Friday, November 30, 2007

Urban Bear

In Juneau - even in town - it's not unusual to hear a noise in the middle of the night, and look outside to see a black bear getting into some mischief. Bears that persist in pestering a neighborhood, especially bears that have lost their fear of being around people, are often tranquilized and relocated, compliments of the Forest Service.

One morning my friend, Cyndy, with whom I worked, came to the office telling about her encounter, the night before, with a bear in her back yard. I wrote this poem for her.

Urban Bear

Rattle of cans, clatter of bottles!
Lifting a corner of the pull-shade
she takes in tonight’s good-natured bay
and the moon-washed, spruce-bough canopy.
“Not the wind,” she mutters.

Door ajar, she peers into the night.
He stands erect, nose testing the air,
paws draped across the garbage-shed roof.
Moonlight polishes his glossy fur,
and frames his upright ears.

A hot cloud of breath is suspended
in the frosty air. Glittery eyes
assess her with a slight hint of fear
and a measure of self-righteousness.
He considers the risk.

She smiles at the sweet intimacy
of the moment. Bruin and human
sharing the shadows. She speaks softly,
“You’d better get out of there, my friend,
or you’ll be in big trouble.”

He drops heavily onto all fours,
responding with a deep breathy “woof”
and lopes off into the underbrush
of Juneau’s thick coastal rain forest,
abandoning the trash.

-- October 2002

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Micro Waves Good-bye

I had several errands to run after work yesterday, so it was about 2:45 by the time I got home. I hadn't eaten any lunch yet, so popped something into the microwave, pushed the buttons, and the oven began humming away. When it beeped, I opened the door, reached in, eager to eat my long over-due lunch. But it was still as cold as it was when I took it out of the refrigerator! Hmmm, I must have pushed the wrong buttons. Try again. Same result.

Shortly thereafter I began to smell a strange odor. I assumed it was something to do with the failure of the microwave - perhaps an overheated wire or part, I didn't know. Well, Dan would figure it all out when he got home.

About 4:15 Dan came in the back door, and before I could tell him about the microwave, I heard him saying, "I smell gas in here!" I hadn't thought about that odor being gas! Sure enough, apparently when I was messing with the microwave, I accidentally bumped one of the stovetop burner buttons, turning it on without it lighting. The gas was escaping into the house. (Linda received a lecture about never ignoring that type of odor again. I won't. He only lectured because he loves me.)

But I digress . . . back to the microwave story. After Dan tried several times, without success, to get some water to heat, we called the GE help-line. The lady we spoke with told us to unplug the oven for 30 to 60 seconds and then plug it in again. If that didn't work, she said, we needed to call for a service representative. The unplugging and replugging trick didn't work

Since our microwave is about 12 years old, and since a repair would probably cost almost as much as a new one, we decided we might as well replace it. So, on our way home from Bible study last night, we stopped at Lowe's and got a new one. As we were paying for it, the cashier said, cheerfully, "You know, those were on sale for $98 the day after Thanksgiving." That was just what we needed to hear.

Like our old one, this is a microwave/hood combination. So you can guess what Dan will be doing this weekend.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Our First Christmas Tree

We were married in the summer of 1969, right after Dan's graduation from college, and then we returned to Abilene so that I could finish up my degree in elementary education. You might remember, from my post about my dear friend Chris, that we were living in the rear part of a house that had been divided into two apartments. We rented that apartment, furnished, from old Mr. Riggs, for $65 a month. From that you might assume, correctly, that we were living quite frugally in those days.

So, as Christmas approached, we decided not to travel, but to stay home and celebrate the holidays together as a newlywed couple. We waited until just a couple days before Christmas to get our tree. We went to a Christmas tree lot, off of South First Street in Abilene, that was advertising trees for 50 cents/foot. The trees were seriously picked over, but we found one that seemed just right for us; the tag tied to the top of the tree said 5-feet.

Dan carried our tree over to the fellow who was keeping the cash box. He looked tired, grumpy and cold - it was almost closing time, and he was probably wishing he were home with his own family on this windy December night. He took a look at the tree's tag, and said, "That'll be $2.00." Now I wasn't a math major, but even I knew that a 5-foot tree at 50 cents a foot came to $2.50, not $2.00. So I said, trying to be an honest customer, "I thought it was 50 cents a foot."

The man screwed up his face, threw his hands in the air, as if he'd had all he could take of last-minute tree shoppers trying to get bargain prices on a Christmas tree, and said, "Okay. Okay. $1.50!"

