Saturday, October 07, 2006
This is my first week with my new studded tires. I don't know how I got this far in life without studded tires, but Fairbanksians assure me that I can't live without them here. Though I have to wonder about those people driving 20 year old Novas or little Caprices...I mean, surely those aren't just their summer cars? Maybe they take the bus in winter. Or get by somehow, as many people seem to do here.
The aurora have been amazing this fall. Bob and watched them tear through the sky a few nights ago. Strong green waves flowing quickly across the black sky. I don't have a camera that can capture them, and Bob didn't have his with him...so we were stuck just watching the light, awestruck.
I didn't envision my visit to NYC would be spent locked in a small room on the roof of a highrise, soldering 120 thermistors onto telephone wires, but such is the adventurous life of science.
I did manage to see many friends and then head to Boston to give a couple more talks. The weather was pleasantly warm and it was great to see my brother and his wife in Boston.
The weather was a delightful change from the snow we'd had at Toolik the week before. My favorite thing we did was go for a couple of rambles across the countryside. Walking through fields and past churches and vast estates. And when got tired, we just stopped for tea, of course!
Friday, August 18, 2006
A couple of days ago, we drove up to Prudhoe Bay to get a tour of the oilfields and swim in the
Next came my pal Jeff from Lamont. He flew into
Next came Mom. We had lots of fun. Bob, Mom, and I headed down to
I’ve finally ended a long run at
Friday, June 16, 2006
The trip up was pretty cool. I took a van driven by a friend of mine, Alice, who has driven the haul road between Fairbanks and Prudhoe for 11 years. She knows every trucker and every tree on that road. We'd be driving in the middle of nowhere and she'd pull out the CB radio to check to see if Jack or Jerry was home. We stopped in Coldfoot to drop off some folks at the airfield. They were going to be flown into someplace for a week of hiking. Man, some people just can't get far enough away from themselves. Sheesh. This is already 6-hours north of Fairbanks. The coolest thing in Coldfoot was that a couple of kids had a lemonade stand on the airfield. How cute is that?
The Arctic cotton was in full force, since most of the snow is gone. Beautiful! Toolik Field Station was home base, a strange M*A*S*H unit for scientists. I tagged along with Jim, Amy, Breton, and Jorges while they sampled the Sag in five places. Jorges was from Peru, Jim and Amy were working in Texas and Breton was from Hawaii.
We ran into this goofy butterfly guy who was camped out at the river, about 60 miles from Prudhoe Bay. Said he was from Salt Lake City, but he'd been at that campsite for weeks looking for caterpillers. When he found them, he put little tents around them and waited for them to turn into butterfies. The day we were there was the day the first one hatched. This made me miss Matilda who likes to chase butterflies.
Toolik is mostly a biological research station, and the summer interns had just arrived. Including a goofy guy named Eugene who was a computing science bigwig who happened to enjoy lying on his stomach weeding mosses. Go figure.
There was still ice on the lake when I got there and a few days later it was almost gone. The loons are the most famous bird on this little lake, but there were also swans swimming in the open water. Very peaceful.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
That evening we returned to Quartz Creek, packed up more met station instruments and tools, tossed the camp canoe on our truck and drove to the Kougarok landing. Here we canoed and then hiked to several more met stations, gauged the river, and installed some rods to track this season’s thermokarst erosion on a stream called Niagra. It was another late night.
The next morning we went ahead with the helicopter flight to fix the Kigluaiks radio repeater and the
We did see a bear and her three cubs from the helo. They were playing in one of the mining ditches and just looked like teddies from the air. Back at base camp the National Park Service had flown in two tiny Super Cubs for a week of bear surveys. Two NPS rangers were waiting for the planes to come in when we arrived one evening. They were a couple of goofballs: a giddy middle-aged white stoner who was probably from
I could go on for pages describing the rest of the trip, but I have to pack for the next one on the North Slope of Alaska. Suffice it to say that Bob and I celebrated back in town with some Japanese pizza and I flew back to
I should also mention that
Next we make our way up the mining road to a base camp called Quartz Creek. This is a small, unheated building next to a bush air strip and a couple of comex/semi-trailers/containers (these seem to be called something different in every part of the world). We unload our gear and supplies into the building. We pull the 4-wheeler out of the container and fill it with fuel. The engine won’t turn over, so we jump it with another battery we have.
