Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Early Progress Report

Well, this post ain't no modern novel, but here are some pictures from B. of some of the renovation we're doing...the 'before' picture and the 'in progress' pictures. What you are seeing is our 1970s log cabin being framed from the inside. Insulation and drywall yet to come. The kitchen was removed. Counters are being painted. Probably another two months before you see the 'after' pictures. I know they're only 2 x 6's, but I feel warmer already...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Adventures in Home Ownership

Well, the reason you haven't heard much out of B and I for a while is that we bought a house! It's a log cabin-style place with a lot of potential, but also needs a lot of work. Here you can see that we jacked up the house to level it and remove an old foundation. I'll let these pictures do the talking. Check out that GIANT wrench.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jumbo Squid Strikes Again

The news that "jumbo squids move north, voracious predators may pose threat to Pacific salmon stocks" is wonderful for those of us who are fans of everything calamari. Jumbos are still smaller than the Giants, but I'd love to have a lightly battered lemony ring the size of my fist. BRING IT ON SQUIDY!

Alpine: A Woman Behind Every Tree

Whomever named this place certainly had a sense of humor. There can't be a tree for several hundred miles. We're on the North Slope, just to the East of the Colville River delta, near the Arctic Ocean. Our camp is the Conoco-Phillips western base up here on the Slope. The native village of Nuiqsut is several miles up the Colville. Aside from that community of a couple hundred there's nothing but flat plains, drilling pads and wells as far as the eye can see.

The CP drilling and exploration base is a modest compound of pre-fab quarters and physical plant facilities. Water is pumped from nearby lakes to hydrate the base and power is generated on site. We drove here over an ice road from the Kuparuk oil fields near Prudhoe Bay. The only sign of life was a flock of ptarmigans, barely visible over the snow and a few isolated caribou. The sky and ground were nearly indistinguishable, making it difficult to chart our progress along the drive. Only the appearance and disappearance of glowing skyscraper-sized drilling pads along the tundra delineated the 40 or so frozen miles.

The CP compound here is bustling with shift workers. Some live as far away as Arizona and Arkansas. 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off. And dozens of hours of flying in between. Inside are hallways of small double-capacity dorm rooms with signs posted "Quiet, day-sleepers." There's a dining room with a fake fireplace and no other even ironically charming features. There are "reading corners" in some hallways with pulp fiction and a full spectrum light. Three times a day hot meat and remarkably fresh salad are served up to glazed-eye workers on 12-hour shifts.

Our first day in the field was pretty miserable: 30 mph winds make -5 F feel like -35 F and with blowing snow visibility was down to a few meters. I was sampling snow depth and density and several of my density cores simply blew away.

Our second day was spent over the the National Petroleum Reserve and the weather was far more pleasant. Colder, but less wind. Ice roads had been built to both the lakes we sampled in the Western Operations Area (WOA). This meant we didn't need to bump along the tundra in a painfully slow track vehicle.

Each morning that we were based out of the Alpine oilfield, we were required to attend a 6:00 am "Toolbox" meeting, a.k.a. safety briefing. Since normally we rely on the survey contractors to give us a ride to our field site in the track vehicles, we attend the surveyor's safely meeting. After a discussion of safety hazards specific to the day's tasks or weather and a round-the-room sharing session of personal concerns, we go through a required series of stretches. Imagine eight people in a cramped field office dressed in Arctic weather gear doing toe touches. Though it seems absurd, the emphasis on safety is important. The work here is dangerous (~6 trucks a day were sliding off the ice roads) and medical evacuation could take most of a day.

We left the WOA late Thursday night. It's good that it's already light most of the night here because we got stuck behind a 10-story tall drilling rig. Being back at British Petroleum's Prudhoe Bay Operations Center on the Eastern side felt like being in a classy European hotel after a few days at Alpine. I guess in some sense it is.

Today was my day to leave so our team dropped me off at the Deadhorse airport. I checked in and walked through a cloud of diesel ice smog over to the Prudhoe Bay Hotel. There I could hold court in the galley for the six hours before my flight. In the end, listening to CNN at top volume for six hours was a pretty high price for internet access. The highlights at the hotel included a coed bathroom and intermittent harassment from the workers. There was a funny old geologist who came over to talk to me a couple times. "Excuse me, is the plural for musk ox musk oxen?" And later, "I'm writing a poem about seeing the musk oxen and I want to describe the tundra vegetation. Can you tell me the scientific names for all the tundra plants? I can only remember Betula."

The time passed eventually and I boarded the 737 combi (cargo/passenger) plane back to Anchorage en route to Fairbanks. I'm one of only two women on the entire plane, aside from the flight attendants and by 20 minutes after take off, most of the passengers are drunk. I'm happy the Slope is dry; I don't see how women could work here otherwise. A couple of months ago Alaska Business Monthly's cover story was "Women of the Kuparuk Oil Fields." I think I discovered one of the incentive packages: free feminine products in EVERY bathroom. Who needs stock options when the boss buys your maxis!

Monday, March 03, 2008

The Face of AK

Could someone please get Lance Mackey some full-spectrum light? And maybe some vitamins?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Dirtiest Job

The informal Urban Dictionary lists three separate definitions for shit storm, believe it or not:

1. n. Figuratively, a huge downpour of shit; not to be confused with an actual dump as experienced by a headshitter

Dude, I fucked up large. Now I'm gonna face a gale force shit storm!