As I recall, Dan paid the $1.50 and left a dollar tip. I remember hoping that the tip might help restore this man's faith in mankind - or at least brighten up his evening a little.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mockingbird - A Book Report

I just finished reading Mockingbird, A Portrait of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields. If you take a look at my "Favorite Books" list, at the left side-bar of my blog, you will see that one of them is To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I'm far from alone in my love of the book, since it was a Pulitzer Prize winner, has sold more than thirty million copies, and, even now, 47 years after it's first publication, continues to sell a million new copies a year. But, until the publication of the book I am reviewing, little could be found about the author, Nelle Harper Lee (pen name, Harper Lee). She wrote this one outstanding novel, lived in the limelight for awhile, never wrote another novel, and seemingly slipped into anonymity. I've always wondered about Lee, so eagerly read this book, hoping to learn more about her.

It is common knowledge that the Finch family, portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird, was modeled after Lee's own family, and that the little tomboy, known as Scout, in the book, was based upon Nelle Harper Lee, herself. The drama that unfolds, namely the trial of a black man who was accused of raping a white woman, was also based, loosely, upon one or more events from her childhood.

Shields, in writing Mockingbird, interviewed 600 people to learn the real story of Nelle Harper Lee. Lee was born (1926) and raised in Monroeville, Alabama, where she still lives with her older sister, Alice. Her childhood friend and neighbor was Truman Capote. The child character, Dill, in To Kill a Mockingbird, is based on Capote.

Mockingbird, the biography, gives insight into Lee's early years, when she lived with a father she adored and a mother who was, most likely, mentally ill. She later went to college, where she was a maverick, and made few friends; and then to law school. She did not complete law school, disappointing her father, who wanted her to follow in his, and her sister's, footsteps by becoming an attorney. But by this time in life, Lee knew she wanted to write. She moved to New York City, where she began writing what would be her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. A large section of the biography details Lee's friendship and collaboration with Truman Capote, particularly her role in doing research for his book, In Cold Blood.

There was, for me, a personal sense of disappointment that developed as I read Lee's biography. Based upon her novel, I naively dove into this book, certain that I would be reading about a kindred spirit (so to speak) - someone I would have befriended, had the opportunity arisen. But the farther I read, the clearer it became that I would have found it difficult to have been friends with Nelle Harper Lee. Her relationships were complicated and limited, and, to many, she was seen as reclusive.

Learning about Lee has renewed my interest in To Kill a Mockingbird, and in no way diminished my respect for her talents, nor my love of her novel. I intend to re-read it soon, and to watch, again, the movie that was based on the book.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Water and Fire

[My mom wrote, in her blog today, about the first house she and Dad lived in, in Walla Walla, Washington. It made me think about the first house that Dan and I owned, which inspired today's blog.]

In early 1973, before Chris was born in March, we bought our very first house, on Jerry Drive, in Juneau. It was just under 1200 square feet, with three bedrooms and a bath-and-a-half. It was a modular house, and had been a model home, set up on our builder's uncle's grocery store parking lot, before they relocated it to its permanent lot, in the new Green Acres subdivision, and put it up for sale. Because it had been a model, our builder, Mr. E, had the bright idea of using the house to display a variety of colors of shag carpet that were available in his homes. Every room had a different color of carpeting -- red, green and orange in the three bedrooms; and gold in the living room and hall. But, tasteless as that sounds, we were happy to have our own place, and just in time for bringing home baby.

We moved in the middle of a Juneau snow storm. The road to our new little house was not paved, and the snow had not been cleared by the city. Luckily, a couple of fellows from church had 4-wheel-drive vehicles, and showed up, without notice one Saturday, to move us in. Of course, they wouldn't let me lift a finger because of my "maternal condition." I was stationed at the new house, and assigned the job of directing where furniture and boxes were to be deposited. I remember looking in one box, only to find that these good-hearted and hard-working men had picked up our kitchen trash can (full of garbage), packed it into an empty cardboard box, and delivered it to the new house.

As soon as we moved in, we began experiencing a problem with the water faucets. Every time we turned on the water, a burst of air would shoot out of the faucet, ahead of the water. It was such a strong, explosive burst, that it sometimes would blow a glass right out of my hand. And, even worse, we noticed a strange odor, and the water tasted salty.

We called Mr. E to the house, and he said it was just air in the lines, because they were new. There were only three houses in our little subdivision, and he said as we all used the water more, the air would work itself out and everything would be fine. That didn't explain the odor or the saltiness, but I got the sense that he thought the taste and smell were just figments of my imagination. No Satisfaction there!

So we called the health department, and they tested the water. Yes, they said, it had salt in it, but it wasn't so bad that they could make Mr. E drill a new well. No satisfaction there, either.

Maybe our water wasn't bad enough for the health department to take action, but it was bad enough that I, still very pregnant, wasn't about to drink it; so we hauled our drinking water in some large containers (that was before the days of these convenient little bottled waters).

One morning, soon after, when Dan was getting ready for work, he thought he detected the odor of gas when he approached the sink. He took a match, lit it, held it under the faucet and turned the tap on slowly. With a whooshing sound, the faucet turned into a torch! Since the health department had already declared our salty water "OK," this time we called the fire department. They came out, tested our torches - I mean faucets - and found that the level of methane gas pegged-out their gas-sniffer-meters. "Good thing neither of you smoke," they told me. The well would have to be redrilled, by order of the fire department! Satisfaction, at last!

