Thursday, August 31, 2006

Musings On The CabinDwelling Life, Pt. 3

Although I left the waterless life in 2000 when I moved into my little red box in the exurbs of Fairbanks, I did cabindwell for 13 years – of which 4 were also without electricity – but that is a story for another day, another blog.

Aside from red squirrels and their fondness for eating and nesting in yellow insulation, there is probably nothing more iconic of the cabindwelling life than the Poop Popsicle.
Poop Popsicle, def.: A spire of human excrement that accumulates below the
outhouse seat during the winter months in northern climes.
Poop Popsicle growth is greatly hastened by addition of toilet paper, which is why many outhouses are copiously signed with exhortations from their owners for users to deposit their used TP in the provided receptacle (not the outhouse hole). However, even without the addition of TP, poop Popsicles grow at alarming rates, depending on the number of household users and the depth of hole. Now a really deep hole means that it is unlikely that a cabindweller will have to deal with a poop Popsicle that peeps above the hole, but on the other hand, it also means that it is unlikely to thaw and topple during our short summer months, thus eventually creating a towering shit spire - the base of which is out of reach.

For the most accepted way of dealing with uppity poop spires is to reach into the hole with a hefty stick (reserved expressly for this purpose) and deliver a mighty blow to the base of the poop stalagmite, thus toppling it. Obviously, if the hole is deep, it is difficult to really get to the root of the problem. This has led to various inventive and sometimes outright disastrous solutions to removing poop Popsicles. Cabindwellers have doused their spires with gas and lit them. They have exploded them with firecrackers (perhaps the real origin of the term “fire in the hole”), and hacked at them with axes and mauls and shovels and pulaskis. In fact probably everything and anything has been tried by outhouse owners in desperate attempts to avoid the inevitable – that at some point, the only way to deal with the ever growing poop pile that freezes faster and higher every winter, is to dig a new hole.

My first encounter with a poop Popsicle came my first winter in Alaska – lo these 18 years ago. I visited some friends (who shall remain nameless to spare them embarrassment) and in the course of the evening wandered out to use the facilities. When my headlamp illuminated the outhouse interior (another must-have item for winter outhouse excursions) I was stymied to find a poop spire that was a full two feet or more ABOVE the outhouse seat. I wisely opted for a squat in a nearby snow bank, but the mystery has plagued me ever since…not the formation of the spire itself, but just how the hell, and why the hell, anyone would go to the trouble of balancing and squatting and ultimately standing or maybe even hanging over an ever ascending spire of shit…wouldn’t have just one solid whack with a poop Popsicle stick done the trick?

Musings on the CabinDwelling Life, Pt. 2

A place can lack running water, or windows that actually open, or some quantity of insulation in the roof, but give me something reliable to cook on and I'm a contented, fatter CabinDweller. Sadly, the majority of places I've rented this state have had electric stoves - which are an insult to foodies everywhere.

Of course, even an electric stove beats no stove at all. After 6 months of tenantship cursing the Toastmaster 1500, an abominaton of a two-burner hot plate, in July I gave up on my landlord's promise of installing an actual stove and took matters into my own hands. We agreed - I'd buy the stove and take it out of rent.

It's been two full months of propane-fuelled bliss. Except, of course, that time I ran out of propane late at night and was also in between paychecks. Funny how those tiny details of propane-dependency are erased from your memory when you are busy whining pining for something you don't have.*

But thanks to the trusty, old, reliable Coleman stove** ... and a can of Blazo stashed for just such emergencies, it's not such a terrible experience. Who among us hasn't had to turn to the Coleman stove in such times of need?

It's a lovely time of year to be cooking on the deck, nearly yellow jacket free at this point, and it kind of reminds me of fish camp. Though I suppose the neighbors have to be wondering about the sound of the tea kettle whistling in the morning as I heat water for coffee.

*A truism for both propane and relationships. My god! I'm turning into Hank Hill!
** A $10 garage sale score!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Musings on the CabinDwelling life, Pt. 1

Today, my roommate [cough] went to the transfer station to drop off some trash, and witnessed a scene so perfect, oh, my peoples, it just encapsulates that je-ne-sais-quois that is Fairbanks.

Seriously, there was a dude dumpster-diving, which in of itself is no Big Thang here -- but the successful diver took his find ... and then drove off with it in his Mercedes.

And while we're at it, let us consider the sign at the University Road station which basically says, 'you might consider your animals trash, but you can't dump their bodies here.'

And in followup, I have a question, or rather a situation leading to a question.

