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On Thursday, climber and arctic veteran Lonnie Dupre left Talkeetna for his fourth attempt to be the first person to summit Denali in January. Before he left, he spoke with KTNA’s Phillip Manning.Download audio file ()
Climbing Denali is hard. Even in peak season, temperatures dip below zero, and frostbite is a real concern. In fact, this summer saw one of the lowest summit rates in decades, owing largely to weather. Not many people attempt North America’s highest peak in winter. Lonnie Dupre is one of the few who has. He is beginning his fourth attempt to summit the mountain in January. His previous attempts were all thwarted by the weather. Dupre says he’s surprised at how mild the Alaskan winter has been so far.
“I’m surprised on how little snow and how warm it’s been in Alaska, overall. That opens up a whole new bit of news, maybe, on climate change and what’s been going on with the weather these days.”
Lonnie Dupre takes climate change seriously. Many of his expeditions have been to raise awareness for the changing environment. Despite the warmer-than-normal temperatures in the lowlands of Alaska, however, Dupre says it will still be very cold on Denali, with temperatures potentially dipping to fifty-below-zero. Under those conditions, Lonnie Dupre says the body requires a lot of calories just to keep going.
“It’s like throwing a log on the fire, right? You’ve got to keep the firewood coming…”
Lonnie Dupre estimates he’ll be taking in about 4,500 calories per day to keep his internal furnace running. He says that hydration is even more important, and that he plans to drink four or five liters of melted snow-water each day.
Daylight is also a major factor affecting winter climbs. Lonnie Dupre will only have a handful of hours each day to try to make progress.
“A big challenge, aside from the cold, is you only have a limited time to travel, because it’s dark. I’m leaving at the darkest time of the year, so it only leaves you maybe five hours of useable light in mid-December.”
Crevasses present a challenge to Denali climbers regardless of the season. Without team members, Lonnie Dupre will be on his own should he find himself in an area where crevasses have opened.
“A preventative measure to not drop into one of those bad-boys is to take a big, long pair of skis, and I’m taking…about a thirteen foot long spruce pole with me.”
Like much of his gear, Lonnie’s eight-foot long skis are custom. In fact, he made them himself. This year, he is also bringing along a tent, sleeping bag, and down suit that
should help him stay warm. Overall, Dupre feels good about this year’s attempt.
“You always get those butterflies in your stomach right before you go, but I’m excited to get moving. I’m feeling really good about this year; I’ve trained hard. I’ve got all the equipment I could have wished for for this trip.”
As with his previous attempts, Lonnie Dupre’s primary goal is to get back safely, though reaching the summit of Denali would be a definite plus.]]>
Below are all of the songs performed by each grade:
Pre-Kindergarten:Download audio file ()
Kintergarten:Download audio file ()
First Grade:Download audio file ()
Second Grade:Download audio file ()
Third and Fourth Grade:Download audio file ()
Fifth and Sixth Grade:Download audio file ()
All Grades:Download audio file ()
Everyone knows that eating is essential to living. Beyond what the human body needs to stay alive, however, nutrients and energy from food have an impact on how well our brains and bodies function. This can be especially true for children, who expend a lot of energy in the process of growing. Lisa Shelby, Principal of Talkeetna Elementary, says that students who have had enough to eat simply do better.
“We feel pretty lucky that kids are well fed, which means that…their brains are ready to learn. Their blood sugar isn’t low. It helps [them] stay awake–gives them that energy to keep moving and keep learning.”
For some families, paying for school meals can be a struggle. The regular price for an elementary school student who eats both breakfast and lunch at school comes out to $4.55. While that may not seem like all that much, it adds up over the course of 180 school days, and that’s just for one child. There is help for lower-income families in the form of free and reduced price lunches. That helps to ensure that all students get the food they need in order to learn and grow. Principal Shelby says that just under half of Talkeetna Elementary’s students are on either free or reduced-price lunches. That assistance isn’t available during times like the two-week winter break, however. LuAnn Tysdale heads up the Upper Valley’s “Filling the Gap” program. She says the time off from school can pose a financial burden in areas like Talkeetna and Trapper Creek.
