Sunday, December 21, 2008


A friend told of his son (called by his middle name Alex), raised in Alaska, schooled in California, and currently working and socializing in Vegas. The young man called his father on his cell from a bar and said there was a "very pretty" young lady there who had something to say. A tipsy voice practically boomed into the phone and asked if he had really chosen to name his son 'Canute'.
"Well, it was his mother's idea, but I went along with it, I guess. Why?", he asked.
"Thanks a lot", she replied. "So far you've cost me like a hundred bucks! I heard your son bragging up Alaska, and I've never met anybody like even from Canada, and I didn't believe a word he was saying. So, I decided, like, to push his buttons."
"Uh oh", my friend said.
"I'll say", she continued. "'So.., I suppose your name is Kanute or Baldo?' I ask him. And your son gets this smirky-like grin and says 'Well, actually...' But I'm not havin' any of it. I'd heard someone call him Alex and I told him, like, 'Listen; Prove to me you are from Alaska and your name is Canute and I'll buy you guys drinks the rest of the night. Otherwise, player, YOU buy for MY table!' So, he pulls out his DRIVERS license!! Gawd, man! What were you THINKING?"
When my friend quit laughing, he suggested to the girl that it's a good thing Alex hadn't called and asked HIS advice on the matter, because he'd have suggested the bet be raised to something more interesting.
"Very funny" she came back. "But what makes you think he'd listen to you... YOU named him Canute!", and she handed the phone back to Alex at the noisy joined tables.
"I like her", my friend told his son. "That one you can bring home to meet us."
"Maybe we ought to let her chill a bit first," Alex said. "The way she feels now, she'd probably fly all the way up there just to kick your backside!"

Taking Wing

Halfway into town this evening, at least twenty ravens playing in the thermals over the generating plant. The natives love steam baths.
Tomorrow is the darkest day. One more day of planning.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Winter Games