I've got some squirrel issues. It all began with Bob*, the first one that was living in my cabin's roof when I moved in. Squirrels are basically rats with a nicer set of clothes and better p.r.**, and I was not too happy about listening to Bob's little claws as he'd walk around upstairs in the evenings. Not to mention that my old craptastic cabin leaks heat (costing me fuel) because there is likely not a shred of insulation up there in Ye Olde Squirrel Hostel and Party Pad.

And let's not even discuss how squirrel-obsessed my dogs have become.

So, months ago, I "did something" about Bob. And then, Evelyn moved in shortly thereafter. Again, I "took care" of it. Many squirrels later, and well, there seems to be a never-ending supply of them. Luckily, The Roomie is a good shot and has been unemployed and really has been quite dedicated dispatching them with a .22. (We're using .22 shorts because there are neighbors to consider.)

But we now have what I'll delicately term a squirrel remains disposal problem. Is the dump appropriate, keeping in mind the transfer station's sign discouraging that sort of thing? Do I keep digging little unmarked squirrel graves?

*Oh, it's too long a story to explain how the names started. 20-some of the furry little squatters later, we've stopped with the names.
**Thank you, Disney!

Bong Hits 4 Jesus, Free Speech, and really, I just wanted to type that

Hee. Seriously.

Kenneth Starr, infamously dogged partisan Republican hack, is working pro bono for the Juneau School District as it attempts to take, to the Supreme Court, no less, its dispute with an ex-student over a banner that the kid displayed at an event that was not even on school property.*

Joseph Frederick, then a high school senior, displayed a banner at a 2002 Olympic torch relay, that read:

"Bong Hits 4 Jesus."

Lordy, do I have fun typing that. And really, what does that mean, anyway?

His unusual message got him suspended. This being the U.S., of course, it all ended up in court. It made it to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the Frederick on the grounds that the disciplinary action taken against him violated his right of free speech. The school district contends that it was only enforcing its policy that forbids students from 'promoting illegal drug use' at school-sanctioned events.

I dunno, this makes me feel all.... Libertarian. I can't wait to see if the Supreme Court will take it up -- and think of how many more times the phrase will be reprinted as the media and the blogosphere covers it.

*As reported in the Associated Press and reprinted around the world, I suspect.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

But will she wear Carharrts on a date?

Friends, Alaskans, CabinDwelling folk, another television show set in "Alaska" is upon us.

Truly. And it stars Ann Heche.

And the name?

"Men in Trees."

I'm not making this up. The show, starring Ms. Heche and some guy named John Amos, was described by Heather Havrilesky as:

"Sex in... a very small town in Alaska!" ... "Northern Exposure" meets "Sex and the City" ... "Charming, quirky, sweet little storylines by SATC writer Jenny Bicks."

The premise? "A relationship advice expert's life and livelihood fall apart when she discovers her fiancé is cheating, so she decides to move to Alaska."

Zut alors! I mean, where do we even start on this one?

As a veteran (much decorated and many times wounded) of the small-town Alaska dating scene, and well, now a weensy bit cynical, I remain curious as to how far from reality this show might veer. I mean will Ms. Heche's character:

1) be propositioned while wearing hip waders?
2) be asked on a first date that involves not much other than an offer of a six-pack and 'going for a drive?
3) find herself at the Board of Trade at bar break when everyone present, knowing everyone else present, tries to figure out who to go home with that they haven't already dated or been married to, or are related to, or is married to someone they know (and like?)
4) find herself dating her roommate's girlfriend's mother's ex-boyfriend?
5) have a winter as a mushing groupie? ya know, hook up with a musher and end up feeding dogs and scooping poop?

Will she find herself repeating the saying, "You don't lose your girl/boyfriend, you just lose your turn?"

There's a reason the term 'subsistence dating' exists.*

Let us just hope it is not as annoying as The Show I Will Not Name**, you know, the one that led to all Lower 48ers, upon meeting you, to ask:

"Alaska. Is it like Northern Exposure The Show I Will Not Name?"

*Hey, rural Alakans are honest, practical people, you can't fault them for calling something what it really is. Edited to be less vulgar than the actual term.
**While the show had a couple of good seasons before shark-jumping occurred, let's face it, it trafficked heavily in what I refer to as the "oh-isn't-Alaska-quirky-and-weird-and-cute?" nonsense. Writers, both Alaskan and Outsiders, still churn out that kind of pap. But ya know what? Alaska, as much as I love it, has a great deal of alcohol-related dysfunction, poverty, violence and tragedy. The Show I Will Not Name felt like a great, big patronizing pat on the head. And let's not even get into its treatment of Alaska Native culture.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bye, bye Frank!!!