“We’re kind of a summer-winter economy, here, and a lot of families are very marginal. They live on the edge, so that time that their children are home from school can really make a difference on the familes’ food budget.”
To ease that burden on some families, Filling the Gap is collecting food and monetary donations. LuAnne Tysdale says volunteers will then make boxes for families with school-age children who need help making up for school meals during the holidays.
“On the 19th, we get together at Montana Creek Baptist Church, and we pack the boxes full of the foods. And then, on the 20th, we distribute them at Montana Creek Baptist Church. We choose that day because the food bank also does their blessing on that day…We kind of try to coordinate so [families] make one trip.”
The free and reduced-price school meal program requires an application and proof of income. LuAnn Tysdale says Filling the Gap takes a very simple approach to who gets boxes.
“There is no paperwork, here. There are no income restrictions, here. If you have a child who needs food, we will give it to you.”
Filling the Gap has grown over the last four years, and LuAnn Tysdale says she expects as many as forty-five boxes could be needed, and that there are always a couple of extras set aside just in case. She says Filling the Gap is entirely locally supported, and relies on the local community to keep it going.
“It’s a community effort. It doesn’t get state funding, federal funding, doesn’t go after grants. This is a community project, and our community is more than able to take care of the people in our community.”
Filling the Gap has donation boxes at numerous locations, including Cubby’s, Nagley’s, and Talkeetna Elementary School. There is also an account set up with Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union for those wishing to donate money. If the program gets enough support, LuAnn Tysdale says she would like to also provide food for children during the Spring Break holiday next year.]]>
One item that is no longer in the proposal is the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. Governor Parnell’s budget originally called for $20 million to continue studies related to the proposed dam on the Susitna River. The Knik Arm Bridge is also missing from Monday’s budget. The previous version did not include any state funding, but did include $42.5 million in federal funds.
A statement released alongside the proposal says that Governor Walker has not yet endorsed a budget, and that items could be added back in after scrutiny by the administration. The Walker administration says a final budget proposal will be submitted by February 18th. After that, it goes through the legislature before returning to Governor Walker for signature.]]>
Su Valley also has two wrestlers competing in the state tournament today. In the 126 pound division, Sophomore Brandon Young lost his first match on Friday morning. In the 285 pound class, Sophomore Marshall Pinard has yet to compete in his first match. Pinard is seeded third in the state tournament in his weight class.
More results will be posted as they become available.]]>
Each year, the Alaska Division of Economic Development commissions a report that looks at the previous summer’s tourism numbers. The numbers for 2014 are not far off, and KTNA’s Phillip Manning took a look at some trends that could affect the Upper Valley:Download audio file ()
In the middle of December, tourism is far from the minds of many. Still, tourism numbers are very important to communities like Talkeetna. For the period of October 2012 to September 2013, a record 1.96 million visitors traveled to Alaska, most of them for summer vacations. Statewide, they spent $1.3 billion, not including the cost of travel to get here.
How much of that money comes to this area? Casey Ressler of the Mat-Su Convention and Visitors Bureau says that drilling down numbers specific to the borough and the Upper Valley can be tricky.
“That’s the challenge for us, because we don’t have a cruise port or an airport where we can count the folks who come in. So, we use the bed tax as kind of a measuring stick.”
The borough’s income from bed tax has not grown at the same rate as in other areas, but neither has it fallen. Casey Ressler explains why that is.
“It’s been steady. It hasn’t seen a lot of growth, and one of the reasons we haven’t seen a lot of growth in that is that we’re almost at capacity.”
Ressler says there simply aren’t enough rooms in the Mat-Su, and especially the Upper Valley, to accommodate many additional visitors. While that’s good news for the owners of those lodgings, it does put a cap on future growth. Casey Ressler says that may change in the future.
“Looking way forward, one of things we’re excited about is the South Denali Visitor center, because we think it will spur on some of that infrastructure development, and bring some more beds on line…”
Casey Ressler does not believe that expansion near the South Denali Visitor Center will hurt the rest of the Upper Valley. He says the idea is to provide a “Denali experience” to those who do not want to go all the way to Denali National Park.
