Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Somebody Turned the Heat Off

Ya know, after all that fuss about our last cold snap - and then realizing that while we were all wingeing about it and taking photos and talking about it like we were all 'To Build a Fire' or something, there were people actually having a pretty rough time in parts of our state and no one was really paying attention to THAT - well, I'm not going to go on too much about the fact that it is in fact a WEE bit chillier this morning than last.

Oh, of course now a lot of Outside folks are paying attention. I suspect it has something to do with our vice presidential candidate governor. Our press conferencing having, book deal getting, PAC forming, 'the media is so unfair to me' whining, publicity cultivator in chief?

Has, uh, anyone bothered to tell our governor that the next election isn't until 2012? I mean, suddenly announcing a hiring freeze that isn't exactly a hiring freeze but will look good when you refer back to it in 3 more years, but frankly, I think we have a few more pressing concerns here, right? And a road to Nome? That's what you've got?

Oh, and for those of you who think that the folks on the coast all just ought to get out there and cut some firewood and not whine about fuel prices - perhaps you ought to take a look at one of the maps depicting the extent of the tree line. There are a lot of places in our state that do not have trees.*

And as for getting jobs, well, they have jobs, usually. But when they can't commercial fish for kings, they suddenly have lost their jobs. Worse yet, the money earned fishing kings helps support the subsistence economy - it helps buy the gasoline, fix the boat, etc. That's why it is called a 'mixed wage-subsistence' economy. Less subsistence food put away means you are stuck buying a lot more food from the store. Which is less money for heating oil.

So the news that the next year's king salmon forecast is poor again is that much more of a bummer. Suggestions that people forgo subsistence king fishing for chums are all well and good, that is food on the table, but that will not help buy fuel oil for the next winter.

Does anyone else find it odd that the Bering Sea pollock trawlers can catch and discard as bycatch over 100,000 king salmon per year while the small, community-based fishing effort has to shut down? That we haven't even managed to let enough kings by on the Yukon to meet our treaty obligation to the Canadians?

All so Americans can eat cheap fish sticks?

*That said, and before my sieve-brain drops this idea - hello, pellet stoves! Hello Interior Alaska waste wood products. Perhaps now would be a good time to look at the numbers on producing this type of fuel.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Actually, Tom, I Doubt You're Paying $8 Per Gallon

"Where will it stop?" asked Kenai Republican Sen. Tom Wagoner. "Everyone in the state has high fuel bills."

Actually, the cost of fuel in many road system areas (like Squarebanks) has dropped considerably since the economy has tanked. Even the price of firewood has plunged - now that fuel oil has come down, there is less demand for firewood. At the beginning of winter (before the economy tanked) some local people were asking for $375 for a split cord of spruce. $375!! This week, those same local entrepreneurs are asking $220. Coincidence?

Unlike, say, for Emmonak and every other community in Alaska where the fuel vendor has to buy an entire season's fuel before the sea freezes and no more barges deliver until ... you guessed ... the sea ice melts. They are locked in to higher prices until the next delivery, because they bought the fuel at the inflated price.

I asked a friend of mine in a coastal regional center what her fuel bill was per month right now. $800. Thank goodness she has a good paying job. But you can bet she is looking forward to spring and a new fuel delivery for her town.

You know why folks in urban centers like mine (even if I live slightly out of town) are surprised by the crisis in Emmonak and not particularly sympathetic? Because our own crisis has abated some - and human beings are odd creatures with attention spans slightly longer than that of a labrador retriever puppy - and now that we're better able to meet our bills and fill up the big fricking pickup trucks, now that it is not hurting us, everyone is suddenly all "What high fuel prices? Whatever do you mean?"

That, and despite all the hoohaa over our 50 years of statehood in my local fishwrapper, the urban-rural divide has never been greater. But that's a topic for another post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I've Never Even Wanted to Watch an Inauguration Before

Wow. I'd love the take the day off work and watch the festivities, but that isn't possible. Perhaps I can be all sneaky and stream it over the Series of Tubes at work.

And as a cynic who doesn't like to get all gooey over candidates or politics, still, I must add a 'whoo' and a 'hoo.' Whoo hoo!

The Backwards Bush calculator came down this morning. It's been a very long time. As my papa would have said, "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out the door."

Monday, January 05, 2009

Yes, I'm a Dirty, Rotten Gloater

Temps in my part of the Goldstream Valley this morning as I try to get to work?

Minus 22. But it seems to be dropping. Again.

Perhaps we had a bit of cloud cover in the wee hours here in the Valley as the O.F. thermometer (see earlier post) was telling me we hit a balmy minus 10. Or maybe we had a breeze? Couldn't tell at 4 a.m. because I don't function well at that time of day, but I woke up, as I've been doing, to check the wood stove. By the time I was struggling to get up to go to work, it had hit minus 14.

At right: Heading down from the top of Ballaine Hill, on Saturday afternoon, into the Fairbanks area. On a clear day, you can usually see Denali in the distance.

Stay warm!

And, Flic, time for hot toddies.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Flic's Essential List for 45 Below

The speckled dog contemplates re-enacting the Cremation of Sam McGee

Temperatures below -35 tend to bring out the hoarder in me. This past week, when I have been forced out of my wood-stove heated lair, I scurry around in the ice fog gathering up more and more of what I perceive I might need, should the News Minus’ predictions of -50and -60 materialize*. This includes, but is not limited to the following:

(1) brand new truck battery – since the old one has proven itself unreliable at temps below -35. Note that the new battery is in the hall, not in the truck, waiting for a) the time when the truck does not start, such as the night before, or b) the weather warms up to a more suitable temperature, oh say, -20, for working outdoors.

