No difficulty seeing him in the snow. We finally got some. After two almost snowless winters it’s good to see it back. If for no other reason than it brightens up the landscape, but of course skiers love it too. Which is fine, so long as they don’t go off on me when they spot me and The Dog on their groomed trails. A freshly combed trail is to a skier what a glass pool is to a high diver. I get it. I try to stay on the multi-use trails most of the time. But in the few instances when I don’t, for instance when we’re forced off a side trail onto the groomed corduroy by an angry moose, or circumstances of the day require I shortcut back to the car, I don’t want to be berated by an apoplectic skier who thinks just because there’s snow on the trails they are suddenly — and legally — for skiers only. They aren’t. I steer clear of groomed trails as a courtesy to skiers. As a protest sign I once saw posted at the trailhead correctly noted: 12 months of taxes, 12 months of access.

The opinions of this blogger are his and his alone, especially as his Happy Wife is an avid skate skier. (Thankfully, a reasonably minded one, sympathetic to the plights of Dog Walkers).

Lot’s going on lately, not all of which I care to share with you, and not because it’s not good, it is, but I don’t want to jinx the outcome I want by talking about it. And no, I’m not opening a Pot store.

Adding to our seasonal woes of dark and cold, the State is now officially in a recession

“I about cried when I first saw the data — it was shocking,” said Caroline Schultz, an economist with the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development who worked on the report. She described Alaska’s current economic state as a “recession.”

How touching, an economist in tears. In my experience the best ones are coldly logical and stoic. If a grim analysis is all it takes to make you cry, maybe seek other work? In any case, no matter. I first moved here in ’89 when the State was in the trough of a pretty bad recession. For largely the same reason, too — a very low price for a barrel of oil. It rose again briefly in ’90, dipped and stayed low the following ten years, then began climbing again pretty steadily, until it was all Wine & Chocolates again (and free Halibut Charters 🙂 ) for a pretty long time. Until now

Hard to predict what that graph will look like ten years out.

So we (HW & I) have had to cut back. To wit: while traveling recently I had to stoop to ordering an anonymous bottle of Barolo for dinner.

Nothing pains me more than a look of shame on HW’s face

Touching Base

I still say the best definition of him I’ve ever read is demagogue

a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

Seriously, has the man made a single rational argument for any issue/policy/idea whatsoever? I grant you he’s anti-establishment. I grant you Clinton was pro-establishment. I even grant you Johnson and Stein were snowballs in Hell. But good grief…

Other than that a fine trip to Wisconsin!

Brother & me with Dad (guess who voted for who)

Happy Wife at MKE, prior to departure, needily looking for the lounge, as we are wont to do

With the niece who knows me only as Urod

Note the crazy man behind us, Andy the fiancée, as if he were merely a face in the Houdini poster. Speaking of whom

Erik Weisz was born in Budapest to a Jewish family. His parents were Rabbi Mayer Sámuel Weisz (1829–1892) and Cecília Steiner (1841–1913). Houdini was one of seven children: Herman M. (1863–1885) who was Houdini’s half-brother, by Rabbi Weisz’s first marriage; Nathan J. (1870–1927); Gottfried William (1872–1925); Theodore (1876–1945); Leopold D. (1879–1962); and Carrie Gladys (1882–1959), who was left almost blind after a childhood accident.

Weisz arrived in the United States on July 3, 1878, on the SS Fresia with his mother (who was pregnant) and his four brothers. The family changed their name to the German spelling Weiss, and Erik became Ehrich. The family lived in Appleton, Wisconsin, where his father served as Rabbi of the Zion Reform Jewish Congregation.

According to the 1880 census, the family lived on Appleton Street. On June 6, 1882, Rabbi Weiss became an American citizen. Losing his tenure at Zion in 1887, Rabbi Weiss moved with Ehrich to New York City, where they lived in a boarding house on East 79th Street. He was joined by the rest of the family once Rabbi Weiss found permanent housing. As a child, Ehrich Weiss took several jobs, making his public début as a 9-year-old trapeze artist, calling himself “Ehrich, the Prince of the Air”. He was also a champion cross country runner in his youth. When Weiss became a professional magician he began calling himself “Harry Houdini”, after the French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, after reading Robert-Houdin’s autobiography in 1890. Weiss incorrectly believed that an i at the end of a name meant “like” in French. In later life, Houdini claimed that the first part of his new name, Harry, was an homage to Harry Kellar, whom he also admired.