The numbers that the Mat-Su CVB is using come from the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program. This year’s numbers have not been completed, but past reports reveal potentially valuable trend information. For example, just over half of Upper Valley tourism comes from the cruise industry. Cruise travel in Alaska was down 3% last year, but is projected to increase next year, which could trickle down to the Talkeetna area.
The numbers from the 2014 season are expected to be published by Christmas.]]>
Listen in for one last day of the auction for a chance to bid on items from Talkeetna Gifts and Collectables, Ultimate Sewing, Kaladi Brothers and Denali Zipline Tours.
Denali Nordic Ski Club, Talkeetna Roadhouse,
Mooses Tooth/ Bear Tooth, K2 Aviation,
Birch Creek Ranch, Denali Arts Council, Great Harvest Bread Company, Denali Arts Council
KTNA extends a big THANK YOU to all of the business that have supported this fund raising effort.]]>
On Monday, economist Gregg Erickson released his analysis of the financial picture of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. The report was commissioned by Trout Unlimited, a conservation group that opposes the project. Erickson has worked for the University of Alaska Anchorage, a Washington D.C. think-tank, and in multiple roles for the State of Alaska. He says that, from his perspective, Susitna-Watana doesn’t pencil out.
“There is no market test that this proposed project meets. There’s every evidence that they’ve underestimated the cost and overestimated the demand. It doesn’t seem at all likely that the project could be built without very, very large amounts of state subsidy.”
Gregg Erickson says that the Alaska Energy Authority and it’s predecessor, the Alaska Power Authority, have a history of projects going over budget, including Bradley Lake and the Healy Clean Coal Plant.
Wayne Dyok, Project Manager for Susitna-Watana, maintains that AEA’s $5.2 billion dollar estimate is reasonable for construction of the proposed dam. He says that claim is backed up by a third-party review.
“We want to make sure that our cost estimates are right on the money, and that’s why we requested an independent cost estimate. They came in around ten percent of one another.”
One of the issues cited in Erickson’s report is the fact that that independent analysis has not been made public. Wayne Dyok says that AEA plans to release a feasibility report next month that will include the methodology for estimating the cost of Susitna-Watana as well as information regarding the third-party analysis.
Beyond cost estimates, Gregg Erickson’s report calls AEA’s expectation that it will be able to borrow money at an interest rate of five percent “exceedingly optimistic.”
“There’s so much risk involved in this project that, unless the state wants to backstop this project…there’s no way you could borrow at five percent right now or in the foreseeable future.”
Wayne Dyok says that the five percent figure factors in money from the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service program, which could pay for up to half of the Susitna-Watana project.
“Right now, the Rural Utilities Services funding is less than four percent, so when you blend that with other funding you end up with five percent financing.”
According to Gregg Erickson, the federal money also comes with the condition that the state not only provide a backstop against cost overrun, but also guarantee that the project is finished once it begins.
Like Trout Unlimited, who commissioned the highly-critical report by Erickson, the Talkeetna-based Susitna River Coalition is opposed to the building of Susitna-Watana. Mike Wood is the Coalition’s president. He was handing out copies of the report at Mat-Su legislative offices on Monday afternoon. Wood says Erickson’s analysis gives strength to opposition arguments based not just on conservation, but also on cost.
“What it really comes down to is economics. All along, that should have been the first question…the state was asking itself. What is this going to cost? It never should have gotten to the environmental part.”
Beyond Gregg Erickson’s report, another potential concern for AEA is state funding to continue studies for Susitna-Watana. In the last five years, the state has spent over $190 million on the project. According to AEA, about $90 million more is still needed to complete federally required field studies in the area. Last year, the project received $20 million. The proposed budget left by Governor Parnell for the next fiscal year also contained just $20 million for Susitna-Watana. If that number doesn’t go up significantly, it could mean additional delays for the project. Wayne Dyok says AEA plans to work with Governor Walker and legislators to keep Susitna moving forward.
“…Our goal is to work with the [Walker] administration, and ultimately the legislature, to come up with the right number for the coming year.”
During his campaign, Governor Walker made it clear that he intends to take a close look at the state budget, and that some projects may end up on the cutting room floor. Whether Susitna-Watana is one of those remains to be seen. Walker has expressed support for hydro projects, and told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in August that he would support Susitna-Watana if it meant stabilizing energy costs in the Interior.