It turned out that Mr. E had actually drilled our well too deep, which is why he had gotten into salt water and methane gas. He drilled a new, shallower well, and it provided us with wonderful, sweet, fresh water the rest of the time we lived there - about 5-1/2 years.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving and the Weekend

Thanksgiving Day we went out to dinner at the Cooperage. It was just Keith (Sherry was sick); their son, Reed; Tim; Dan and I. It was a very nice meal, and afterward we came home to our house for homemade pie (pumpkin and pecan), and to watch a couple movies that we rented (Shrek III and an old Red Skelton performance). Nice day, although it seemed a bit off-kilter, without Sherry.

The day turned off cold, at least for Albuquerque. And on Friday morning we awoke to a little bit of snow on the ground. It didn't melt off during the day, because it never warmed up. It was a perfect day for being at home, in front of the fireplace! And, since I had the day off, that's just where I stayed!

A little white stuff on our deck

Friday turned out to be one of the most relaxing days I can remember having in a long, long time. I had already cleaned the house thoroughly on Wednesday, so, on Friday, I had the entire day to do whatever I wanted, guilt-free. Here's a mathematical equation for you:

(An entire day to do what I want) = (Create digital scrapbook pages for Sweetpea)

Here's one of the scrap-pages I did on Friday. I happened to have pictures of both Sweetpea and me on our first pony rides. These photos were begging to be made into a scrapbook page. I'm the one with my mouth open, probably hollering, "Look at me, Mama!"

[Reminder: you can click on the images to see them larger.]

Well . . . if you insist, here's a second one. I made this photo into a sketch-effect. Isn't that a great smile?!

On Saturday I came down with some sort of 24-hour bug. I'm thankful that it came and went quickly, because it wasn't fun while it was here! And today (Sunday) Dan is feeling a bit under the weather, too. I'm praying he will be able to kick it as quickly as I did.

I hope all of you enjoyed this special time, at a bountiful table, with good friends and family.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Time Out for Giving Thanks

I'm taking a little break. Back next week!

Until then, here's a Thanksgiving greeting from Dan and me. I'm certainly thankful for good friends and family, like each of you.

[Designed by Linda, using digital elements by Dana Zarling, ]

To read President George W. Bush's 2007 Thanksgiving Proclamation - click here.

Trip to Inuvik - Days 10-12 - Wednesday, 07/17 thru Friday, 07/19/2002

Dawson City, Yukon, to Juneau, Alaska (HOME!)
Wednesday -
Saw some wildlife on the way to Whitehorse - another moose and two foxes. One of the foxes "posed" for us, but the other ran across the road in front of us, then down into the brush in the ditch at the side of the road.

Stopped at the Braeburn Lodge for one of their famous, huge, and be-sure-you-don't-miss-it cinnamon rolls. Each one takes up an entire pie pan. We shared one and ate all we could of it, then packed out enough for tomorrow.

Took a short side trip so to Lake LaBarge. Lake LaBarge is the setting for the famous Robert Service poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee," which begins like this:
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold,
And the arctic trails have their secret tales
that would make your blood run cold.

The northern lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was the night on the marge of Lake LaBarge
I cremated Sam McGee . . .

I stood on the marge of Lake LaBarge
Thursday -
Bought new tires for the Escape in Whitehorse. After this difficult trip, we needed them (except for the one we bought at Eagle Plains). Turned out Dan was able to swing a deal, whereby the tire store bought back the one new tire, so we now have four new ones, all alike.

Friday -

Left Whitehorse and drove to Skagway, Alaska. While in Skagway, we went out to Dyea, the historic start of the Chilkoot Trail.

Boarded a ferry at 4:15 p.m. and arrived in Auke Bay at 11:00 p.m. We were back home to our own condo and our own bed by 11:35 p.m. Tim waited up to welcome us home.


This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. If you get the chance, and are not afraid of adventure, make this trip. If you do, here are some tips:

Don't go without a copy of the current year's publication, The Milepost. It's indispensable on a trip like this.

Be sure you have some sort of written confirmation for all of your lodging reservations.

A 4-wheel-drive vehicle is almost a necessity; and make sure you have at least one spare tire (not those little donut ones), as well as a patch kit and some way to put air into a flat tire.

Make sure your vehicle can go 250 miles without a gas fill-up.

Take mosquito repellent and, if you can find them, some netted hoods.

Don't skimp when it comes to taking the flight up to Tuktoyaktuk. It was the highlight of the trip, for me.

Plan your travel dates so that you can be in Inuvik for the Great Northern Arts Festival, and, especially, for the opening night ceremonies, which we missed.

When budgeting for the trip, add in the cost of a set of new tires. You'll probably need them after 1000 miles of sharp, shale gravel.