Damn immigrants.

Privilege (the White kind)

I am White.

I am 56 years old.

I am married to a White woman.

We both have full time jobs.

My parents, both White, love us (Hi Mom & Dad!).

Our siblings and extended families love us; there is no family strife.

We (Wife & I) split our time between our two homes.

Between us we have six college degrees.

We have two cars, free and clear.

We do not have cancer (so far as I know).

We do not suffer from depression.

We have health insurance.

For the most part we’re healthy (knock wood).

We love each other.

We have never cheated on each other.

We are not addicted to drugs.

We’ve never been to prison.

We don’t live in a food desert.

We pay our bills, have retirement savings, and some money leftover.

We are, for the most part, law abiding.

Most of our friends are White.

Most of our colleagues are White.

For certain Social Justice Warriors these and other features of our lives may be the effects of White Privilege, which Peggy McIntosh described as

an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious

and goes on to claim is kind of like

an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks

So if I understand Ms. McIntosh correctly, for the past 56 years, throughout every achievement, disappointment, celebration and time of despair, I’ve possessed and been unburdened by an unseen, unearned bag of assets which have endowed me with a special privilege, all because I’m White. Further, were I to remark, “Gee, it certainly hasn’t felt that way to me,” the Social Justice Warrior would be quick to react, “But of course – that’s because you’re White!”

What do you call something that can’t be seen, can’t possibly be felt by one who possesses it, yet gets you labeled a denier if you doubt it’s real?

Moving right along to another day in our ridiculously Privileged White lives, frolicing along as we go beneath a weightless bag of unseen, unearned assets… (puhleez)

A stern wind out of the north pushed us south along the beach today. An incessant wind that let birds fly in place. Pretty chilly, too, but nothing a warm jacket couldn’t fend off. It is October after all. We had the beach to ourselves. The Dog found a dinosaur-sized bone and wouldn’t give it up. He carried it high and proudly all the way home, even into the house where we discovered it stank something fierce. My gross anatomy isn’t all that great, but Happy Wife was pretty sure it was a ball ‘n socket joint from the hip of a moose. Probably some dude had dragged it to the beach to butcher it?

Spent most of the past week listening to evidence of wrongdoing by my fellow Alaskans. All of it criminal, but some cases were worse (far worse) than others. That’s about as much as I’m legally permitted to say about the experience. I’ve got two more weeks of service, one each in November and December. At first being a juror was kind of interesting, but as you might imagine there’s a lot of tedium as well. Plus, my employer pays my salary only for the first forty hours of service. After that I have to spend vacation (if I have it), or take time without pay. I was told but cannot confirm that Federal grand jury service goes six months contiguous (I’m on State grand jury). Not that you serve eight hours of every day during that time, but that you have to be available if called. I don’t know how your average person can survive that, being away from work and other responsibilities for that long, and without salary.

Worse, I’m told even if you have White Privilege® you’re not excused from service. So what good is it?

So Long Dahlia

I didn’t become precocious until well into my forties. Some people snicker, “Yeah, well, don’t confuse late onset precocity with being a slow learner.” It’s true I learn slowly but I swear I understand things now that it takes the average person eighty years or more to fully grasp. This puts me at a great advantage, as you might imagine.

What a Fall we’re having! Warmer than usual, but then this is hardly a surprise anymore. Still, the changes in the plant world proceed more or less on schedule. The trees have mostly shed their leaves, the grass has gone dormant, the sour odor of high bush cranberry suffuses the air in the park where I like to walk The Dog. His name is Chester but we recently added a middle name. We now call him Chester Lebron, a kind of paean to the man himself, Lebron James, who is a very class act if you ask me. Yes, he endorsed Clinton, but when you consider the alternative…

One thing I will miss that Fall dissolves is Dahlias. I’m not alone

I was selected to serve on the Grand Jury. I’ve been cautioned by others who’ve served in the past to expect to hear evidence of truly awful (criminal) activities going out there. We live our lives in a kind of cocoon don’t we? Daily unaware of the villainy going on around us. At least I am. Serving on a Grand Jury I’m told will instantly dissolve that innocence. We’re going to hear about the worst of the worst and asked to judge if the prosecution has amassed sufficient evidence to haul the suspected perps into court. In this way, the Grand Jury is a check against the State indicting citizens on flimsy evidence. That’s all well and good. But if I hear any cases involving animal cruelty I swear I’m going to go apoplectic. Screw the trial, get a rope.