"Use the light!", I tell myself. If you have outdoor errands in winter Alaska, It's best to plan if you want to avoid providing your own lumens. So I bundled, and went out with the dog, who has his own errands to attend to. His business seems to go much better if I can toss the frisbee a few times so he can lunge through eighteen inches of snow, snap the disc from the air, and charge back to ask if he can do it again... and again. After several throws, you can see it wash over him, his business. He gently sets the frisbee in the snow, then walks stiffly to his private place behind the spruce, and after a while emerges all waggly to bounce back to his frisbee. There have been times I wished he could throw the frisbee for me when my business was bound, but alas, he has no thumbs.
This day, we had a bit of snow, and I don't know where the frisbee is. He'll have to find it himself, because while he has no thumbs, his nose is terrific, and much closer to the ground than mine. He understands this and forgives my weaknesses as I forgive his, and starts the sweep search immediately. I'm not outside but a few seconds when I'm distracted by a gravelly screech from the wildlife tree. The day we moved into this house a LARGE bull moose was chewing on the scraggly willow that hangs over the woodpile just outside our dining room window. Since then, every squirrel, chickadee, and grosbeak that drops by, stops first at the 'wildlife' tree to scan, then funnels into the feeders or the garden. Today it was the Stellar Jays demanding a peanut. The jays in Valdez would eat from our hand, but these jays-of-the-hood aren't as talented at training humans. Now I know that somewhere in this house is a peanut stash for just such an occasion, but it is too well hidden for me. Joey's nose is busy, and I'm not letting the jays in to find it themselves. Yes, I looked in the bird seed drawer, but that would be the logical answer, which seldom works here. I did find some stale cashews (WHO buys cashews for wild birds??), tasted a couple, spit them out, and put a few on the splitting block while I renewed the peanut hunt inside. I finally picked a handful of peanuts out of our parrot's tin and started for the door.
I stopped though, because I didn't want to interrupt what was transpiring outside. The dog had found the frisbee (of course), and was carrying it folded like a snow packed taco . He was alert, body tensed, ears as perked as a flop-eared dog can get them, watching the jay. The jay was squawking, twostepping among the cashews, tossing his mohawk like a trash talking athlete. The cat was pressed to the window, chattering at the jay. The dog dropped his ears, turned his head away for an instant, glared out of the corner of his eye, and SPRUNG! The bird let him bound a couple of times and then effortlessly fluttered the six feet to a fence post. The dog snarled his most menacing snarl and shook his frisbee violently at the bird. The cat stood on his hind legs and pawed the window. "Ol' Stellar" just sat there, watching. When the dog seemed satisfied that his threat was communicated, he pranced away, watching over his shoulder. He didn't get far when the jay popped back onto stump and cocked his head. The dog froze. He turned slowly toward his mocker, and gently set the toy down. "Uh oh", I thought. This time his ears were flat, and he was focused, inching toward the deck and the better traction it provided for his lunge. The cat had settled with his paws tucked, black-eyed and still.
My dog is not a hunting dog, and I've never seen him do it before, but he pointed! Perfectly still in the classic pose, his paw lifted and tail straight, he waited until the jay turned sideways. Then the dog shot like lightning across the deck. He was much closer this time to getting a mouthful of blue feathers, but the bird on the fence was nonplussed. This time the dog hovered over the cashews and let one short indignant snort.
He turned away, took two nonchalant steps away from the stump, then wheeled back around as the bird was floating his direction. It was like a crocodile snap of jaws. The bird had almost lighted when the dog spun, but changed direction and narrowly averted a drooly death. This time, the bird flew well up the tree branch, and was visibly ruffled.
"Thats it!!", I yelled, even though I was the only English speaker present, "Game over!" I opened the door and called the dog, thinking how badly I'd feel if the bird got chomped or, worse, the dog took a beak in the eye and I earned a big vet bill. The cat, of course, wanted a turn and tried to sneak out the door, but his dash was blocked by my boot.
I would expect, like you probably do, that that would be the end of the story; but what happened next still has me wondering at the thinking capacity of critters. That bird flew down to the window in the closed slider where the dog had just entered, just inches from the glass, looking right past the panicky helpless cat like he didn't exist. I don't know if he was watching me watching him waiting for peanuts, or he was looking for the dog who was off on a different adventure, like searching for the bottom of the food bowl. What I do know is he stayed there until the cat let out a painful yowl and I opened the door again to serve up the second hand parrot peanuts. I placed them lightly on a foot of fluffy snow on the woodpile to see how he coped. He had no problem, settling into the powder like a duck on water, floating with his entire wings and body, plucking the peanuts and stashing them around the yard until they were all gone, then sqawking off into the forest by the river. I sat listening to him in the distance, then I wrote about it, and now it's dark and I've got to rig up a light if I'm to accomplish anything at all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Different Heat

Blessed are we
that the PFD
bought a different kind of heat.
The check we'd float
To the wood stove folk
Would warm our old cold feet.

The set-up fee
We'd NOW agree
Would have been a bargain;
For the how-to note
And the "guide" they wrote
Was foreign techie jargon.

But once installed,
The clan all called.
We stood there just admiring.
'Til soon the view
Most tiresome grew,
No fuelwood for the firing.

A mission launched,
The bold and paunched,
Four trucks, one saw, and beer.
When daylight waned
No swill remained
But one green cord came here.

Now Box-mart sells
A log that smells
Of wax, and multi colored!
Offer two logs for
Five bucks to heat-starved dullards.

With winter nigh
We called the guy
On craigslist hawking wood.
No extra fee
For delivery,
And charged twice what he should.

Splitting down
To quarter rounds,
Each night my axe gets action.
We learned the art
Of the lumber cart
Our grippers strapped for traction.

The carpet's marked
With litter bark
Our walls are ashy gray.
We clean the grate
And tolerate
The noisy fan all day.

But, as we settle
Near warm metal
Comfy flicker in the glass,
We'll belabor
To our neighbors
How much we've saved on gas!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Giving

I suggested to the clerk that our gifts to extended family should be tax deductible. It's charity, after all. He almost fell off his platform. The lady behind us scowled. The lady behind HER knows me, and will let me off with a night on the couch. I'm giving myself a Christmas present; a more comfortable couch.

