Daily Archives: May 19, 2010

Militia leader on the ballot — Ray Southwell challenges Mike Chenault for District 34

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Alaskan Independence Party offers a banner for candidates and voters with divergent views from the more mainstream platforms of Republicans and Democrats, and has fielded a candidate for House District 34 that certainly fits that bill.

Ray Southwell, of Nikiski, co-founder of the Michigan Militia and Alaska Citizens Militia, speaks out vehemently against current governmental policies and is having his wages confiscated by the Internal Revenue Service for failure to file tax returns for the last 19 years. He has filed to challenge current Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, of Nikiski.

Southwell focuses on issues of nationwide and worldwide scale, as well as on the local, borough level, yet has chosen the Alaska Legislature as the level of government from which he’d like to effect change.

“I think that there’s so many economic issues facing the nation and I want to challenge the current economic model as a nation because it has led us down a path of destruction,” Southwell said in explanation of why he chose to run for elected office. “On the national level, I think it’s too late. I’ve been quoted as saying both Democrats and Republicans have sold us out, and that’s at a federal level. I think at the state level, currently, most of these legislators are ignorant of the economic model that the federal government has really followed that has led us to this economic collapse that we’re going through.”

Southwell rails against the role of corporations and their power in today’s economy.

“I think that the current economic model is based on, ‘The corporation can’t do anything wrong.’ When you go back and look at our original Constitution and economic plan, there were always checks and balances, and for quite some time the economic mode is, ‘What’s good for corporations is what’s good for America,’” Southwell said. “It’s failed, it’s wrong, that’s why we’re disintegrating right now economically, globally, because of that behavior.”

Southwell has several examples of how this laissez-faire, free-market capitalist attitude has played out, including the repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act in 1999 that deregulated the banking industry and led to the nation’s financial collapse, he said.

The corporate structure that’s developed is one that prizes profits more than safety or compliance with regulations, Southwell said, which leads to incidents like the deadly mining explosion West Virginia in April, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, BP’s oil spills on the North Slope and the current Gulf of Mexico spill, he said.

“The economic model says that the corporation has two objectives — one is to pay the biggest dividend that can be established, and also for growth. So what happens with these large corporations is that economic model of growth and expansion and dividends is what the driving faction is. So you end up with a corporation that will ignore the rules and pay the fines because it’s cheaper to pay the fines than to go by the rules,” Southwell said.

A position in the Alaska Legislature wouldn’t give Southwell say on national issues, but he said he could apply his views to state issues. One of the platforms of the Alaskan Independence Party is that the Alaska statehood vote should be taken again, this time with all options on the table — remain a territory, become a separate and independent nation, accept commonwealth status or become a state. Southwell said he agrees with the AIP’s view that Alaska is a colony, rather than a full-fledged state with rights on par with the original 13 colonies. He’d like to see Alaska demand its authority and follow the nullification movement, whereby Alaska simply does not follow federal government dictates that it does not feel it should be subject to. If that had happened in the 1970s, Southwell said, when the state Legislature passed incentives for double hulls on oil tankers coming to and leaving Alaska, which was tossed out in 1978 in federal court, it might have prevented the Exxon Valdez spill.

“I wonder what would have happened or how many lives would have been economically saved if those had been double-hulled. Now (the federal government) is going to require it by 2015 — 40 years after the Alaska state Legislature took a stand and tried to do what’s right,” he said.

Southwell said he doesn’t believe the state Legislature is doing what’s right in most cases these days. He cites continuing negotiations over construction of a natural gas line from the North Slope as an example. Southwell favors an all-Alaska route with a liquefied natural gas plant in Valdez, as favored by 62 percent of voters in 2002 and as supported by the Alaska Port Authority, established in 1999.

“What happened to that vision of that pipeline? What happened with Alaska jobs? What did the people want and what did the borough want and what did the cities want? Why aren’t these politicians listening to the people?” Southwell said.