Keep all receipts, at least for everything that you are actually bringing home (not food or lodging, in other words). You can apply for a sales tax refund after you get home, using your receipts. Ours was sizable, especially since we bought the tires in Whitehorse. Ask for the application form for the refund at the customs/border patrol office.

Take the time to talk to everyone you meet along the way. They come from all over the world to drive the Dempster, and they all have a story to tell.

Let your friends and family know that you'll be out of reach for awhile - cell phones won't work on the Dempster. Have the time of your life!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Trip to Inuvik - Days 8 and 9 - Monday 07/15 and Tuesday, 07/16/02

[I will combine the last few days into two postings (this being the first), since they were not as eventful as the earlier days. Final posting tomorrow!]

Monday - Eagle Plains, Yukon, to Dawson City, Yukon

Sporting a new rear tire, we left Eagle Plains after breakfast. It was raining slightly in the beginning, but the road was not muddy or slick as it had been on that same stretch, going north. The road was in good condition the entire way to the end of the Dempster, where we stopped to take a picture. A young couple from Spain was there with their bicycles. They had ridden from Whitehorse and were trying to decide whether they wanted to try the Dempster. They asked lots of questions and we gave them as much information as possible. When we left them, they had not yet made up their mind about tackling the highway.

We went to bed right after dinner, because we were really tired, and wanted to enjoy our day in Dawson tomorrow. But at 8:00 p.m. the hotel fire alarm began blaring. I pulled my jeans and a windbreaker over my PJs, slipped into some shoes, and then we went outside, where the sun was shining, it was hot and I found myself very overdressed . . . but I couldn't take the windbreaker off, and stand there in my PJs! Only a handful of others came outside. We wondered if everyone else was ignoring the alarm, or if the hotel was nearly empty? We stood outside about 15 minutes before the alarm stopped and someone told us it was all clear.

Tuesday - Dawson City, Yukon

The morning was sunny and warm. While Dan got showered and dressed, I went for a walk along the bank of the Yukon - there is a nice path - and watched a bus-load of tourists board a beautiful, large catamaran, The Yukon Queen II, for some sort of excursion. I also went to a kiosk, at the waterside, and read all about the stern wheeler, Keno, which is permanently docked here. It originally carried zinc, silver and lead up river, as well as bringing goods and passengers to Dawson City, during the Gold Rush.

I went back to the hotel to meet up with Dan, and we went to breakfast at a little bistro across from the river. They had delicious pastries. Dan had his first espresso since we left Juneau, and he said it was great. While there, our Spanish amigos, whom we met yesterday, came in. We talked briefly. They have decided to stay in Dawson until Friday -- they're at the Bunkhouse -- and then they will be attempting the Dempster on their bikes.

After breakfast we went to the Dawson City Museum. It is very interesting and well worth the $7/person tickets. It was an all-day pass, so we were able to go back later in the day for a courtroom melodrama, as well. While there Dan got to participate in a gold "rocker box" demonstration.
The Dawson City Museum

Courtroom Melodrama

After lunch, at the Triple J Hotel, we went to the Robert Service cabin on 8th street. Between 1:00 and 3:00 there is a free viewing, which we took advantage of. At other times there is a $5 charge. It was really exciting to me to see the little two-room cabin where so much of Service's poetry of the Yukon was written. Dan had a hard time getting me to leave. I wanted to move in!

Inside the Service Cabin

After a rest break, we had dinner at Sourdough Joe's, an indoor/outdoor restaurant across from the river. Good food. Then, at 7:45 we went to the Robert Service Show. Tom Byrne is the star of the show - and yes, he was the man we had seen eating at Klondike Kate's Cafe on our first stop in Dawson. He does an outstanding job. Not only did he recite poetry (The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew, The Cremation of Sam McGee, The Spell of the Yukon, Goodbye Little Cabin and Betsy's Boil) but he also used his marvelous story-telling talents to detail the life-story of Robert Service. The tickets were $8/person and worth more than that.

Dan and I with Tom Byrne, after the program

Tomorrow we leave Dawson City - reluctantly, on my part - and head back to Whitehorse.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trip to Inuvik - Day 7 - Sunday, 07/14/2002

Inuvik, NW Territories, to Eagle Plains, Yukon

It was Sunday, and the only church we found was the Catholic Church (the Igloo Church). We considered attending the service there, but discovered that it started around noon, which would put us on the road to Eagle Plains too late in the day. So we ate breakfast in the hotel and said good-bye to Inuvik at 9:25 a.m. [Since then, I have read that there are two other churches in Inuvik - an Anglican and a Community Church.]

We weren't too far down the road when we saw a wrecked car, down off the road. It looked like it must have rolled. We were concerned that it might have just happened, and that someone might still be in the car, so we stopped and Dan got out and climbed down into the bushes to check it out. We were relieved to find that no one was in the car.