Bob shows me how the controls work and sends me out on the air strip to learn how to drive it and charge up the battery. Meanwhile he packs for our trip out to a couple more met stations. Driving the ATV is a lot more fun than I expected. I “tear it” down the gravel runway for a while, then head back to where Bob is waiting. We bungee a Rubbermaid lid to the cargo rack where is says “No passengers” and strap our equipment and bear spray on the front. I hop on the cargo rack and Bob says, “Hold on!”
The road goes another mile or so past this camp, but we turn off earlier onto the tussock tundra. The first few hundred meters are muddy as hell and we get the 4-wheeler stuck a couple of times. Then the mud subsides to tussock that burned recently leaving isolated 10 inch tall mounds of grass separated by little moats of marshy tundra. Each wheel on the ATV must climb each of these little grass islands between squishing through the tiny moats. It’s slow going with the ATV lurching back and forth, occasionally threatening to flip over.
After 20 minutes of this from the vantage point of the cargo rack, I’m fairly sure my spine has dislocated, so I jump off and walk in the direction Bob says the met station should be. Hiking through the burned tussocks is nearly as bad; the mounds are not sturdy enough to support my weight, so my ankle just rolls off of them. The mini-moats between them seem better, but they are too narrow, so my boots get caught and I stumble every few feet. Despite the challenge of the tussocks, crossing 3 foot snow drifts, and wading through willow swamps, Bob only beats me to the station by a few minutes. He downloads the data while I attach a radiometer and we are both dive-bombed by the enormous early season mosquitos.
For the second station I decide the cargo rack on the ATV is the better option and suggest to Bob that NSF acquisition a monster truck for this job. Or a trail pony. I find the most comfortable position I can and concentrate on looking for bears as we negotiate a 2 mile trek, tussock by tussock. The second station we arrive at has been mauled by a bear. The precipitation gauge has been crushed, as if the bear sat on it. The animal then crawled up the tower, took a bite out of the windmill-shaped anemometer and bent over the temperature/humidity gauge. Finally to add insult to injury, the bear crapped all over the station. Sheesh.
We re-assembled and McGuyvered the instruments as best we could. By the time we headed back to our camp, everything was back to working except the half-eaten anemometer and we’d installed a radiometer. It felt great to get out of the cold, make dinner, and crawl into bed. By this time it was 1 am. One problem with Arctic fieldwork in the summer is that you are never constrained by the sun, only your own energy.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I am accompanying one of the UAF hydrology technicians into the field here to service about six meteorological stations, install the instruments which they only use in summer, and repair any damage done by bears or harsh weather. My companion here, Bob, is my age, with a mechanical engineering degree from UAF and a life of experience living and working all over
The first day in the area we checked into the local hotel, rented a truck, picked up the cargo we’d shipped ahead, stopped by our storage unit for more parts, bought gas and did our grocery shopping. Then we headed out to the
Driving back into town we passed a dozen or so kennels of sled dogs.
I have fond memories of
Three years ago, I'd piled into a beer-stocked van with my friends from the USCG Healy and driven out in search of the local
Despite this failure, we'd spotted some musk oxen up on a hillside and ventured up to see them. My friend Chris is a wildlife photographer. He set up his tripod on the ridge and waited an hour to get all the shots he wanted. Though it was only early October, it was far below zero with the wind blowing and light patches of snow everywhere. Few of us had brought our heavy-weight sea gear and only our drunkenness kept us huddled behind a rock staring down these squat, wooly, paleolithic survivors.
