Monthly Archives: August 2010

Death’s a beach — 3 beached whales create busy summer for marine mammal network

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Brent Johnson. A female, juvenile humpback whale, showing signs of killer whale predation, rests on the beach at Brent and Judy Johnson’s set-net site near Clam Gulch earlier this month. The whale was floating near where the Johnsons were going to set their nets, so Brent Johnson hauled it ashore. It quickly became a visitors draw.

Redoubt Reporter

As a commercial fisherman, Brent Johnson wants to haul in a big catch. But at 28.5 feet long and about as many tons, what he found in the water Aug. 7 off his family set-net site near Clam Gulch was more than he bargained for.

Johnson was preparing for an early morning Aug. 8 fishing opening when he spotted something that looked a little like an overturned boat floating by about a half mile out in Cook Inlet. Upon investigation he instead found a dead whale.

Johnson said he only knows enough about whales to know it wasn’t a beluga. Beyond that he was stumped, but he did know that he didn’t want the whale floating into his nets when they were set the next morning, so he towed the whale to shore and landed it about 50 feet from the family’s fishing cabin. Any undivided attention due to other duties by anyone in camp at that point was quickly diverted to the whale.

“The crew has clicked pictures like the thing was a supermodel,” Johnson said.

After all, it was hard to miss, both in size and smell.

“I told Brent, ‘Could you have at least pulled it in several hundred feet from us?’” said Brent’s wife, Judy, on Aug. 8. “It’s next to our cabin, and last night it washed closer to us. After tonight it might be right in our driveway.” Continue reading

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Healing with local Touch — Family turns loss into children’s cancer crusade

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Vannatter family didn’t need to struggle to retain memories of their 2-year-old daughter, Emma, after she died of cancer in October 2008. It takes no special effort to be reminded of her. Her existence is still omnipresent — tangibly in photos and keepsakes of the smiley little blonde; and in a more visceral sense, in the daily ache still felt by her parents, in the motivation of friends and family to help any way they can, in the way their nearly 7-year-old son, Logan, reveled in the camaraderie of no longer being an only child when visiting his three cousins in Kenai this summer.

“You could tell Logan was real lonely,” said Rhonda Baisden, of Kenai, Logan’s aunt and sister of Charles Vannatter. “Our 2-year-old daughter, you just kept hearing them reference, ‘Emma used do to that. Emma was that way.’ I think that was therapeutic for them to see that little sassy spice of a girl, that their niece and cousin is carrying those traits.”

Photo courtesy of Rhonda Baisden. From left are Logan Vannatter, of West Virginia, and his cousins, James Cullen, Sarah Jane and Samuel Baisden, from Kenai.

The fight for the Vannatter family isn’t to remember Emma, it’s to do something to honor her memory, to make sure their daughter’s impact stretches beyond just the indelible, little-girl-shaped mark she made on all their hearts. They want her life to be an inspiration to help soothe the hearts of other families suffering the challenges of a child with cancer, by filling in the gaps and addressing the needs for connection and support that are missed by the established cancer treatment network. The family had to learn about those gaps and needs the hard way.

Charles, Karen and Logan Vannatter live in Princeton, West Virginia. Emma was 16 months old when she was diagnosed with leukemia on Sept. 14, 2007. She died Oct. 4, 2008, at 28 months old. The challenges — financial, logistical and medical — and sorrow that came in that time period were more than they ever could have imagined or prepared for.

Rhonda Baisden, a southern transplant who lives with her husband, James, and their three kids in Kenai, knew from her medical background as a laboratory technician some of what Emma would be undergoing physically.

“When Charlie told me the diagnosis I knew what was ahead of her, I knew what she faced,” Baisden said. “I was mourning her suffering before anybody understood what she would be suffering.” Continue reading

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Almanac: Hope for history — Mining community is rich source of tales

By Clark Fair

Photos by Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter. Billy Miller stands outside on the grounds of the Hope-Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum, telling visitors about the array of buildings and old mining equipment on display there.

Redoubt Reporter

Nate White’s beefy wife had finished with her business in the outhouse and was stepping outside when a brown bear lunged at her. She retreated back into the odorous confines just as the bear smacked the door, slamming it shut.

More angry than afraid, Mrs. White peered out through a crack in the boards of the structure and watched as her husband’s pet bear prowled around her, restrained by its collar, a length of chain, and the running line to which Mr. White had secured the animal before leaving to act as a substitute deliveryman on the mail boat out of Hope.

Nate White had raised the bear from a cub, and now, at about age 2, it was large enough to pull White’s dogsled into the woods surrounding Hope and help him haul out loads of birch for firewood. Nate had a fondness for the burly bruin. His wife, on the other hand, detested it.

At one point, she saw a group of men strolling toward the local pool hall and she hollered for help, but although they heard her cries the men seemed unable to ascertain the direction from which they had come, and so they continued on.

Eventually, more than half an hour passed and Mrs. White noticed that the bear had drifted away, so she made a break for it. As fast as she could move her large frame, she bolted away from the outhouse and was able to reach her home. There, she gathered up a shotgun, strode purposefully back outdoors and dispatched her husband’s pet.

