Monthly Archives: April 2010

Rest in peace — Daughters set aside differences to make Mom’s casket

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. From left, Christina Cramer, Diana Long and Sharon Jackson built a casket for their mother, Linda Cooper, of Soldotna.

Redoubt Reporter

When Linda Cooper told her daughters what she wanted for her funeral service and burial, the three gave really the only acceptable response possible when a loved one with a terminal illness makes requests about final wishes.

“When she would tell us this I know all of us, at least me in particular, would kind of laugh and say, ‘Yeah, right.’ We’d tell her, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do it,’ but none of us actually thought we were going to,” said Christina Cramer, of Soldotna, the youngest of Cooper’s daughters.

As her six-year battle with multiple sclerosis and a neuropathic condition progressed, Cooper, of Soldotna, started talking more frequently about her final arrangements with her husband, Tom Cooper, and her three, 30-something daughters. Despite their mom’s deteriorating condition, her daughters said the comments and conversations still seemed hypothetical. The family sifted through symptoms and setbacks looking for flashes of hope like a miner sluicing for flakes of gold. Each glimmer, like being released from the hospital, could be plucked up and polished into the possibility of a brighter future.

Even though, realistically, they knew it would come, Cooper’s death on April 17 at age 54 still came as a surprise.

“You’re ready for it, but you’re never really ready for it,” Tom Cooper said.

Diana Long, of Anchorage, joined her sisters, Cramer and Sharon Jackson, of Soldotna. As they faced their grief, they also faced their mother’s requests.

Cooper had discussed her end-of-life wishes with Tom and each of her girls, but the sisters had never really discussed the matter with each other, much less decided whether they wanted to go through with it or made plans for how to do so.

“We just kind of blew it off. We didn’t think it would really happen. It didn’t sink in or anything,” Jackson said. “But when she died it was like, ‘Alright, now we know what we’ve got to do, let’s go do it.’”

Cooper liked uniqueness and personality.

“My mom, she’s original,” Jackson said.

She didn’t want “just any old plain burial,” Cramer said. She wanted the reception to be a celebration of life, with photos and stories and as much of the entire, blended, extended family together as possible. She wanted to be buried in the cemetery in Cooper Landing, tucked among the trees and surrounded by streams and mountains, rather than acres of neatly manicured, orderly cemetery grounds. And she wanted the arrangements to be handled by her family as much as possible.

Tom and family members dug the hole for her burial. Her brother, Bill Peace, of Soldotna, drove her casket to the cemetery in his big blue van. Her daughters did her hair and makeup and dressed her for burial in her “good ol’ blue jeans,” Cramer said, with a pack of cigarettes in one pocket and a lighter in the other, letting her indulge a habit Tom wished she’d give up, but wasn’t going to try to deprive her of now.

As arrangements progressed and the funeral date neared, the girls had one other duty to perform to fulfill a request they didn’t expect to come due.

“I honestly didn’t think it would ever happen,” Cramer said. “And then when she died we were all sitting there and it’s like, ‘Well, I guess we’ve got a coffin to build.’” Continue reading

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Airport rental rates take off — Soldotna to give 2nd look to old lease agreement

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Lease lot values at the Soldotna Municipal Airport increased by about 60 percent in a March appraisal, bumping lease fees up with it. Airport users are working with the city to change the city’s lease agreement to keep rates from skyrocketing unexpectedly in the future.

Redoubt Reporter

Aircraft aren’t the only things taking off at the Soldotna Municipal Airport lately. A recent property value assessment conducted on behalf of the city resulted in lease lot rental rates heading skyward, as well, and lessees’ discontent rising along with them.

An appraisal of lease lots at the airport, conducted in March by Derry and Associates, of Kenai, resulted in about a 60 percent increase in value over the previous appraisal in 2005. For the smallest lot, that translates to a rent increase of $132 a year, from $228 to $360. For larger lots, the rental fee increased as much as $2,000 a year, from about $3,000 up to about $5,000. The increase is particularly significant to businesses or individuals who rent multiple large lots, and some renters are saying that, rather than generating more financial support, the new rates could hurt the airport by driving leaseholders away.

“Unless I’m living on a different planet than everybody else, I cannot see a 50 to 60 percent jump, in this economy, justified. And I can’t see anywhere else the city has done this with leases,” said Peter Thompson. “It’s a total disincentive to do anything on this airport. I had my name down for another lot and that’s certainly not going to happen now. If I could sell the lots I’ve got over there, I would get rid of the hangars.”

The methodology for determining lease rates is spelled out in the airport lease agreement. The city is required to have the property value of the lease lots reassessed every five years. Lease rates are figured at 6 percent the assessed value.

Shawn Holley said he examined a five-year trend of borough appraisals of the property and found the borough’s appraisal increased 2.2 percent in that time, compared to Derry’s assessed increase of about 55 percent on his lot. He said it’s concerning to him that the city had recently discussed, and decided against, raising the lease rate from 6 percent to 8 percent. Then renters find out their lease rates are jumping even higher anyway.

Had the lease rate increased to 8 percent and appraisals stayed the same, the annual bill for Holley’s 43,331-square-foot lot would have gone from about $3,360 to about $4,480 a year. With the rate staying at 6 percent and the 55 percent increase in assessed value on his lot, his bill instead jumped to $5,190 per year.