Ahhhhhhh, the collective sigh of relief could be heard all over not only Cabin Dweller land but all of Alaska when the election results were tallied – Frank the Bank was sent packing with just 18.87% of the Republican vote. Although undoubtedly there were some spoilers (like yours truly) in that percentage that, as undeclared or independents, chose the Republican ballot so as to cast a sure vote against Frank, the message is loud and clear – You Sucked Frank! Even your own party, especially your own party, Frank, got fed up with your arrogance and stupidity.

Can it be that we are finally free of that dinosaur, after decades in the Senate and a mercifully short four years as the Gov? And hey, it's great to see Jim Clark on the short-timers list too…how the tides of fortune do change. Bye-bye Jim - it's pizza party time!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

“He's leaving on a jet plane…”

Charismatic Frank has an aversion to traveling with the Great Unwashed, even in first class, and has been using “his” jet* for campaigning. Although Frank claims it's all been business, suspiciously no campaign money has been used for travel, and the number of state appearances by the Gov at local fish frys and boy scout weenie roasts has suddenly shot up. But stupid me, why should Frank “Friend of Big Oil” Murkowski have to pay for something when he can get it for free? After all - he’s worth those sorts of perks – and entitled to campaigning on the state’s dime. Oops, nope, guess it's more than just a dime considering what jet fuel must be going for now that Murk’s buddies suddenly discovered corrosion in their pipes!

Simultaneously, someone is taking out ads pleading for the state jet’s life. A couple of days ago in the Fairbanks Snooze Minus, an ad appeared exhorting candidates of all political stripes not to make selling the state jet a plank in their platform. It's OK to object to the Gov doing an end run around the legislature and buying his jet through a line of credit at Key Bank, reasons the ad, but “Please don’t resent the state jet itself. It’s a hardworking machine that is needed and is doing a good job for Alaska. “ It's hard not to get a little pang of sympathy for that quasi-anthropomorphized jet that might get put out to pasture very soon.

The state jet supporter makes some good points about the efficacy of having a jet at the disposal of state business, although his principal one – that it is used to transport prisoners from Alaska to Arizona brings up a bigger issue that this blogger would like to see addressed by the next governor and legislature…the matter of Alaska inmates – the overwhelming majority of whom are Alaska Native – being incarcerated thousands of miles from their homes in a privatized prison facility (and thus feeding some bloated corporation on the misfortunes of a people terribly disadvantaged by the present legal and political system.) Given Alaska’s population – it seems incredible that money can't be found to expand our correctional facilities (we aren’t talking needing a facility the size of Sing Sing or Rikers Island here) so that people doing their time can do it where their families and friends have a better chance than a snowball’s in hell to regularly visit.

Hmmm…nearly three million buckeroos can be found for a private jet for Frank – loosely using the excuse of prisoner transport for its raison d’etre, but no money can be found to expand correctional facilities here, or more importantly, to fund sufficient law enforcement and social services in Alaska’s rural areas so that the core problems of drug and alcohol related violence, domestic assault, and child abuse are addressed and treated. Much better to buy a jet and warehouse, out of the state, these reminders of the problems plaguing the Native villages. Out of sight, out of mind.

We can only hope that come this Tuesday, Frank the Bank will also be out of sight, out of mind. But hey, who is paying for this frigging jet? A line of credit is a line of credit – it means the State still owes the money. So it really doesn’t matter that the legislature didn’t approve the purchase, does it? Alaskan residents still foot the bill for that little ego-booster toy of Frank’s.

* Despite Frank’s “compelling reasons" why he needed a jet to conduct his bizness as the Guv, in a moment of fiscal clarity, the State legislature refused to appropriate $2.7 million for Frank’s jet. Frank, in the way of all spoiled children, refused to take no for an answer so used a state line of credit to buy his toy. Wow. Wish I could get me some o’dat special state line of credit!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

When Smart Pigs Fly

Or, more recent evidence it is Fiery, Blazing, and Red, albeit with Cool Racing Stripes

Is it just me, or do you also find the timing of BP's sudden attention to its aging pipeline system curious? As in, there was the Lege, stuck in Juneau in special session... and hey, look who is paying a visit but Lord Brown, CEO of British Petroleum.

[sarcasm]And whoops, looks like they have a little corrosion problem going on up north, scene of the most diligent maintenance and inspection ever. Which is why they ought to be able to drop an industrial complex into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge... I mean their track record is that good. [/sarcasm]

The Northern Alaska Environmental Center has a series of fact sheets detailing the craptastic record Big Oil has up on the Slope - and Democracy Now has a great interview on the issue of corrrosion and pigging with Chuck Hamel*, a former oil industry guy turned whistleblower turned industry watchdog. You can read it here.

