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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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


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Learning to lead — Native Youth Council fosters links between in teens, communities

By Joseph Robertia

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Bill Holt assists Jordanne Wilson with the correct knot before Wilson climbed the rock wall at Skyview High School on Friday. Wilson was one of several members of newly formed Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Council, and the rock wall exercise was a bonding activity for them on their first meeting.

Redoubt Reporter

As Dyann Lauret-Wik clung to the rock wall at Skyview High School on Friday, she may have been the only one suspended vertically, dozens of feet from the ground. But she was not alone.

The climb was difficult, she admitted she was frightened, and more than once she lost her grip and slipped. But, motivated by the words of encouragement from the other teens she had only recently met, she kept on trying until she succeeded in making her way to the top.

“I always wanted to try,” Lauret-Wik said.

In many ways her experience, meant to bond her and her fellow teens, mirrored the goals of the larger activity of which it was part, the newly formed Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Native Youth Council.

“It provides an opportunity for Native student leaders to work together to help solve community problems,” said Teresa Kiffmeyer, KPBSD Native youth coordinator.

“Young people who are involved with youth councils learn to accept responsibility. They grow through achievement and in the knowledge that they are making a real contribution to their community and to Native America,” she said. Continue reading

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Striking idea: Hunting season on road moose

By Stephen Meyer, for the Redoubt Reporter

Ever have a brilliant idea — at least in your mind — chew on it awhile and think, well, maybe it wasn’t that great. But it haunts you from time to time, comes back to your frontal lobe, or whatever that part of the brain that causes problematic, obsessive thought.

I have had this thought for maybe the past 20 years and have shared it with some other folks. All have responded that it is, indeed, a great idea. So, what the hell, I’ll throw it out there and see.

We’ve been killing moose on the highways of the Kenai Peninsula for a long time with little in the way of reduction from year to year (damn moose just won’t read the signs).

When I first came here in the 1970s folks would say, “It isn’t a matter of if you hit one, it’s a matter of when.” Well sure enough, I have hit two in the past 40 years. Both came from the side, running like hell for who knows why. One ran right into the side of my truck, the other came up from a steep ditch and crossed in front of me with no warning. I hit that one at 45 mph dead on, sent it down the road about 30 feet. Totaled the vehicle. The other did a mere $4,500 in damage, in 1989 dollars.

Over the years I have had to dispatch a fair number of vehicle-hit moose. None were pleasant and the worst came this past summer. Traveling down a secondary road on a rainy morning I caught movement in the ditch as we went by. Being the way I am, I stopped and backed up to see what it was and discovered a calf moose in the ditch, able to lift itself in the forequarters, but its back legs were shattered. Some jerk had hit it and drove away, evidently thinking the little moose was unworthy of the courtesy of stopping to see what had been done.

My hunting partner and I covered the little moose with our jackets and lay beside it in the ditch, stroking it and talking softly trying to comfort the little girl while waiting for word from the troopers. They had no one available in any reasonable time and so it was up to me to end the little moose’s suffering. I can tell you, we did not have a very good day after that episode.

Of course, I am a hunter and have taken many moose over the years. And it has always struck me as odd that while we know where moose are hit on the road, the Sterling Highway, Kalifornsky Beach Road and the Kenai Spur Highway, and basically the same places year after year, we just continue doing it. Thousands of dollars of damage, injuries to people and, of course, the dead moose. And the moose tend to have a fair amount of damage and, thus, the edible meat isn’t as much as it would normally be. Continue reading

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Science of the Seasons: Where there’s a weed, nature makes way

By Dr. David Wartinbee, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dr. David Wartinbee. Lemna trisulca thalli grow from the flat portion of the leaflike parent thallus. They start out forming the flat, wide portion and then extend their stalk so the new thallus is away from the parent, so they are not competing for the same sunlight. The extended stalk and flat, paddlelike portion are about three-quarters of an inch long and about one-quarter of an inch wide.

In a previous article I described the common “duckweed,” Lemna minor, which is in the family Lemnaceae. This family includes the smallest flowering plants in the world.

Specifically, the smallest are in the genus Wolffia, and they are commonly called “water meal.” The entire, oval-shaped Wolffia plant is about the size of granular corn meal, and that is perhaps the source of its common name. I understand that Wolffia can actually be mixed with flour and used for baking breads and muffins.