Later, we found a warmer valley with a lake connected to the
This trip to
Within my first few weeks here in AK, I've jumped on a couple opportunities to do fieldwork with some folks who have a lot of experience working out here. Much of the work out in Alaska's bush requires helicopters or small planes because there are few roads. So, one of the first things I was asked to do was to take a small aircraft safety class over at the Fairbanks office of the Bureau of Land Management. Early on a Wednesday morning I pile into a sleepy classroom with a couple dozen folks who are about to start the summer field season for the park service or the university.
Our instructor is a stringy old guy who starts the class by telling us about all of the crashes--he calls them unanticipated landings--he's survived and how. He reminded me of my high school health teacher who showed us videos of don't-drink-and-drive stories like "Blood on the Highway" and "The Last Prom" to scare the crap out of us.
A lot of people have asked me why aircraft crash so often in the Arctic. My basic understanding is that the reasons are a combination of poor weather conditions, sparse weather monitoring, and the aircrafts in question. The lower part of the atmosphere (troposphere) is thin in the Arctic and the result is that clouds are very low and it's difficult to climb the mountinous topography in low clouds. Many Alaskan towns are coastal and subject to a cloudy maritime climate. Few weather stations exist relative to the vast area of the state, so weather prediction has little skill. And finally, people fly around in really old aircraft. If you are trying to summit a 3000 meter snowy mountain with a 2500 m cloud base in a helicopter built during the Korean war, you are in trouble. It's difficult to visually separate the clouds from the snow and easy for a pilot to get disoriented.
The basic advice we got in this class was "don't wear synthetic fiber clothing while flying in small aircraft. If you crash, you will have fuel on you and then you will catch on fire and your clothes will melt onto your skin. So wear all cotton or a Nomax fireproof flight suit. Second wear a plastic impact-proof flight helmet which can sustain even multiple contacts with a spinning rotar on the helo. The class was interesting/terrifying. My soon-to-be fieldwork companion, Bob, asked me if I learned anything. "Oh and by the way, we don't have any of that safety gear...hee hee ha hoo hoo (hysterical laughter)"...
Monday, May 22, 2006
What can I say? It was just a matter of time. My boss and his wife found this dog and her five pups by the roadside, abandonned. When the pups were weaned, I took mom home. She's a great dog. Greg and Ilana already have 28 dogs, so they didn't need six more. Anyone still need a puppy? Check out www.stinkypup.net.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
Well, I'm back home in Alaska; my Moscow-on-the-Tanana. I went on a great canoeing trip with some friends. The float was called the Clearwater, for obvious reasons. While most bodies of water are still frozen, the Clearwater is spring-fed and already ice-free. It was beautiful. Ice shelves along the banks. My friends know how to travel well; when we pulled out for lunch, I unpacked my PB&J and they unpacked their roast chicken and bottle of wine. You guys are great!
I knew that my post-doctoral life had started on Saturday when I drove to the grocery store with a canoe on the roof of my car, and a bike and two pairs of skis inside. Contrary to expectation, summer has actually started here. It may only get into the 40s during the day, but that's warm enough for t-shirts and sandals for Alaskans. Best of all; I was going to change the lightbulb on my front porch tonight when I realized that with twilight until 11 pm, why bother! I'll do it in October and save electricity.
So, as many of you know, I stopped in NY on the way back from
I have to say this defense process went very well for me. My committee had a really positive attitude and I had an audience full of friends. A couple of you were even kind enough to post an encouraging banner at the back of the auditorium. Perhaps you all could come with me when I start giving job talks?
I thought it would be fun to do something kind of glamorous to mark the occasion, so I rented a room in a boutique design hotel that had a glass pool with a swim up bar. This seemed like an excellent, low-key way to celebrate.
My brother and sister-in-law and I packed up our swimming suits, a change of clothes and headed to
I said "how come I'm a doctor and Rachel, you are a doctor and Tim, you're almost a doctor and still, we're hobos." Some people know that I have a hobo complex. No matter how hard I try, I always end up in the same old hobo place. It's not a terrible thing to be. I mean, hobos aren't bums; they go places. See the world. By boxcar, carrying all of their possessions in their hobo bag. Remind you of anyone? Yeah, that's what I mean.