HW is off to another conference next week, this one in Seattle. I hope she has time to stop in at the Dahlia Lounge, not only for its name, but for a Blueberry Mule

vodka, blueberry shrub, lime, ginger beer

I know, right.

Chester-Lebron and I will stay behind and hold down the fort, go for our walks, pull in the garden hoses, break down and stow the lawn mower and other sundries of a season past. It won’t be long now.

All In A Day

On Saturday, I was just working away when all of a sudden what should appear

Breakfast! A soft-boiled egg (fresh from the market), a slice of bread (half jelly, half butter), a sliced Clementine, and a cup of (100%) juice. Plate included, the food weighed more than the new laptop – 1.9 pounds!

Post-breakfast we took advantage of a sensational late summer, early fall day (hard to say which), and took the Dog for a hike in the mountains

After that we tended to our ablutions in preparation for an evening at the Champagne Pops. A fund raiser for the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra

Where certain of our table mates briefly Karoke’d to La Kisha (a top 4 finisher on American Idol) beltin’ out a fine rendition of a Diana Ross classic. Wait for it…

Mr. September, and state of the State

Happy Wife is far, far away (red star)…

… to attend a 2-day professional conference. Just now I got a text from her. She’s enduring a talk on targeted therapy in lung cancer and hopes I’m enjoying something more interesting. I texted back and said “Your latte’s getting cold.” I added a sad-faced emoji.

In fact I’m holding up well. It’s the weekend, a fine day outside, I’m into my second coffee and the dog is resting near my feet. Speaking of whom – he was recently voted Dog of The Month at his Doggie Day care. He goes there twice a week. Now when I arrive to pick him up I announce I’m here to pick up Mr. September. So far the stardom doesn’t seem to have gone to his head. For our part the award included three free days of care, a one hundred dollar value. I know, right – expensive! Our strategy is to get him good and tired twice a week (M-Th), which seems to work most of the time. Sometimes, though, it’s like he’s slept all day, because he has an alarming amount of energy left when he gets home. The Day Care has supervised quiet time twice daily where the toys are put away, the lights lowered, and the dogs are commanded to rest. (Think Kindergarten sans the half pint of milk). And supposedly they actually do. How the staff manages this with twenty dogs or more I don’t know. We struggle with getting one dog to lay down and chill. My suspicion is Mr. September sometimes oversleeps and, consequently, comes home well-rested. On these nights he enjoys leaping onto the couch with us with his favorite ball in mouth causing precious volumes of martini to go splashing everywhere.

You look at our state up there and you may think, my, what a grand place to live. In many respects it is, certainly the ones that matter to us the most. Yet trouble is knocking at the door. The government is facing a huge budget deficit, about 4.0 billion – yes, billion – and seems, so far (and not unexpectedly), rather inept when it comes to identifying acceptable solutions to fix it. The problem has one real cause – the low price of oil, currently about ~$45/barrel. Actually, I might mention a second cause, the government’s improvidence, which is an affliction of all governments so far as I know, so less an acute cause and more an ongoing systemic problem.

Although… once upon a time the Alaska government, contrary to its usual thriftless nature, did acknowledge it was a good idea to save for the future. I’m getting to that.

Taxes, of course, are on the table for discussion. Most Alaskans reel at the thought of an income tax. Especially those with an income. (Those without an income seem disproportionately in favor of it). Alaskans would prefer the lion’s share of government continue to be paid for by oil and gas revenues (taxes, fees, royalties, etc.), but at $45/barrel that option is no longer on the table. Never mind the (known) volume of oil on the North Slope continues to decline steadily. So even at a higher price the state would be dealing with budget woes, albeit less dire than what it’s facing today. Revenues from a state income tax would help the current budget crisis, but alone would be far too little to solve it. There’s only about 700 thousand people who live here, fewer who would be subject to an income tax. After subtracting the cost of the bureaucracy needed to administer an income tax (collection, enforcement, reporting, etc.), the government would likely see far fewer net dollars flowing into its coffers than expected.