“It just doesn’t sit well. And maybe part of this is poor timing and coincidence. I think a lot of the frustration that goes along with this is the push here a month or two ago to increase the lease rates to 8 percent of assessed value. That would have increased our annual lease rates by pretty close to what this appraisal’s going to increase it, and it just really raises an eyebrow,” Holley said.

At a Soldotna Airport Commission meeting April 15, City Manager Larry Semmens said the appraisal was done on schedule and according to the lease agreement.

“We did what the lease calls for. If we didn’t do that, I would have expected some negative feedback on that,” he said.

The city received only one bid for the appraisal, from Derry and Associates. The firm is qualified to assess raw land and also conducted the 2005 appraisal of airport lease lots. The appraisal methodology is explained in the summary appraisal report, available on the city’s website. To summarize, Semmens said Derry and Associates used a comparative approach, looking at the values of similar properties that have sold in the recent past and analyzing the differences between those lots and the Soldotna airport lease lots.

The appraisal values may not be sitting well with renters, but there was nothing untoward about how they originated, Semmens said.

“That’s important to me that you folks know that the city has no ability to determine the outcome of the results of the appraisal,” he said. “We hired what we considered to be a professional appraiser, they were acceptable in the past so I didn’t have any particular worries about Derry. The contract required us to get an appraisal, we got an appraisal. The numbers apparently are not universally smiled upon, and here we are.” Continue reading

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House fire kindles desire for recycled, eco-friendly home

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Earthship Biotecture. Volunteers pack tires with dirt to create “bricks” for an Earthship structure in Todos Santos, Baja California. A Kasilof family will begin building a similar structure, made of recycled materials, this summer.

For the Redoubt Reporter

When a fire consumed the two-story log cabin owned by Kasilof residents Willow King and Kelly Hagelund in November, it was a searing loss for their family. But from the ashes of this tragedy, an idea for a new and better home was born. Their “Earthship” will take its unique shape this summer.

“Basically, the design of the whole house is based on garbage,” Hagelund said. “Tires, bottles, cans, newspapers — the whole house is made of recyclables.”

A malfunctioning component in the Hagelund’s wood stove exhaust system is believed to have caused the blaze, which robbed them of their home of five and a half years, near Mile 107 off the Sterling Highway, and all their possessions in it.

“What we went through with the fire, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” Hagelund said. “But in some ways, it was a blessing in disguise.”

Hagelund, 28, and his wife, 29, had been researching ways to live more sustainably before their cabin was deemed a total loss by firefighters. Afterward, while living in an apartment with their three children, ages 2 to 8 years old, they learned about Earthships.

“We were watching a documentary,” Hagelund said. “We never would have learned about it if we hadn’t been watching TV in that apartment, because we didn’t have a television.”

Earthships — which first became popular in Taos, N.M., around the 1970s — are designed to be sustainable, “off-the-grid” homes, economically feasible for an average person to build with no specialized construction skills.

“We wanted to move toward a life that was simpler, cheaper, more efficient and more self-sufficient,” King said.

The major structural building component of an Earthship is recycled automobile tires, filled with dirt and compacted by use of a sledgehammer.

“We’ve been collecting tires since around late December to early January, since we’ll need around 1,000 to 1,200 of them,” King said.

“I just pounded out our first one for practice the other day, though” Hagelund said. “It took me about a half hour as a rookie. It’s pretty heavy-duty work, so we should all have forearms like Popeye by the end of the summer.”

This “brick,” encased in steel-belted rubber, can weigh as much as 300 pounds once rammed with earth, so they are used to make outer, load-bearing walls. Internally, nonload-bearing walls are made of a honeycomb of recycled bottles or cans joined by concrete.

“Earthships also utilize thermal mass construction to naturally regulate indoor temperatures,” King said.

South-facing windows allow light to naturally heat the home, as well as allowing the tire walls at the back of the structure to soak up heat during the day and radiate it during the night.

“They’re oriented to utilize the sun for heat, electricity and sometimes cooking and composting.” King said.

Most Earthships are U-shaped, but King said their home’s design will be modified to accommodate Alaska sunlight better.

“We’ll open it up to get more sun access,” King said. “We’ll also go with two stories to utilize rising heat. The goal is to create a year-round ambient air temperature of around 50 degrees.”

To accomplish this, Hagelund acknowledged some supplemental heat will have to take place during the cooler months.

“We’ll be running a masonry stove almost all winter,” he said. “We’ll also have a small wind turbine and some solar panels to charge a small bank of batteries to power a refrigerator, freezer, other small appliances and our computer.”

Water used in Earthships is collected from rain, snow and condensation. Cisterns are positioned so they gravity feed to a filter and pump system, and the harvested water has multiple uses. Water used for a shower may later be used to water a garden.

“Water may be recycled three to four times before it goes to septic,” King said.

Many Earthships are subterranean or built into the side of a hill or mountain, but Hagelund said this, too, had to be modified to accommodate the soggy substrate of their Kasilof property.

“We live in a swampy area so we’ll build up dirt terraces to it,” he said. “We’d like to start the dirt work, and getting the pad ready, in about a week and a half.”

The Hagelunds said they are open to working with volunteers interested in helping ram tires with dirt, and they are still in need of some supplies for the construction of their home. They need around 3,500 bottles to build their interior walls, so they are taking donations.

“We’d like nice, preferably colored, liquor bottles,” King said.