He said he believes a portion of the Alaska Permanent Fund could be invested to develop an in-state gas line infrastructure, rather than investing it wherever fund managers think the biggest dollar signs may be found — be they in Greece, Exxon or other investments of dubious moral standing, he said.

“You have to look at the corporate mind-set. They’re going to put our money into whatever corporations make the most money,” he said. “Why aren’t we taking that money, a percentage of it, and investing it in Alaska? We have got the mind-set of we only care about that permanent fund interest on stock markets and ventures outside of Alaska. Isn’t it time we do it ourselves? We look to corporations, we look to stock markets, we look to Washington. We need to look to Alaskans. We’re billionaires. We need to start acting like billionaires and investing in our own home.”

Southwell said he has concerns about the state’s too-lax relationship with resource extraction companies, such as the Pebble Mine Partnership, and is concerned that legislation like Senate Bill 309, which encourages expanded oil and gas exploration and development, doesn’t do enough to enforce safety.

“It’s more the big picture of the corporate xxmind-set. We’re at a pivotal time in history that if we as a state don’t step up to the plate and start looking at things differently, we’re going down with the rest of the country and the globe, or at least a large percentage of the globe. We cannot sustain $1.5 trillion worth of deficit spending,” Southwell said. “My hope is that Alaskans will rally and start talking about an economic system that is sustainable regardless of what happens in the rest of the country, and that is infrastructure and that is checks and balances on corporations.”

Southwell addresses a few specific pieces of legislation, such as being in support of House Bill 50, which would limit overtime for nurses — he’s an emergency room nurse at Central Peninsula Hospital. He also voices concern over the possible sale of CPH to a private entity, which would remove local control over health care management in the area, he said.

But overall, Southwell said he isn’t running with a list of specific bills he’d like to address or propose. He’s more out to bring attention to his causes.

“There’s multiple issues that need to be addressed. I think the biggest thing is we need have to start having a dialogue of what’s an economic plan for success for Alaska? I think that if I have a true platform or true opportunity to discuss it at the state level, I can stir the pot up and get this discussion and get people having dialogue, because it’s logical. So I don’t have to generate a bill. You know what happens when you have dialogue is people who are smarter than me come along and say, ‘I understand what you’re saying, and can’t we do this and can’t we do that?’”

Southwell said this is a crucial time to make Alaska economically sound, given the economic climate of the rest of the country and world. He said he doesn’t support secession from the U.S., but said he thinks Alaska will be standing on its own soon enough, by the state’s choosing or not.

“I would prefer staying in the union as a state with equal footing to those original 13 states,” he said. “I personally don’t support secession … but what I do recognize today is that with the economic disintegration going on, Alaska is going to be thrown into independence. Just like when the Soviet Union disintegrated, all of a sudden there were all these independent states that were thrown into their independence.”

He said he would not use a seat in the Legislature to push for support of the militia movement. It’s not necessary, he said, because the rights and existence of the militia are “self-evident,” he said.

“The people are armed and the people will stand up for and protect their communities. I don’t have to preach that, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that. (James) Madison acknowledged that, our founders acknowledged that,” he said. Continue reading


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Birds + bees = Too many puppies

Shelter seeks foster homes for excess animal litters

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Brett Reid, chief animal control officer at the Kenai Animal Shelter, holds up two wet puppies, soaked after playing in their water bowl. The shelter has recently received an influx in puppies, not yet weaned, which require 24-hour care. The shelter has turned to placing the pups in foster homes.

Redoubt Reporter

Spring is time for a return of the birds and bees, literally and figuratively, yet the results aren’t always coming up roses. Experiencing heightened levels of hormones as a result of the longer days, reproduction levels rise in the animal kingdom, and domestic species are no exception.

This can become a problem for people whose pets aren’t spayed or neutered, especially those who let their pets wander. This time of year, some owners find that their canine companion or feline friend is ready to give birth to a litter that is as unwelcome as it was unplanned. As a result, local animal shelters can become inundated with drop-offs.