We made good time to Fort McPherson and across the two rivers by ferry. However, soon after crossing the Peel River we came upon the first section of road with freshly-laid shale gravel. Shale is very sharp, and before we reached the Arctic Circle, a piece of it punctured our rear driver's-side tire.

Dan jacked the car up, removed the tire, and used our tire patch kit to plug the hole. [Until now, we hadn't realized that our spare was one of those little emergency donut tires. Dan didn't want to try driving on it.] After getting the patched tire back onto the car and pumping air into it, we found that the plug was not holding.

Dan began using a can of aerosol tire sealant. Two men from the road crew stopped while he was doing that and warned us that the sealant would ruin the tire; but Dan was pretty sure that the tire was already ruined, and he was only hoping that we could "limp" into Eagle Plains with it. We went two or three miles down the road, and then checked the tire. It was still leaking. Dan pumped more air in and we went a few more miles -- still leaking, more air. We continued this routine all the way into Eagle Plains. I lost count of how many stops we made to air up, with our little portable air pump.

The good Lord was watching out for us, though, because the puncture happened only about 50 miles out of Eagle Plains. And it was heart-warming that no one passed by without stopping to ask if we were okay or if they could help. Everyone watches out for everyone else's safety here, we have found. We arrived in Eagle Plains at 4:45, which was 5:45, Inuvik time. Our tire adventure added a little more than two hours to today's travel time.

Once we were safely to Eagle Plains, we bought a new tire and had it put on at the garage (they have a good inventory of tires). So, again, Eagle Plains was our oasis.

I had hoped to call Tim tonight, but there was no phone in our room.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Trip to Inuvik - Day 6 - Saturday, 07/13/2002

Inuvik - A Quiet Day

I got up at 7:00 a.m. Since Dan was still sleeping soundly, I left him in the room and went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, by myself. I took a little spin around town again, then came back to see if Dan was awake yet. He was. While he got ready for the day, I did some laundry. The hotel only has one washer/dryer combo, so I had to do our two loads one after the other.

This is the Community Greenhouse in Inuvik
Home-grown fresh veggies!

The Catholic Church in Inuvik is known as "The Igloo Church"

When that chore was finished, we went to lunch together, then we dropped by the tour office, to see if we could somehow get back our certificates that I left at the Tuk airport yesterday. The lady there said she'd try to have someone retrieve them, and asked us to check back after 4:30 p.m.

Inuvik is hosting the Great Northern Arts Festival this week, and I have been eager to go see it. We missed the opening ceremonies last night, which would have included music and Native dances, because we didn't get back from Tuk until late. Finally, today, we had time to go. It was a very nice show, with artists demonstrating their skills and selling their products. Most of the art pieces, though, were "too nice" for my pocketbook, so I didn't buy anything. (Maybe I should have bought one of those felt-and-seashell trinkets in Tuk!)

The Great Northern Arts Festival

We found the grocery store today, which we have been looking for ever since we drove into town. It is no wonder we didn't find it earlier, since it is inside a large metal warehouse , with no exterior sign. Actually half of the space is dedicated to groceries, and the other to clothing. I only thought to look inside this building after seeing a lady come out with what looked like grocery sacks in her arms.

Before dinner we dropped by the tour office, once again, to see if they had successfully retrieved our certificates. They had! I was really happy to have them back.

This evening our hotel restaurant was closed for a private party, so we ate at the McKenzie Hotel. It is an elegant restaurant, and the food is both delicious and expensive. today was relaxing, which was good, since we begin our return trip tomorrow. I'm looking forward to spending some more time in Dawson City.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Trip to Inuvik - Day 5 - Friday, 07/12/2002

Inuvik, NWT, to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, and return to Inuvik

We were scheduled for a flight to, and tour of, Tuktoyaktuk (known here, familiarly, as "Tuk"). Tuk is an Inuvialuit village on the shore of the Beaufort Sea (part of the Arctic Ocean). In the winter, there is an ice road between Inuvik and Tuk, but in the summer the only access is by plane. We were supposed to depart at 10:30 or 11:00 a.m., and return at 4:30 p.m.

But it was foggy this morning. We sat in the tour office, hoping that the fog would lift. At one point, I dashed across the street, looking for some snacks to take with us, since we didn't know when we would get a chance to eat. As I was hurrying into a shop, an old Native man stopped me, held out his hand, smiled, and introduced himself, "Hi, I'm Winston." I regret that I was in such a hurry (not knowing when our tour might leave for the airport), because he was such fun to talk with. When he heard that I was from Alaska, he told me that he had relatives in Fairbanks. "A long time ago," he said, "our people were divided, and some became Alaskans, and others became Canadians - because of an imaginary line someone drew."

When I got back to the tour office, I learned that the morning flight to Tuk had been canceled, and we were told to return at 12:30 for a 1:00 flight (hopefully).