To help work or make a donation, contact the Hagelunds by e-mail at

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Flocking to isolation — Couple gathers bird stats from the flats

Winging it

By Sean Ulman, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Sean Ulman. Sean and Sadie Ulman enjoy a sunny day on the Chickaloon Flats last summer. This year will be the second of a two-year project to monitor birds at the migratory stopover.

My wife, Sadie Ulman, is doing her master’s thesis on the value of the Chickaloon Flats as a stopover site for migrating shorebirds. Last summer we spent 11 idyllic weeks at the Pincher Creek Cabin wandering mudflat plots surveying birds. Then we returned to Delaware for six months, where Sadie took degree-credit classes and I worked on my long, ongoing novel, “Seward.”

Both places are accommodating for a writer. Boring or annoying cities like Newark, Del., are a good place to get work done because you’re not missing anything staying inside. Alaska keeps me happy in general. The artistic space of a remote cabin where I spend at least eight hours a day outside listening to and watching birds makes for an ideal desk.

Chickaloon Flats has the water, mountain views and variety of avifauna — things that foster a happy, expansive soul, not to mention good writing. Newark has traffic, commercial and residential lots clogged with apartment and business buildings and the tedium of societal constraints — things that, in my opinion, can choke a soul. It takes me 15 minutes to drive Sadie three miles to class, over Route 95, through five traffic lights. We are the only two people on her site’s 42,000 acres of refuge land.

“It’s more than a fair deal,” I always tell people interested in the peculiar dichotomy of the destinations. We love Alaska. I would have spent six months somewhere worse than Newark, though no place worse comes to mind, if it meant returning for another northern summer. This will be our fourth in a row. It will be the project’s second and final season.

I have been anticipating the autonomy and inspiration of the muddy wilderness ever since we left last August. Being so close to our departure (date and location) has specified my memory.

The Pincher Creek Cabin makes a suitably humble home for a summer.

The pitch of the short-billed dowitchers’ flight call — “diddery doo-doo.” The snipe’s tail feather spinning witchy “woops.” The muddy marsh’s tangy aromas of ocean sewage; the squish under my wader boot, weighted steps. The taste of rice and beans flavored with a ration of Mae Ploy sauce. The way basic foods magically improve when you lack choice and variety. Gourmet Ramen. The value of calories — feeling the energy drawing in as my jaw works over a granola bar. Sleeping deep after a full day, with bizarre, vivid dreams.

Enough reading time to get lost in a good book and think about the story or style even when I’m not reading. The arrival of the swallows swarming overhead like flies. And the flies — ever-present pests that taught me the tolerance and skill to catch bugs between my lips, then spit them out. The productive chores of filling and filtering water, chopping wood, carrying equipment long distances, setting up nets, etc.

More accessible memories propel my eagerness. Questions arise. Will we identify more or less than the 82 different bird species we saw last year? What new species might we see? Will the plots we monitor be used by more or less shorebirds and waterfowl? Will we be able to net and band as many birds this spring as we did last fall — 76? Will the 15-foot tower we built out of driftwood to scope the shoreline still be standing? Will we see a wolf (not just wolf tracks)? Will we see four-wheeler tracks (hopefully not)?

Sadie Ulman works from atop a tower she and Sean made of driftwood last summer.

Shopping and packing draws the fruits of the field ever closer. I like how little I actually need — a library of literature, writing pads, a dictionary, iPod, binoculars, a soccer ball, a few breathable layers, rain gear, one warm fleece, lots of warm socks, sunblock, ball cap, XTRATUFs, bear spray and cell phone and charger (we have service from nearby Anchorage) so I can call in this column. There are some new, exciting items on the 2010 cargo list. A hand-crank radio (sports scores!), a backcountry oven bake set, powdered eggs, watercolor paints kit, a sun shower, a Nikon D70 camera. Of course, we’ll bring more than we need — Gatorade powder, extra gourmet coffee, playing cards, Bananagrams. That goes for food, too. We ran a little low last August. The ill-equipped feeling of occasionally getting up from the table still hungry was the only part of last season that didn’t feel healthy.

In addition to a natural quarantine from human germs, we had all that fresh air and plenty of exercise. But uninterrupted creative expression, as well as birding, is the best medicine. Writing long prose longhand for the first time, I scribbled a solid novel block. Sadie and I made two comedic short films. Alas, our driftwood tower will live on cinematically even if it was hacked down by heaving ice planks. The structure was featured in “Wreck of a Tech II.” The idiotic technician mistakes it for a lifeguard chair and lapses into memories of his first summer job. After barking out a list of barred floatation devices to invisible mischievous kids, he informs the project leader, a woman, “Yes, sir, it is free swim.” Continue reading


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Science of the Seasons: Snow melts, mold remains

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of David Wartinbee. Cobweblike mycelia remain on the surface of leaves and grass after snow melts. The fungi are a form of snow mold, which can which can be gray or pink.

The days have lengthened enough that I’m ready for spring and summer. However, this year we have received a couple late-season snowfalls that just aren’t melting nearly fast enough for me. I’m done with ice fishing and I’m ready for boating and summer fishing trips. But, before the lakes thaw, I know the snow in my yard has to go away, too.

As that snow melts, an unusual occurrence will show itself, if you’ll look for it. Mixed in with the lowest layer of snow, just above the grass or the leaves, lie numerous fine strands of fungal mycelium.

The cobweblike strands are embedded in the snow and become visible on the grass as the snow disappears. This mold requires moist conditions, so once its protective snow cover melts, the fungi dry up and die off. Next year they will re-emerge from the spores they leave behind.

