Daily Archives: May 1, 2013

Bear in mind — Unarmed birder fights off unusual brown bear attack on Kasilof Beach

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. While not often spotted on popular recreational beaches, it is not uncommon for bears to patrol shorelines, looking for potential meals washing up in the surf, like this one photographed two years ago. A brown bear sow attacked a family of birdwatchers out for a walk on the Kasilof Beach on Sunday.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. While not often spotted on popular recreational beaches, it is not uncommon for bears to patrol shorelines, looking for potential meals washing up in the surf, like this one photographed two years ago. A brown bear sow attacked a family of birdwatchers out for a walk on the Kasilof Beach on Sunday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The details of a bear attack Sunday afternoon on the Kasilof beach were about as ripe for tragedy as they come.

A family with three of their kids — one just a baby in a backpack — unarmed, out for a walk along the shore. An adult sow brown bear, seemingly “deranged,” acting erratically and aggressively, not responding to attempts to haze it away.

The family is caught in the open sand, with no cover or protection, no chance of making it back to their vehicle, no one around to help and nothing with which to defend themselves but a bird-spotting scope and tripod.

And yet, the encounter ended about as well as it possibly could, the only casualties being the tripod, one of the baby’s mittens and the bear, which was shot and killed by Alaska State Troopers.

“After it was all done my overwhelming sentiment that I was left with was I just felt grateful. It could have ended so many different ways and, really, no one was hurt. It never laid a paw on any of my family and I didn’t get torn up so I just felt really grateful,” said Toby Burke, of Kenai.

Burke, 48, a wildlife biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, was at the Kasilof River at about 3 p.m. Sunday with his wife, Laura, their 11-year-old daughter, Grace, 8-year-old son, Damien, and 7-month-old baby girl, Camille, snoozing in a pack on Laura’s back.

“So, little people,” Burke said, from his office Monday. Then a pause. “Little people.”

“We were not armed. We just came out on the beach to recreate. We didn’t have bear spray, we didn’t have any firearms with us,” he said. “We weren’t even that far from our vehicle, and it’s a fairly high-use area. And even the day we picked to go there, it was windy and cool but it was still sunny and people were coming out to walk their dogs. It just, I guess, caught us by surprise.”

The Burkes are avid birders and were at the north beach of the river to conduct a shorebird survey in the estuary. With binoculars and a heavy-duty spotting scope and tripod, they spotted some yellowlegs, black-bellied plovers and ducks at a distance. They’d arrived a little early for the tide to be fully in, though, so decided to walk down along the shore toward the river mouth to kill some time.

They cleared the dunes and were heading south down onto the sand, but stopped when they spotted a brown bear ahead, about 400 meters away.

“We just stopped in our tracks and said, ‘Oh. We’re not going to be going down there,’” Burke said.

They saw no one else in the vicinity, though they had noticed vehicles of two other parties walking north along the beach. Just then a dune buggy came zipping along. Burke tried to get the driver’s attention to indicate the presence of the bear, but he’s not sure if the driver noticed as he headed toward the bear.

“It was like a homemade dune buggy, really loud, so we thought, ‘OK, this guy is going to drive it into the next county. At least into the flats away from the beach area,’” Burke said.

Sure enough, the bear retreated into the dunes. The buggy stopped at the river mouth, then turned and zipped back the way it had come.

As the Burkes watched, the bear re-appeared.

“The bear in the dunes was acting really erratic. Like it was deranged. It would run out on the beach and back into the dunes. It looked like a very unhealthy bear, not just its appearance, but its behavior. I’ve had experience with bears with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And I even said to my wife, ‘That looks like a candidate to be destroyed or shot,’” Burke said.

They lost sight of it in the dunes. Then it reappeared about 300 feet away, near a chain-link fence that denotes private property.

“It was just walking. I thought, ‘This bear’s a little curious but not showing any particular interest in us.’ But it was getting closer so we thought, ‘We need to get out of here.’ But again it disappeared and we couldn’t see it,” Burke said.