I don't really know how, Only those doing a leisurely backstroke in a great big vat of oil money** could possibly act as spokespersons for Big Oil, but then again, we are in Orwellian Times, my friends. As reported*** in the Baltimore Sun on August 13:

"Industry officials sharply dispute that view, arguing that they carry out a rigorous inspection system for an 800-mile line that has delivered 14 billion barrels to the southern Alaska terminus at Valdez, while leaking less than the equivalent of one teaspoon in a swimming pool."

All this comes, of course, just as we enter fall - the season for berry-picking, cranes flying out and Big Oil's Congressional Lackeys' yearly attempt to allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge.

The oil industry has a habit of going after whistleblowers. In Hamel's case, they hired Wackenhut Security to discredit him, were unsuccessful, and then went after him through the courts.
**Fractured metaphor, yeah, I know. It's my Friday. I'm off to go fishing for silvers shortly.
*** "Hard by the Beaufort Sea, in 30-degree windchill and surrounded by an otherworldly tableau of bright orange natural gas flares, caribou herds and wisps of arctic fog, Kemp Copeland wants everyone to know that he's working as fast as he can." That's right folks, them oil fellas (and ladies, I suspect) are suffering in the extreme conditions of the north: those 30-degree windchills and otherworldly caribou herds. I mean, 30 degrees, good lord, we've got schoolchildren wearing shorts and t-shirt in those temps.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Alaska Campaign Follies: A Show Not to be Missed.

Murkowski's new campaign song

Of course, I missed the first Murkowski campaign song that Flic posted, but Jesus, Joseph and Mary! The new one incorporates the briefly funny, but now tired phrase, "get er done" TWICE - which, thanks to its frequency of use, I am now beginning to hate as much as I did that phrase from that Carrey movie,"Mask." Anyone remember the summer that, at any party, there was always some drunk guy shouting, "Somebody stop me!" much to his own amusement and that of his friends?

I know Andy Halcro does, because he was actually using it in one of his bewildering early campaign ads. Didn't anyone else see his "Somebody stop me!" ads??

Murkowski's new song is actually set to the tune of The Beverly Hillbillies*:

Come and listen to the facts of the Port Authority Plan
The chance it's gonna work is like an igloo in Iran
People like the mayors who are digging in their heels
They haven't got a buyer, so they haven't got a deal
Well the next thing you know, it's Johnny on the spot
He wants to start all over but it's time we haven't got
There's lots of gas around the globe, we shouldn't cut and run
Like Larry says, the Cable Guy, it's time to get er' done
The Alaska Gas Line that is...
Come on Alaska, let's not blow this one
So now it's time to bicker over Sarah Palin's plan
It's time to build the gas line and Murkowski is our man
The really closest plan of Frank's is the better one by far
My grandkids shouldn't buy their gas from fields in Qatar**
C'mon Alaska, let's get er' done!

There may be errors in the transcription, but I couldn't bear to listen to it one more time.

Photo: Internet Movie Database,

*As a person of genuine hillbilly extraction, that television (or should I say tee-vee) show always offended me.
From Encarta online: "Oil and natural gas are Qatar’s only significant natural resources. The country has 15.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and even larger reserves—25.8 trillion cubic meters (910.5 trillion cu ft)—of natural gas. These gas reserves, representing about 15 percent of the world’s total, are larger than those of any country except Russia and Iran. Most of the gas reserves are contained in the vast North Field, the largest gas field in the world. In contrast to most other gas fields in the gulf area, the North Field contains no oil, only gas. Therefore, gas production is not tied to oil production, which is advantageous because world demand for each rises and falls separately."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

You Bad Bad Boy

Jim Clark Sends Reporter to Corner for “time out”

It was reported today that Chief O’ Staff Jim Clark yanked a reporter off the press distribution list for being “rude” (now there is the pot calling the kettle black*). As the story goes, the Clarkster took offense that independent (thank GAWD for those!) reporter Bob Tkacz walked out of a Murk press conference last week. As reported, Tkascz got frustrated when the Gov cut off his questions (now who is being rude?) and declined to stay and be merely an audience prop. Ever one to defend his boss and the American Way, Mr. Clark decided that Mr. Tkacz’s actions were – gasp! – premeditated and that his comments “crossed the line”, even though no profanity, shouting, speechifying, or other bully-pulpiting tactics were undertaken by the rogue reporter.