The other option to pay for government is to use the State’s savings plan I alluded to earlier, the Alaska Permanent Fund (APF). At least until the price of oil goes back up, and surely it will (please tell me it will). There’s about $50 billion – yes, billion – in the APF, and the reason it was setup way back when (’72 if memory serves) was for this very reason – to pay for government when the oil runs out. I say simply amend the mission statement for the fund to include: “Or when the price of oil gets suddenly and perilously low.” Viola! Problem solved. Okay, easier said than done, maybe, but it seems an obvious solution (it does to me), and probably the only real solution. Unfortunately, tapping the APF to pay for government right now has been widely regarded like a fart in church. Some of the reasons for this are:

  1. Every eligible citizen in Alaska gets a check once a year from the government just for living here. It’s called the Dividend program. The amount of the Dividend is based on the interest earned annually on the APF. Use the APF to pay for government and people fear the amount of free money will shrink, or disappear entirely. (The concern is justified. Already the government has put on the table a proposal to limit the amount of free money people would get each year, even suspending the program entirely until oil goes back up (please tell me it will) ).
  2. The governor alone cannot authorize principal in the APF be withdrawn to pay for government, or limit or suspend the Dividend program. I don’t know if either or both of these is true. There are statutes and constitutional provisions regulating the management of and disbursements from the APF. It’s a hot topic of debate in Juneau right now; legal interpretations of the rules vary. Suffice it to say the controversy has fueled skepticism statewide that the government can or should be dipping into the People’s Piggy Bank®.
  3. Leave the APF alone – make Big Oil pay for government! This is less a reason and more an alternative. One more and more people in their shared contempt for Big Oil are rallying around. Nevermind that without Big Oil, life in Alaska, as we know it, doesn’t exist. Despite a very low price of oil (and thinner margins for Big Oil) many people still think the industry at large rakes in far too much money, doesn’t pay its fare share of taxes, revenues, windfall, etc., and thus their impression is that there is far more ill-gotten profit to be squeezed out these Robber Barons and redirected to government coffers. (I have an opinion on this, which I’ll leave for another post).

So, if it’s no to taxes and no to tapping the APF, what options are left? None so far as I can see. The loudest conservative voices say cut government spending. While I agree that’s prudent, it should be an ongoing goal of the government, not something expected to save us from going over the fiscal cliff. Besides, I heard somewhere we could cut government spending by 90% and it wouldn’t be nearly enough to overcome the deficit. That’s how important oil revenue is up here.

I’m not a Doomsayer generally speaking. I first moved to Alaska when the price of oil was very low and the State was in financial trouble at least as bad as it is now, maybe worse. That was 27 years ago. The problem eventually resolved and good times were ours again. But even I am becoming skeptical this time. The Party May Really Be Over.

Would You Look At That

Happy Wife found a dog washed up on the beach. We’re guessing it’s the dog that washed overboard on a boat out in the bay earlier this week. There’s a wedding today on that section of beach. Bless her heart, HW’s doing what she can to have the dog removed before the celebration. She left a message with Animal Control in Seward, after calls to the local police and state troopers proved fruitless. And to think yesterday was National Dog Day. Tragic.

We haven’t backpacked in who knows how long. HW’s never been on the Lost Lake trail, one of my favorites, so I booked the Dale Clemens cabin for a night

The southern trail head is about four miles north of Seward, and from there a five mile hike, all up, but over a reasonable grade. Each of us was schlepping a 25-30 pound pack — sleeping bags, mats, a change of clothes, food, wine, gun, etc. The Dog led the way. The rain had stopped by the time we set out, but it was still pretty socked in when we arrived at the cabin about two and a half hours later. Last time I stayed at this cabin was twenty years ago or so. Didn’t remember much about it. We got inside and dried off. It was surprisingly warm and humid the entire way up. We were both drenched in perspiration. We changed into dry clothes and I managed to get the heater working, just to dry out our stuff. I think the forest service hauls in fresh propane canisters on snow machines in winter. I found one partially filled and hooked it up. An unexpected luxury. As was the deck out back, something I’m sure wasn’t there twenty years ago. We sat out there, each of us with a plastic cup of box wine, taking in the quiet, the Dog alert to the faintest snap crackle or pop in the forest below

Within an hour or so the clouds broke, and the thick cauldron of fog sloshing around inside what I had thought were all deep mountain valleys below us began to break up as well. We were surrounded by mountains, some with glaciers

The last fog to lift was in the “valley” the deck overlooked. But wait, that’s no valley. I ran inside the cabin, grabbed HW’s hand and said close your eyes as I guided her outside onto the deck

Would You Look at That – it’s Seward! Resurrection Bay. Our Nest, way out on that point!