In the meantime, the Alaska Energy Authority is considering long-term financial options. Wayne Dyok says the AEA board of directors will meet later this month to discuss the fiscal outlook.]]>
Denali Arts Council, Denali Brewing Company, Ciri,
Cubby’s Market Place,
Mountain High Pizza Pie
Denali Dry Goods, Studio Z Yoga, Talkeetna Historical Society and the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra.
KTNA extends a big THANK YOU to all of the business that have supported this fund raising effort.
AEA’s estimate of the cost of Susitna-Watana is around $5.2 billion. Erickson says that the plan to pay for the megaproject would end up being much higher than AEA estimates. He says the five percent interest rate being used in official projections is “unrealistically low.” Erickson claims that the hydro project only pays for itself under a narrow set of assumptions.
Susitna-Watana Project Manager Wayne Dyok disputes many of Erickson’s findings. Dyok says that other large hydro projects have come in at budget and many received financing at less than five percent interest. AEA plans to release additional feasibility information in January, including a third-party financial analysis that Dyok says falls within ten percent of AEA’s estimates. Dyok maintains that the economics of the megaproject are viable.]]>
The bracket for this year’s 2A volleyball tournament means that there could be a rematch of last year’s championship game between Su Valley and Unalaska for the state title.]]>
Denali Brewing Company, Talkeetna Roadhouse,
Talkeetna Air Taxi,Studio Z, Cubby’s,
The Alaska Railroad and Princess Cruises.
Tune in between 1pm and 3pm and again at 8pm for your chance to bid.
KTNA extends a big THANK YOU to all of the business that have supported this fund raising effort.]]>
One of the things the Iditarod is known for is its challenging terrain. Some stretches of the trail are more treacherous than others. This March, one of the worst sections of the Iditarod Trail was between Rohn and Farewell Lakes. Lev Schvartz of Willow is one of several mushers who scratched in that section. He describes trail conditions this past March:
“There’s no snow. The buffalo tunnels were just super rough, stumps sticking out all sorts of places. It was like being a pinball in a pinball machine.”
Lev Schvartz was not injured, but his sled was wrecked to the point that a new one had to be brought to him. Multiple mushers were not as lucky, with some suffering broken bones and other significant injuries. Aaron Burmeister was one of those. The drag on his sled hit an obstacle. His foot came off the runner onto the ground, causing a significant fall.
“I had fallen back into the cooler in the seat behind me, and I came to about thirty seconds later going down the trail…Of course, I tried to stand up and I couldn’t…”
Burmeister later discovered that he had torn all of the major ligaments in his right knee. He managed to finish the Iditarod, but says the pain was excruciating.
This October, Iditarod staff, volunteers, and equipment operators from Cruz Construction set out to improve that section of the trail. Aaron Burmeister is also on the board of directors for the Iditarod Trail Committee. He says a fire in the area in recent years contributed significantly to making the area even more treacherous than it already was.
“We’ve known for a long time, for the last couple of years since that fire, that that trail was going to consistently erode, and, if it was going to continue to be used in the future, something would have to be done.”
With the help of heavy equipment and three weeks of labor, Race Marhsall Mark Nordman says the ride out of Rohn should be less dangerous this year.
“It’s up to fifteen feet wide in places. There’s places that are narrower in places, but definitely a six, seven foot path all the way through. It’s really improved.”
Nordman says working on the trail is a never-ending process. He says it’s important to realize, though, that it’s not as if trail work makes the race easy.
“I’m sure, when we all get to Nome, we’ll see somewhere else where we could improve the trail, but we still–You’re never going to lose that feel of, ‘Oh, it’s easy this year because they did this.'”
Word of the trail improvements has made its way though the mushing community. Returning rookie Lev Schvartz is encouraged by the trail work.
“I think if the trail is what the pictures show it to be, fifteen feet wide and flat, I can’t help but think it’s an improvement.”
Talkeetna musher Jerry Sousa did not race in the 2014 Iditarod, but was injured in the same stretch out of Rohn in 2007. He is returning in 2015, and says he believes the improvements were a good decision.