These miniature plants float on the surface of small ponds or swamps and primarily reproduce vegetatively. However, they are capable of producing a supersmall flower and then a small seed. Wolffia are found mostly in warm climes and I have found no records of them occurring in Alaska.

There is another member of the duckweeds that is commonly found in Alaska and is worthy of some discussion. This species of duckweed is Lemna trisulca. It gets its name from having three veins in the paddle-shaped thalli. These elongated thalli grow out at right angles to the side of the parent thallus and end up forming chains with dozens of thalli all connected to one another at right angles.

The common names for these plants are ivy duckweed or star duckweed. When a mass of thalli are viewed from above, they are thought to resemble an ivy leaf, or their right-angled arrangement of thalli are thought to be forming a star pattern. You can look at the picture and see which name you find most appropriate.

Unlike its other relatives, Lemna trisulca does not usually float on the surface of the water. Instead, it remains submerged, except when forming flowers. Because the entire plant assemblage is close to having neutral buoyancy, the group of thalli drift around within a lake and get stuck within the branches of other aquatic plants.

Continue reading

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Feast eyes on winter’s sparkling views

By Andy Veh, for the Redoubt Reporter

Graphic courtesy of Andy Veh. This chart shows the evening sky during December.

Rising in the east and gaining altitude throughout the next two months are the great winter constellations. There’s Orion with seven bright stars, among them red Betelgeuse and blue Rigel, and the stellar nursery Orion nebula. Taurus with red Aldebaran and the Pleiades. Auriga with yellow Capella. Gemini with the twin stars Castor and Pollux. The head of Canis Major with the brightest star (aside from the sun) that we can see from Earth, Sirius. Procyon in tiny Canis Minor. And, very late in the evening, Regulus in Leo.

Because this region of the sky hosts seven of the 20 brightest stars as seen from Earth, and because it contains quite a few easily recognizable constellations, it is my favorite region of the sky.

High in the south is the Great Square of Pegasus in the shape of a diamond. Above it, close to the zenith, is Cassiopeia. Getting close to the western horizon, but never completely setting in Alaska, are the three stars that make up the summer triangle — Deneb in Cygnus, Vega in Lyra and Altair in Aquila (that one actually sets).

In the north are Ursa Major’s Big Dipper and Ursa Minor’s Little Dipper, the latter always really close to 60 degrees, our latitude on the Kenai.

Still the brightest object during the night (as long as the moon isn’t out) is Jupiter, which can be seen nicely in the south. Uranus is just to its left. The first-quarter half moon joins these planets Dec. 12. Toward the end of the month, Jupiter, the speedier of the two, will close in on Uranus. In good binoculars the star Piscium and Uranus add to the four large moons of Jupiter. Look for a greenish-blue hue for Uranus. Continue reading

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Plugged In: Christmas buying guide for camera shoppers

By Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

This week, it’s time for our annual Christmas season digital photo purchasing recommendations, short and to the point.

  • Semipro digital SLRs: The new Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000 are the top models in this range, with the more-expensive Canon 7D as a runner-up. Plan on spending about $1,500 for the base model in this range. I would not use the basic kit lens on a camera body of this caliber — buy a high-quality normal lens at the same time. I like the Tamron 17- to 50-mm non-VC zoom lens for the Pentax and the new Sigma 17- to 50-mm VC zoom for the Nikon.
  • Upper entry-level dSLRs: Nikon’s D5000 and D90, and Pentax’s K-r, are the value leaders in this $800 to $1,000 or so range. Canon’s T2i and 60D, and Sony’s A580, are the runners-up. Again, replace the kit lens with something better.
  • Entry-level compact dSLRs: The best buys are Nikon’s new D3100 and Pentax’s K-x, a 2009 model that’s still shipping at a very low price, generally in the $500 to $600 range. These are reasonably compact dSLR cameras that provide a great value and excellent image quality.
  • Full-frame pro-grade cameras: I would not buy any full-frame camera at this point, because the best new semipro dSLR cameras, the Pentax K-5 and Nikon D7000, have better objectively measured sensor image quality and are much less expensive, as are their lenses.
  • Large-sensor system compacts: There are several good choices in this emerging category, that fits somewhere between premium compact cameras and larger dSLR cameras using traditional mirrors and optical viewfinders. Each of these interchangeable-lens camera systems takes a rather different approach and there’s no single best choice — it depends on your own preference. Continue reading

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