It makes perfect fire starter.”

I didn’t copy the rest of the article as it didn’t relate any more to the moose dropping part of the festival.

Alaskans can be a little backwater, a little off.  I still discover things about Alaska and Alaskans that leave me shaking my head and thinking, “Only in Alaska!”   I’ll share more about our unique weirdness in upcoming blogs.

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