For those of us still unable to forget the horror of the Murk Monster’s first months in office, Jim Clark’s press hissy fit brings to mind the dread pizza pogrom. Remember when the Clarkster went on a witch hunt for those Fish and Game employees who allegedly threw a pizza party when the Ketchikan Pulp Mill shut down? Yup, that’s Jim, never one to hold a grudge** or get his shorts in a twist.

You go, Bob!

(Bob has since been reinstated to the press distribution list, after he wrote 100 times on the blackboard "I will not talk back to the Gov")

*Mr. Clark once told me to ‘shut up and go get coffee’ in an infamous meeting –to provide more details, although highly entertaining, would also be far too incriminating for FlictheBic.
**Ketchikan Pulp Mill was one of many industrial polluters for whom Jim Clark was counsel before he was tapped for Chief O’ Staff
Photo: ©

A + A + C = W

Or, Aphids + Aspens + Cottonwoods = Wasps

Paper or ground wasps (aka yellow jackets) are carnivorous (a trait that differentiates them from bees – which I will expound on in a forthcoming blog) – hence their propensity to go beserk around pulled pork, smoked fish, and deck grill fests. The boom years of yellow jackets in Interior Alaska is tied to the aphid population – much like the snowshoe hare – lynx cycle (which, I have heard, in is turn tied to sunspot activity, but who knows?). When aphids explode, so does the yellow jacket population, because the yellow jackets feed on the aphids – both the bugs and their nectar – which I fondly refer to as “aphid piss”.

Why aphid piss? Well, because when the aphids are having a banner year, as they are this year, they are so thick in the aspens and cottonwoods (their preferred trees) that when you stand under an aspen, you can feel a light mist of aphid rain ( er, aphid excretion).

So, this summer trees and bushes are caked with the little buggers…cars parked under aspens are coated in a sticky goo (if left on cars, it wrecks havoc on the finish – another little known aphid fact, unless you have lived through previous aphid/yellow jacket boom cycles in Interior), and the maniac buzzing of wasps harvesting their aphid “farms” fills the air. People with few to no aspens or cottonwoods around their houses will correspondingly have fewer problems with yellow jackets.

Probably another reason why Joe Vogler hated aspens*.

* An infamous curmudgeon who met his death at the wrong end of a gun, and was subsequently buried in a shallow grave wrapped in that ubiquitous symbol of Alaskana, the blue tarp, – Joe Vogler was also famous for establishing a covenant in a subdivision he owned that required all residents to eradicate aspens from their properties.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Year of the Bee, Yellow Jacket or Whatever the Hell They Are

Dayum, people, are we overrun or what?

In the last couple of weeks* here in Squarebanks, the CabinDwelling Compound and pretty much every other place I've been has been swarming, literally, with what appear to my untrained eye to be yellow jackets.

Ya know, the smallish bee-like critters that have a taste for meat?

Seriously, we were smoking fish** and the little buggers were taking out CHUNKS of fish flesh.

That is not ordinary bee activity.

And it's not just out in the Goldstream Valley, either. I went for lunch today at the Chena Pumphouse and they wouldn't seat us on the deck. Our server told us that the bees are so bad out there that they shut down the deck after a pack of them carried off a small tourist child. And at our company picnic last Friday, quite a number of them were going after the pulled pork.***

I've been stung plenty in my lifetime already, so I know that I'm not allergic. But as a H20-challenged household, we're facing other problems. How to put this delicately?

See, back out in CabinDwelling Land, they like the outhouse. And there is NO situation that fills a person with so much..
trepidation... as sitting down on the blue foam in your outdoor restroom after you've seen a yellow jacket fly out from down below and hear four or five others buzzing around nearby. There are some places you just don't want to get stung. (Or have to place an ice pack, for that matter.) And it's not just the thought of how ungodly painful that might be.

Can you imagine going to the emergency room for relief and becoming that person that the e.r. people will always tell a story about?

"Yeah, well, back in 2006, we had this woman come in who had been stung while using her outhouse. Yeah, you-know-where. We had to restrain her, you know, just to do an examination. She wouldn't leave till we prescribed her Tylenol 3."

*I'm guessin', folks. But it seems to have begun in mid-July.
**Insert stupid joke now about how ya didn't know it was possibly to smoke fish. Make pantomine of taking a draw off a cigarette, cigar or one of them funny hand-rolled ones.
I had to fight them off with an axe handle. I'm very fond of bbq'ed pig. (Which was quite tasty. Thank you, Player's Grill.)