In so many words: Redoubt Reporter on hiatus

By Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter

When your career involves quoting other people, it can be difficult to come up with noteworthy witticisms of your own. Why would you? That, and cat videos, is why we have the Internet.

Two of my favorites are appropriate this week:

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” (Frank Herbert)

“Ends and beginnings — there are no such things. There are only middles.” (Robert Frost)

OK, one more, not because it’s particularly relevant, but it’s one by which I try to live my life:

“From now on, ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.” (Winston Churchill)

Preach, W.C. In terms of famous quotations about punctuation (bet you never knew there were such things), it’s right up there with Kurt Vonnegut’s, “Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing exactly nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

I find myself pondering endings and punctuation this week, as the Redoubt Reporter ceases publication with this issue.

It’s a comma, rather than a period. One of those middles about which Herbert and Frost spoke.

In its current format, the paper has struggled to attain sustainability beyond the one-man (or woman)-band approach, and this drummer needs to go beat on some other things. Unfortunately, that means putting the Redoubt Reporter to rest for the time being. (Unless anyone out there wants to take over a newspaper for a while? Anybody? I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the din of the crickets.)

The goal is to re-evaluate, reorganize and come back bigger and better. As John Wooden said, “Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.” Or Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

In the seven and a half years of producing this newspaper, I’ve racked up well over 10,000 ways that don’t work. (Notably, ever agreeing to do inserts. They were never worth the money. But I now possess the thoroughly useless knowledge of how long it takes to stuff 4,000 sheets of paper into as many newspapers. Pro tips — wear latex gloves to maximize grip and minimize ink stainage, an ironing board is great for setting the perfect height at elbow level, and your cat absolutely must be kept away from your completed stacks.)

At best, each and every error has been a learning experience. At worst, they are mistakes I don’t have to repeat. But even though we’re on hiatus for a while, I don’t consider that a failure. It’s a failure to continue to print regularly, perhaps, but that doesn’t negate the success we’ve had along the way.

If something you read in the paper informed, entertained or touched you in some way, it’s been a success. If we have added to community knowledge, dialogue and record, it’s been worthwhile. If any clippings found their way onto refrigerators, into scrapbooks or the mail to or from a grandmother, it will live on.

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Fishing for cool learning — Aquatic Education Program puts kids in touch with salmon

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Lacey Mathes, from Soldotna Elementary School, concentrates on catching a fish during an ice-fishing event on Sport Lake, which took place Feb 17 and18 as part of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education Program.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Lacey Mathes, from Soldotna Elementary School, concentrates on catching a fish during an ice-fishing event on Sport Lake, which took place Feb 17 and18 as part of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education Program.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

The morning sun still hung low on the horizon, not yet giving off much warmth but casting an orange glow on the blue armor of ice still encasing the 70 acres of Sport Lake in Soldotna. In the 24-degree air, plumes of warm air swirled around the mass of excited kids, but their breath, visible as it was, didn’t hold their attention, even though, on occasion, excitement caused them to hold it entirely.

Clutched in their mitten-clad hands, tiny rods dropped lines beaded with ice into holes augured through the ice. In the water below, a small cocktail shrimp on a hook was bobbed just off the lake bottom. This stationary, repetitive, no-guarantees activity held the full attention of the students — all 750 of them from 19 schools and home-schooled programs.

The annual ice fishing event, held Feb. 17 and 18 this year, was part of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education Program. It also serves as a seasonal bookend to the much broader Salmon in the Classroom program, which began in the fall when these same kids stood streamside at the Anchor River to learn how the life of some salmon ends and begins for others.

“They learned about the salmon life cycle, spawning and were exposed to how we do egg takes. They then took those eggs back to their classrooms to watch and study them as they develop and grow,” said Jenny Cope, a fisheries biologist from the Soldotna Fish and Game office.

For the last month and a half, Cope has been visiting participating schools and conducting salmon dissections to continue with the ichthyological education.

“This teaches them about the anatomy of fish and the different functions of their organs,” she said.

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Budget cuts will hit classes — School district expects to learn to do with less

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Years of budget cutting and deficit spending have left the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District with no easy answers for how to avoid impacting instruction next year.

Behind door No. 1 — hope for a little more, or at least the same level of funding from the Legislature as last year, which is not a sure bet, given the state’s increasingly dismal budget prospects in the face of low oil revenues.

Behind door No. 2 — pull more money from its savings to cover shortfalls. But after four years of deficit spending, the district’s general fund account is not as robust as it once was, and there doesn’t appear to be any immediate turnaround of the state’s fiscal fortune on the horizon.

Door No. 3 is more budget cuts. After cutting over $1.2 million two years ago and over $1.3 million last year, there are no more relatively easy cuts to make.

“This isn’t the first year we’ve seen problems coming,” said Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support. “We’ve tried to make cuts as far from the classroom as we can to try to protect instruction. We’ve been at it now for two years, this will be the third year, so the things that are away from classrooms that we can cut are pretty much gone and unfortunately we’re going to have to cut in the classroom.”

