Saturday, March 5, 2011

Fur Rondy

I'm up in the great white north again, waiting to jump a plane to dutch harbor. It actually was an opportune time to be hanging out in Anchorage. While waiting here, the Fur Rondy festival has been happening. And what, you say, is a fur rondy? I haven't really figured it out but so far it has involved several festivities involving lots of people in fur hats and coats as well as the start of the Iditarod. It's been pretty cool to be up here, despite the coldest weather I've ever seen. I had the chance to see some actual sled dogs doing their thing, and a few other very creative and notable events. Here's a quick synopsis.

A friend of mine at the Observer training office participated in the world famous outhouse race, the quarterfinal heat shown above. The goal is pretty simple. Push someone in an outhouse to the end of a short course and back, dress up in crazy costumes, and basically make a big idiot out of yourself. Sounds like fun. Some of my favorite team names: "The Kodiak Crappers," "Cool Runs" (Jamaican bobsled theme, shown at the top), and "Romancing the Throne."

Ever heard of Yukigassen? Me neither, until this weekend. Apparently some Japanese peeps with too much time on their hands (I've never been there, but Japan always seems to be a hotbed of bizarre but creative sports) invented a very specific set of rules for a snowball fight and turned it into a sanctioned sport. It's basically part paintball part capture the flag. This is no ordinary snowball fight though, the dudes and dudettes wear helmets and face masks. Oh, and when they throw, they throw some heat.

Though the official start of the Iditarod is up in Wasila, they do a ceremonial lap around Anchorage to kick the thing off. It'd be cool to go see the actual race, or at least some of it as it's over 1000 miles long. But it was fun to get caught up in the spirit and excitement that Alaskans find in the yearly race. Those dogs are pretty awesome. They appear to be nothing but sinew and bone. When the drivers stop, the dogs get antsy almost immediately. According to a man I met, they don't want to eat, don't want to sleep, they just. Want. To. Run.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bone dude

The last day Rachel and I had in Christchurch, we spent some time and hard earned cash carving pieces of bone into something useful. It was quite interesting. Though most of the touristy shops seem to focus on New Zealand greenstone as the neck adornment of choice, a great deal of traditional jewelry is constructed of bone. We thought it’d be cool to go carve a couple of our own and it turns out there are a few places that offer this. The bone dude (yes, the name of the company is called “The Bone Dude”) in Christchurch was our choice, and we had a pretty damn good time. He’s been doing this for a few years now, and had a lot of information about traditional carving. The fish hooks and spirals don’t mean anything in particular, unless you’re in the tourist industry and trying to rev up profits.

Usually, back before Europeans arrived the bone of choice was whale, and in some cases, people. If the latter, skull apparently makes wonderful material for carving. Not all people bone carving was due to grudges, either perceived or otherwise. Actually in traditional Maori culture revered elders (the VIPs of the day) were buried, and a couple of years down the road were often dug back up in order to make a piece of jewelry out of them. In that way, future generations would have a piece of the past and know their ancestors. Pretty cool.

The bone we used either cow femur or tibia, which is still pretty bitchin’ for carving. He gave us the template of our choice and we got to filing and sanding away. Here’s another great tradition: if you craft or fashion something ornamental, it is bad form to keep it for yourself. So Rachel and I made bone necklaces for each other. She got the spiral I made and I received an awesome fish hook. Though I have never been the crafty type, I take a certain pride when I look at that spiral chunk of bone and exclaim, “dude, I freakin’ made that!”

Monday, January 24, 2011

The story so far... South Island part A

Rachel and I have been in New Zealand for over a couple of months now, with us currently residing (if you want to call it that) on the North part of the South Island. The plan is, well... there isn't much of one at a moment, but I'll give it a go. I've been waiting on teaching registration for a couple of different countries but various bureaucracies are taking their sweet time mailing certain documents. The three months I spent in the Bering Sea are mostly to blame though. The plan at the moment is to take our "if we have to" round trip ticket back to the states in the middle of February. We could stay for up to a year on our working holiday visas, but in the name of being responsible (*shudder* that word gives me the willies) it would be better to try and find jobs in our respective fields. So, we're headed home unless something happens, which I've learned usually does. Ambiguous enough for you?
The first month here, Rachel and I lived in our student housing flat in Christchurch while Rachel finished up her nursing practicum. We had a cool little pad right next to Hagley park and downtown. During that month, we went on a pretty epic backpacking trip which Rachel summarized wonderfully on her blog. Check it out! It's worth a read. Near vertical talus slopes with grass for holds is almost always a recipe for some tasty awesome.