“Lots are born and lots go to the pound,” said Caelin Maxwell, of Sterling. “It’s called the spring dump.”

Maxwell speaks from firsthand knowledge. She is currently fostering two puppies, part of several litters, all 4 to 5 weeks old, which recently arrived at the Kenai Animal Shelter. At least one of the litters was brought in after the pups were found dumped and still squirming in a garbage bag alongside the road in Nikiski, she said.

“Pups usually stay with their moms until they’re 8 to 9 weeks old,” said Brett Reid, chief animal control officer at the Kenai shelter. “With these underaged ones, they need a little extra TLC throughout the day and night, and we can’t do that.”

These tiny pups can’t quite eat on their own yet, and they need food almost around the clock. Sometimes they need to be bottle-fed or, as is the current situation, given gruel of kibble, water and a dog milk replacement.

”The Kenai shelter’s small staff already has its hands full responding to calls and attending to the care of other dogs and cats awaiting adoption,” Reid said.

“At 5 weeks old they need constant care,” Maxwell said. “They’re like babies. They’ll sleep for an hour, then cry to eat, then need to be stimulated to poop, then they sleep for an hour and do it all over again, throughout the day and night. They just don’t have the means to do that at the shelter.”

Maxwell has taken on the care of two pups for a few weeks. Molly is a black-and-white female who looks like she has some pit bull in her. Lucy is a black-and-brown female who looks like either a husky-Rottweiler mix or a terrier-Doberman mix.

“I only took two because I already have three dogs of my own, and live in a small cabin,” Maxwell said. “I would take more if I could, though. I love dogs and all animals. I even stop on the side of the road when I see what I think is a blown tire, just to make sure it’s not a hurt dog.”

In addition to paying for the basics, such as food and veterinary expenses as all fosters are expected to do, Maxwell said her two tiny pups get treated like royalty while they’re with her. Continue reading

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Almanac: Popsicle plane rises again — Pilots turned engineers free aircraft from frozen bounds

Editor’s note: This is the third part of a three-part story about an unfortunate incident with an airplane, an ingenious plan to make things better and a battle with the elements throughout the whole adventure. Part one described the problem with the plane. Part two addressed the attempted solution and the associated environmental challenges. This week, part three reveals how it all turned out.

By Clark Fair

Photos courtesy of Herman Stenga and Jerry Near. When the members of the rescue team returned to Bradley Lake, they discovered that snow, subzero temperatures and 100-mile-per-hour winds had destroyed nearly a week of earlier work. Here, in mid-January 1972, Bob Robinson and Dr. Elaine Riegle engage in the arduous process of re-removing the snow and ice from the submerged Super Cub.

Redoubt Reporter

The weather was so bad over the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16, 1972, that returning to the aircraft buried in ice out on Bradley Lake was out of the question. Over the weekend, temperatures plummeted to about minus 50 degrees, and wind gauges in the area registered gusts of nearly 100 miles per hour.

Dr. Elaine Riegle, owner of the entombed plane, Herman Stenga and their friends had spent the previous week working to free the plane, but the weather, fuel shortages and equipment problems had forced them home to Soldotna for the weekend as they contemplated their next move.

Already — operating on the principle that moving water doesn’t freeze and will actually melt nearby ice — they had employed the prop action of three three-horse Johnson outboard motors to melt ice around the plane’s nose, tail and right wing. They had attached cables to the crankshaft behind the plane’s propeller and to the tail wheel, and they had erected an A-framelike boom that they hoped would allow them to support and lift the plane.

They had also suspended a weighted tarp through the ice hole between the outboards and the A-frame to prevent the water action from undercutting the A-frame’s supports.