Just so you know, you may have to get down on your hands and knees to actually see this fungal growth, since the mycelium really are as fine as a spiderweb. Look particularly along the edges of the melting snow.

The mycelia are the remains of a group of fungi that are collectively called snow molds. Their name indicates where they can be found and the habitats where they thrive. Basically, in the early spring, these molds grow within and under the snow, right above the grass.

The minute strands of mycelium push their way through moist snow and into dead plant material. They feed by digesting organic material trapped in the snow as well as on the dead grass and leaves below. While we don’t think of snow as being tainted with organic particles, there are actually all kinds of material in the most pristine-seeming snow. If you melt snow in a bucket, you’ll find things like bud scales, leaf fragments, seeds, tufts of lichen, bark remnants, tiny twigs, etc. All of these are used for food by the dozens of snow mold varieties.

As snow temperatures warm in the spring and there is some liquid water in the snow, the fungi sprout from hardy spores. They grow very well in temperatures close to freezing and the snow covering the grass provides insulation from periodic colder temperatures. The really harsh cold of winter prevented their germination until now. With a blanket of snow for insulation, a little liquid water and organic materials for food, the fungi grow rapidly until they lose their protective snow cover. Then they dry out and die back.

While many of us may have never seen any of these snow molds, they are very well-known to those who care for manicured lawns or golf courses. If the snowmelt takes an extended period of time, the fungi will feed on the dead grass leaves and can cause patches of light-colored turf in the middle of an otherwise green lawn. The mycelia can be dull gray or an interesting pink; hence the common names gray or pink snow molds.

In most cases, these molds are only consuming dead grass blades, but some of the different varieties can actually kill underlying plants. Turf care experts generally recommend thatching to remove excess food for overwintering snow molds. They also suggest cutting and raking grass just before snow falls so you remove potential food sources. And it is suggested that minimal fertilizers be used late in the season so there aren’t lots of long leaves that die off over the winter and provide nutrients for the fungi in the spring.

The good news is that most of these molds do not kill the entire layer of grass. Normally the discolored patches will dry out once the snow melts and that kills the mold. Then, new growth should sprout from the underlying grass roots as summer arrives.

Snow molds are members of a fungal group called “fungi imperfecti.” This name comes from their apparent lack of a sexual reproductive stage. Instead, they reproduce by producing thousands of asexual spores on minute fruiting bodies. The spores then geminate when proper conditions occur. Several fungi imperfecti are important as sources of antibiotics (e.g., penicillin) or for their roles in flavoring cheese (e.g., proprionibacter — Swiss cheese).

Many fungi are able to live in some very harsh conditions. The snow molds are a good example of this hardiness, and if we look, we can see their remains for a few weeks as our snow melts away.

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. He is writing a series of columns on the ecology of the Kenai River and Cook Inlet watershed.

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Halibut ceviche: Mix, marinate, chill

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

They were the best kind of couple. He is the quintessential Generation X river guide; she, a Southern sorority girl turned attorney first class. The costume changes each of them make from their professional lives to their after-hours lives is something from the Gatsby era, when people still danced or had someone in their lives they called, “My Bootlegger.”

They were the kind of people you could have over for dinner and think that it was something to write about in the paper. It was only in the past few years that I learned that small towns in North Dakota still report the visiting of relatives in the weekly news. It was the kind of local familiarity that reminds me of the pathways that used to exist between the houses of Old Town Kenai, back when neighbors visited each other by foot instead of via social networking.

With our finished dinner plates still on the table, there was too much storytelling amongst livers (in the Gatsby sense of the word, i.e. drinkers, who would later have liver problems) for anyone to volunteer dish duty.

We were discussing fishing, of course. It was the first time I’d heard the word “ceviche.” It was what they could have made out of the dorado that got away off the coast of Florida. But more correctly, ceviche is freshly caught white fish marinated in lemon or lime juice. The citric acid causes the fish to cook without heat.

What was once thought of as the Latin food trend of the 21st century had actually been practiced by Southern fishermen for years. They would make it at home with the day’s catch, soaked in lime juice, chili powder, onions, garlic, cilantro and a little sea salt. They threw this mix in the fridge before going to bed. The next morning, on their way to the boat, they tossed in some chopped tomatoes. Then they’d have it as salsa with chips as a snack during the day.

Another way, without refrigeration, is to leave the covered mix out in the sun on the boat’s deck to help the acidic action. As I listened to the great ceviche conversation, I couldn’t help but bear in mind that I live in a country that just threw away every single bag of spinach because of the E. coli threat.

The media, via the Food and Drug Administration, encourages the parasite scare. There are countless commercials personifying germs that will come to life out of raw fish and poultry — invisible to the human eye! These germs are often overweight and unshaven with mean dispositions. One commercial even has a germ clad in a white muscle shirt. He says something offensive like, “Thanks for having me over for dinner,” just before he’s wiped away in agony by a pink latex glove carrying a spray bottle of the latest germ-killer formula.

While my dinner mates are talking about how to cut up the fish into inch-size pieces and then let them soak in lime juice, I’m thinking to myself, is lime juice really potent enough to kill Herbie, the obnoxious slovenly germ? (I’m calling him Herbie because his real name, cod worm or anisakis simplex, is even less palatable.) Will lemon or lime really cook the fish? Some conservative ceviche recipes call for a little bit of cooking, “Just to be sure.”