“Anything to improve that section of trail is beneficial for mushers. It’s a dog sled race. It’s not whatever you want to call it when you get all mangled up trying to get through there.”
Despite his injuries, Aaron Burmeister plans to race in 2015 as well. He gives a great deal of credit to the crews who spent three weeks improving the trail.
“Iditarod really stepped up this year. [It] was able to raise the money, get volunteers, and put a crew together to not just go out there and do a little work, but to…be able to repair that trail. They’ve done a phenomenal job, and I’m very excited about it.”
The Iditarod starts in just over three months. Officials and mushers are all hoping that the smoother ride out of Rohn means a safer race for everyone.]]>
Last week, six-time Iditarod musher Karin Hendrickson suffered injuries that will prevent her from participating in the 2015 Iditarod. Hendrickson is on the road to recovery, and it was announced Wednesday that, while she will miss the race, her dogs will not. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:Download audio file ()
Last week, Karin Hendrickson was injured in an accident that epitomizes being in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was on a training run with her dog team and a four-wheeler to the side of the Parks Highway when a vehicle lost control on the icy road and struck her. Hendrickson suffered three broken vertebrae and an injury to her leg. She counts herself lucky, given the circumstances.
“It’s pretty incredible, because people don’t usually get hit by cars and walk away from it. I didn’t walk away, but I’m doing really well.”
Karin Hendrickson is beginning inpatient therapy, which will be followed by more physical therapy after she is released. She says that her injuries will prevent her from continuing to train for the 2015 Iditarod.
“I just have to be really careful and not do anything jarring or jumping around, which means no dogs for quite a good, long while.”
Like many mushers, Karin Hendrickson is as concerned, if not more so, for her team than herself in some regards. She did not like the idea of her dogs missing this year’s race .
“I thought about these dogs. What they love to do is run. What they love to do is go out, race, and experience new things. They really do love it, and I just felt horrible to have them spend an entire year where they weren’t going to be able to do those things.
That’s where Bryan Bearss comes in. He is a friend of Hendrickson’s and a veteran of the 2006 Iditarod. Karin Hendrickson says that he is good with dog teams, and is a good choice to get on the runners behind her dogs.
“Having Bryan come on board and take them down the trail is–I think it’s great for everybody…except me. I get left out.”
Bryan Bearss agreed, and now has the task of readying himself and the team for the race in March.
“I’m compacting twelve months of planning, preparation, and fundraising into a three-month period.”
Bearss says he has been training for a canoe marathon, so has been keeping himself in good physical shape. For the planning and training side, he says he will rely on the work that Karin Hendrickson has already done.
“It’s just going to be a little sit-down with Karin and look at the schedule she’s set up for her dogs. It’s her race. I’m just going to be the jockey.”
After the planning will come the actual runs with the dogs. Since Bryan Bearss’ has a full-time job during the week, his ability to run the dogs is limited to weekends.
“Every Friday night, after I finish work in the Anchorage School District, I’m going to be hopping in the car with my two dogs, driving up to Talkeetna, and putting in some long runs Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, then racing back to Anchorage so I’m ready for work on Monday.”
One other impact of Karin Hendrickson’s injury is that she will miss work in the coming weeks, and owning a sled dog kennel is expensive. She says the community response has been substantial, especially over social media.
“I made a little comment on Facebook to say, ‘Don’t send me flowers. Send me dog food.’ There’s been an account set up at Underdog Feeds. It’s hard for me to keep track of things from a hospital bed, but it seems like there’s plenty of money for dog food for a month or two.”
Multiple other fundraisers are underway as well. Karin Hendrickson says she hasn’t been able to keep up with them all, but that most are being organized or advertised on Facebook as well.
While she won’t be able to compete in the 2015 Iditarod, Karin Hendrickson says she doesn’t think her mushing days are over.
“I’ve got a lot of healing to do, but I think I’ll be back next year.”]]>
Tune in Monday through Thursday from 1pm to 3pm and 8pm to 9pm for the opportunity to bid on one of many items.
