Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alaska; a dissertation...


I was reminiscing with an Antarctic friend of mine this week about how amazed we are that people mix up Alaska and Antarctica. Is it because they both start with A? Is it because they are both cold? Because they are both rather far away? Alaska is up. Antarctica is down. Ant, anti, a latin prefix with negative (southern, downward) connotations. To me, the differences are immense and very clear. But I have lived in both places. I have never been to Ghana. Or Uzbekistan. Or Norway. But I can point to them on a map. So why, why, why, is it so hard to differentiate between the two?

Keith: "I work in Antarctica."
Other: "Wow. Must be cold up there."


Perhaps I expect too much. Who knows. Anyway, I am currently in ALASKA taking much needed time off from my job in ANTARCTICA. Alaska in itself, is a wild place. It has always drawn a certain kind of person, whether that person is trying to run and hide from something, or trying to experience a different kind of place. Personally, I came here for the first time in May of 2002. I graduated NYU's film department. Graduation was at Rockafeller Center on 69th St. Less than 24 hours later I was standing in the middle of Anchorage waiting for a shuttle to bring me up to the park. My then kitchen manager, Eric Peterson, ushered me to my new home and I almost shit myself...

I had just come from a nice top floor apartment in Greenpoint Brooklyn, and now I was expected to live in a trailer? I'm pretty sure I stood in the middle of the trailer for a while (I stay stood when what I actually mean is lean because it is not big enough for me to stand up in) and all I could think of was, "What the f*%k have I gotten myself into?"

This is me in 2008 sporting my inner redneck look. Gross.

Anyway, Alaska is a strange state. The 49th state. A red state, almost always. At it's heart, this place is God and guns filled with plenty of people who think a good time is strapping guns to the back of their ATV's or shooting wolves from helicopters. However, I have never met a greater concentration of intelligent people who care greatly for the environment and their communities. The hearts of the people that I have met up here are huge. So happy, so inviting, so welcoming. If I didn't have aspirations for international travel and world domination, I would already have my own property and my own house up here. The bartenders in the few bars know you by name and drink, the people you see at the fire pit on Friday night are the same people you buy gas from, or order beers from, and if you see someone hitchhiking on the side of the highway, you more than likely know them, or at least have a mutual friend.

I digress, again.

This past weekend, Tootie and I took off to Talkeetna to meet up with our friend Dave and to spend some time in a place with open stores and bars with kegs. I wish I had some pictures of our drive down there but I don't. We took off a the tale end of a snow storm. The Denali State Park (about 50 miles south of us and a 100 mile drive) got dumped on and all the news reports recommended that we stay indoors. We ignored them. Fortunately the visibility was great. If it wasn't we would have turned back.

We arrived to Talkeetna a little late in the day. It was Bachelor's Weekend which is a yearly event put on by a society of men. There is a Wilderness Women competition during the day and a Bachelor auction at night where the men of Talkeetna are auctioned off. It's all pretty fun. The Wilderness Women competition includes hauling water, snowshoeing, climbing ladders, shooting balloons with a beebee gun, fishing with a tennis ball for velcro fish and 'shooting moose,' as seen below. They also have a sandwich competition where the women have to make a sandwich and serve it to their man with a beer.

On Saturday night the auction takes place. Only women are allowed and the men strut their stuff on the stage. Now, before all you hippie dirtbag femi-nazis get your panties in a bunch (as if any of those actually read this stuff) all the proceeds go to local organizations put in place to help battered women and their children. So it may seem a little sexist, but it's fun and the money goes to help people. So shut your stupid mouths.

After watching a Steeler's game, and fixing a broken Volvo, a day and a half later we made our way back to Denali. On the way north we were treated to some awesome views of the mountain.

This is Denali. The big mountain on the right. Denali in Athabaskan means "The High One," or "The Great One." It is the tallest peak in the America's and, the mountain with the most vertical rise. Meaning that, while Mt Everest and others are taller mountains (their peaks are farther away from sea level) Denali is the highest climb in the world. You must ascend many thousands more feet to reach the summit of Denali than you do Everest.