Everyone at the table disagreed that any cooking was necessary. The simple preparation of white fish soaked in lime juice had an undeniable appeal: fresh, simple, healthy. My first thought was to use lake trout, but, given my issues with parasites, saltwater fish would be a better bet for ceviche. Continue reading

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Sipping up support — Library group gets dressed up to dress out new facility

By AdriAnna Newberry

Photo by AdriAnna Newberry. Erin Micciche and daughter, Sophia, read a book together at a High Tea event held to raise money for the Kenai Community Library.

For the Redoubt Reporter

When the Friends of the Kenai Community Library decide to have tea, they do it in a grand way. Ladies of all ages sat at tables set with perky cloth napkins and small colorful flowers on April 11 at the Kenai Merit Inn.

Ribbons, veils and bright flowers adorn the hats upon coiffed heads — a black cap with a half veil of black lace, or a simple black brim made classic by a long stream of lacy cloth tied around and flowing down the back, paired with a pearl necklace in elegant companionship to the wearer’s black-and-white top. Fanciful loaner hats were available for ladies who came bareheaded. Dotted around the room were straw hats reminiscent of “Anne of Green Gables,” each complete with strands of ribbon tied around the cap. Bags of tea tied up like wedding rice sat by each plate as a take-home gift.

Meghan Ussing, 11, was invited to the tea by her church friend Susan Smalley. Ussing moved to Alaska from Oregon, and this is her first year in Soldotna. She has not yet visited the Kenai Community Library, although she has been to the Soldotna library and is an avid reader.

“I’ve read all the Redwall series (by Brian Jaques). They always talk about scones and food,” Ussing said.

The timing couldn’t have been much better. Plates of large scones began to appear at the tables. There were three choices of flavor — cinnamon, traditional cream and lemon-ginger. Lemon curd (tastier than it sounds), honey and various jams were available in small dishes at the center of the table.

There was some discussion as to the particulars of proper scone eating. It was decided that those who wished to dip may dip, and those who wished to use a fork may do so. Since it was rapidly evident that only those who used a fork were able to enjoy the various scone toppings, the dippers wasted no time switching to silverware.

Meanwhile, a ladies’ barbershop group, the Sweet Adelines, sang several songs. They opened with the Alaska state song, “Alaska’s Flag,” and included selections from Elvis to the World War II era.

From there, amiable chatter filled the room as the women — and three men dressed in dark suits and ties who were not too proud to refuse tasty food — enjoyed each other’s company. The men sat together in an island surrounded by femininity. The ringing of a spoon and teacup captured everyone’s attention. It was time to start the drawing.

Photo by AdriAnna Newberry. Susan Smalley and Meghan Ussing enjoy their tea.

Two tables in the room were filled with books and desk calendars. As each ticket was called in groups of four, the winners make a selection. After a few tries of this, a new caller is chosen. Perhaps the first enjoyed too many years developing her librarian indoor voice.

Over tea sandwiches of salmon, cucumber and chicken with sprouts, Kathy Heus, member of the Friends of the Kenai Community Library and former member of the Kenai Library Commission, talked about the purpose of the fundraiser. It was not, as some had believed, held to supplement construction costs of the pending library expansion.

“The funds are not specifically designated, but we’re planning on using them for building furnishings, programming (reading programs, classes and the like) or for buying new materials. Stuff above and beyond the normal budget, that’s what we support,” Heus said.

The Soldotna Public Library is looking toward expansion, as well, which is part of the reason Erin Micciche, Soldotna library board member, attended the tea. Well, other than the chance for her daughters to play dress-up.

“We always support the Friends of the Kenai Library,” Micciche said. “It’s very exciting, us being on that same path.”

Fliers on each table, which blended in as decorative elements, noted that the annual Friends’ book sale will be held at the former Allen and Peterson store in the Kenai Safeway Shopping Plaza from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 18 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 19. Friends members have a pre-sale option from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. June 17. Membership cards will be required.

Those wishing to donate books for the sale can drop them off at the Kenai Community Library from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays.

For more information, contact Kari Mohn at 283-4258 or visit

AdriAnna Newberry is an intern at the Redoubt Reporter.

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For the good of the sheep … eventually

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

The premise for the research seemed sound: to establish a baseline of information on the Dall sheep living in the mountains in the Cooper Landing area. It was the “execution” of this research that baffled and even angered some onlookers.

The work by Alaska Department of Fish and Game regional research biologist Lyman Nichols centered on three mountain systems — Surprise Mountain (now called Bear Mountain), Crescent Mountain (now Right Mountain), and the Cooper Landing Closed Area (sometimes called Slaughter Mountain).

When Nichols began his research project in 1970, Crescent and Surprise mountains were open to hunting, and each of the three systems was home to a distinct and relatively isolated herd of Dall sheep being monitored by Fish and Game. In fact, Nichols and fellow biologist Al Johnson had spent 10 days in late November hunkered down on the slopes of these mountain systems, observing the rutting season and taking copious notes.

These observations were part of a larger goal to more fully understand the movements, behavior, diet and life cycles of the wild Alaska sheep. And, in the end, Nichols was successful in furthering this understanding. In fact, many years and many studies later, he was considered a resident expert in not only the Dall sheep, but the mountain goat as well.

