Monthly Archives: September 2011

Open hearts, homes — Local families offer more than just shelter to summer visa workers

Editor’s note: This is part four in a series of stories examining J-1 student visa workers on the Kenai Peninsula.

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Tom and Adelle Bearup. Linn, at left, and Isabell, at right, staying with Tom and Adelle Bearup, of Soldotna, have a glamor dress-up slumber party with friends Christine, Micki and Victoria this summer. Linn and Isabell worked at Taco Bell in Soldotna this summer, while their friends worked at Subway in Kenai. The girls, from China, had never had a dress-up party before.

Redoubt Reporter

Once parental protectiveness tendencies kick in, it’s hard to hold them back. That’s what several central Kenai Peninsula families have found as they stepped in to help international exchange youth in the U.S. for the summer on J-1 cultural exchange visas.

The college students pay thousands of dollars to exchange sponsor programs to spend three months working, traveling and experiencing American culture in the U.S. Instead of the life-enriching, educational and enjoyable experience they seek, they often find themselves adrift in the areas to which they are sent, challenged by language and cultural barriers, unused to the climate and way of life in communities much different than their homes, unprepared for the difficulties of living on minimum wages, and without much assistance from the exchange sponsor agencies that are paid to arrange the trips.

On the central Kenai Peninsula, students come from Turkey, Kazakhstan, China and elsewhere. They work at fish-processing plants and fast-food restaurants. And they have been taken in by local families who worry about the students’ well-being and the impression of the U.S. that the students may form.

“We’re Alaskans. We love people. We care about people. We want to reach out to them and want to help where we can. We want them to know American people are giving, loving people, and they open their homes and their hearts to people they don’t even know. We want them to see that,” said Tom Bearup, of Soldotna. Continue reading

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Packing adventure — Lightweight rafts heavy on versatility

By JP Bennett, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of JP Bennett. Lily pads presented a not-too-serious impediment to navigation for Branden Bornemann, of the Kenai Watershed Forum, during a trip down Soldotna Creek recently.

By definition, adventure requires uncertainty and risk, but not every outdoor adventure has to begin with a capital A and end with an exclamation point.

Two weeks ago I tagged along with Branden Bornemann, an environmental specialist for the Kenai Watershed Forum, for a float down Soldotna Creek. The Watershed Forum was under contract with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to do a preliminary assessment of the stream.

The data Bornemann began to collect will, among other things, be used to help

Bornemann gathering data.

develop a plan to eradicate pike, an introduced species that is wreaking havoc with the native salmon on this tributary of the Kenai River. We planned to launch at Sevena Lake and go to some undetermined point near the Sterling Highway.

Our takeout point was only a temporary uncertainty; it was quickly resolved as we scouted several possibilities en route to the put-in. There were other things we could not be sure of until we set out. Would there be enough water flowing through the creek to render it floatable? Would the creek be choked with obstacles of logs and debris, thereby requiring work with a capital W and an exclamation point to portage the barriers? Would we be able to complete the trip in time for Bornemann to keep an evening rendezvous with a special friend?

Oh, there were some risks, too. We both brought along bear spray and kept it handy throughout the day. This is most definitely an anadromous stream, and where there are spawning salmon, there likely are predators.

OK, maybe there was only that one risk. The creek was so slow-moving that even the easiest Class I rating would overstate the possibility of danger. At most, we expected the water to be thigh deep on either of our 6-foot-plus frames. As our luck would have it, the sun was shining and there was just enough wind to keep pesky flying insects from being annoying.  Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Liking lichen — Ground cover colors fall views

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photos courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Lichen growth in an alpine meadow appears light green against the darker green foliage. These lichen patches are food for caribou during the winter months.

Each fall we head out to some secret places to pick low-bush cranberries. They are actually lingonberries, but who cares when you are mixing that sweet sauce with your Thanksgiving turkey?

This weekend we spent several hours walking and crawling through moist hummocks of sphagnum that are laced with the tiny plants that produce the treasured berries. We picked a gallon of berries before midday and considered it a successful excursion. They will be washed and frozen until it’s time to make sauce or put them in various muffins.

While out harvesting, I kept finding something else to pick at my attention — various forms of lichens, and there seemed to be a new growth form just about every time I turned around.

