Daily Archives: September 7, 2011

Vexing visas —

Editor’s note: The is the first in a series of articles about J-1 visa student workers on the central Kenai Peninsula. Next week’s story will explore the program from employers’ perspective.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

International university students working on the central Kenai Peninsula this summer paid a high price to be here — thousands of dollars to an agency to arrange their visas, plane tickets to and from their home countries, housing, local transportation, food and other living expenses.

What they expected to get in return would far outweigh the costs — adventure, travel, seeing the sights of the United States, improving their English, experiencing the American way of life. The hope is to earn enough during their three- or four-month stay to cover their expenses, fund a little travel and tourist time, and maybe even bring some money home, wherever home may be — China, Germany, Kazakhstan or Turkey, for example.

Even if they don’t come out ahead monetarily, students and their families coming up with the money see the trip as a life investment, with the value of the cultural experiences they are sure to have being a lifelong benefit to them.

For some international youth visiting the U.S. with J-1 student visas, the program works as intended. Most of their stay is spent working minimum-wage, entry-level jobs, and they take back home all the cultural experiences they’re able to squeeze in during their off-work hours.

On the central Kenai Peninsula, however, where costs are higher, infrastructure is lacking and international culture and support services are sparse, the hardships-to-benefits ratio is more easily skewed. Students have had experiences, all right, and return home with impressions of American society, but not the sorts of experiences local families stepping in to assist these students would want them to have — being stranded at the airport, walking the streets looking for a place to stay, struggling to find enough work to make ends meet, adrift in a society seemingly indifferent to their plight.

“These are the future leaders of these countries, and what are we doing to them? What are they going to think of us with the way they’ve been treated? It’s not right,” said Connie Goltz, of Soldotna. Continue reading

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Almanac: Fossil finds — Kenai Peninsula home to mammoth wild life

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story concerning the possibility that mammoths once roamed the Kenai Peninsula. This week’s story recounts the search for fossil evidence, and the public involvement in that search. Next week’s story will describe the mammoths themselves and their habitat, and the science that attempts to connect them to the Kenai.

By Clark Fair

Illustration from Wikipedia. Fossil discoveries suggest woolly mammoths once roamed the Kenai Peninsula.

Redoubt Reporter

The discovery might never have occurred if the dog hadn’t been so annoying.

It was the summer of 2010, and Kasilof resident Kevin Culhane and his friend, Tim Oliver, had been beachcombing for fossils for several hours along a stretch of sand and gravel south of Clam Gulch. They had walked a considerable distance down the beach and were back within sight of their truck when the trouble began.

Ava, Oliver’s excitable yellow Lab, “got all agitated,” Culhane said. “She started jumping up, trying to knock us down.”

Irritated, Culhane told the dog to leave them alone.

“Go find a fossil!” he hollered.

About 10 minutes later, he said, she did just that.

Behind the two men, Ava had located something enticing.

“I heard rocks clanking together, and I looked right where we just walked, looked behind us about 75 to 80 feet back, and this dog was chasing a rock around,” Culhane said. “So I walked back there and picked up the rock and thought, ‘Oh, that’s a cool-looking rock,’ and threw it in the backpack with the other rocks and didn’t think about it.

“The next day I dumped out the rock pile and showed my dad (Jim Culhane), and he goes, ‘Holy s—, that looks like a

Photo courtesy of Richard D. Reger, Ph.D. The core from the horn of a steppe bison was discovered during the last decade on the beach near Diamond Creek.

mammoth tooth!’ And it turned out to be.”

Continue reading

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Idea takes root — Growers find blossoming business in peonies

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Richard Repper. Richard Repper, of Echo Lake Peonies, in Soldotna, shows off an Alaska-grown peony, which he said with our long summer days and unique soil composition creates “larger blossoms, with strong stems and fragrances that are out of this world,” he said.

Redoubt Reporter

Alaska is not typically considered a hub for agricultural exports, but it may be on the verge of a blossoming cut flower industry.

Peonies — a large, fragrant, perennial flower — are favored for their use in floral arrangements for weddings, but they are not available throughout the seasons, despite numerous growers in the Lower 48 and international locations. Whereas Outside they typically bloom from late spring to summer, in Alaska the peony season starts in July and runs through September.

“With Alaska becoming a producer, peonies are now available year-round. We’ve filled a hole, and it’s a market niche we have all to ourselves at this time of year,” said Richard Repper, of Soldotna-based Echo Lake Peonies, one of 10 professional peony growers on the Kenai Peninsula.

Last week, Rita Jo Shoultz, a Homer peony grower and member of the Alaska Peony Growers Association, spoke at an Air Cargo Summit in Anchorage about the potential for peonies to be a cash crop that could put Alaska agriculture on the map due to an air freight transportation system that puts Alaska within flying distance of most of the major population centers of the world.

“Right now, there are more domestic buyers than growers Alaska can service. But regular access to international cargo flights would be a huge boon to Alaska’s peony growers,” Shoultz noted.

Repper confirmed that the demand far exceeds the supply of peonies from Alaska growers. Not only are Alaska peonies sought after for August and September weddings, but like many crops that benefit from Alaska’s long, sunny summer days and unique soil composition, so, too, are our peonies larger and more magnificent.

“The market demand is very strong,” he said. “I don’t think any one farm could meet that demand, and this year, all the growers in Alaska — 25 to 50 statewide — couldn’t meet the demand.” Continue reading

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Netting good verse — Fisher poets spin salty tales

By Jenny Neyman

Cook Inlet commercial fishing photos by Pat Dixon, at the old Ward’s Cove cannery in Kenai.