When the weather turned nasty on Saturday morning, they pulled up the outboards and stored them in a large green canvas tent they had erected on the ice to give them a workplace out of the wind and brutal cold. A few days earlier, they had established quarters in a Forest Service cabin about a mile from the frozen plane, and they were using a 10-horse Ski-Doo to travel back and forth.

Prior to returning on Monday, Jan. 17, to continue the job, they decided to upgrade their equipment. They borrowed two larger outboards — 18 horsepower — hoping that the stronger prop action would allow them to melt ice and expose the plane much more quickly.

When they arrived in Dr. Paul Isaak’s Cessna 180, however, they were dismayed to see that they had more work ahead of them than they had expected.

Supported by the homemade boom and freed by the action of outboard motors, the sunken Super Cub begins to emerge from Bradley Lake. The aircraft is connected to the boom by its skyhook atop the fuselage. Bob Robinson stands with an ice chipper near the tail of the plane. In the left background is Jerry Near’s Cessna 170B.

“Six inches of overflow had covered everything and had erased all our work from the previous week,” Riegle said. “We spent the entire day moving the tents and campsite.”

Also flying in Monday was Jerry Near, who had helped extensively during the first week. Although Near did not stay this time, he did drop off Bob Robinson, whose wife, Jeanne, worked as a nurse in Isaak and Riegle’s clinic. Robinson planned to help complete the rescue.

On Tuesday, with the weather improving (no wind, minus 20 degrees and sunny), they reset the three-horse Johnsons near the prop and tail and placed one 18-horse motor at each wingtip. As the outboards chugged along, the rescuers used shovels to clear the snow that had drifted over their work area. For the first time since they began this mission on Friday, Jan. 7, Riegle said, “Everything worked great.”

On Wednesday, their good fortune continued. Although the skies remained clear, the temperature warmed to zero degrees and the day remained windless.

Around the plane, as the ice thinned, they used a steel chipping tool to break it apart. Standing on boards to more evenly distribute their weight, they chipped away, scooping the ice from the water whenever possible. Then, much to their surprise, at about 3 p.m. the left wing of the Super Cub suddenly bobbed to the surface of the water. Continue reading

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Catching on — Fishing springing into action in Kasilof, lower peninsula rivers

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A hopeful fisherman slowly drifts through the People Hole at the confluence of the Kasilof River and Crooked Creek. The location is a popular spot for hooking king salmon, though fishing is slow so far this season.

Redoubt Reporter

As dawn broke at Crooked Creek State Recreation Area on Saturday, the first pink- and peach-colored rays of the day’s light came through the trees, illuminating the cool morning fog still hugging the smooth stones that line the banks of the Kasilof River. The aquamarine water was running slow and low, and the dozen or so gulls and small shorebirds hopping around outnumbered anglers by more than two to one.

“It’s still early,” said Eric Dahl, of Soldotna, who fished for two hours Saturday morning.

He was working the water with a flashy corkie and a piece of flesh-colored yarn in hope of enticing a king salmon to take a bite.

“I didn’t get anything,” Dahl said. “No bites, and I didn’t see any of the other five or six guys fishing getting bites, either. The closest anyone has come was a guy got a hookup last night, but he didn’t get it to shore.”

Those not targeting kings are faring slightly better, according to Ray Allen, campground host at Crooked Creek.

“I haven’t seen anyone with a salmon,” he said. “But they’re definitely catching steelhead. I’ve seen a few people catching them, and releasing them, naturally.”

Retention of rainbow trout or steelhead is not allowed, the latter of which are migrating back to the salt water after overwintering in the fresh water. Not being able to keep them doesn’t stop fly-fishermen from trying to catch them, though. Armed with chest waders, long rods and light, floating lines, the handful of fly-fishermen were the only ones catching on Saturday.

Andrew Corbin, of Anchorage, smiled as his rod tip bent and he saw a splash at the surface of the water roughly 20 yards away. After a brief battle, he pulled a silver-bodied, pink-cheeked steelhead into the shallow water, which was small by his standards.