We returned to the tour office at 12:30 and began loading into a 15-passenger van to go to the airport, which was south of town. As Dan stepped up into the van he smacked the top of his head on the door sill and made a 2 to 2-1/2" long gash on the top of his head. I was worried that he wouldn't feel up to going, but he folded a paper towel, placed it on the cut and held it in place with his baseball cap. He was ready to go.

There were ten of us in the tour, including a lady from Tokyo, Japan; a man from Belgium; a couple from Houston, Texas; a couple from north of San Francisco; and a couple from Ottawa. The man from Belgium had taken the same tour three years earlier and was back for a "re-run."

Our pilot and co-pilot, Chad and Ian, were young. The plane was just large enough to accommodate a small group like us. The flight up took about 25 minutes and was smooth and pleasant. At one point, the pilots pointed out, on the horizon, the polar ice floe. They said it was not always visible from here, so we were lucky to see it.

Tuk from the air

Our little airplane, at the Tuk Airport, soon after we landed

At the little airport, in Tuk, we were met by a man named Rick, our tour guide, who loaded us into another van. We spent the next hour or hour-and-a-half getting in and out of the van, over and over, to see one sight after another. Rick's son, William, rode along with us, but was shy and didn't want to talk much. I figured, since English was not his first language, he was probably not comfortable speaking with us.

Our guide, Rick, explaining the process of drying fish

William didn't want to talk much

Our first stop was at the "Welcome to Tuktoyaktuk" sign, for pictures. From there we went to the pingos - odd, cone-shaped formations that occur in a pond when permafrost is present (I didn't get a very good picture of the pingos, so here's a link where you can see one); and to the beach, where we all took off our shoes, rolled up our jeans, and waded in the Arctic Ocean. One man actually went clear in and immersed his entire body a couple times (YES! It was very cold). He explained that he had gone swimming in five of the seven seas, and this would make the sixth. After this trip, he would only have one more to go.

Toe-dipping in the Arctic Ocean

Among the other sights Rick showed us were the old Roman Catholic and the even-older Anglican churches (we got to go inside both of those); the entrance to the underground community freezer (just dug into the permafrost); and the remains of an ancient sod house.
Finally he took us to Maureen's house. Maureen is a Caucasian lady who came to Tuk to teach school in the '70s, married an Inuvialuit man and has lived there ever since. She prepared some Native food for us -- dried whitefish; dried whale meat (the red meat), called "bipsy"; cooked muktuk, (whale blubber); and caribou soup. We tasted everything, even the muktuk, although I ate only one small bite of it. It was not so bad, but not so good that I asked for a second serving. To my palate, the bipsy was the most objectionable; it had a strong, strong flavor, not like anything I had ever tasted before.
Muktuk - Yum Yum!

Maureen also helped us to understand the day-to-day life in this small whaling, hunting, subsistence village. She showed us various animal pelts she had tanned and some traditional parkas she had made. She let us try on a couple of the parkas for picture-taking. Her husband and son were due back, today, from a whaling trip, and she was keeping one eye on the water all day, in hopes of seeing their boat approaching the shore.

Maureen took us outside to see her family's dog team. She explained that these dogs are not pets, but are work animals - valuable and well-cared for. Once they are beyond the puppy-stage, they do not come inside the house. For the most part, they are kept on a short chain, unless they are going out to pull the sled or to be exercised or trained. That way, they are always eager to run. There are only a few dog teams in the village, because a lot of the villagers are now using snow mobiles. But, there is a big advantage to having a team. The Canadian government does not permit the taking of polar bears by hunters using snow mobiles. They can only be hunted with the traditional dog teams.

After our visit with Maureen, she took us back to "town" where we went into the grocery store and a small craft store. (She had to go get the craft store owner to open up for us.) The grocery store was quite well-stocked. Prices were very high, but we expected that. Produce and dairy products were especially expensive. I was disappointed in the craft shop; I had hoped to buy an authentic souvenir here, but all we saw were little trinkets made of felt or seashells. Nothing that tempted me.

This little girl - isn't she cute! - was sitting on the steps outside the grocery store.

After about 40 minutes walking on the beach, and being devoured by mosquitoes again, our hostess, Maureen, picked us up in the van and took us to the airport. She left us there by ourselves, just the ten of us. There were no airport employees anywhere to be found; no other travelers. Maureen told us that a plane would be there to pick us up in awhile. But time passed without any sign of an airplane. At one point a Native man dashed into the little airport, on some kind of errand, and we asked him if he knew when our plane would arrive. "No," he said, "Only the man upstairs knows that." Of course, we thought he was using "the man upstairs" euphemistically, but NO, he actually meant that there was a man, upstairs -- probably the traffic controller. We all got a laugh out of that. We waited about an hour and 45 minutes (from 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.) before our little plane finally did show up.

Once in the air, I realized that I'd accidentally left our "Toe Dipping in the Arctic Ocean" certificates, that Maureen had given us, at the airport. I'm really disappointed about that. I'll never be able to get a certificate like that again!

