Daily Archives: December 14, 2011

Slow goes winter woes — Storm creates daunting drive

By Jenny Neyman

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. One bright spot for motorists stuck along the Seward Highway on Monday in the aftermath of a heavy winter storm Sunday was a sighting of Dall sheep right alongside the road.

Redoubt Reporter

Drivers who had the misfortune, or misjudgment, to make the trek between Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula on Sunday were treated to harrowing road conditions along the Seward and Sterling highways, with Alaska State Troopers issuing a warning to motorists to stay put unless they absolutely had to attempt the drive.

The storm, which also caused accidents and power outages on the central peninsula, brought hurricane-force winds along Turnagain Arm and heavy, slushy rain at lower elevations turned into large, wet snowflakes up high, which quickly blanketed the road with deep drifts and created whiteout conditions.

“That was just a long haul,” said Dave Edwards-Smith, of Soldotna, who drove home from Anchorage with his wife, Dawn, and kids Sunday after attending their son’s fencing tournament. The drive up Saturday was fine. Sunday’s return trip took about six hours and was the worst snow conditions he said he’s ever seen on that drive. “Oh my God, my back was killing me, my leg was killing me, my hands were white-knuckled,” he said.

They left Anchorage around 2 p.m., driving into the howling wind tunnel that Turnagain Arm had become.

“I’ve gone around the arm I don’t know how many times, but that was the worst one ever. The wind was insane. You had the wind, you had the slush, and the temperature, according to the car, was that midpoint 34, 33 degrees — almost freezing but not quite. It was that slushy stuff, is it rain, is it ice, is it both? So that was really slow,” Edwards-Smith said.

They got to Girdwood and filled up with gas in between flickering power outages at the gas station.

Back in the car — their usually surefooted, heavy, all-wheel-drive Subaru with good tires — they decided to push on until about 3:30 p.m. when daylight would start to fade, and decide at that point whether to keep going or turn around.

“Then all the questions are flying: ‘What the hell are we doing?’ ‘Should we even be trying this?’ We thought, ‘Ah, we can do this,’” Edwards-Smith said. Continue reading

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Kenai to Iraq and back — Superior Court judge returns from deployment in Baghdad

By Jenny Neyman

Photos courtesy of Col. Charles T. Huguelet. Col. Charles T. Huguelet sits in the chief judge’s seat in the Iraqi courtroom where Saddam Hussein was tried while on a deployment to Baghdad as director of the Law and Order Task Force.

Redoubt Reporter

It’s not that Kenai Superior Court Justice Charles Huguelet is immune to bad days at work, exactly. He is still subject to the same irritations that invite frustration — scheduling hiccups, computer glitches, the administrative hassles of working in the i’s dotted and t’s crossed environment of the legal arena, and the barrage of challenging tempers, attitudes and emotions churned up by the grinding wheels of the justice system.

But after two deployments in Iraq, the stressors of what might otherwise constitute a hellish day at work today don’t even register on the scale of what constitutes bad in Iraq. He transports himself to and from the courthouse without needing an armed security detail. He operates in a legal system with consistent rules and trained professionals to apply them fairly. His schedule isn’t all day, seven days a week. Instead, he goes to work and later goes home to his own house with his wife, and enjoys those comforts without the constant concern that his safety, or that of his friends, family or home, is in jeopardy because of the work he’d done that day.

“Getting back, it really helps you put things in perspective. I think we really, really have it good here. To have courts and laws and the rule of law so deeply embedded in our culture, it makes things function. We definitely have our warts and blemishes and problems, but when I make a decision I don’t have to worry about someone kicking down my door and killing my wife and hanging me up on a light post somewhere,” Huguelet said.

“I appreciate it more, and I’m also less inclined to get worked up over small things, to get emotional over an administrative change in the courts that people might get a little bit angry about, ‘Why are we doing it this way?’ There are many ways to do things, and whatever we decide is OK by me.”

Huguelet, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, returned to Kenai in July from a nine-month deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, as director of the Law and Order Task Force. His first deployment was in 2007-08, with the Multinational Security Transition Command-Iraq.

“MENSTICI (men-sticky). The Army always has an acronym,” he said.

The mission there was training the Iraqi army and police and setting up a military court system. His position was in Baghdad, but involved travel to Kurdistan, Jordan and Egypt, and to various cities in Iraq —  Najaf, Basra, Mosul and Balad.

Huguelet, originally from North Carolina, has been a reservist since he was a teenager. He’s been in Alaska for 21 years — starting in private law practice in Anchorage, then in government practice, then becoming a judge — and has served as a judge in Kenai since 2003. The GI Bill put him through college and the reserves have afforded him opportunities for training and travel throughout the world, including the North Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Guam, the Philippines and Europe. From all that he’s gotten from the service, Huguelet wanted to give something back, and volunteered for deployments to Iraq in 2007 and 2010.