Many businesses have contributed wonderful gifts and services for KTNA to Auction
We would like to thank
Great Harvest Bread Company
Mountain High Pizza Pie
Talkeetna Air Taxi
Bear Tooth/ Mooses Tooth
Anchorage Symphony Orchestra
Birch Creek Ranch
Norther Susitna Institute
Denali Brewing Company
Talkeetna Historical Society
Denali Arts Council
Denali Zipline Tours
Denali Nordic Ski Club
At Monday night’s meeting of the Talkeetna Community Council, the most discussed topic was the outline of a plan to incorporate recycling with refuse transfer stations in the Mat-Su Borough. Butch Shapiro is the borough’s solid waste manager. He started Monday’s presentation by explaining how landfills are divided into units called ‘cells:’
“A landfill cell is like a big swimming pool. You have to build this structure to put this stuff in because you don’t want this stuff leaking out into the water system, and those things are expensive.”
The expense comes from measures that are required to prevent toxins from leaking out of the trash and into soil and groundwater. Those cells eventually fill up. Butch Shapiro says that each one is estimated to last for 5-7 years. After that, a new cell is needed. Shapiro says that adds up quickly.
“The last one we built was about $4,350,000. That’s just to open a cell…We have about another $4 million to close a cell to EPA standards.”
Those costs, along with the fact that none of the borough’s transfer stations break even on expenses, has left the borough’s waste management system more than $4 million in the red. So, how does recycling help? Items that are recycled never make it to the landfill cells, meaning new ones are needed less frequently.
The plan is for the borough to donate old trash containers, which would need to be refurbished. Shapiro says that means effort from the community.
“The other piece to that is: how are we going to find the money to refurbish these containers? Because I don’t have the money to do that, I’m just giving you the container.”
Butch Shapiro estimates it will cost between $7,000 and $10,000 to refurbish a container, and that at least one community has successfully applied for a grant from the Rasmusen Foundation to cover the expense.
Once a container is ready, the community decides which three types of recyclables to take. If and when the program becomes active, the borough would handle all transportation of the recyclables. Users of the transfer station would not be charged for the recyclables they bring.
Butch Shapiro acknowledges that this program would be a small step. Some community members present at Monday’s meeting took to the idea quickly. Trisha Costello says that the community has been asking for a recycling program for more than five years.
“We already wanted this, and we already supported it. I would like to say right now, if there’s going to be a first transfer site to receive these containers, then I want Talkeetna to be it.”
Others offered suggestions and ideas. Roger Robinson described how recycling works on the Big Island of Hawaii.
“You just put all the recycling into one–you don’t try to sort it out, because it’s too much. And, they hire people…to do the sorting. So, everything that gets hauled to different places gets sorted individually…It does keep some people employed. They have a huge amount of recycling taking place.”
The nuts and bolts of how the program would work are still a long way off. The Talkeetna Community Council board of directors voted to form a committee to look into implementing the plan. Vice-chair Mary Farina says that Talkeetna residents are who are interested in being on the committee can contact the Council at TCCSecretary [at] yahoo [dot] com.]]>
On Monday morning, the National Weather Service issued a freezing rain advisory for the Matanuska Valley, Anchorage, and parts of the Kenai Peninsula. The Susitna Valley is not currently forecast to receive freezing rain. The National Weather Service says the icy precipitation will likely give way to snow by the afternoon, but those driving south from the Susitna Valley could encounter icy roads.]]>
On Thursday,Troopers responded just before 4:00 am to a report of a vehicle that had struck a power pole. The accident was near the crossing of the railroad tracks and the Talkeetna Spur Road. Troopers say that 20 year old Jacob Nordman collided with the pole, and was driving while impaired. Troopers also say that Nordman has an active warrant in Wisconsin for violating probation on charges of burglary, damage to property, and theft. Nordman was arrested and held without bail.
Later that morning, the Matanuska Electric Association reported on its Facebook page that a line crew was en route. Power was restored by late morning, but had to be taken down again in the early afternoon in order to replace the damaged power pole. For most people Downtown, the lights were back on in plenty of time for Thanksgiving dinner.