They were about to head for their van when, “All of a sudden it popped up behind us in the dunes and was right there — 50 or 60 feet from us,” he said.

The bear had circled back behind them, and this time is it was more than curious. The Burkes grouped together and tried to haze the bear away, waving their arms, clapping their hands and shouting.

“It didn’t leave. It decided to charge into us. Then I just told my family to get behind me and I was using my scope and tripod to try and fend it off,” he said.

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Hub of youth services on a roll — Matti’s Farm applies for lease of borough land

Photo courtesy of the Martin family. Matti Martin, seen here competing in a race during a Summer Solstice festival at Diamond M Ranch in 2009, is the motivation behind Matti’s Farm,  a nonprofit organization aiming to connect at-risk and disadvantaged youth with the opportunity to experience hands-on farming fun, learn  leadership skills and gain confidence.

Photo courtesy of the Martin family. Matti Martin, seen here competing in a race during a Summer Solstice festival at Diamond M Ranch in 2009, is the motivation behind Matti’s Farm, a nonprofit organization aiming to connect at-risk and disadvantaged youth with the opportunity to experience hands-on farming fun, learn leadership skills and gain confidence.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

What is Matti’s Farm? Beyond stating the obvious — livestock and crops and such — at this point it might be easier to explain what it’s not than all the ideas, goals and aspirational dreams of what organizers hope it will become.

The nonprofit organization is proposed as a solution to many problems plaguing the central Kenai Peninsula. At first blush these problems, though significant, seem hodgepodge in terms of interrelation, as if the results of a brainstorm about community weaknesses were dumped in a hat and drawn at random:

Unsustainability of the predominantly shipped-in food supply and the social, health and economic harms that come from people being disconnected from fresh foods, kids with emotional and developmental challenges lacking access to a therapeutic treatment program, teens needing training in vocational skills and work ethic, city kids wanting to participate in 4-H but lacking space to do so, fish waste overwhelming the Kenai beach during dip-netting season, foster kids being shipped far away due to a lack of local placement options, the borough landfill facing a costly expansion, youth soccer players needing a snow-free place to practice in spring, or beginning dog mushers needing practice trails without fear of running into moose.

What do they have in common? If organizers’ plans coalesce and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly grants a lease request for a 240-acre parcel of land along Kalifornsky Beach Road, they will all have Matti’s Farm as a solution.

Although, not a solution in and of itself, exactly. More like a nourishing environment in which ideas, partner organizations and efforts toward change can be planted, helped to grow and harvested for the good of the entire community.

“If you can just envision Matti’s Farm as a catalyst, analogous to a spoke and wheel. We’ve got a little hub here, but wouldn’t it be great if (a youth therapy group) contributed one spoke, and 4-H was another spoke, and the Boys and Girls Club another, until finally everybody’s working together so this whole wheel coalesced in one place under one theme of furthering ecologically sound food production with giving disadvantaged children a leg up. It’s going to help the whole community, regardless of their age. This whole wheel is going to make our quality of life better for everybody,” said Blair Martin, treasurer of Matti’s Farm.

The borough Planning Commission on April 22 considered a petition submitted by David Thomas, president of Matti’s Farm, to classify a 240-acre parcel of currently undesignated borough land as institutional, opening it for use by churches, private schools, cemeteries, clubs, associations or nonprofit organizations. Classification is required in order for Matti’s Farm to obtain a 20-year lease of the land, as it hopes to do.

The parcel is off K-Beach Road behind Trinity Greenhouse, just north of the Duck Inn and Red Diamond Center, extending to the east to Ravenwood Street and Poppy Ridge Road, and south to Bonita Avenue. It’s in the vicinity of gravel-extraction operations, though does not contain a gravel pit. The parcel was appraised in 2012 at $1.8 million.