Why do some retailers insist upon putting their cashiers on an elevated platform? The number of clumsy falls must be worth the extra security, or the heady superior sense of worth, or the intimidation of children factor. If I were elevation challenged like a certain sister-in-law we won't discuss here because we "don't want to hurt her feelings" (like she doesn't realize she's short as a praying seven year old), I'd pay in coins and launch them onto the tall counter at the clerk. But then, the clerk we had last night would probably smile, tell her he understands, and start picking up coins. Gawd this seasons drags on.

It was a candy factory that stirred my Christmas feelings last night. The setting is festive, the smells enticing, the sample plate bountiful (at least when I got there. I caught one girl retracting toffee) , and the staff was joking around. From the kitchen: "More moose nuggets, needs crunch!" And from the candy counter: "We need help! Aisle three!" (There are no aisles.) A swarm of "help" pushed past the hollerer, and two helpers left, feigning disappointment. The shipping clerk bobbed her tinkly hat in time with the music and told me I could not ship V with the candy because "That would be illegal, and probably wrong, as well.", winkwink. Then she mumbled, "and it wouldn't be the first time." The cashout clerk was patient and friendly, (and slow), and honest enough to give the tourist restaurant across the street a less-than-glowing review. Actually, he didn't say anything, just kind of stared at the question, so that nothing NEEDED saying. If I had plans to run a business, I'd like to know this store's management model. Even in the wild tourist season, the service side of this store is courteous and genuinely friendly. On the quality side, well let me tell you... There exists a thing called a pumpkin spice truffle that I would do terrible things to get. I asked the counter girl who was responsible for my addiction, and she told me how the "back room" had circulated samples for feedback. "The white chocolate was too sweet for the filling", per the consensus. "The milk chocolate was going to sell very well. And the dark? Let's just say the entire staff was walking around with their cheeks pooched out and the sample batch didn't last the morning." I'm considering changing jobs. Perhaps I'll start a pipeline for chocolate...

Thursday, December 4, 2008

La Migra

West of Deming, immigration officer Marcus Trujillo asked an illegal for ID. "En de desert, chu don' rememver your nem! AMERICA!", was his answer. They both smirked, laughed out loud together, and touched fists. They chatted in spanish as the migrant was cuffed, processed and bussed to Juarez, where he would reschedule his trip.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Drifting Off

Falling asleep. That is what freezing to death feels like according to the experts who evidently tell the tale from the other side. I doubt it. The times I’ve been cold enough to believe I could die, the shivers turned to racking shakes. Granules form under swollen skin like finely crushed glass in a balloon. Frozen clothes resist movement. You notice the oomf you need to just scrape the snotcicles from the ruff of your parka. Your stiff Sorels hurt. The breeze hurts. Your mind hurts from knowing you created your own condition. My hands still remember, and hurt again when they get chilled. I don’t recommend it; a cold death.
But then! You fall through the door and peel all the layers into the drip pan, bare feet burning on the stone floor that always feels so cool to the first touch of morning. Stoke the fire with the dense logs, the Christmas logs you saved, the logs that will burn for nearly the full eight hours the stove salesman said it would. You fluff the old military mummy bag too close to the heat. You hurry, because you can feel it folding around you; the dead cold sleep. You choose a dog, the right dog, the dog that squints from embarrassment and gratitude at being allowed near the fire. Do not choose a person, even one who believes what they read about the correct way to nakedly warm a frigid body, because they will fidget, and squeal, and be purse-lipped offended when you find your coma. A dog is better. The dog won’t move unless the bag or the dog catches fire.
The sleep after freezing is unlike any other. There is little chance you'll put lotion on your chapped face and hands or swill a warm drink before the gravel-eyes and the aftershock shivers will overcome you. With an oversized head and a one eyed exchange of glances with the dog, you die. You don't dream, your mind can't spare the effort. You will drool on the guest pillow you slid from the couch. Passersby will pause to watch for chest movement. The weak winter sun will peek through the window and scan your prone length without registering a twitch. The sleep after freezing provides one of those rare times when mind, body, and nature combine in one of lifes' fullest possible experiences, the complete sleep. Wakefullness brings a little regret, but also a feeling of rebirth.
Like the Ghostbuster character who was forced to choose the form of his own destruction (marshmallowman), we think too much about death. But my choice is clearly not among those who think hypothermia an easy way to go. I'd rather sleep myself to death.