Monthly Archives: November 2010

Shell shock — Thousands of Ninilchik clams wash up on beach in unusual die-off

By Jenny Neyman

Photo courtesy of Perry Miller. Thousands of razor clams line the tideline on the Ninilchik Beach on Nov. 17. The clams were dislodged by a windstorm and tossed ashore.

Redoubt Reporter

Some days, it’s just not good to be a clam. In Ninilchik, Nov. 17 was one of those days.

A winter storm lashed the sandy beaches at the mouth of the Ninilchik River with ferocious waves, powerful enough to uproot thousands of razor clams from their snug, sandy confines and toss them up onto the beach, beyond where they could dig back into the sand again.

“There was a winter storm event that loosened them up and stranded them high on the beach where they couldn’t re-bury themselves. The tide had gone out and subsequent tides were lower so the water didn’t get up to them again, so they died,” said Nicky Szarzi, area management biologist for lower Cook Inlet for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sportfish Division. “The wind creates big waves that kind of emulsifies the sand to some depth or other, depending on how severe the storm is and what direction the wind’s coming from. That kind of stirs up the sand to liquid so the clams have nothing to hang onto, and the wave action just moves them around and they can’t get purchase again in the sand.”

Being tossed onshore doesn’t necessarily mean a razor clam will die, if the surf reclaims it soon enough. But in this case, the Ninilchik beach became a graveyard for thousands of clams that couldn’t bury themselves again.

“It was an automatic death sentence for the ones that got deposited up in the gravel. I don’t know how many were dug up that re-buried themselves, but there were sure a lot that were up in the intertidal area,” Szarzi said.

Her office in Homer got reports of the clam die-off on Nov. 17 and she went to Ninilchik to investigate on Friday. From what residents told her, many of the clams had already washed back out to sea, but there were still thousands left exposed on the beach.

“Winter die-offs happen pretty regularly. There have been events reported in the Lower 48, in Washington, with thousands of thousands of clams. I’ve never actually seen one, myself, in Alaska before, so I don’t know how significant this was relative to ones that have happened in the past, but folks in Ninilchik were reporting that they hadn’t seen anything quite that extensive before,” Szarzi said. Continue reading

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Filed under ecology, Ninilchik, subsistence

A man, his dog, windshields aplenty — ‘Thanksgiving’ dog gives more than friendship

By Naomi Klouda

Photo by Naomi Klouda, Homer Tribune. David Waldal sits with his dog, Yankee, outside the Homer Safeway recently, waiting for clients for his windshield repair service. Waldal and his dog travel between Soldotna and Homer throughout the year.

Homer Tribune

David Waldal is particularly thankful this year for the good companionship of his part husky, part Lab named Yankee.

“I got him from a litter right there at Safeway — they were giving them away in front of the store. He was born around Thanksgiving, but I didn’t get him until Christmas,” Waldal recalls.

The awkward, bouncing black pup soon became a familiar sight around town, in Homer and Soldotna, waiting patiently while his master fixes windshields for a living.

Usually, the waiting place is Fred Meyer, in Soldotna, or Safeway, in Homer, right back where Yankee began his worldly sojourn.

“I’d say he gets pet or hugged about 100 times a day,” Waldal said. “He comes home so full of food, I have no idea what treats people are giving him.”

One passerby confessed on a recent visit that she didn’t happen to have a dog treat for Yankee, but usually she doesn’t come empty-handed when saying hello to the “most famous dog in Homer.”

Waldal’s a familiar sight himself. A man dressed in an Army coat who walks everywhere he goes, carrying his windshield repair kit. For several years, he didn’t have a dog after the one he had got run over when he lived in Ketchikan.

“It takes awhile to find the right one,” he said. “He has to be a cold-weather dog. He has to be an outdoor dog. And he has to be a friendly dog.”

That’s because Waldal works with the public and he chooses to live in a tent all winter, outside. Curled up inside at night, he and Yankee can hear the coyotes howl. Waldal uses good-quality outdoor gear to make sure he keeps warm. Unfettered from renting an apartment, Waldal feels free to leave Homer if he wants to, to go to Soldotna and repair windows for a while there. But usually, he likes to settle down in Homer for the more mild winter than can be had elsewhere on the Kenai Peninsula. He once spent a winter in Fairbanks.