I seem to have lichens on the brain lately. Last weekend I noticed many bright-orange lichens on rocks around Skilak Lake. Back a few weeks, I had been so taken by the diverse colors of lichens on rocks above tree line that I took pictures hoping to capture their beautiful patterns. And friends in Wasilla, who raise reindeer, just returned from a trip to collect lichens as a winter treat for their animals. Continue reading

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From a Trail Called ‘Life': Different paths to summer

By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dante Petri. Kjell Risung, left, of Kenai, and Brian Walsh, of Anchorage, ride through a blooming avalanche field along the Russian Lakes Trail in Cooper Landing this past June. Colorful summer scenes like this don't last long in Alaska, and are sometimes harder to catch than the salmon swimming in nearby rivers.

It’s been over three years since I last raced a mountain bike.

And three years later, with a heavier bike, possibly a slightly heavier body, and a whole heck of a lot less fitness than I had once, I finished the same way I did the last time I raced, in May 2008: Did not finish, though for very different reasons.

In three years it sure has felt like a long fall from the fall of 2007, when “Myrtle (the Broken Turtle),” my somewhat less-than-affectionate name for my not-always-so-trustworthy glory-hog bike, and I whizzed around the East Coast collegiate mountain bike race circuit picking up a few top-three placements and even a well-earned win. That was sort of a two-wheeled thesis defense at the time for my otherwise short-lived competitive cycling career.

It was a stinging sensation I felt in mid-August this summer, though, when a group of toothpick-thin, Spandex-clad bike racers from Los Anchorage smoked the heck out of me and my lungs right off the start on an afternoon race in a park just on the outskirts of the city.

This summer has been my first “real Alaska summer.” The word “real” is, of course, clutch in this phrase.  Continue reading

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Almanac: Criminal mastermind shoulda thought twice

Editor’s note: Details of the resolution to this 43-year-old story have not yet been unearthed by the Redoubt Reporter, but enough details of the actual event were available to provide for an entertaining narrative. 

By Clark Fair

Redoubt Reporter

The union of the name “Ronald Louis Anthony” and the phrase “criminal mastermind” is unlikely. Anthony himself made certain of that in May 1968 when his own poor planning caused the initial good fortune of his criminal enterprise to rapidly run awry.

Anthony’s target was the cash available in Nikiski at the Mallard Park Branch of Alaska State Bank. It must have seemed like a reasonably easy target since it was located in a 12-by-60-foot trailer house in the Mallard Trailer Park about 9.5 miles north of Kenai.  (Work on the new building that would eventually house the Mallard Park Branch was slated to begin later that summer.)

Despite the seeming “sitting duck” nature of the bank branch, Mary Susan Roberts, who was interviewed by Alaska State Troopers shortly after the robbery, said that Anthony “seemed very nervous” during the process of his crime. It turns out that he had plenty of reasons to be on edge.

Wearing wraparound sun-glasses and white coveralls trimmed in red, Anthony drove a borrowed cream-colored Volkswagen Beetle to the trailer park. Inside the bank, according to archived documents released by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, he went immediately into action. (The date was May 23. The time was 1:45 p.m.)

“I noticed this man come in because he turned to me and asked if the manager was in because he wanted to cash a check,” Roberts said. “I said he didn’t need the manager, and then he pulled a revolver and said, ‘Give me all the money you’ve got.’

“I began putting some money on the counter in front of my window, and he said, ‘That’s not enough. Give me the rest of it.’ I picked up the trays and dumped the money on the counter, and he began scooping it into his coveralls.”  Continue reading

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Good as gold — Students put hands on history

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Pat Shields, Cook Inlet Academy. A group of Cook Inlet Academy junior-high students and chaperones wave from their canoe raft on the Yukon River during a field trip to study gold rush era history at the start of the school year.

Redoubt Reporter

Getting there, in this case, was not half the fun.

“It took for-ev-er,” said Madison Orth, one of the junior high students at Cook Inlet Academy that went on a nine-day field trip to the Yukon to study the gold rush era.

“It was the longest drive of your life,” said Reece O’Dell.

Though they would just as well forget the two-day drive from Soldotna to Dawson City, Yukon Territory, Canada, the rest of the trip proved a memorable educational experience that will stick with them for, like, ev-er.