I mentioned to Tim and Rachel that I had a bottle of wine in my bag. "Well, did you bring a corkscrew?" "No, but the bottle's open already. Remember you opened it with a big hook last night. "Awesome."
So we sat for a while discussing the hobo ethic. "Hobos are smart, yo." "That's right, dude. A hobo wouldn't accept a high design hotel room without a pool and wet bar." "Hells yeah."
"So, anyone got an idea?" "Nope." "Anyone got a cup for this here wine." "I do." Rachel empties a cup she's holding full of M&Ms into Tim's hand. "Well, food AND drink. Nice job, Hobos."
"Let's go break into the Marriot's pool." "Okay." "What if they don't have a pool?" "Oh, come on, they'll have a pool."
We proceed to the Marriot. After waiting for a "pod" elevator for 10 minutes, we arrive at the reception. "Where's your pool?" I ask. "We don't have one." "WHAT?" "But we have a great gym." "Humph." I'm certainly not going to celebrate doctorhood by breaking into a hotel gym. We get in line to go down the pod elevator. "Man." "Let's go find the hobo train yard," "maybe it's almost dinner time and we can get some beans and boot stew from Cookie." "Yeah, remind me to store beans in my backpack." "Should we drink this wine now?" We conceded to meeting our friends at Under the Volcano, my favorite Earth Science-themed bar. It was a fun, albeit perfectly legal evening. We had beans for dinner, but they were Ethiopian.
Monday, April 24, 2006
It was strange to come back to a city where I lived for a long time and see it as a different person, even 3 weeks later. It's almost too familiar (or strange?) for me to write about, but I'll try.
I think the late 1970s/early 1980s must have been a cultural golden age for the city. At least a few key elements of NY culture arose during this era which people really cling to. One is neo-deco "contemporary" furniture design. Renderings of beds and dining sets in this style, plastic or enameled aluminum, can be found in a ghetto furniture store in just about every neighborhood in
A second important example of a NY style anachronism is the persistence of the ladies' polyester Sunday suit. These may have a proper name, but this is the only description I can think of. I think you know what I mean.
There are entire swaths of midtown retail devoted to the ladies Sunday suit. This is some of planet Earth's most valuable real estate and it serves what must be hordes of 60-year old women. Except one never really sees them. The shops are always empty and their wares fading in the windows, blue suits faster than red ones. Unless the DVD release of Tomlin & Parton's 9-to-5 has sparked a renewed demand for the oversized polyester suit, this remains another NYC cultural mystery.
Example number three is Cool 101.9. This radio station must have more listeners than any other in the city: it is absolutely ubiquitous in public space. Does anyone like this music? Is everyone under the mistaken impression that someone else must like it and therefore that's what we should listen to in stores and bus stations? Do they broadcast the aural version of crack? How can we break these chains and bring modern music to the big apple?
My final example is the only good one: disco skating. You know you've watched them. Parachute pants, floral jeans, big teased bans, fanny packs. Skating on classic or inline wheels in
Something about the late 1970s/early 1980s must have sparked all of these cultural mainstays. Maybe it was the city's bankruptcy, rising crime and flight of the middle class to the suburbs. But the message to New Yorkers is clear. It's okay to be uncool. The city has a booming sector of uncoolness and it's easy to get in on the ground floor.
Well, I don't want to disappoint those of you who think I've been camped out in the Bush watching my leg hair grow, but I've been doing some urban traveling lately. A couple weeks ago I was sipping strong coffee in Vienna's museum quarter, watching the sun set slowly behind the buildings and shadows drown cafe patrongs from the ground on up. Wien was a better town than I had imagined; one which has made the most of its opportunities.
Work in Wien was good to me. I saw friends old and new, talked about science, talked about art, saw some opera. Enhaled a couple cartons worth of Gauloise, second hand. Froliced in pagan pre-Easterness.
I'm not sure what else to say about Wien, so I guess I'll let my photos speak for me.