“I camped in a tent there, too. It was cold,” he said.

Continue reading

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Cook Inlet’s toxic debate — 9th Circuit Court gives pollution control to state, taking away federal oversight

By Sean Pearson

Homer Tribune

The state applauded a recent decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that gives power over regulating water pollution from the federal to the state government, but while toxic dumping continues, the change gives little comfort to conservation groups.

The higher court is upholding the transfer of the permitting program for discharges under the Federal Clean Water Act from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. At the same time, the court sent back a Cook Inlet dumping permit for additional review.

The first decision has no impact on the second as of yet, since the EPA is still the permitting authority for Cook Inlet. That’s not much consolation to a coalition of fishing, Alaska Native and conservation groups who continue to shake their heads about how to mitigate the dumping of toxic oil and metals into the fisheries-rich waters.

According to Cam Leonard, attorney handling the case for the Alaska Department of Law, the DEC is taking over the permitting process in four stages, with oil and gas being the very last.

“The DEC hasn’t actually taken over the permitting process yet,” Leonard said. “That will happen a year from now. For now, the EPA retains permitting authority.” Continue reading

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Drawn in — Artist pays honor to informal medium

By Jenny Neyman

"Cartoon Man" and "Ennui" by Wanda Seamster.

Redoubt Reporter

Sure, it sounds simple. But on paper, the results are anything but.

The medium — plain old pencils, freebie pens, paper from a crafts store and hauled out of the trash.

“If you take the free ballpoints that you get at your credit union and bank and then go get scrapbooking paper from Michael’s (arts and crafts supply chain store), you can get ahead of the curve,” said Wanda Seamster, a mixed-media artist, of Anchorage, whose exhibition of drawings, “The Formal Drawing,” is on display at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College through Dec. 10.

The imagery — anything goes, just follow whatever directions inspiration takes you. For Seamster, those directions are myriad, meandering and often completely divergent, sometimes heading off on opposite paths at the same time, in the same piece.

A bespectacled face levitates within a web of cartoon panels, hung next to a meticulously drawn naturalist scene in “Ground Slump” of a bluff sloughing loose from under a mat of tree roots. The artist’s pet Corgi stares out from one frame, so imbued with cock-eared attentive dogginess that his tail almost appears to be twitching. Next to it, a Leonardo da Vinci portrait seems dour and stoutly rendered enough to look like an etching out of a history book, until the light sweep up the slope of his nose draws a viewer to the sheen of da Vinci’s bald pate, vacant except for the leg of a frog scrambling for a toehold on his forehead.

“I think a lot of artists think along tangents, visual tangents as well as perhaps emotional tangents. That’s what I think of. I tell people there is never a shortage of ideas, but there’s definitely a shortage of time,” Seamster said.

The techniques — graduated versions of the scribbling, doodling, tracing, smudging and rubbing that kids do in elementary school art projects.

“I like playing around with mediums, but we’ve all done it before. Like rubbings, we all did that project as kids,” she said. “The (KPC art) students have been asking, ‘How did you do that?’ And I told them, ‘There’s not a secret in here.’”

At the Nov. 16 opening reception of her show, Seamster was as transparent about her methods as the see-through Mylar sheets used in her “Dictionary” series, drawn on with felt pens, then layered over previously used paper to create an almost holographic, multidimensional look.

“Ground Slump” by Wanda Seamster. “The Formal Drawing” is on display at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College through Dec. 10.

See that textured effect? It’s traced scrapbook paper. That hazy, misty quality used in the three images depicting the John F. Kennedy assassination? Graphite laid down in a large, even field, then brushed to blend, followed by more layers to build up areas of darkness.

Seamster even posted descriptions of the approaches used in the show, with caveats to spare frustration for anyone attempting the techniques, such as: Secure surfaces before attempting a rubbing; be wary of smudging when using ink on Mylar; and don’t touch a brushed-graphite drawing, since oil from fingertips will attract more graphite and cause an uneven tone.

“I want them to really read the signs and try it. I want the students to take a shot at it. Even if they don’t like it, they might, and they might do something more with it than I did. I thought of this more as a teachable moment than a sales opportunity because we’re here at a college, and so I formulated the show that way,” Seamster said. Continue reading

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Filed under art, Kenai Peninsula College

Art Seen: Show’s fine art is in the details

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

“If I Cannot Fly” by Wanda Seamster.