Troopers also reported two accidents near Cantwell last week, including one fatality on Wednesday. Early Sunday morning, a Willow woman lost control of her vehicle near mile 83.5 of the Parks Highway and was injured. Icy conditions were cited in all of the accidents.]]>
A very unusual way to catch your Thanksgiving dinner.
Download audio file ()
(For audio, please click on player below!)
For me Thanksgiving is about celebrating the foods gathered, hunted, and picked from the wild or the garden. My favorite Thanksgivings are the ones with as many foods as possible having been harvested by me or friends. When I was growing up most of our Thanksgiving food came from the grocery store. Food was just food for me in those days. Thanksgiving was a celebration of eating.
Now age has tempered my appetite, and the joy is in being together with others and celebrating the wonderful animals, plants, and berries that come from this land. These foods are rich in flavor, the colors dazzle a dull November day, and behind much of this harvested food is often a story that you just don’t get from grocery store food. This is one of mine from a couple of years ago.
September 1st, 2012. Lower Yukon River.
It was a day I just couldn’t ignore. I rolled out of bed at 5:12 for my sonar shift and continued to work until noon, fishing and mending net. My aching back and shoulders and weary body which already felt that way before I got up said, boy, it sure would be nice to crawl back into bed and relax until my evening test fish shift. But it was flat calm; the normally thick grey featureless sky had broken up into big poofs of white cumulus clouds on the bluest of blue. The sun, peering through those clouds, energized me. Seeing a rare day like that I had to heed the call. Kayaking conditions don’t get anymore perfect. Plus, it was Sept. 1, the opening day of duck and goose season. I had my stamps and I had a shotgun to borrow. I’d been seeing and hearing huge flocks of ducks and geese for a couple of weeks. I was uncertain I could get close enough in a kayak to shoot one but, heck, it was worth a try and bird, or no, it was still great paddling conditions. Ryan was happy to give me a ride and drop me off somewhere upriver so I wouldn’t have to paddle upstream. Now there was a spring in my step and I bounded up to my tent, grabbing everything I’d need and loading the shotgun, not wanting to waste another minute of the beautiful day.
I loaded my kayak in the skiff. Everyone else was caught up in the excitement of the moment. Gabe, Sam, and Abe came along for the 15 minute drive. Ryan dropped me off at the entrance of a slough I had schemed might be a good one: narrow and too shallow for boats other than kayaks. It cuts off a big bend in the Yukon known as Dogtooth Bend. Everyone left me on a sandbar and wished me luck.
I started paddling down; it was quite shallow even for a kayak with lots of sandbars exposed. After 3 minutes of paddling I saw about 20 geese standing on shore on the left, then a similar number on the right. I wondered how I would get close enough when they were in the wide open and I was in the wide open and geese are notorious for being extremely wary and I wasn’t even attempting to be stealthy. I tried to see how close I could quietly paddle up to them. As to be expected, not close enough. I set my paddle down and grabbed my gun anyway but the group on the left flew off well out of shotgun range. Half of the group on the right did the same but the other half, made the mistake of following the group on my left which meant they crossed within range of my gun.
Without even thinking about it I raised my gun and shot. BANG! A goose dropped out of the sky not far in front of me. Trembling, I set the gun down between my wobbly legs. If I had been standing I would’ve had to sit. My ears were ringing but I didn’t even notice the recoil. I picked up the limp goose from the water, took a deep breath, closed my eyes, threw my head back, exhaled slowly, and said, Thank you. I was awestruck that I had already successfully accomplished what I set out to do. When Sam asked, I said I’d be happy to just get one. So now I had that one. Another might be nice but I didn’t have to worry about failure. I just added two firsts to my lifetime accomplishments. First goose and first time shooting something from a kayak. Adrenalin was surging, my heart was racing. I thought, Wow, how worth it, to feel so truly alive at this moment.
I continued down the slough a little ways but it turned out to be too shallow and actually blocked off. I got out and walked for a little ways looking for geese. Looking back the way I had come a black bear was just emerging from the poplar forest, the blackest of black. He swam across the slough and disappeared in the willows. It was the first bear I had seen in this area.