“It’s just a little 25- to 26-incher,” he said, while using a multitool to release the fish without removing it from the water. He then put his fly, an egg-sucking leech, back on the menu with another cast.

While the trout fishing was fair, the king fishing being slow this early isn’t out of the ordinary. Mid-May is only the beginning of the run, according to Robert Begich, area sport fish manager with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“It starts at a crawl, with a fish or two getting picked up, but then it picks up closer to Memorial Day,” he said.

Part of the pokey fishing on Saturday also could have been attributed to tackle. Regulations required anglers to make the most of an unbaited, single-hook artificial lure, but on Sunday the regulations on the Kasilof changed to allow regular tackle — including bait — below the Sterling Highway bridge.

“The bait opening tends to help out,” Begich said. “Until bait opens it’s mostly corkies, Spin-N-Glos and a little bit of fly-fishing from shore, and jet planers and Kwikfish from drift boats. After bait it turns to eggs and a sardine wrapped on a Kwikfish.”

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Water woes — Boat ownership not to be taken lightly, cheaply

By Steve Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

Boats have been a part of life for me since childhood.

The first boat I ever “captained” was a homemade, flat-bottom wooden duck boat. Built by my uncle as a school project, it eventually migrated to a slough about a half mile from my farm home in North Dakota. I used that boat as often as humanly possible the few years I hunted ducks before coming to Alaska.

Boating was simple back then, at least as far as I knew. I could swim and the slough was no more than 300 yards wide, so concern for falling overboard was not a concern at all. I knew I could swim to shore and thus it never occurred to me a life jacket should be used. Most of the ducks I shot as a kid were shot out of that boat, and to this day I miss those uncomplicated days paddling around that old slough.

On to Alaska and boats all of a sudden became a serious matter. You either had one or knew someone who did if you wanted to access good fishing on the Kenai Peninsula. My first boat was a canoe, a blue, plastic, 12-foot model that weighed about 75 pounds. I probably hit every rock there is floating the Swanson and Kasilof rivers, with no evidence of breakage. I hated that canoe. It was too heavy for its size and hard to carry on a portage, but it was tough.

One winter day at about minus 10 degrees a buddy and I thought it would be a great idea to launch that canoe down the Soldotna Ski Hill. Oh, it was a great idea, except for the steering, which we had not thought of as we plowed into a tree at what seemed like 60 miles per hour and shattered that canoe into about a thousand pieces.

I was fortunate to know people who had boats suitable for the Kenai River and Cook Inlet and so spent most of my time on the water as a passenger. I spent a bit of time commercial driftnet fishing on a boat that had a blistering maximum speed of about five miles per hour. Leaving the harbor three hours ahead of everyone else was the norm, and the return trip was no better. I had a friend who had a 24-foot jet boat that we regularly used in the inlet for halibut fishing and the river for salmon fishing. It was fast and comfortable and the only drawback was having to launch at the Deep Creek boat launch on the incoming tide, get out and fish, and get back in before the tide was too low to get back up the ramp. That was long before the days of tractor launching, although that never stopped some from attempting to launch from the beach. Many an hour was spent just watching folks try to launch from the beach, into huge surf swells with no real chance of success. Great entertainment.

As a passenger for many years, I never really appreciated all the details that boat ownership entailed. My first real powerboat was a 14-foot, flat-bottomed Jon boat that was going to be a small lake/fall river boat with specific intentions of heading up the Moose River for duck hunting. As I am sure all new boat owners find, the purchase of the boat was just the start. Seats, anchors and line, life jackets, rod holders, paddles or oars are all part of the necessary accessories. Of course, none of those items are free.

With the purpose of navigating the Moose River in mind, I kept the horsepower below 10 so as to be legal on this waterway. Among a lot of other things, I found navigating the Moose with a powerboat is an exercise in futility. The water is just too shallow and full of weeds. Oh you can get up river, but the amount of time and work just isn’t worth it.