In November, the school board decided to pull no more than $1.3 million from savings for next year’s budget and set a preliminary budget that cuts just about $4.6 million, leaving itself some wiggle room in case state and local funding are reduced.

The biggest chunk of that is 25.65 full-time-equivalent teachers, one counselor and two school administrator positions, to the tune of $2.5 million. Jones said that 12 of those teacher positions were already slated for reduction. They were added last year thinking school enrollments would be higher than they ended up being. The rest are coming from reductions in pupil-teacher ratios, meaning bigger classes. Kindergarten classes won’t be affected, but pupil-teacher ratio changes will be applied across all other grade levels and schools across the district.

Supplies, travel, technical, software and equipment at the district office level are reduced $415,000. District office is also taking a cut of 5.26 positions. Jones said they hope to achieve those reductions by not filling vacancies from retirements and people moving.

“They’ve looked at what departments were added to, if the things that were added can go back away,” Jones said. “A lot of people looking at, ‘OK, here’s what we have, here’s what they do, what can we do without? Can we not replace that position and consolidate duties?”

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Low oil prices heighten uncertainty — Governor, producers light on details about AK LNG changes

Redoubt Reporter file photo, Contractors for the AK LNG project conduct fieldwork taking ground samples in Nikiski in October 2014. The project hasn’t yet started up its expected fieldwork this season.

Redoubt Reporter file photo, Contractors for the AK LNG project conduct fieldwork taking ground samples in Nikiski in October 2014. The project hasn’t yet started up its expected fieldwork this season.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Gov. Walker’s announcement last week that changes are coming to state plans for a liquefied natural gas pipeline leaves the curious speculating how substantial a shift might be in the works.

The governor held a press conference with representatives of BP, ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil on Feb. 17 to announce that the partners will be “looking at different options” for how to advance the project given the economic challenges posed by persisting low oil and gas prices.

Gov. Walker did not give any further information on what the changes might be, saying discussions are currently being held and those details would come in a month or so. But he and the producers did speak about the need to reduce costs and make the project as economical and competitive as possible.

With the gas line terminus and LNG export plant planned for Nikiski, that means a big part of the project’s construction budget would be spent on the Kenai Peninsula. But Larry Persily, the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s oil and gas specialist, doesn’t think the announcement means any substantive changes in the scope of the project, or the peninsula’s role in it.

“I don’t believe any of the vague, squishy description of changes in structure affects the footprint, the route, the fact that Nikiski is the site,” he said.

Persily said the issues seem to be more about financial wrangling, partnership negotiations and finding efficiencies than modifying any large component of the plan.

“Is there a different way to finance this? Have we really figured out the most cost-effective way to move 115,000, 40-foot sections of steel pipe to the state and around the state? If you can shave 10 percent off the construction cost, that’s $5 billion,” he said.

The producers have been stalled on hashing out the Gas Balancing Agreement, which would provide a framework for how the companies pull their gas from the North Slope gas fields. Gov. Walker has been hoping to get the agreement to the Legislature for consideration before the end of the regular session. That timeline now seems unlikely, but it isn’t yet known what that will mean for the overall timeline of the project.

Walker said the prefront-end engineering and design phase is still expected to be complete next fall. AK LNG has budgeted about $200 million to finish the pre-FEED phase this year, including continued testing and engineering work on the Kenai Peninsula. Persily said last week that the work hasn’t yet started this year.

“AK LNG hasn’t issued the contracts, set their work plans, what needs to be done to fill in the gaps in their reports for federal regulators,” Persily said. “So they haven’t started work yet. They’re still planning on doing work, some onshore, some offshore, some on the Kenai Peninsula, some elsewhere along the route. They have not yet publicly said, ‘Here’s our work list and our sites.’”

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Weaving a heritage —  Native artistic mastery lives on through Ravenstail revival

“Moon Woman Tunic” by Kay Field Parker

“Moon Woman Tunic” by Kay Field Parker

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The development of collaborative and complex forms of art is an indication of a thriving, high-functioning culture, one in which not every moment of the day is consumed with the bare necessities of survival. So don’t even think about calling the indigenous people of Southeast Alaska 200 years ago “primitive.” Yes, they lacked written language and the technologies that would come with Western contact, but they wore their creativity, ingenuity and diligence on their sleeves — or, rather, as their sleeves.

To put it simply, they could weave circles around you. Literally. And civilization today nearly forgot all about it.

The Chilkat weaving technique of the Tlingit, Haida and other Northwest Coast populations is one of the most complex in the world, unique in its ability to create curvilinear and circular forms in the weave itself. And within that style are echoes of an even older tradition, from the mid-1700s and earlier, with even more complexity, yet even less examples still in existence — just 15 known to exist in the world.

That is until the 1980s, when fiber artist and researcher Cheryl Samuel went in search for the perfect woven circle, and found it in the totemic designs of Chilkat robes.

“Chilkats are the only people in the world who wove a perfect circle. They learned how to pull weft strands onto the surface and catch them only with other weft strands so that instead of being a stair step, like circles are in weaving, it was actually a perfect circle,” said Kay Field Parker, who learned about Ravenstail from Samuel.