“They get to put their hands on history,” said Pat Shields, the CIA teacher who organized the trip. He’s led three of these Yukon trips in his time at CIA. It’s become a junior high tradition at the school.

“They learn quite a bit about gold rush history in class, and this reinforced what the kids had already learned. Now anytime they read about it or talk about the Yukon River, they know what the Yukon River is — they’ve run it for three days. Or when they talk about the gold rush, they remember seeing a dredge and gold panning. People from the 2001 trip still talk about all the benefits of the trip and what they learned — the history of our country and our state.” Continue reading

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Mountainous mural — Kenai school completes large-scale art project

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Cindy McKibben. A 3-D mural created by students is installed in the atrium of Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai.

Redoubt Reporter

Elementary school art projects often are about easy mediums and quick results — a la macaroni noodles glued to a piece of construction paper. Students at Mountain View Elementary took on a much larger project, that only now — two years later — has finally been completed and hung.

“It’s huge,” said Joy Falls, the artist who oversaw the project. “It’s about 3 feet tall by 51 feet long and it’s made of tiles, each made by an individual student. There are more than 500 tiles in all.”

Falls connected with the school as an Artist in Residence, a program offered by the Alaska State Council on the Arts. She has a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Montana and has taught art classes at Kenai Peninsula College, but she said she is passionate about teaching children creative skills.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to have something permanent for these children,” she said. Continue reading

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Night Lights: October highlights reason for the change of seasons

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Compared to September, the sky in October shifts somewhat toward the east. Bootes sets in the northeast, and its brightest star, Arcturus, can be seen in the early evening on the northeastern horizon.

Prominent constellations and stars are the Big Dipper low on the horizon and the Little Dipper high in the north, Cygnus with Deneb, Lyra with Vega, and Aquila with Altair still high in the west. These three stars form the summer triangle. It’s perhaps comforting that we can see this summer triangle all winter long in Alaska, albeit on the horizon.

Cassiopeia appears overhead, in the zenith, and Pegasus’ square/diamond appears to the right above the very bright Jupiter in the southeast. Late in the evening Orion rises with Betelgeuse and Rigel in the east, following Taurus with Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster.

Mercury appears close to Venus in late October, but it’s very close to the horizon. Starting in late October, Venus will shine brightly in the evening all winter long. It is then also near a waxing crescent moon on Oct. 28. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Falling for autumn imagery is a click away

Photo contest: Remember our first Redoubt Reporter photo contest. Photos must be taken on the Kenai Peninsula with a “Fall on the Kenai” theme. The deadline is Nov. 1. Email JPEGs to: redoubtreporterphotos @gmail.com. You can find all of the rules and requirements at http://www.redoubtreporter.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/redoubt-reporter-photo-contest/. We’ll publish some of our favorite entries from time to time and choose some for the monthlong June 2012 Redoubt Reporter exhibition at the Sterling Highway Kaladi Brothers coffee shop.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

This year’s surprisingly late autumn is a boon for Kenai Peninsula photographers entering our 2011 fall photo contest, so over the next several weeks, we’ll look at some fall photography techniques.

These are general aesthetic and technical guidelines, not unbreakable rules. Think of them as starting points for experiments that determine what works best for you under various situations.

Our suggested techniques are particularly applicable to JPEG files produced by your camera as each image is saved. Once a JPEG file is created in your camera, later corrections with PhotoShop or similar programs become increasingly difficult, with a loss of quality each time you open and alter the JPEG file.

Images saved in an RAW file format are much more flexible. It’s much easier to later correct problems with exposure, contrast, color balance, exposure settings, highlight recovery and color saturation when you’ve shot your images using an RAW file format. That’s particularly true when you’re using Adobe Lightroom, which allows you to retain the RAW file indefinitely without converting it to an irreversible file format like TIFF or JPEG. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Like mom, like sons, like art

By Zirrus VanDevere

“I‘m on My Way” by Kathy Matta is on display at Odie’s Deli. Below is a painting by REB at Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway.

Coffee shop perusal proved especially productive this month. I first checked out the Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street, where Rebecca Sorenson and her two boys, Cameron and Austin, have filled numerous canvases with abstract painting and foil appliqué. She first painted only three years ago in response to a tragedy, and got a positive response from fundraising attendees who were bidding on her work, called “My Fury.”