“I had been in the military since I was 17, and the country’s at war. I had been taking a paycheck for all those years, and I felt like I ought to do something. And I discovered that my civilian knowledge, combined with the military, could be of use. In a traditional war, going in and taking down an army and defeating the enemy, the role for a reserve lawyer is limited, but in this type of situation was helpful. I had something to offer that the active (military) lawyers didn’t — a broader perspective,” he said. Continue reading

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Write from the heart — Peninsula people lend pen, paper to Amnesty International event

By Joseph Robertia

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Keir, Maya and Marc Johnson, of Kenai, write letters to various governments holding political prisoners as part of Amnesty International’s Global Write-A-Thon event, held every Dec. 10 to celebrate International Human Rights Day. The local event was held Saturday afternoon at River City Books in Soldotna.

Redoubt Reporter

Living in Kenai, 16-year-old Keir Johnson has never met Jabbar Salavan, from Azerbaijan. They live half a world apart and have never spoken, but they share something in common. They both have used Facebook to express themselves.

In Salavan’s case, his expression brought extreme consequences. Hours after posting a Facebook message calling for protests against his country’s government, he was detained. For two days he was questioned without a lawyer, and police reportedly hit and intimidated him to make him sign a confession.

Johnson said he believes Salavan’s persecution is wrong.

“It seems unfair the government would track you down just for posting something on Facebook. Everyone posts their thoughts and feelings. It seems very unfair what has happened to him,” Johnson said.

Amnesty International agrees, which is how Johnson came to learn of Salavan’s detainment for being a youth activist. Wanting to do something about it, Johnson spent part of Saturday, Dec. 10, celebrating International Rights Day by writing a letter on Salavan’s behalf as part of Amnesty International’s Write for Rights Global Write-A-Thon, held locally at River City Books in Soldotna.

The purpose of the event is to make a change in the lives of those suffering human rights abuse or violations. Along with Johnson, his older sister, Maya, and their father, Marc, also took part in the letter-writing campaign, as they have in the past. Over the years they have seen various signs of success from their efforts.

“I’ve always done this with my dad, but I also wrote letters with an Amnesty International group at my college (Dartmouth), and it was effective,” 20-year-old Maya said. “We wrote on behalf of someone being held in Myanmar and a few months later I saw on the news the person was freed. It was very satisfying.” Continue reading

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Your Call — Musician sings to the tune of fans’ support

By Jenny Neyman

Photos by Brian Adams, http://baphotos.com. The cover of disc one of Marian Call’s new double album, “Something Fierce.” She performs in Kenai on Saturday.

Redoubt Reporter

In a live musical performance, the ubiquity of certain routines — tuning chords, checking mic levels, thanking the audience for coming — can sound rote to the point of autopilot.

But when Anchorage-based musician Marian Call tells her fans she appreciates them, she means it to a degree that is as far from insincerity as she is from any easily categorized musical mold, what with her Stanford education in musical composition and vocal performance; lyrical, sweet-sounding tone; quirkily sharp wit; devotion to geek culture and TV/movie nerdom; and propensity for incorporating unconventional sounds into her music — including sandpaper, a manual typewriter and a shaken tea tin containing the ashes of her dead cat, Zippy.

To say Call’s musical career, and particularly her recently released double album, “Something Fierce,” is listener-supported is an understatement. There’s grassroots, and then there’s the nutrients that support the root system. There’s attending a concert and buying an album, and then there’s hosting a concert in your living room and donating money upfront so an album can be made. The latter is the level of support from which Call’s career grows.

Wholly independent of the established music industry, Call is the figurative one-man band in every sense but gender — she is a solo singer-songwriter (though often invites collaborators in her recordings — like her mom playing a turkey baster, and fans contributing whistling tracks), does her own editing, and also handles her own tour scheduling, promotions and the rest of that managerial bailiwick. Her first album, “Vanilla,” in 2007, was put out independently. Her second, “Got to Fly,” in 2008, a compilation of “nerdy, geeky songs,” was done on commission for Quantum Mechanix, retailer of sci-fi and fantasy entertainment merchandise. To create “Something Fierce,” released in October, she went to her fans for help.

“It has been made on a regular kind of label budget — so, a lot of money — but it was raised by fans instead of by a label. A whole bunch of fans kicked in $100, $200, $500, $1,000, whatever worked for them, and for a lot of people it was just 20 bucks a month. Anyone who was really interested in seeing the album happen, they just gave a little bit of money towards it and that made it real, which was awesome,” Call said.