2. When all the shit hits you at once. A whole bunch of criticism, or problems all at once. when in the shit storm you are being shit hammered.

ex: "Man my wife left me, a cop pulled me over and gave me a ticket for no insurance, and no registration, and when I came home my house had been broken into, and burned to the ground, it was a real shit storm."

[NOTE: This entry is from Alaska where all of these events often do coincide]

3. A euphemism qualifying a noun with a greater sense of intensity rather than as plainly stated.

After this past census, there's been an ongoing debate over gerrymandering by elected officials. This underlies the shit storm of controversy over who stands to gain by redrawing the new district lines.


So this is all I can think of as I'm sitting in a cloud of methane in our living room right now. Hopefully the cloud won't burst and nothing in this storm will rain down any more than it already has. The 25 year-old septic tank finally filled, froze in the pipes, and flooded the house last night. Real bummer. The people you call to get you out of this mess showed up at around 3 this afternoon and looked like they walked straight off the set of a Cohen brothers film.

Not everyone in town will pump your septic on a Saturday when it's -40 F: these guys were true professionals with about 4 or 5 teeth between them. When they discovered they were unable to thaw the pipes from under the house, they moved the whole operation into the house. When I asked if I should throw away the towels barricading the crap water in the bathroom, one of the guys replyed, "Oh no mam', it's going to get worse before it gets better." Great. Well, I supervised as best I could without vomiting while Bob kept the dogs under control upstairs.

As they were leaving I asked them if they ever watched the show "The Dirtiest Job." They said the videographic team was up here two weeks ago filming them but hadn't yet decided whether to run the footage on the "Dirtiest Job" or the "Coldest Job" show. I can totally believe it. Well, we've got some work ahead of us.

Fun in Barrow Sun

This past week I spent some quality time in Barrow working on a snow sensor. What better time to go than when it's -35 F. Actually, Fairbanks was -45 F, so Barrow felt warm in comparison. The sun only made it above the horizon on January 22nd or so, but it was already up for four hours a day while I was there. I'm going to let the pictures below speak for themselves. They include a skinned Polar bear that was shot while I was there, our site operators helping me install the sensor, and photos from around Barrow. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

EXCUSE me, is this the line for Paradise?

We've been boring many of you for months with talk of our pending trip to Hawaii. Now we can bore you with tales of how wonderful it was. It really was paradise. Alaska Airlines knew what it was doing when it started offering direct flights from Anchorage. Purportedly, 5% of the state of Alaska goes to Hawaii every year. Go a couple of years without your circadian rhythms and you'll understand. Waking up to the sunrise in your tent feels a lot better than watching the sunrise during your lunch break.

How did we do it, you ask ? We spent a couple of nights on Oahu, staying with friends A. and A. who research 1) whales and 2) reef microbes respectively. These two had some foresight when choosing their scientific passions. Their work has taken them all over the Pacific islands and still allows time for triathlons, surfing, and spear fishing. Not bad. A. and I lived together many years ago in Woods Hole, MA where she would jog to the beach every morning and swim a mile in the ocean. Pretty ambitious lady. She took Bob and I for a drive around the island which culminated in watching the pro surfers catch the 25' waves on the North Shore, some of the worlds best. I'm happy to stay a spectator on this one. Watching the little bobbing men get completely thrashed around by the ocean looked tiring and like it probably removes brain cells.

Next we flew to the Big Island and spent the duration of the trip there. We camped all over the island on beaches like this one (Laupahoehoe) and tried to generate another couple of months worth of vitamin D. We did some amazing snorkeling at the site of Captain Cook's demise and in the Keauhou tide pools. I'll have to post separately on those adventures when we get the underwater film developed.

Another highlight of going to the tropical Pacific in January is that plants are alive. And alive they were. We headed to the botanical garden north of Hilo and found these beauties. For more, check out my album on Flicker. Of course, these aren't like the pros. We saw a number of very serious plant photographers and their giant tripods hobbling up and down the trails. And what would Hawaii be without waterfalls. And volcanoes. I'm trying to provide a sampler here. A pupu platter, if you will, of Paradise's offerings.

The volcanoes were a major highlight, even though the National Park and it's cute little cabins were FREEZING (like 50 F!!). Meanwhile, Fairbanks was suffering -35 F. Ha Ha. So as some of you know, the Hawaiian chain of islands are mid-plate hot spots which are formed by magma shooting through the plate like a geyser. The plate kept moving as this happened, which is how the chain was formed. So the Big Island is the most active, being the current geyser. Maui still has some fire in the belly. The others are like old pimples...scars, but no gooey stuff.

So here's a giant caldera in Volcano National Park with sulfur vapors and steam coming out. Very cool. And stinky. Many old tourists seemed to cluster around the caldera, despite all of the signage telling anyone with respiratory problems to keep their distance. This glamorous lady was one of their handlers.

There was quite of bit of hiking to do all over the park and the island in general. We found these gorgeous pink flowers growing right out of the lava on a hike down to a remote beach. Actually, it was on a foray across someone's ranch. We were totally lost. But found some old ruins where probably someone or another was roasted over a spit. The old ways. Change isn't always bad.

Well, it was a great trip, but eventually we had to come home. The dogs had a GREAT time at doggie camp while we were gone and ended up with these souvenirs. Lucky them. To overcome the 12 new inches of snow in our driveway, we bought a shovel on our way home. Sigh. Time to start planning next year's winter break!