Borough planning department staff recommended that the commission instead classify the parcel as resource management, which would not allow it to be leased. According to a staff report, “The subject parcel is one of the borough’s most prime and versatile land holdings in the central Kenai Peninsula area and is strategically located to serving the growing community center of Kalifornsky known as Red Diamond. Because of its location, characteristics and versatility, this property is expected to continue to become increasingly important for the growth and sustainability of the surrounding community. … Classification of the subject land, determinative of its long-term use, is premature as the highest and best uses of the subject land is to be realized in the future.”

Despite that recommendation, the commission voted unanimously — with Martin, a commission member, abstaining — to approve the request to classify the land as institutional, clearing the way for Matti’s Farm’s lease application to be considered by the assembly at its May 7 meeting. The decision wasn’t without some discussion, Martin said. Commission member Robert Ruffner, himself the head of a nonprofit organization, the Kenai Watershed Forum, had questions about the organization’s goals and plans, Martin said.

“He recognized the infancy of the organization and gave us several polite chastisements, that the design isn’t well fleshed out and stuff like that. I told him, ‘Absolutely, that was by design,’” Martin said. “We wanted to get this out into the public and let the public weigh in on what direction they want to move with this public land.”

That sort of input and organizational partnering is how the project has taken shape thus far — unusual though that shape may be. It started simply, with the Martin family, of Diamond M Ranch and Resort on K-Beach, believing in the positive impact that raising food and animals can have, and wanting to share the agricultural experience with youth, especially those from disadvantaged and at-risk populations particularly in need of gaining the skills, work ethic and sense of accomplishment that can come from working on a farm.

“All the way around the circle the (planning) commissioners made their unique comments on how a farm upbringing is helpful. Isn’t that what every young employer is looking for — honesty, strong work ethic, devotion to duty and sticking to it?” Martin said. “We don’t have it precisely scientifically quantifiable why growing up on a farm is so advantageous, we just know it is. But we don’t have to analyze it, let’s just replicate it and start with some children who need it the most, who don’t have a stable, two-parent family.”

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Bishop’s Attic secures new home — Move to address theft from thrift shop

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Bishop’s Attic, currently located on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, is moving this week to the old Polaris dealership on Binkley Street and Wilson Lane.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Bishop’s Attic, currently located on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, is moving this week to the old Polaris dealership on Binkley Street and Wilson Lane.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

It’s hard to imagine someone stealing from those who help the less fortunate, but that is exactly what has been happening at Bishop’s Attic thrift store on the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna, prompting an increase in numerous security measures and a change of store location next month.

“Some people don’t consider it stealing, they consider it Dumpster diving, but it is stealing — from us and the people we could help,” said store manager LeeAnn Barenz.

Dumpster diving is the practice of sifting through commercial or residential waste to find discarded items that are still useful. However, the items dropped off at the thrift store have been donated, not thrown away.

“It’s stealing from our employees’ salaries and stealing from the charities we give to,” Barenz said.

Bishop’s Attic, run under the local Catholic Church, uses funds generated from sales in the store to financially support several local organizations, such as the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, ABC Crisis Pregnancy Center, and Love INC. The store also provides support for educational scholarships and other community service projects as determined by its board of directors.

Nearly all of these funds are earned through the sales of their donated items, which is what made the pilfering as distasteful as it was illegal, according to Barenz.

“People were coming at night and taking a lot of the good stuff, breaking other things they didn’t steal in the process, or leaving behind ripped-open bags of clothes,” she said, referring to the area at the rear of the store where a small cabin was left open for people to drop off items after business hours.

It was a lack of items accumulating that first drew the staff’s attention to a possible problem. Apparently, according to Barenz, the visits by those taking, rather than leaving, items were not few and far between.

“It seemed like about a month went by and we just weren’t getting as much as usual,” she said.

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Joy resounds somber sound — Conductor revisits ‘Requiem’

Photos by Sean Pearson, Homer Tribune. Chorus members rehearse Brahms’ “Requiem” in Homer recently. The piece will performed in Kenai and Homer this weekend.