Since there was no more issue with horsepower, I upgraded a bit to make running upstream on the Kenai in the fall for silvers and ducks more feasible — another expense.

One summer day several years ago my fishing partner and I were on Hidden Lake in this little boat when the wind came up. After some time of battling the waves trying to get back to the boat launch, we ended up pulling into a sheltered cove and waiting out the wind, which took several hours and even then was marginal. That’s when I made the decision to get a “real boat,” one in which you could fish the inlet and big lakes with a margin of safety. Most folks around here who want a multipurpose boat go for something with a 50- horsepower motor and under 20 feet to make it legal for the Kenai River. Having no interest in fishing the Kenai in the summer and having my other boat for fall when the river is settled, I decided to go with something I could use to fish the inlet, cruise big lakes and go up rivers in the Interior. A 24-foot Duckworth with a 425-horsepower, 8.1-liter inboard engine mounted to a Hamilton 212 jet pump was what I ultimately purchased as an all-around boat.

Within months of purchasing this boat, fuel went to over $4 a gallon, and that was just the start of the myriad additional costs I had not fully considered. I had purchased the boat from a fella who used it for running the rivers in the Interior, with an occasional trip to Prince William Sound or out of Homer for halibut. In his description, and in my mind, the boat was basically ready to go when I bought it. Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Seeds of healing — Ecological succession a slow process

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Dandelions are a pioneer plant — one of the first to thrive in a disturbed area. Areas damaged by fire, oil spills or other factors go through a process of ecological succession.

The concept of ecological succession is in the news again because of a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Oil is heading to various beaches in the southern states, just like the Exxon Valdez oil did 20 years ago in Alaska.

However, very few reports actually identify succession as being part of the impending problem. At the time of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and now, everyone wanted to know what damage will be caused and how long will the impact be felt? Quite simply, everyone wants to know, when will things be back to normal?

Let’s first figure out what normal is. A working definition of ecological succession is this: An orderly and somewhat predictable change of one community into another until the local climax community is achieved. That climax community is what we are thinking about when we describe normal.

For most high ground of the Kenai Peninsula, the climax community might be a birch and white spruce forest. In areas that are wet and boggy, a black spruce-Labrador tea forest might be the climax community. When we get closer to the oceans, we might find Sitka spruce and Western hemlock forests as the climax community. Note how simple changes in moisture or temperature regimes cause noticeable plant community changes and thus a change in what is “normal.”

The process of succession occurs when there is some type of change in a particular climax community, like a forest fire, landslide or maybe a bulldozer scraping off all the vegetation. Imagine what happens to an area that has been completely denuded by a bulldozer as someone clears their land and then decides to just let it grow back.

The soil is exposed and there are no seeds remaining from the previous community of plants. The first seeds to arrive are going to be those with the ability to disperse readily. Three local examples of such plants are the seeds of dandelions, fireweed and cottonwood. With miniature parachutes, they are wind-blown all over the place and are able to survive in dry, brightly lit areas. Plants that are the first to arrive and survive in a disturbed area are known as pioneer plants.

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Bursting into spring — Seizing the moment, good mood, inspiration or new bird sighting

Winging it, by Sean Ulman, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo by Joseph Robertia. Weekend gone to the birds. The Kenai Birding Festival is Friday through Sunday. Highlights include a birding float trip on the Kenai River on Friday, a birding walk around Skilak Loop Road on Friday, and a kids’ birding program on Saturday. For more information and complete schedule, visit http://www.kenaiwatershed.org.

April 27 — A three-day wind broke just after noon while we were setting up a 12-foot portable tripod. The sun came out. A brown bear sow and two cubs emerged from the forest one kilometer away. We curtly glassed the humps of mocha fur as the bears, laxly plodding west, pawed for marsh snacks. We moved oppositely (east and at an escape pace). The alarming view was equally arresting, so while backpedaling I snuck glances at the cubs ambling after their mother, gracefully gliding past ghost spruce trees. The bears are ghostlike in their ability to inspire awe yet ingrained into the landscape, explicitly belonging.