I had no memory the cabin had such a spectacular overlook. Explains why we had cell service. We refilled our wine and sat there, taking it all in. As the night wore on the weather continued to improve. We made Mac ‘n Cheese and sandwiches for dinner

I used to be notoriously clumsy dangerous when lighting camp stoves. This time I avoided burning the place down.

By the time we packed up and hiked out the next morning it was 65 and sunny with hardly a breeze. Over 70 back at the car. We held up pretty well all things considered. I thought for sure we were gonna need a lot more Ibuprofen than what we brought along. Turns out there were a few left in the bag. Not bad for a couple Old Farts.


(Recall a mere mouse click or finger tap embiggens pics)

Stepped out on the back porch the other morning

I recognize that back-lit fist of clouds. Like Silver Salmon they show up in August*. To the casual observer they’re benign, nothing to fear. One might even say they look pretty in the summer sky, no? I know better. They’re a harbinger of rain, a pillowy contempt for summer, Fall’s early messenger, “Enjoy it while you can Sucker, I’m coming.

They did not disappoint. This past week was wet, and cool. By now the grass is so high you’d think the dog in the backyard was a black dachshund. The path our great nephew (Caleb) and I walked down to the river on his last day here was lousy with worms. (The river, sadly, was not lousy with fish). Everything it seemed was swollen with water. Except the boy’s spirit, it was not the least bit dampened!

That’s us in front of the plane (a de Havilland Beaver) that took us to Lake Creek, where, I was sure, we would catch our limit of Silver salmon, possibly even before lunch at the lodge, in which case the afternoon would be left to catch ‘n release. Speaking of suckers. You would think I had lived here long enough to know better, some years the fish just don’t arrive in the numbers expected, or when they’re expected, or both. I wanted nothing more that day than for Caleb to hook and land his limit of Silvers. Alas, it was not to be. The only fish that made it into the boat all day were two slimy gray Suckers. As if Nature were mocking us.

Oh well, at least lunch at the Lodge was decent. And if only for that day the weather improved steadily from morning on. By afternoon we were fishing in t-shirts under bluesky. Near the end of the day Caleb did hook a nice Silver that broke water in a really spectacular way, but it got tangled in the line of one of the nearby fishermen (Germans) and spit the hook. Our guide shot ’em an evil stare for fishing too close to us. One of them mumbled something back, part German part English. I was standing in the boat at the time and wanted to shout back, “Still smarting from that ass kicking you took in WWII, eh?” I resisted the urge.

Earlier in the day Willy and his dogs motored by to find us all hypnotized by our bobbers

He’s somewhat of a celebrity up here. NatGeo made a special years ago about men living off the grid – “Alaska Wing Men.” Interviewed ol’ Willy they did. He’s quite the character

From the day he arrived we tried to keep the Boy’s agenda full. In Seward we took a half-hour water taxi to a place called Caine’s Head and hiked up to Fort McGilvray, an artillery installation established during WWII to shoot down Japanese war planes if they tried to get to Seward from the Aleutian Islands. Turns out it was all a feign by the Japanese, a trick to force the Allies to commit resources to Alaska and thus weaken the force in the South Pacific. Pretty impressive what got built up there. Including a hole to mount the turret for a 90-mm gun, and a pretty large concrete fort that housed up to 500 men at one point


HW and Caleb inside a gunner’s blind; HW takes aim

Being the Mother Hen I often accuse her of being, HW did not trust the Dog not to leap to his death on the return trip

Back at our Nest we made homemade pizzas. Mine, I will proudly add, was the evening’s prize winner (it was the Anaheim chilies)

That all happened in the first couple days. Then it was back to Anchorage for the flyout fishing trip, followed the next day by a hike with HW to Reed Lakes (a day Caleb’s quadriceps may not soon forget – thankfully I was at work!), a bike ride through town, Hamburgers at the Arctic Roadrunner (yum), more fruitless fishing at both Bird & Ship creeks, and countless games of Hearts with our friend Mel who was also staying with us that week

And then poof! – it was over. I schlepped ’em both to the airport the same night, first Mel, and a few hours later Caleb. HW had earlier left to go back down to our Nest to manage the new carpet install, leaving them both with kisses and hugs aplenty.

It was well after midnight by the time the Dog and I finally drifted off to a deliciously quiet night of sleep. I was awoken at 4:50 am by a text on my phone. I’d asked Caleb to let me know when he landed safely in Chicago. I got up to pee, then fell back asleep.

Sometimes I don’t know how parents do it. On the evidence of the week, though, some have done it pretty well.

* Except this year.