Photos by Sean Pearson, Homer Tribune. Chorus members rehearse Brahms’ “Requiem” in Homer recently. The piece will performed in Kenai and Homer this weekend.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Many things were different 19 years ago, when the Kenai Peninsula’s music community first came together to perform Johannes Brahms’ “Requiem.” Traffic between Homer and the central peninsula for rehearsals and performances wasn’t as busy — and Cheryl Crow or Bruce Springsteen were likely on the radio — and the numbers of high school and community singers and orchestra musicians were a little less, as were their collective accumulation of musical experience, maturity and, yes, unavoidably, lines around the eyes and other signs of wisdom.

Many other things are the same. Some of the local singers and musicians have returned for this reprisal, and even the new ones dive into the work with the same dedication and enthusiasm that have become a hallmark of these community music events. The baton is once again in the hands of conductor Mark Robinson. He, too, has seen change — growth and maturity, as well as retirement last year from his 27 years of teaching, most as the choral director at Homer middle and high schools. But he hasn’t retired his love of the profession or community music.

“When I retired I was not burned out on working with the kids, I was not burned out on music or conducting, so even before I retired I knew I wanted to find ways to stay active — just not quite as active,” Robinson said. “I thought about this particular work and it was something I wanted to revisit. It was the first (joint community music performance) that I had done and I feel like I’ve matured since then, and they’ve matured since then.”

The biggest constant is the piece itself — still the same powerful, emotional and achingly beautiful masterwork today as it was in 1865 when Brahms wrote it, as it was for Robinson when he first conducted it nearly two decades ago, as it was when he first performed it as a sophomore in high school choir.

“I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say it was life-changing for me. I didn’t really fully appreciate that at the time, I just appreciated the music. I didn’t realize how impactful it was going to be for me. I think, to a larger extent, I did what I did for a living in part because of that experience. I’d just never experienced anything that grand and glorious and beautiful and powerful and dramatic, and it just kind of blew me away as a 15-year-old and stuck with me ever since,” he said.

One might think that life-changing would be forte fortissimo that a piece could achieve, and yet the “Requiem” has managed to expand its impact and personal meaning for Robinson each time he’s conducted it.

Between the time he selected the piece in August 1993 for his debut in combining the Homer High School choir, adult community choruses in Homer and the central peninsula, and members of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra, and the time it was performed in spring 1994, Robinson’s mother died. A requiem being a funeral piece, it became, for Robinson, a tribute to his mother.

“It took on this kind of profound meaning for me,” he said.

After deciding to conduct it again this spring, Robinson was in Indianapolis — where he grew up — visiting his high school mentor in music.

“I talked to him about this work and he, being the teacher he was, was giving advice and things I should do,” Robinson said. His teacher passed away the following month. “So for me, personally, this will be a tribute to him.”

These personal experiences with the “Requiem” have led to two conclusions.

One, if Robinson ever decides to conduct this again, his loved ones had better get to the doctor for a checkup first.

“I know, I’ve thought about that. It’s kind of scary,” Robinson said.

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Bound to smile — Author visit generates volumes of laughter, creativity, fun puns

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Mike Thaler, author of the “Black Lagoon” youth book series, visits with students at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof last week. He also visited Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai and Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Mike Thaler, author of the “Black Lagoon” youth book series, visits with students at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof last week. He also visited Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science in Kenai and Redoubt Elementary School in Soldotna.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Children often get the answers to many important questions while pursuing their educations, but kids in a few schools last week got clarity on some of life’s sillier queries, such as, how would an injured pig get to the hospital?

“In a ham-bulance,” said Mike Thaler, author of the “Black Lagoon” series of books, to the uproars of children during a workshop he led at Tustumena Elementary School last Wednesday.

He also visited Kaleidoscope and Redoubt Elementary schools, through funding from library fundraisers and PTAs, as well as several others around the peninsula and in the Anchorage area.