Part of Nichols’ plan in 1970 involved controlling the herd numbers on Crescent Mountain, and then comparing them to the numbers on the other two mountains over a five-year study period. Doing this would give Nichols one controlled herd, one regularly hunted herd, and one “natural” herd protected from hunting.

The “control” he hoped to exercise involved reducing the herd size to a specific manageable number and then keeping that number as constant as possible while also maintaining close tabs on each mountain’s range and climate.

According to an article in the Jan. 23, 1971, Cheechako News, Nichols wanted to determine the “ideal range capacities” for the three systems, and to see whether range and population influenced the health of the herd, and the incidence and spread of disease among the sheep.

His goal, then, was to eventually produce the best management plan to ensure the healthiest herds, chiefly to maintain healthy sheep populations that Fish and Game could regulate and humans could harvest.

In order to ensure this healthy state, however, he was going to have to kill some sheep — a lot of sheep, as it turned out.

In the fall of 1970, Nichols performed an aerial survey of the Crescent Mountain herd and counted 287 individual animals. His goal involved working with only 200 animals because, according to the Cheechako, “that is the number biologists feel is ideally suited to the range.”

To begin reducing the number of animals, Fish and Game allowed a special autumn hunt in 1970 to help cull the herd. The hunt resulted in a harvest of 15 sheep.

Consequently, Nichols stated in a Fish and Game release that the further reduction would occur during the winter through the selective targeting of about 75 lambs, ewes and young rams. These sheep would be taken at a rate of approximately 10 per month until biologists did an aerial survey the following summer to determine the success of spring lambing.

Accompanying the Cheechako story was a trio of photographs, the first of which depicted a helicopter in midflight. Dangling in a large net well below the fuselage was the first load of harvested animals, which had been shot sometime earlier that day by biologists from the helicopter itself.

With this load, and subsequent loads in later months, Fish and Game personnel flew the animals to the Soldotna Fish and Game headquarters — located at that time just behind the current site of the Wells Fargo Bank — where protection officers helped unload them.

One of those protection officers was Dan France, who held a degree in wildlife management and did not think highly of Nichols’ research techniques.

“I didn’t see any reason for them to do this — to kill all them sheep with a helicopter,” France said. “I didn’t see any sense in what they were doing.”

After the sheep were unloaded, they were taken inside the Fish and Game facility to be measured, weighed and assessed for health. They were then eviscerated so that biologists could examine them internally for diet and disease; tissue and other samples were taken and sent off to labs for analysis.

Previously, blood samples had also been taken from the animals on the mountain, just after they had been shot and the bodies were still warm.

After the testing procedures were complete, France was then in charge of making sure that none of the meat was wasted. He had to call people on the road-kill list to see whether they wanted meat. Nichols’ original plan, according to the Cheechako, called for the meat to be donated to the school at English Bay, but France said he wasn’t sure whether that donation occurred.

Meanwhile in the community, several conservationists expressed their disapproval of the project, and in January 1971 the fledgling Peninsula Clarion wondered in its gossipy section called “The Ear” whether it was ethical for the biologists to shoot dozens of game animals while citizens were being arrested for harvesting moose out of season.

Longtime Soldotna resident Joanne Odom was bothered enough by the biologists’ actions that she angrily took her three daughters down to Fish and Game headquarters to watch one of the choppers come in with a load.

But the herd reduction — during which biologists killed 48 sheep, according to a report released by Nichols — continued on into the summer, until a June 21 aerial survey. This new count revealed 208 adults and 20 new lambs, which Nichols termed a “poor” number of newborns. He blamed the low lambing numbers on a severe winter and a late spring.

Largely as a consequence of the low numbers, Fish and Game issued in August an emergency closure for all hunting of Dall sheep in the entire Cooper Landing area.

Although his methods sometimes continued to be controversial, Nichols, meanwhile, did learn through trial and error and plenty of hard work. Throughout the 1970s and beyond, he published scholarly papers on the reproduction and survivability of the Kenai Peninsula’s wild populations of mountain sheep and goats.

In April 1976, he presented a paper called “An Experiment in Dall Sheep Management: Progress Report” to the Second Annual North American Wild Sheep Conference held in Denver and sponsored by Colorado State University and the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Cooper Landing historian, Mona Painter, who has lived in the area since 1959 and knew Nichols personally, said, “This was really cutting-edge stuff, something that hadn’t been done before. And I don’t remember anybody around here being upset about it, really.”

Still, she said, if a biologist tried such research techniques today, “There’d be hell to pay.”

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Filed under Almanac, Cooper Landing, hunting, wildlife

Art Seen: Celebrating visual extravagance

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos by Zirrus VanDevere. “Fireflies” by Greta Danielson, from a beginning painting class at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus.

A sweet little show has just finished exhibiting at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. Sunday’s Celebration of the Arts rounded up the exhibit and basically the semester.

Patty Youngren got the best of show award for her Francis Bacon-like self-portrait, and numerous other honorable mentions were handed out. The black-and-white photography was appealing, and Todd Marshall-Closson and Chelsea Dorman each had lovely entries. There was only one drawing that really caught my eye, a small and quirky compilation of sketches called “Lady with Sheet on Her Head” by Brittany Ellen Osland.

The painting on view was vibrant, and especially impressive because it was mostly from a beginning painting class. Greta Danielson’s “Fireflies” is a joyful rendering of four girls in bright colors, reaching to the sky. The title can either imply that these girls are in the act of trying to catch the bright and happy bugs, or that they actually resemble them.