Since then, she has discovered that painting is an effective way to express all sorts of emotions, and her sons, who are 8 and 6, respectively, enjoy it, as well.

There are qualities about all of the pieces that I appreciate, but there are only a few that seem to break into the more serious art range (which is actually quite impressive for nontrained artists). Continue reading

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‘Bou hoo — Thrill of the chase, sting of a thief in newly opened Fox River hunt

By Joseph Robertia

Photos courtesy of Marcus Mueller and John Hedges. John Hedges, of Soldotna, hikes across the tundra above Tustumena Lake with Truuli Glacier in the background during a caribou hunt with Marcus Mueller this fall. Mueller, of Kenai, drew one of only 10 permits issued this year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for the Fox River caribou herd.

Redoubt Reporter

Hunting is about so much more than killing an animal. It is about leaving a land of clean shaves, pressed attire, business meetings and punctual appointments. It is about escape from the routines and roles of daily life — employee, spouse or parent.

All of these are temporarily traded for the hope of having a significant life experience. One developed from bonding with other like-minded hunters, while also intrinsically exploring oneself, and not just living in, but becoming a part of, the natural world. At least, that is what a recent caribou hunt was for Marcus Mueller, of Kenai.

“This was so much more than a meat run,” he said. “It was an exploratory getaway filled with camaraderie. It turned out to be a great adventure. Around every corner was something unexpected.”

His words are particularly underscored by the uncharted nature of his fall hunt this year. Every hunt is different from the last, but Mueller was one of only 10 hunters drawn to hunt the Fox River caribou herd. Primarily residing in the pristine and rugged area from the mouth of the Fox River to the south of Tustumena Glacier, this herd was down to around 20 animals at one point, but now is up to around 65 to 70 animals, so for the first time since 2003 the Alaska Department of Fish and Game allocated 10 permits to this region.

“We got into all new, undiscovered country for us,” Mueller said.

Hunting is challenging enough, but hunting in an entirely new area adds more difficulty than just heading out to the same tree stand year after year. Mueller knew he and hunting buddy John Hedges, of Soldotna, had a lot of work ahead of them before ever venturing into the field.

“I knew it was on the peninsula, but no other logistics,” he said. “I got maps of the area, went by Fish and Game, and tried to talk to anyone with knowledge of that country. I got all the info I could and it all pointed to the same thing — there was no easy access to get into this area.” Continue reading

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Hiring housing hassles — International workers can bring employers headaches with help

Editor’s note: This is part three in a series of stories examining J-1 student visa workers on the Kenai Peninsula.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

As advertised, the J-1 student visa program is a win-win for everyone involved.

International university students get to spend a summer in the United States, seeing the sights, experiencing the culture and improving their English while making enough working to cover their living and travel expenses. Employers tap into an eager, prearranged labor source, especially helpful during increased seasonal workforce demands. International exchange sponsor agencies get a $3,000 to $6,000 fee from each student to arrange the visa paperwork, facilitate the exchange process and play matchmaker between employers and students.

As with most things sounding too good to be true, those involved say the J-1 program in practice isn’t as idyllic as the theory.

On the Kenai Peninsula, J-1 international students work a variety of entry-level, general labor jobs, primarily at seafood processing plants and fast-food restaurants. Employers say they can be a benefit during the busy summer season.

Salamatof Seafoods typically employs about 20 J-1 student workers a summer, most often from Kazakhstan and Turkey.

“The benefit is they are available to work all the hours that we need them for. Basically they’re just up here to work, we can count on them to be here for the whole season and they’re usually eager to work all the hours we need them for,” said Anna Evanson, office assistant.

With the record-breaking sockeye salmon run this summer, Evanson said Salamatof had a hard time finding enough workers, even with the J-1 students, which makes them particularly useful in busy years. Language and cultural differences can be a bit of a barrier, but overall the students are good workers.

“The biggest challenge is most don’t speak English so it can be hard to communicate with them, and they’re from totally different places and may do things totally different. They’re really good workers and really eager to put in the hours, even when they work 16-hour days,” Evanson said. Continue reading

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