On another trip down south in December we were able to check out the little blue penguin colony in Oamaru, as well as some of the rare yellow eyed variety. They come ashore in the evening, and as the flash of cameras scares them we weren't able to take any pictures. So I'll have to describe them for you: think of the cutest thing you have ever seen and then imagine something cuter than that. Yeah. Pretty cute. The little blues were quite social, running around in groups, squabbling and calling to each other loudly.

On the same trip, we managed to head out to Mt. Cook national park for a bit of hiking in a torrential downpour. Out standing scenery, here's a few pictures. I'll post more the next time I get an internet connection.

On the hooker track. There is never enough time to see all that you want to see.

taking a page from my brother's book on a suspension bridge

New Zealand mistletoe, it was the Christmas season at the time after all

Saturday, January 8, 2011


It's not an easy thing to see what's down on the sea floor at around 100 fathoms, so sometimes you have to settle for bringing the bizarre up to you. A longliner is actually a fairly selective means of catching fish, but other lifeforms than cod were still unintentionally caught. Most of the animals probably didn't survive a trip up from those depths (except the halibut, they are extremely tough for some reason). As a biologist, it was a great opportunity to nerd out however. There are strange fish and bizarre invertebrates down there. Here's a few.

A very strange looking sponge

This looks like it is straight out of a Dr. Seuss book

By far the smallest skate I saw

The beautiful atka mackerel

One of my favorite fish, a searcher


My schedule on the boat was so irregular, I can't tell if any of the scenery shots were taken during the am or pm hours. Regardless, here's a token few shots from the Bering sea. Generally the weather there is pretty miserable, but every so often the sky would open up and some god beams would come shooting through.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

St. Paul Island (The Pribilofs)

Here's a few pictures from St. Paul Island, I place I visited while in the Bering Sea on a couple of occasions. The entire island has about 300 people on it, some amazing fur seals and (my favorite) ... puffins!

I was able to climb a sea stack and get above this little horned puffin. I love puffins

An arctic fox

Just because I'm a licensed teacher now, here's the local school district office. It was a strange island. The locals invited us to the bar (declined, as the boat was leaving) which shares the same building as the police station and the jail, which is a pretty logical pairing if you think about it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dutch Harbor

I'm going to play catch up with a couple of Alaska posts before moving on to New Zealand, which is where I am fortunate enough to be living at the moment.

Because of my observer duties, I wasn't allowed to take pictures of any of the boats I was involved with or any of the crew members. But I did snap some shots of the places I went and some of the fish I saw, I just had to make sure there were no identifiable markings in my pictures. After my three week observer training in Anchorage, I jumped on the first flight out of town too... Dutch Harbor.

Known to many through the TV show, the "Deadliest Catch" Dutch Harbor hauls in more fish, pound per pound than anywhere in the nation, maybe even the world. The Bering Sea, by virtue of the upwelling of ocean currents which creates nutrient rich waters is filled with all kinds of fish and shellfish. I've got to say, National Marine Fisheries has the place locked down pretty tight too. They are committed to keeping the fish stocks sustainable, which made me feel a little better about the job I was doing.

The town of Dutch Harbor is a muddy place filled with rust. You need a tetanus shot just looking at it. But man, there are bald eagles everywhere, interesting ships of all sizes, drunk sailors stumbling around and numerous other quirks to keep one occupied. Few people actually live there and all the people I met were from the most random places. Milwaukee, the Philipines, Mexico, Poland, Chignik (had to look that one up). Some were there for the adventure, some because of family tradition. Most were up there to make some moola, and then spend it as fast as humanly possible in strip joints and then blame the government for taking it all.

Of the few thousand people who live there, even fewer were women. The saying goes that there are as many hot women in Dutch Harbor as there are trees. I think I did see a tree, a short shrubby thing hidden in a nook in town. I felt bad for the ladies though, they got hit on ALL. THE. TIME. I was surprised that they didn't walk around armed with a shotgun to ward off would be suitors. I suppose with the skewed sex ratio that you could have just about any man you wanted, but these are not just any men.

However, for a brief but shining moment in August, the Aleutian islands, or at least the island of Unalaska, is freaking beautiful. Everything is green and blossoming. There are little creeks all over the place filled with salmon. Here's a few pictures of some hikes I went on while I was waiting for the boat to leave.

A pretty crossing

There are ship wrecks and abandoned vessels all around the island of Unalaska. It would be cool to poke around a few if you had the time.

I swear I've seen yellow paintbrush (the flowers in the foreground) in just about every state in the Union. There is about a three week period in the Aleutians in which the foliage is this green. Also note the lack of trees/women...