Visitors to the Hope-Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum are likely to hear this story, because a 1917 photograph on the wall in the main building depicts Nate White standing at the ready behind his sled, with his trusty brown bear out in front on the end of a lead line. It is a photo that readily draws visitors’ attention, and the museum’s main guides and caretakers, Ann and Billy Miller, delight in telling the tale, just as they enjoy regaling guests with dozens of other stories and hundreds of interesting facts about the community in which they have lived for almost 50 years. Continue reading

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Earthship effort taking flight — Kasilof family recycling new home

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kelly Hagelund shovels sand in front of the main house wall of the Earthship home he and his wife, Willow King, are building in Kasilof. More than 200 earth-rammed tires went into the construction of the wall.

Redoubt Reporter

An Earthship — a home built almost entirely out of recyclable materials — is still taking shape in Kasilof despite minor setbacks, most of which are related to this summer’s wet weather.

“It’s going a lot slower and has involved a lot more work than we originally anticipated, but overall it’s going good,” said Kelly Hagelund who, along with his wife, Willow King, began building the nontraditional, eco-friendly home earlier this year after a fire consumed their two-story log cabin in November 2009.

A malfunctioning component in the home’s wood stove exhaust system is believed to have caused the blaze, which robbed Hagelund, King and their three kids, ages 2 to 8, of their home of five and a half years, and all possessions in it.

Dirt work and pad construction for their new home began in April, and the couple began collecting old tires, nearly 1,000 of them, which are now being used as the major structural building component of the Earthship.

“We just finished the main house wall. It was eight rows high and had around 200 tires to it,” Hagelund said. “The garage wall is also nearly complete. We’re going 10 rows high on that one, and it has four more rows to go.” Continue reading

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Filed under Kasilof, subsistence

Opening shot — Kasilof hunter bags moose near home on first day of rifle season

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kasilof resident Randy Adkins sits by what’s left of the spike-fork moose he got on the opening day of rifle-hunting season. He said it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Redoubt Reporter

Bagging an opening-day moose is the hoped for — if acknowledged as improbable — goal of scores of hunters donning their camouflage and orange vests and heading to the woods Aug. 20. For Randy Adkins, of Kasilof, the unexpected became reality this year when he shot a spike-fork bull just hours into the rifle-hunting season opener, and not more than few miles from home.

“I was pretty lucky,” he said. “It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

Adkins, a carpenter, decided to take the day off of work, bolstered by the idea that there seemed to be an abundance of young bull moose on the move this season.

“I’ve seen a lot of legal bulls between home and Soldotna, more than ever, so I thought my chances were a little better this year,” he said.

Adkins got up at first light. Pink and blue were just starting to show in the sky above, and the air was still cool and damp. He wiped the dew from the seat of his four-wheeler, hopped on and set off for a large swamp a few miles from his home, where he thought he could use his binoculars to glass for big, brown movement.

“It was about 8:30 a.m. and only about three miles from my house when I first saw them,” he said. “It was two moose a couple of hundred yards off the trail.” Continue reading

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Winging It: Make a list, check it twice to find birding fun

By Sean Ulman, for the Redoubt Reporter

Aug. 17-Aug. 23 — A day before six sunny days, nature gifted us a notable visitor that made the falling mist seem invisible and elementally fogged our memory of the monthlong rain.

Bundled within a group of 14 long-billed dowitchers foraging sewing-machine style, and 30 greater yellowlegs, I pointed out a smaller bird with a sandy bib. I guessed it was a lesser yellowlegs, since we hadn’t seen one for a while. Sadie had a better memory and eye.

“No, man, that is some new rad bird!’’ she exclaimed, tightening her focus, quickly calculating the sum of some detailed equation of color, feather pattern, shape, behavior and posture. “Stilt sandpiper!’’

While my impulsive ID was off, I’d like to point out that I first pointed out the interesting bird, as well as its companion foraging farther back on the pond.

After compiling a thorough list of field marks — clear-cut white supercilium, long yellow legs shorter and paler than a yellowlegs’ legs, tawny scalloped feathering, long drooped bill aimed perpendicular into the pond during feeding — we took several photos and then relaxed our observation of the life bird, drawing out on the entire pond scene, skipping to hunched dowitchers and back to the stilts tilting forward to forage.

We had, in my opinion, an ideal life bird viewing — when you can walk away from the bird still in plain view having gotten your fill of various looks and study time. Continue reading

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Night Lights: Newly dark skies lit by late-summer constellations

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Graphic courtesy of Andy Veh

After a rainy summer we can hope for a warmer fall with clear skies as it gets darker earlier in the evening. The following describes the starry evening sky throughout September.

First, find the Big Dipper low in the Northwest, then take the distance between the dipper’s last two stars and extend it five times towards the Zenith (the point straight up), and you get to Polaris, the North Star, which is a semibright star at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle. It also marks our latitude on the Kenai Peninsula at 60 degrees above the northern horizon.

Next, find the constellation Cassiopeia, in the shape of a W, on the other side of the Little Dipper, high in the northeast. Also high in the sky as well, almost in the Zenith, is Cygnus, The Swan, which also resembles a cross. Its brightest star, Deneb, connects with two other bright stars, Vega and Altair, in the constellations Lyra, the harp, and Aquila, the eagle. Together, they make up the prominent summer triangle. Continue reading

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