There's a story I heard once (I do not vouch for its truth) that President McKinley came up here long ago. When he saw Denali, he pointed at it and said, "That's Mt. McKinley." I have also heard that it was named for McKinley to support him in his presidential campaign in the late 1800's. Who knows. Up here, however, it's Denali. There's no debate.

Here is another view of Denali from the road. Yes, that "road" you see is the George Parks Highway. One of three northbound highways in the Alaskan interior. And this is good! Like I said, I wish I had a photo of the road several days before. It was nothing but snow. Thank goodness for winter tires! This is the south face of the mountain. Quite amazing. It is very rare to see Denali with this much clarity. People spend thousands of dollars and wait their entire lives to come up to Alaska to see the mountain and sometimes, it never shows its face. So we soak it in while we can.

I'll leave you with my favorite picture of Denali. This is one that I took years ago while on a trip out into Denali National Park...


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Cantwell-style!

So when people talk about Thanksgiving and feelings surrounding it, three pretty strong view points peak out there heads..

1. Thanksgiving is a religious holiday meant to give thanks to (insert deity here) for the years blessings.
2. Thanksgiving is a sham in which we are celebrating the persecution and virtual annihilation of a native people.
3. Thanksgiving is a day when said persecution stopped and, just for a moment in time, there was sharing between hosts and travelers.

Now, I don't know much about any of this. I understand the anglo participants in the first thanksgiving brought their God and religion with them and felt the existing residents of 'the new world' needed to hear about it. I can buy that, perhaps, even after a bad harvest year and tensions among the English and the Americans, there was a sit down and a momentary peace and respect. But what I do know for a fact is that, Thanksgiving should be everyday. If you are blessed enough to have peace, love and happiness in your life and good friends to share it with, being thankful for what you have should happen everyday. Not on some stupid holiday. I have grand memories of Thanksgivings during my youth. The whole family went to Grandpa and Grandma Reimink's house and stayed the night. We woke up to a huge pancake breakfast at their church, then went home to have Melty Meat. I think it was pot roast but we called it Melty Meat because we didn't know what pot roast was back then. And bacon bits. I remember salad with bacon bits.

Anywho, below is a list of things Keith is thankful for...

-four limbs
-a sane mind that makes sane decisions
-things that he does not understand but respects (the guitar, foreign languages)
-the FREEDOM to do what I want (also the FREEDOM to NOT do things I don't want, ie voting if I feel it's unjust)
-being as far away from the states as much as I can
-the tendency to not be duped

Blahblahblah. Here are some pics of Thanksgiving Cantwell-style!!!

We went down to the village of Cantwell, about 30 miles south of where Tootie and I live. We have a bunch of friends that live in the Jack River Nation and we were graciously invited to share a meal with them.

We prepared some things for the feast. I made my infamous (self proclaimed infamy) Bleu Cheese Coleslaw, and we made a Sweet Potato Pecan dish.

Cleaned and cut sweet potatoes tossed with....

...toasted pecans and brown sugar.

But the highlight of the night was inarguably Jilly's Pork stuffed Pork! Jill and her sister Lynn are known between Talkeetna and Fairbanks as some of the best cooks on the market. And they never disappoint. This is Jill searing the pork.

And the pork as it sits on the roasting rack.

While we waited on the pork to slow roast to perfect awesomeness, we helped Tardy patch his down coat.

And Carl played with Kitty.

When the food was done we loaded up a van and the sled and took off to the end of the Nation and had a great meal. This was our transportation to Thanksgiving dinner. Yup, that's Tootie on the back of a dog sled.

But we didn't have dogs. We had Carl and Jill's snowmachine. Awesome.

The spread was amazing!!! And the company was just as good. Got to meet some great people that I hope we can hang out with again very soon.

Check out the three different forms of cheesecake!!! Damn!

And in a retraction from last week, the airfield which I said "nobody uses in the winter," is actually a place some people with ski planes can land. It doesn't happen often but it is why the trail is on the side of the airstrip. Grooves in the snow can harm the plane and/or the pilot when landing. So any skiing at the airstrip must be done in designated places.

Stay tuned...