I love fine drawing, and Wanda Seamster uses wonderful materials and tremendous skill for effective communication through it. She makes note of the fact that, often, drawing is a preliminary step, rather than an art offering standing in its own right. She prefers to present the latter in her exhibits. It is something that delights me, as well, and I am thrilled to have a venue like the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus that keeps bringing such solid work to this area.

Seamster works with a lot of ink on vellum and Mylar, and the effect is clean and warm. In “Ground Slump,” she has used a couple of slightly different pens on paper for some really subtle variation in the drawing of trees, root and rock. There is much attention to detail in the full tonal range, and an obvious love for the drawing media comes through.

Often she uses preprinted paper and draws right on top, generally for fanciful effect. In “Jack Sidecar,” a portrait of a dog is drawn on top of patterned papers that serve as the wall and the floor surface. Continue reading

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Filed under art, Art Seen, Kenai Peninsula College, Uncategorized

Thanks for holiday season

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Johna Beech, left, and Josie Overman decorate a tree for the Relay for Like for the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center’s Christmas tree fundraiser.

Redoubt Reporter

This time of year if you focus too hard on a slice of turkey you could miss Christmas approaching, at the speed of twinkling lights.

In Old Town Kenai on Sunday, parishioners of Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church got a jump on Thanksgiving, celebrating with a turkey dinner at noon following their church service at 11 a.m. The annual pre-Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition for the church, and serves as a way for the parish to count its blessings.

“And it’s a warmup for Thursday,” joked Dorothy Gray, church treasurer.

This year, there is much to be thankful for, Gray said, including a successful fundraising campaign to pay for renovations to the historic church, which was built in the 1890s; a collaboration with the city of Kenai and the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, which allowed the church’s collection of historic icons and other sacred objects to be displayed in a summer-long art show; and a collaboration with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe to use Fort Kenay, across the street from the church, for services while the renovation project is under way.

“This year we can be especially thankful for all the things our church has received. We got our grant, and all the people throughout the state and country who contributed, we are very thankful for getting those folks to help us restore our church,” Gray said. “Our reward was the community support. Being able to have the exhibit at the visitors center, the city providing insurance, being able to use the fort for church services. We’ve been so thankful.” Continue reading

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Almanac: Bearing wounds of risky encounter

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part story about a brown bear attack on hunter Hank Knackstedt near the Kenai River in 1952. Last week’s story, in addition to describing the attack, provided some of Knackstedt’s history and details of his friendship with his hunting partner, Waldo Coyle. This week focuses on the rescue. Next week will examine the aftermath of the attack. Read previous stories online at

By Clark Fair

Photo courtesy of Henry Knackstedt. Within a few days of his attack and hospitalization, Hank Knackstedt made it into the newspapers. He is seen here posing in his hospital room at Virginia Mason.

Redoubt Reporter

“I lay unconscious in a pool of blood with my left eye gone and the left side of my face and head a gory mess. Part of my skull had been bitten or clawed away, exposing brain tissue to the open air. There was a hell of a big hole in the back of my neck, and my rifle had been tossed 30 feet in the brush.”

When Hank Knackstedt awoke after being mauled by a sow brown bear protecting her twin cubs, he found himself face down on ground wet with his own blood and the previous days’ rain. On his back was his old wooden packboard — minus “a few healthy bites” — which may have saved his life after he was battered about the head and neck, knocked out and left for dead.

Knackstedt, who had gone hunting alone near Mile 17 of the Kenai River after refusing to wait any longer for his tardy hunting partner, Waldo Coyle, awoke without a concrete sense of the amount of time passed or the location of his attacker.

He tried to lie still and listen, but his injuries made both movement and the lack of movement excruciating.

“Try as I might, it was impossible for me to feign death,” Knackstedt related in Jim Woodworth’s 1958 book, “The Kodiak Bear.” “I was breathing heavily and shaking, (and) my body was racked with pain. In desperation I had to move, and if she were still around — well, the sooner the better. I didn’t much care one way or the other.” Continue reading


Filed under Almanac, bears