Redoubt Reporter

If experience is the germ of poetry; exposure to the almighties of life, death, weather and time is the fertilization; and minds left free to stew it all together is the greenhouse in which the seed grows; then fishermen are predisposed poets.

“There’s a romance of the sea that I think is very real. I think that’s part of what draws people to fishing,” said Pat Dixon, a writer, photographer and commercial drift-net fisherman in upper Cook Inlet for two decades.

“I think the industry that sets you out — man against nature, alone — there’s a lot of solitude about it. At the same time there’s a lot of beauty. A cowboy and his horse, a fisherman and his boat, there are a lot of parallels there and they seem to work for telling good stories and arriving at some revelations,” Dixon said.

At the Fisher Poets gathering this weekend in Kenai, fishing tales will be shared in a variety of styles — song, poetry, prose, storytelling — as fitting of an industry using a variety of gear — gill nets, long lines, crab pots, seines. Unlike fish tales, where the subject is the catch and its ever-growing proportions and prowess at escaping capture, the Fisher Poets movement is more about the lifestyle of harvesting a living from the sea.

“I remember thinking after every fishing period that I would fish, we’d come in and everybody would have some sort of a story — something that happened that day,” Dixon said. “And I remember thinking, ‘Boy, these should be written down, because even the smallest ones, the funny ones, the ones that weren’t really dangerous, were still interesting and so unusual, and it’s such an usual lifestyle that it was attractive to write about.” Continue reading

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Fortuitous fjords — Kayakers soak in stunning sights

By JP Bennett, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Gunn Sissel. Kayakers make their way to the face of Holgate Glacier on a recent trip to Kenai Fjords National Park.

The weather forecast for Resurrection Bay that next week was wet and bleak. Remembering the old saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes,” I packed one of my dry bags with two sets of rain gear and plenty of warm layers.

It was drizzling as we loaded boats, gear, food and 10 people aboard the water taxi that would take us out to Aialik Bay in Kenai Fjords National Park. One benefit of rainy weather is that it often brings calm seas. While there was a light chop, there were no swells and we quickly cruised past Calisto Head a few miles south of Seward. As we entered the open bay, an escort of Dall porpoises began surfing the bow wake the taxi had created.

One of the crew spotted some orcas and then some more. It was difficult to count exactly how many whales there were, as they were constantly diving and resurfacing, but no one aboard recalled seeing so many at one time. Two humpback whales swam by, showed their flukes and disappeared.

We entered Holgate Arm and approached the cove where we would camp for the next two nights. The surrounding fjords were spectacle enough, but the glacier, still several miles away, was magnetic. The ice drew our collective vision like a compass needle and the surrounding mountains lost their significance. The anticipation of paddling close to the glacier became electric. Continue reading

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Trail Called Life: ‘127 hours’ — Crazy is not getting outside safely

By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter

Photo courtesy of Dante Petri. The Lost Lake Trail winds underneath a snowy Mount Ascension in October 2009. With views like this, who could resist exploring?

A few weeks ago I watched the recently released movie “127 Hours.”

It’s rare that I see anything on the big screen so, of course, I waited for this one to arrive on the shelves of the rental place. But seeing something that is even semirelevant to an outdoors lifestyle is, sorry for the pun, always a breath of fresh air.

The based-on-a-true-story plot follows a then 28-year-old Salt Lake City resident, Aron Ralston, on an epic weekend adventure back in 2003 in near Utah’s Canyonland National Park, and the near-fatal twist it took when a boulder slipped while he navigated a narrow canyon and pinned his right arm.

A far as the movie goes, it’s, as expected, about a guy who goes out to play in the wilderness, gets pinned by a rock, is stuck for a long time and eventually has to cut his own appendage off with a dull pocket knife to free himself.

As one could imagine, the beginning and end are good, but it drags a bit in the middle. Go figure.

I guess what I enjoyed more about this movie was the split it draws between viewers.

On the one side, there’s people who I might categorize as similar to myself — outdoorsy, adventurous, pent-up and caged-in by urban life.

I could certainly relate to Ralston’s frantic late Friday night packing, the drive out of the bright lights of the city and into the dark emptiness of the outside, tunes blaring through the car speakers, juices pumping in anticipation of an adventure-filled weekend.

I’m sure I’ve sensed that same limitless sensation he sought of an epic day, riding for miles, bagging peaks, skiing dream lines in snow conditions that should be illegal. Nothing could go wrong, life is bliss. Continue reading

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Art Seen: Harvesting support — Art guild auction offers good deals on fine art

“Safe Harbor,” a stone lithography print by Jim Evenson, is one of several artworks on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

The Peninsula Art Guild is putting on another Harvest Art Auction and has the donated pieces on exhibit leading up to the event. This year’s offerings are a nice blend of paintings, photography, jewelry, printmaking, pottery and fiber work.

The one most likely to be fought over is probably Jim Evenson’s original stone lithography print called “Safe Harbor.” The reason it is a print as well as an original is due to its particular means of execution. Evenson actually draws on stone, enacts a chemical process that allows the image to be printable, and then runs the stone through a press, usually multiple times to allow for each color.

Each print is unique, and the edition sizes are generally fairly small because the stone begins to change and diminish. This piece is number seven of 16 and is a playful and nearly abstract rendering of boats in a harbor. Continue reading

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