Inuvik from the air

A van was waiting at the airport to pick us all up, but not far from the airport the van had a flat tire. The driver didn't know where the jack was, or how to change the tire ["I'm a driver, Jim, not a tire-changer!" - for all you Star Trek fans]. It took the cooperation of several of the men, including Dan, to figure out where the jack might be hiding and to change the tire. We, the women (and the driver), all stood beside the road, smacking mosquitoes. It was nearly 11:00 when we finally got back to Inuvik. A few crackers and peanut butter served as a late "dinner," and then I took a hot bath before bed.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Trip to Inuvik - Day 4 - Thursday, 07/11/2002

Eagle Plains, Yukon, to Inuvik, Northwest Territories

We made it to Inuvik!

We had breakfast at Eagle Plains Lodge, and, after fueling the car and washing off some of the mud from the rear window, we were on the road by 9:50 a.m.

This second half of the Dempster is not as primitive as the first 250 miles. There are several little villages along this stretch. The scenery was spectacular, but the mosquitoes were horrid! We did put some repellent on today, but every time we opened a car door, even a crack, those hungry little buzz saws swarmed inside. Karen [
a friend from work] loaned me a couple of netted mosquito hoods, and I forgot to bring them. Sure could have used them today!

We stopped as we crossed the Arctic Circle and took photos. It was windy and cold, but the vista was awesome. I know it's just an arbitrary mark on a map, but it still gave me a thrill to stand at the Circle and look out over that unspoiled, rugged land. Another couple, tourists from Germany, were there as well. We visited with them a bit and found that we'd all be staying at the Finto [hotel] in Inuvik. I loved and agreed with the lady's comment as she gazed out over the landscape: "It's peace for your soul."

The marker at the Arctic Circle

The German couple offered to take our picture, and we took theirs, standing here at the Circle

Beyond the Circle, we crossed into the Northwest Territories, and had to change our clock, one hour ahead. We made two river crossings by ferry today. The first was the Peel River, where the ferry, The Abraham Francis, was cabled to the two shores. The second was a larger, free-floating ferry, The Louis Cardinal, which crossed the McKenzie River at its confluence with the Arctic Red River.

Crossing the Peel River. Road work in process on the opposite bank of the river.

Looking across the confluence of the McKenzie and Arctic Red Rivers

We made a brief stop in Fort McPherson, a small village on the Peel River. It was originally established by the Hudson Bay Company, in 1840. We went to the old graveyard beside Saint Matthew's Anglican Church, which holds the remains of the "Lost Patrol." I had never heard of the Lost Patrol, but Dan knew all about it, and I guess it is famous in Canadian history and legend. Here's a quotation about the Lost Patrol, from Don Bain's Virtual Guidebook:

"Just before Christmas in 1910 four men from the Northwest Mounted Police (mounties) left Fort McPherson on routine patrol to Dawson City, carrying mail and official communications. When they still had not arrived by late February a search expedition was sent out after them, headed by Corporal Dempster (for whom the highway has been named) and accompanied by a noted Indian tracker. The bodies were found just 26 miles away from Fort McPherson. They had been unable to locate the pass out of the delta over the Richardson Mountains, had run out of food, then inevitably they had frozen to death."

The little cemetery at the Anglican Church in Fort McPherson. The white cross in the foreground marks the graves of the Lost Patrol.

The names of the four lost mounties.

The weather today was overcast with some sun breaks. The farther north we went, the smaller the trees became, until they finally gave way, completely, to wide open tundra.

The road was quite smooth with a few exceptions. We did meet up with some construction, near both of the river crossings, which made for challenging driving. They do not reroute "traffic" because of construction here. You just cautiously wind your way through it, being careful not to drive into a ditch or get in the way of some piece of equipment. There are also places where the Dempster widens, and a sign warns that the road is now a combination road/landing strip for airplanes. No loitering allowed in these stretches.

We pulled into Inuvik at 5:3o p.m. (we lost one hour as we crossed into the Northwest Territories). Inuvik is a delightful, small town. After checking into our hotel we went out to explore. The houses sit up above the ground on metal stilts, to keep the permafrost from melting. There are many apartment complexes. A lot of the homes and other buildings are painted in bright "Crayola" colors. We were told that the reason for the colors is to bring a little brightness to the long, dark, black-and-white winters. All of the residential utilities run above ground, through an insulated and heated pipe, called the utilidor.
The Utilidor

We ate dinner at the hotel, then took the car to a service station where Dan used their wand to take off at least the top layers of highway grime.

After we went to bed, I was still too keyed up to sleep. Besides, I wanted to stay awake until midnight to witness a true "midnight sun." Dan was asleep by midnight, but I wasn't, so I got up and took a picture from our hotel room window, through the vertical blinds. It's not a particularly nice picture, but as you can see, the sun was brightly shining at midnight. It never got any darker than this.