No geese. I walked back to my kayak and paddled back to the Yukon. I would have to paddle Dogtooth Bend to get back to camp. The slough would’ve been much shorter with greater likelihood of getting another goose, but I wasn’t concerned about the birds because I was happy to just get one. I was concerned about whether I could paddle fast enough to get back to camp by my evening test fish shift. I was missing half a paddle on the left because Ryan broke it recently when he got out of the kayak and used it to support himself. It had already been cracked years ago when I used it as a shovel to dig clams in a very hard substrate down in Kodiak so I wasn’t really mad at Ryan for finishing the act. But right now I sure wished the paddle wasn’t broken. I started taking deep long strokes to build up some speed then shorter steadier strokes to maintain that speed. I could not have asked for a better day for paddling down the Yukon. Sometimes, when it’s windy it’s harder going down the river than it is up, but this day was not like that. The one and only mountain seen in this area, Mt. Marshall, by it’s name sake village to the east, was a blue apparition poking just above the yellowing trees. It slowly moved counterclockwise around me as I paddled and paddled and paddled around the bend. I paddled on adrenalin. I was amazed at what a body can do when it’s jolted into feeling truly alive. Aches and pains disappear, your body pulls through for you.
I approached various gaggles along the way and they all flew off before shotgun range. It seemed to be innate in them. I just enjoyed being around all these birds. The high pitched squeaky honks of the greater white fronteds and the deeper honk of the Canadas. What a pleasure to be here near the Yukon Delta with its vast stretches of wild land full of wild life. And how could such a big silty river in a relatively flat landscape be so beautiful? It just is. Silty or not, it reflects the intricacies of the sky; that’s what makes it beautiful.
I was starting to feel a bit disgruntled at the endlessness of this vast sandbar, although the sand bar did have interests of its own, like various shaped pieces of driftwood that added character to its immensity. Suddenly, though, I caught sight of a moving interest. There was one lonely goose in the middle of the sandbar. Running. And he was running toward me!
What were the odds, one running goose on this vast sandbar moving toward me on this very long river?
I nosed into the beach and hopped out with my gun. The goose tried to fly off but couldn’t; he had a broken wing. Not wanting to waste a shell or shatter the peace on a goose that couldn’t fly I decided I would run it down. The goose veered off from his course toward me and beelined it for the river. I dashed back and jumped into my kayak. I was on a literal wild goose chase. Once again the adrenalin surged through me, I had become a predator, such a rare thing in these modern days. Even as a hunter you don’t quite feel like a predator. I paddled hard after that goose. He with the broken wing, me with the broken paddle. Catching up to him was the easy part. Paddling up along side, not too hard. But then, being the prey that he was and doom being imminent, he had to pull a trick from under his wing. He suddenly dove under just as I was about to grab him. He stayed submerged long enough to pop back up behind my boat. I had to turn my not very maneuverable 17 foot kayak back around with a broken paddle and line up to repeat the whole performance: catch up to the goose, paddle along side, attempt to grab, he ducks. This went on for maybe 10 minutes. Then I tried just herding him along. He was intent on getting back to the beach, perhaps thinking he’d stand a better chance at outrunning me. I thought this could be a possibility so I was reluctant to let him get to the beach. Finally I reasoned I would stand a chance at the boundary, where the water would be too shallow for him to duck but would be too deep for him to run. So this is what I did: I herded him gently toward the beach. When I decided it was the proper depth I quickly paddled up alongside. He didn’t duck. He knew it was over. He accepted his fate as a prey foiled by his predator.
Catching a game animal by human power alone. This was another first that made me feel even more truly alive. I paddled full speed back to camp and made it just in time for test fish. I felt more buoyant than I had when I got up in the morning, having lived my day to the fullest.
3 months later I roasted these 2 geese and served them to friends for a simple Thanksgiving meal, surrounded by fresh potatoes, peas, carrots, and herbs out of the garden, and lingonberries from the woods. Another day, another time of year and the geese who offered their lives made me feel alive once again.
Maureen Chambrone, “Wild Goose Chase”]]>
Attached is the entire interview with Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Vern Halter. Topics included borough priorities, recent and upcoming ordinances, and state funding priorities. The next live Su-Valley Voice will be on December 10th at 10:00 am with Sue Deyoe of the Talkeetna Historical Society.]]>