Brandi Henry Kerley had a mixed-media piece created in an intermediate painting class that I particularly appreciated. Subtly painted upside down at the top of the canvas is a series of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous Vitruvian Man images. Extending from the farthest left of them is what seems to be a loose rendering of a DNA chain cascading over a collage of words. The muted monochromatic shades are peaceful and inviting, although the words are certainly harsh. I was tempted, as I often am with interesting mixed-media pieces, to feel what the surface was like. I have never given into the temptation without an artist’s agreement, but it is a high compliment from me when the impulse is there.

A display of mixed-media bottle labels by Ben Hastings.

Ben Hastings has some amazing mixed-media beer labels using watercolor, ink dye and wax resist, acrylic paint and digital printmaking that were a joy to visit. The day was fairly dynamic, with an always-entertaining Celia Anderson putting on a slide show about the nine exhibits and multiple events that occurred throughout the year. Katie Hunter and Cathy Taylor shared some of the work they were doing in a color design class, Donna Schwanke did some watercoloring, Sam Merry demonstrated an additive process in sculpture using armature and plastilene, and Todd Marshall-Closson was giving tips about using Photoshop. Rachel Grossl was showing how she does Arashi Shibori, an ancient Japanese process of binding fabric onto a bamboo pole, originally. Today, a piece of PVC pipe is more typically used, and Grossl even had a couple she’d done around glass bottles.

Sherril Miller demonstrated polychromatic screen printing on fabric with dyes inside, while out on the lawn, Nicole Lopez did plangi (Indonesian word for binding fabric to produce designs) combined with discharge dying (stripping dye out of fabric), and Brandi Kerley was busy discharging dyes using a direct application of bleach with stencils onto black fabric.

Brandi Henry Kerley works on discharge dyeing a project.

Meanwhile, Dorman sat in the hallway, selling one-of-a-kind T-shirts to raise money for the KPC Art Students League, which put on the event. Chris Closson and Chris Pepper (Chris squared, as one of them quipped) played guitars and sang an interesting range of musical numbers. It was a festive and artsy scene, and shows me that art is alive and well on the Kenai River Campus.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

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Filed under art, Art Seen, Kenai Peninsula College

Springing for live music — Bandfest kicks off spring with free concert

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Zirrus VanDevere. Christopher Closson, left, and Chris Pepper play and sing Sunday at the Kenai Peninsula College Arts Extravaganza. KPC will host a band festival Friday.

Redoubt Reporter

For Kenai Peninsula College students and community members clamoring for more live music, Christopher Closson has a message: Come and get it.

The Student Union at KPC’s Kenai River Campus is holding a band festival on the lawn Friday, in part as a way to celebrate spring and the end of the school year, and to gather local bands at one place, at one time.

“Basically I’ve been pushing all year for the music scene and it just doesn’t happen,” Closson said. “I’ve tried to do open mics at the college for a really long time, but oftentimes I’m the only person to go. I go set up and play by myself and nobody shows up. There have been a couple of concerts like at Triumvirate (Theatre), and I kind of want to see more of that happen. I thought it’d be really cool to get the college involved. I want to make it a lively place for students and the community, as well.”

Closson is a student at KPC. He said he recognizes it can be difficult to get students and the community to show up to events, but feels like music is something everybody can get behind.

“I think there’s a lot of students that are just searching for things to do, and we really don’t have very many venues at the college,” he said. “I think a lot of people will go to something like this.”

Closson’s band, The Ocean, is slated to play at the band festival, and he recruited several other local musicians and bands, as well. Also in the lineup are Mike Morgan, who will play during a barbecue for KPC students held earlier in the day, Bull Don and the Moose Nuggets, 907, 7 Days to Noon, Men With Guns and Pisces. That makes for an eclectic mix, including rootsy folk music from 907, popular rock from 7 Days to Noon, rock and punk from Men With Guns, progressive alternative from The Ocean, and electronic music from Pisces.

The band festival is from 6 to 9:30 on the lawn at the Kenai River Campus. Bring camp chairs or blankets to sit on. It is free and open to the public. In case of rain, the event may be moved inside, but Closson’s weather forecast is as sunny as his hope for a large attendance.

“I would really love to see a bright sunny day. Get everyone outside and have an awesome time,” he said. “It’s absolutely free. The whole day is going to be lot of fun, especially for students. Being outside all day and listening to music sounds like an awesome day.”

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Filed under entertainment, Kenai Peninsula College, music, Uncategorized

Plugged In: Zoom in on answers to photography questions

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

It’s probably the right time to slack off a bit, after last week’s tech-heavy dissertation, complete with technical drawings.

So, this week, we’ll answer some reader questions of general interest.

Q: I want a top-quality, point-and-shoot camera for under $250. Someone recommended Canon and told me to be sure that it included RAW format file options.

A: Until about mid-2008, I usually recommended upper-end Canon and Kodak cameras for casual photographers who wanted good-quality images from a no-hassle compact camera. A RAW file format option is no longer offered in most compacts, except top-end models where the purchase price approaches the cost of an entry-level, large-sensor dSLR camera.

For example, Canon’s A590IS ($150) and A650IS ($300) cameras provided excellent image quality for the money and had a full range of manual and semimanual options. They only lacked high-definition video and a usable RAW file option for those times when you needed the extra quality.