Thaler, up from Oregon, has written more than 250 books and received awards for some in the “Black Lagoon” series, including “The Cafeteria Lady from the Black Lagoon,” for which he earned a Kids Choice Award in 1999. He has also received awards from the Society of Illustrators, the Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana Library Association, the National Cartoonists Society and others.

Thaler also is known as “The Riddle King,” and said he enjoys using riddles as a way to stimulate children’s interests in learning and creating.

“He loves working with the kids,” said his wife, Patty Thaler. “He goes around the world doing this. We were just in Spain in October, and we’ve been to Alaska visiting schools before, but this is our first time in this area.”

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: Fruits of labor to savor — Lambics a much-lauded tradition

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

Photo courtesy of Elaine Howell

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

Now that we are finally seeing some real evidence of spring, it seems like it might be a good time to talk about beers made with fruit. Most fruit beers are better suited to the warmer days of summer, rather than the colder days of winter, so that’s when brewers tend to have them on offer.

The use of fruit in beer is an extremely ancient practice; it certainly dates to at least 7,000 B.C.E. We know this thanks to a remarkable archaeological find made at Jiahu, near the Yellow River in the central plains of China. Settled around 7,000 B.C.E. and then flooded and abandoned around 5,800 B.C.E., this Neolithic settlement was excavated in the 1980s. Among the many artifacts discovered were pottery jars. Chemical analysis of the jars showed they had been used for alcoholic fermentation.

Further detailed analysis of the residue in the jars allowed scientists to determine the ingredients used to make this ancient beverage — rice, honey, Muscat grapes and hawthorn berries. So at the same time that barley beers and grape wines were beginning to be made in the Middle East, the ancestors of today’s Chinese were brewing a sort of fruit-infused rice wine.

Fast-forward 63 centuries to Iron Age Asia Minor in 700 B.C.E. An extraordinarily wealthy king of the ancient kingdom of Phrygia is buried after an elaborate funerary feast. When his still-sealed tomb is opened by archaeologists in 1957, the riches it contained — including 157 bronze buckets, vats and drinking bowls — convinced them that they had found the inspiration for the mythical King Midas. Chemical analysis of the drinking vessels revealed that the mourners had been consuming a “Phrygian cocktail” made by fermenting a mixture of wine grapes, barley and honey.

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Art Seen: Point in the post — Photographer sends away for social involvement

These photos, by Michael Dinkel, are part of his “A Shortened History of Alaska” project.

These photos, by Michael Dinkel, are part of his “A Shortened History of Alaska” project.

By Natasha Ala, for the Redoubt Reporter

Michael Dinkel, of Soldotna, began photographing spawned salmon along the banks of the Kenai River in the 1990s using a 35-mm camera with black-and-white Kodak film. I first met Dinkel in the darkroom at Kenai Peninsula College, where he was meticulously perfecting the rich tonal quality of his salmon images back in 1998. When I recently again saw his spawned salmon images on Facebook, I was very interested to learn of the new direction he was taking with his work, and how he is combining his two-dimensional artwork with his more recent passion for writing.

Dinkel’s current work is a mail art project entitled, “A Shortened History of Alaska,” which combines a selection of images from his 20-plus years of black-and-white salmon photographs with his writing.

Dinkle 2The mail art movement can be roughly traced back to 1915 when Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaist artists began sending each other artwork through the mail as an act of defiance against the established art venues, and as a statement that art was about the work and not defined by how or where it was presented. Later, the Fluxus artists embraced mail art in their theory of challenging the aesthetic assumptions of what art is and what art should be.

Mail art will sometimes consist of a small collection of artwork, sent directly to the viewer, thereby developing a direct connection between the artist and viewer. Mail art was also influenced by the conceptual artists who believed art was in the idea, not necessarily the object. Conceptual artists also used mail art to stimulate ideas amongst each other, ideas that sometimes addressed social justice or political issues.

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