Singing for one’s supper, as it were, is not a new concept, though the construct by which Call is building her music career is a little unusual, with her donor’s circle and the myriad fundraisers she’s come up with. Through her blog she’s hawked jewelry, merchandise and offered, for $25 a pop, to sing fans’ favorite verses on their voicemail. She’s auctioned autographed displays of her lyrics, her beloved rain stick she’s played in many of her songs, and a chance to have her record a cover song of the winning bidders’ choice.

If anything, she thinks the workings of the music industry are more of an aberration than her approach.

“It’s an old-fashioned idea, really,” she said. “Artists used to have a patron or they used to be sort of responsible to the village community, and if they were good artists then they would get paid in little installments by everyone or by one really wealthy patron, and then they would be free to continue to make art. I think that a lot of things have gotten in the way of that, but now I see it’s kind of returning to that, where artists either go to a big grant or a wealthy donor or else they go to the public and say, ‘Well, OK, if you like this music, than you can pay a little bit for it and then it works and I can make it.’” Continue reading

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Art Seen: Indulging in art extravagance

By Zirrus VanDevere, for the Redoubt Reporter

“Hoppipolla” by Ryan Stuive.

I received the most wonderful compliment this weekend while I was at the ninth annual Art Extravaganza that Kenai Peninsula College students put on each year to auction off their work. I was told that my column was the person’s favorite part of the Redoubt Reporter (which, in my opinion, is saying a great deal). More importantly, that reading it always made her feel like going out and viewing artwork. That someone is encouraged to go view and appreciate art is all the appreciation I could ever hope for from these writings.

There certainly was a lot of artwork to be seen at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center on Saturday, and many people present to bid for it, socialize and eat the amazing goodies.

Some of the pieces that may have gone home with me were I not on such a strict art-buying diet — enacted now for many years, so that I can still afford to eat, stay warm and keep fuel in my car — were by artists I mostly recognized, but some I did not.

A wonderful little photo by an artist I don’t know, titled “Hoppipolla,” by Ryan Stuive, called to me. I answered in staring for a while. He captured the moment of a small boy in a raincoat and blue jeans making a big jump into profuse water. The composition is simple but endearing, and the colors are saturated and inviting. Continue reading

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Common Ground: Camping in a power outage no day in the park

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

There’s something romantic about sitting under the stars and knowing that only your own survival skills will sustain you. That is, as long as you’re not in your own living room.

My electricity went out for four days due to the wind, but instead of seeing it as an opportunity to exercise my woodsmanship prowess, I ran around frantically lighting candles with only a headlamp between me and total darkness. After the house glowed in premodern-electric-utility-industry light, I sat in my recliner with a shotgun in my lap waiting for the looters.

The difference between a power outage in your home and camping without power is about like the difference between driving your work vehicle, which has auto start and heated seats, and your all-terrain vehicle, which has mud tires and a snorkel.

In extreme circumstances and with some modification, they could fill in for each other, but they were not made to pull double duty. My house as a campsite had none of the allure of an actual campsite, especially when I needed to get ready for work in the morning.

At camp, I wake up and literally roll out of bed (since I’m either on the top bunk or on the ground) to the smell of coffee brewing. Somehow I manage to feign sleep long enough that someone else makes the coffee. I take mine without cream or sugar.

Then I don several layers of hunting gear until the powers of camouflage render me invisible — and it’s a good thing, too. Scent-Lok technology replaces the shower, and all those things the dental hygienist tells me to do go out the window because my chewing gum is winter fresh. The cold morning air makes me feel alive. Continue reading

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Ecotour nets great (ape) sightings

By Joseph Robertia

Photo courtesy of Dorothy Gray. A mother silverback gorilla and its baby are seen in Rwanda, Africa.

Redoubt Reporter

As Kenai resident Dorothy Gray peered through the dense, tropical foliage, a chill went down her spine as she realized how truly far from her Alaska home she was.

Standing just feet from her was a suddenly awoken behemoth. Its small eyes met hers. Its hair was as black as a raven’s feathers, with the exception of a silvery white saddle running down its back from between its shoulders to its rump. It weighed nearly 500 pounds and had the strength, if so inclined, to rip her limbs from her body, but that thought never seemed to cross the creature’s mind. Instead, it acted content with the arrival of its comparatively hairless pink-skinned relatives, and promptly nodded off again.

“I, along with the other members of our group, were shocked at how close we were able to see the gorillas. They are not tame, but they are habituated, which means they tolerate human presence when they are in resting mode,” Gray said.

While many Alaskans enjoying spending vacation time on sandy beaches in Hawaii, Gray decided to travel a bit farther afield for a two-fold purpose. She journeyed to the African country of Rwanda, where her daughter and son-in-law were working, and took the opportunity to also see and support conservation of the endangered mountain gorilla, a species believed to have a population of less than 500 animals. Continue reading

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