Similarly, some of the Kodak “z” series cameras, especially the long-zoom z1012 and z8612 cameras, mounted a really excellent 12x Schneider lens along with very good sensors and even high-definition video. Kodak’s P880 included both a good RAW format option and also a Schneider zoom lens that produced images rivaling those from bulky large-sensor dSLR cameras costing much more.

Those days are gone. Except for the somewhat bulkier Kodak z1015 and z980 long-zoom cameras, there’s no current Kodak compact, still-image camera that I can recommend in good conscience. The same holds true for Canon, except for their top-end, rather expensive S90 and G11 models. Canon and Kodak both seem to have “dumbed” their entire line of compact cameras intended for the general public, in many cases losing basic image quality as well as useful manual and semiauto options like Aperture Priority mode.

However, some very worthwhile alternatives are available — both the compact Sony H20 and the Panasonic ZS5 are priced in the $230 to $300 range and are excellent all-around cameras that include a good-quality, long-zoom lens. These are excellent travel cameras — compact and light, with good image quality and a very versatile zoom lens.

My personal preference would be the Sony H20. Not only is the H20 usually a bit less expensive than the Panasonic ZS series, but Sony’s sensors often show better noise characteristics in demanding low-light conditions. If you do get a Panasonic ZS series, you’ll find that the less-expensive ZS5 is a better buy — it includes the same lens and sensor as its more expensive sibling but omits some gadgets, such as a GPS database that labels your picture of the Eiffel Tower as the Eiffel Tower.

If you want something a bit more deluxe in a compact camera, then it’s hard to beat Canon’s G11 (usually about $460 with 5x zoom lens) and Canon’s S90 (about $380 with 3.8x zoom lens). These combine top-quality optics with state-of-the-art sensor performance, as well as a very useful RAW file format option. The S90 and G11 offer the best image quality of any current small-sensor compact cameras. In fact, the S90 is so compact that, unless you purchase a third-party grip, you may find it difficult to securely hold the camera.

Only the rather larger and more expensive Micro 4/3 format large-sensor, interchangeable-lens cameras from Olympus and Panasonic offer better image quality while remaining highly portable. Of the current M 4/3 cameras, Olympus’ $600 E-PL1 seems to have the best image quality and most features for the price. Direct purchase from Amazon usually results in the best price for these upper-end models.

Q: Should I take a film, chemical photo and darkroom course? Continue reading

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Filed under photography, Plugged in, technology, Uncategorized

Fired up — Firearms on display in open-carry Kenai march

By Matt Tunseth

Photos by Matt Tunseth. Norm Olson, of the Alaska Citizens Militia, left with American flag, leads an open-carry march through Kenai in support of the Second Amendment.

For the Redoubt Reporter

Protest and dissent against the government continue to simmer on the Kenai, where vocal, visible public gatherings have become as frequent as the steam and ash clouds often seen puffing from Redoubt volcano 60 miles to the west.

Since mid-March, four such events have taken place in the Kenai-Soldotna area. In the wake of a Second Amendment/Constitutional Task Force Rally — a meeting that garnered national media attention — held at Kenai Central High School last month, a man hoping to shed light on public corruption has drawn more than 100 people to hear his case, “Tea Party” activists have staged a tax day rally, and armed, flag-waving Second Amendment supporters have marched through town.

For Norm Olson, whose Nikiski-based Alaska Citizens Militia led Monday’s open carry march through downtown Kenai, the movement on the peninsula is a good first step — but not enough.

“I don’t think we’re adequately prepared yet to go to battle against this regime in Washington, or the ones that follow,” Olson said.

A half dozen of Olson’s camouflage-clad militia members led more than 30 people on Monday’s march through Kenai, with about half of the participants carrying firearms. Many proudly waved American flags or yellow, “Don’t Tread on Me” banners, waving enthusiastically to passersby along the route. Marchers ranged in age from young children to seniors, united in a staunch belief in the sanctity of the Second Amendment.

“Our rights come from God, not from government,” read a sign at the rally.

A common theme running through each event has been the idea that agents of the government, both state and federal, are systematically eroding the rights and freedoms of individual Americans.

That was the idea behind a presentation given by hunting guide David Haeg earlier this month at the Soldotna Sports Center. Haeg, who says he was wrongfully convicted in 2004 of illegal aerial wolf hunting by a corrupt justice system, drew more than 100 people to his event after promoting it on local radio and even flying over town with an anti-corruption banner.

A youth with a rifle listens to speakers.

During his presentation, Haeg said defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges and state troopers in Alaska conspired to lie, cheat and downright steal his livelihood and airplane in an effort to make him the scapegoat for state-sponsored predator control that was under siege from animal rights activists. Haeg told a sympathetic crowd that the rampant corruption adds up to a violation of his basic rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“We have irrefutable proof that our Constitution is being sh– on,” he said.

Many in Haeg’s audience seemed willing to listen to his case, but also brought their own beefs with the government to the meeting.

“Why is the president refusing to prove he’s a citizen?” asked one woman.

“We need to get rid of the whole (Kenai) District Attorney’s office,” a man cried out.

Nikiski Middle-High School teacher and recent U.S. Senate candidate Bob Bird’s face has been a familiar one at many of the recent public gatherings. Bird spoke out during both Haeg’s presentation and the Second Amendment march — the latter with a .45-caliber handgun strapped to his hip — about the need for citizens to stand up against the government’s trampling of people’s constitutional and God-given rights.

Continue reading

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Filed under militia, public safety