Today we drove 6-1/2 hours, another 250 miles. On this stretch of the Dempster we met a total of 23 cars, 5 bicycles and 1 semi! The longest time between cars was 47 minutes.

[Here's a website with some good information on Inuvik, if you want to learn more about it.]

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Trip to Inuvik - Day 3 - Wednesday, 07/10/2002

Dawson City, Yukon, to Eagle Plains, Yukon

I didn't sleep very well last night. I actually went to sleep very early, then awoke about 10:00 p.m., when the sun was beating in through the window, directly onto our bed and into my eyes. I awoke thinking it was morning already. By the time I figured out that I'd only been asleep for a couple of hours, I was wide awake. Our room was very warm, and with the sun beating in on me, it was becoming pretty uncomfortable. After rearranging some things, so the fan was facing my way, I got back to an off-and-on sleep for the rest of the night.

We got up at 7:00 a.m. and ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant. We ordered the special - bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast - for only $3.99 apiece! I also ordered a glass of milk, which was, it turned out, a very thick and chalky concoction of powdered milk - ugh!

Around 10:00 a.m. we headed out of town. On our way to the junction of the Klondike and Dempster Highways, a moose calf darted up out of the roadside ditch in front of our car. It quickly turned and high-tailed it back into the bushes. At the junction, we fueled the car and washed the windows. It would be 250 miles before we would see another gas station, so we topped the tank off with as much as it would hold. Then we began our first leg of the Dempster Highway. Our goal today was to reach Eagle Plains, which is the half-way point on the highway, and the first place where there is any lodging or gas.

The road is unpaved, much of it rather smooth gravel or packed dirt, with occasional rough spots. The scenery is beautiful and varied. The road winds between and over some gorgeous mountains. From the start of the Dempster to Eagle Plains (250 miles) there is absolutely nothing man-made, except the road itself and two or three sheds for road equipment - no other buildings, no restrooms or even out houses, no telephone poles. It is a true wilderness.

We had just passed Two Moose Lake, on our left, when we spied a mother moose with her calf, on the right. We thought it was funny that we would see two moose, right there at Two Moose Lake. We stopped and I took their picture.

Mama moose and baby (you can only see the baby's ears, behind the mama)

The worst driving conditions, but the most beautiful scenery, came in the final 1/3 of the 250 miles. We traveled up to the top ridge of a high mountain, where we drove for a long time. The vistas were amazing. It was raining only slightly, but apparently had rained heavily earlier, because the road was very muddy and slick. This stretch was where we kept seeing inuksuit (the plural of inukshuk). An inukshuk is a stone figure, in the form of a person, made by the Inuit people. They have many purposes - to point the way, to warn of danger, to mark a place of respect, or to act as guides for hunters. Some are small, some large. Each one is made of several rocks balanced on each other. Tradition forbids destroying an inukshuk.

One of the larger Inuksuit we saw

At 4:30 p.m. we pulled into Eagle Plains Lodge, where we had reservations for the night. It's a nice comfortable facility (motel, restaurant, gas station, mechanic's garage, bar, gift shop), in the midst of a sea of mud that they call the parking lot. But mud or not, we were happy to have made it, safely, on our one tank of gas. Our car is caked with mud, mostly in the rear, but also on the sides. The front isn't bad.

They call Eagle Plains Lodge, "The Oasis of the Yukon." It really was an oasis, for us, despite the mud, because it had food, gas, a bed and - maybe most importantly - the first bathroom we'd seen in over 6 hours!

We went immediately to check in, and that's when we found out that they did not have a record of our reservation, and that there were no rooms available. This is the only place in this whole wilderness to get a room, so this was very bad news! Luckily I had with me a faxed confirmation of our reservation. It wasn't their habit to do that, but I had requested it, and they had complied. I went to the car and found the fax, signed by "Jared." That was all it took. When they saw the confirmation, they began moving a staff person out of his room, and cleaning it for us, so we could move in.

Retrieving our luggage from the car turned out to be a challenge, because the thick swarms of mosquitoes were voracious. We both have lots of fresh bites as souvenirs of Eagle Plains. But, we finally got settled into our room, a nice comfortable one, with a view; and then we discovered that our toilet was leaking, and that the bathroom floor was flooded. Jared, the same one who had signed our fax, came and repaired the plumbing. He was very nice, and it seems that he's a Jack-of-all-trades; he works the front desk, works in the auto shop, tends bar, cooks, and (at least tonight) is the plumber!

Today we drove 250 miles, which took 6-1/2 hours. I kept a log of the cars that we met (coming toward us). On this portion of the Dempster we met 34 cars, 3 motorcycles and 1 bicycle. The longest time we drove without seeing another car or person was 28 minutes.

Tomorrow we will cross the Arctic Circle and drive the rest of the Dempster, to Inuvik.