Samuel was captivated and delved into the button blanket robes bearing the Raven, Eagle and other clan symbols. The more Samuel studied, the more she uncovered references to the earlier weaving practice from which Chilkat developed. It was more geometric, with strong, linear patterns, whereas Chilkat designs are cuviliniar and totemic. Known until then as the Northern Geometric weaving style, Samuel coined the term Ravenstail and obtained grants to travel the world to study the few known examples left in existance. She worked out how to duplicate the patterns by teasing out the secrets of the techniques and began producing the style to other weavers.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kay Field Parker demonstrates Ravenstail techniques at the opening reception for her art show, “Traditional and Contemporary Ravenstail Weavings,” at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center last month.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kay Field Parker demonstrates Ravenstail techniques at the opening reception for her art show, “Traditional and Contemporary Ravenstail Weavings,” at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center last month.

Since then, Ravenstail has seen a resurgence, particularly in Alaska, but including a weaving guild that boasts over 100 members around the world. Parker, of Juneau, is one of the most noted practitioners in the state, and a display of her work is the spring art exhibit at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

She gave a presentation to open the show last month, complete with a weaving demonstration. Teaching is central to the Ravenstail revival, after all, since it was Samuel’s curiosity that saved the technique from obscurity.

Parker first learned of Ravenstail in 1987, while taking a class in spruce root basketry at the University of Alaska Southeast. She’s a lifelong crafter, but found the basketry difficult and, well, increasingly unappealing.

“I started noticing the class across the hall was a Ravenstail class, and as the weeks went by my basket got uglier and their weaving got more beautiful and I was hooked,” she said.

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Fermenting a social scene — Secret brewing society heavy on the society

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Homebrewing can be as much about social interaction as chemical interactions, especially in small towns.

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell. Homebrewing can be as much about social interaction as chemical interactions, especially in small towns.

Author’s note: Except for the swimming part, the following is true, but some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent, plus several other people who are nearly innocent.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

About 70 years ago — when today’s cities of the central Kenai Peninsula were no more than villages or scattered clusters of buildings along a new and sometimes barely drivable Sterling Highway — goods and services could be scarce. Winter mail had only recently been arriving by dog team. Fresh fruits were rare, and expensive. And a nice, cold beer might be found only many bumpy, uncomfortable miles away.

So it’s no wonder that those who enjoyed a sudsy adult beverage now and then began making their own and sharing their product with friends.

In Bush Alaska today, where a liquor store may charge more than $40 for a case of Budweiser and nearly $20 for a six-pack of IPA, it’s also no wonder that residents have taken to producing their own.

In retrospect, then, it should have been no great surprise to discover a thriving beer-making culture in place when I moved to Southwest Alaska.

The bigger surprise came in learning of the quasi-covert nature of this solo, yet highly social endeavor.

I first heard about the Dillingham International Swim Club a few days after I’d moved to town.

“Swim club?” I asked. “Dillingham has a pool?”

“No, it doesn’t,” said Jim, one of my pre-Dillingham contacts and a former college classmate of my brother. He smiled and leaned forward. “That’s the whole point. It’s code. It’s the official name of our homebrewing group.”

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Night Lights: Spring coming in like a lion — March yourself outside to catch the highlights of stargazing

Photo courtesy of Andy Veh. A lunar eclipse is coming up March 23, but don’t get too excited —it won’t be as spectacular as this one from October 2014.

Photo courtesy of Andy Veh. A lunar eclipse is coming up March 23, but don’t get too excited —it won’t be as spectacular as this one from October 2014.

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

The constellation that always catches my eye in March is Leo, its shape quite closely resembling that of a male lion lying leisurely, watching the savannah, looking west, in the direction that it will move toward during the next couple of months. Its right front paw is the bright star Regulus.

While Leo should move across the sky as gingerly as any constellation week after week, it seems to be much speedier than others. What aids this perception is that sunset occurs later and later, about 20 minutes each week. Thus, with it getting darker later every evening, it seems that Leo keeps progressing across the sky faster (because we look at it later when it already has moved farther west).

As a result, I perceive Leo as the harbinger of spring —when it appears in the east, winter’s end will soon be here, and when it reaches the western horizon, flowers are in full bloom and deciduous trees will have regained their leaves.

Leo with Regulus follows the bright stars of winter (perhaps chasing them off). Sirius is low in the south and quite prominent, but even being the brightest star in the sky, as seen from our solar system, it’s no match for the brightness of Jupiter and Venus. Ahead of Sirius are Betelgeuse, Rigel, Pollux, Castor, Capella, Aldebaran and Procyon, all of them appearing above the southern horizon.

Bright stars in the remaining sky are Deneb and Vega in the north and Arcturus and Spica rising in the east in the late evening, the latter close to Mars. The waning third-quarter moon is near Mars on Feb. 29. Saturn is following on their heels with the same third-quarter moon nearby on March 2.

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