(10+) bottles of HEET, power-steering fluid, motor oil and antifreeze – purchased every time I am at Fred’s or an auto parts store as I recently was (see above), because I cant ever remember if I have enough at home. Indeed, I do, enough to supply a pit at NASCAR.

(4) pounds of assorted coffee beans – because there is nothing worse than being stuck at home with a dead truck, extreme temperatures, and no coffee.

(4)(minimum) bottles of wine, (1) bottle rum and (1) bottle whisky – because there is nothing worse than being stuck at home with a dead truck, extreme temperatures, and no booze (do any of us wonder why Alaska has one of the highest alcoholism rates in the nation??)

(12+)(at least) unread books covering a vast range of subjects – from the profane to the just outright silly.

(5) old jigsaw puzzles smuggled from my parents’ home last trip East – to while away the long, cold nights.

(2) heat lamp bulbs for the chicken coop. No matter how much I enjoy my chickens, they are not moving into the house should their heat lamp bulb burn out, and they wont survive in their coop without one in these temperatures.

(1) TV series (third season of Deadwood in this case), borrowed from my blogmate.

(4) old, really trite movies that are held in reserve for the night when I just cant read, blog, or puzzle any longer.

(1) fully charged calling card – to natter daily with various village friends who are battened down under even colder temperatures. Listening to people in places where the last plane was days ago, the snow machines wont start, and fuel oil is starting to look scarce is a darn good way to feel like it’s pretty warm and safe here in town.

(3) 50# bags of dog food, (1) reserve jar of tropical fish food, (1) reserve 40# bag of black oil sunflower seed, (1) reserve 50# bag of chix scratch, and (3) suet blocks for birds – wouldn’t want any of the critters to go hungry.

It also goes without saying that the freezer is stuffed with food – moose, fish, vegetables, and berries; spring would long be here before provisions ran low. Last night I concocted a wicked good batch of chowder – made with garden potatoes, razor clams from CabinDweller and her S.O. and dry fish from my upriver friends. A fine wine from the Wine of the Month club at Goldstream General Store (the result of Christmas largesse from blogmate and S.O.) completed the feed.

You know, without sufficient exercise turtles will expand to fill and indeed overflow their shells. I know this because I spent 20 years of my life with a red-eared turtle in the family, and Big Turtle, as she was affectionately called, lived high on the hog dining on bluefish, sea bass and trout. Despite daily crawling around on the floor, her appetites outpaced her exercise regime. As a result, she could not pull head, tail and all four legs into her shell at once - a serious survival disadvantage for a turtle.

I am hoping, and trying through daily dog walks in the Valley, that I do not do the same and expand to fill my house before this cold snap ends.

*it should be noted that so far the coldest I have had at my place is -45, but my friend in NP has had -55, to say nothing of the essentially 60 below weather my village friends upriver are enjoying enduring.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'd Whine About It, But I Have No Idea How Cold It Is

Those having frequented FBH for a little while may recall my borderline obsessive pursuit of an accurate low reading thermometer last year.

Well, here we are in a bit of real weather (also, apparently, a recurring theme here) and I really can't tell you much other than it is colder than minus 40, or as we now refer to it, "Oh fuck!"

This new reference to temperature coming from the not-so-trusty outdoor digital thermometer, which quits at minus 40 and merely displays "OF." Not having bothered to read the manual, not being able to figure out where the S.O. stowed the manual, I'm going with the most reasonable entertaining explanation for that acronym. Sure, it could mean something pedestrian like 'off' but let's not ruin a perfectly good substitute explanation.

"It's still O.F. this morning," the S.O. announced, (though using the full term.)

Although this cold snap is giving us all something to talk about we ought to really keep this in perspective. While Fairbanks and Anchorage folks are blogging, the tv reporters are filing stories nightly, and all the newbies are taking pictures of the UAF temperature marquee at the corner of College and University ... Eastern Interior has been far colder than we have, with minus 50s all round. Take a look at the lowest temp for Alaska this morning: Eagle, minus 56. And I could swear that I saw Ft. Yukon with -58 yesterday.

If you think we have it rough here in the Fairbanks wilderburbs, consider the fact that when it gets that cold, folks living off the road system in smaller communities won't see a plane coming in for days, even weeks at a time. Chalkyitsik hasn't seen a plane since shortly after Christmas.

Stay warm, people.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Years!

Happy New Years, my peoples, especially my fellow Alaskan bloggers who have come to feel like a community. An odd little community, but one I miss checking in with when I have one of my non-blogging spells.

It's warmed up to -29 as I write, to which I must add, 'whoo' and 'hoo.' Our mini heat spell is supposed to last until Friday some time, so live it up. Get those yard chores done. Me, I'm facing a new house task that I was unaware of back in the days of waterless housing: clearing the septic vent. This involves climbing up on to the roof with a container of boiling water, then dumping the contents down the blocked (or somewhat blocked) vent pipe.

Until earlier this week, I didn't even know that this was a typical winter occurance. I didn't even really notice the pipe coming out of the roof by the bathroom. But let's just say that a sort of propane-like smell became noticeable and ... considering the septic system and its role, I probably don't need to tell you more.

I didn't catch the fireworks at the University last night, but from what those who attended said, neither did they. The temps caused some problems for the proper operation of the fireworks - some never made it very high before going off, others sort of got going and just gave out. Of course, complicating this was the fact that a large number of spectators were sitting there in idling vehicles - the effect of which was the generation of a sizable amount of ice fog as the show progressed.

Well, it's time to boil some water and get my courage up for the roof job. Stay warm, friends, and just remember - only 19 days until we have new occupants in the White House.