On the way back to the cabin we flushed our least sandpiper. While I followed its twitching flight, Sadie spotted a coyote. We got out the scope and I panned from the trotting canine to the three distant bears, stretched tall as bison in the heat wave trembling below Point Possession. In that lively hour the season seemed to switch to spring.

That afternoon we heard our first short-billed dowitcher, as well as the premier outpouring of northern vernal sound — cranky, clacking arctic terns, robins’ teary whistles and rattling sandhill cranes echoing the Jurassic Park soundtrack. A brief view of a short-eared owl shooting behind twilit timber provided an apt capper to our most diverse day — 29 species.

April 28 — I woke before the sun to a sound like a rotary telephone. Who is it? Our first varied thrush. After a flood tide inundated plot one, we enjoyed a close-up view of a beaver cruising temporary sluicing chutes that an hour later would drain back to muddy marshland.

April 29-May 2 — I’m beginning to think that my descriptions of our “idyllic” life out here last season were a tad acrylic, sweetened by the trickery of selective memory. Fieldwork is tough. It’s a sloppy 45-minute walk to either plot, so even getting to work is hard. I alluded to being in our element out here alongside the birds, but failed to mention the elements. The wind has asserted itself. It whips us.

These hour-interval pond surveys have rocked my erratic rocklike patience. Locked behind a wobbly scope with watering eyes and freezing hands and feet while waiting for birds that never appear is not an easy seat in which to stay.

The day the geese flew north (April 30), the realization that we are here to stay walloped me. Unable to fly away, we have more in common with the stickleback I watched flicking back and forth in a sink-sized tide pool, failing to flee from my shadow.

The extent to which this marsh abides by the tide is a daily puzzle. The ’64 earthquake muddled the dynamics of this region, made up of mostly mud. It dropped the land 2.5 feet on the west edge, tilting down eastward to 4.5 feet. Several nights of jagged sleep and jarring dreams have made the daily physical demands and mental riddles a steeper climb.

On a light workday we did dishes, fetched water and washed clothes. My first creek dip invigorated me momentarily. Similarly, sitting in the sun listening to the Boston Celtics game on the radio was a short-lived diversion. My boss’ constant contentment has not been contagious. When she’d point out duck flocks, I found myself letting them flap by without lifting my binoculars. I dared to brood, “Am I bored with birding?”

Investigating my crabby mood’s incongruence with nature’s robust climate — full moon, high tides, long and gaining sunlight, emerging beasts of fur and feather — I unveiled a telling fact. This is my second season as a field technician. The curiosity and challenge that motivated me last year is missing. So the incentive load falls to the workload.

Working on my novel reiterated the familiar truth that subpar or bad writing still feels good. It also made me realize some similarities between this job and writing. Both are marathons that can be assisted by sporadic sprints. Trusting the daily toil is essential. Amassed data yields answers. Sentences make paragraphs make pages. When desperate for productivity there is busy work to turn to — cabin chores, survey paperwork, reading, editing the previous day’s paragraphs and looking up words in the dictionary. During the arduous stretches, radiant moments do occur. A pair of canvasbacks, our fourth new 2010 species, swung over our heads, their pale wings flapping above the flooded field.

On a day when mediocre words dripped, I could smirk at this dream-themed series — “A potbellied troll cloying on ashy clay cakes sprinkled with sunlight, an anthill volcano burping purple cloudlets, a fairy with tigerlily eyelets mending her clipped pumice wings with a toothpick and gold fleece thread.”

But we wouldn’t have seen the passing canvasbacks if we hadn’t headed out to sit through another frigid pond survey. I can’t pen a pleasing sentence without sitting down to write. I keep at it, day by day, step by squishy step. There will be breakthroughs, perhaps bursts. Continue reading

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