Monthly Archives: January 2014

Culture class — Immersion program has urban teachers learning rural way of life

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Humanities Forum. Debora Roberts, a teacher from Lake Hood Elementary in Anchorage, holds up a bentwood hat she made while visiting the Qunqaayux Culture Camp in Unalaska last year. She was there as part of an Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion program being offered by the Alaska Humanities Forum and currently seeking applicants from the Kenai-Soldotna area for 2014.

Photo courtesy of the Alaska Humanities Forum. Debora Roberts, a teacher from Lake Hood Elementary in Anchorage, holds up a bentwood hat she made while visiting the Qunqaayux Culture Camp in Unalaska last year. She was there as part of an Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion program being offered by the Alaska Humanities Forum and currently seeking applicants from the Kenai-Soldotna area for 2014.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

There it sat — as dark gray as a wool sock and not smelling much different. At least, not to Lisa Ferguson, who was facing cooked beaver tail for the first time. It was being served as an honor to she and her husband by the people of Nondalton. Not wanting to offend, she smiled and politely put piece after piece of the tail in her mouth.

“I remember chewing and chewing and chewing, looking at the trash can, thinking that I better get this down or it will be very disrespectful. It was the chewiest thing I’ve ever eaten,” she said.

She eventually made her way through the dish. And while the experience might sound unpleasant, it was one of many fond memories Ferguson, now a special education teacher at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, remembers about her previous post.

Nondalton, located across Cook Inlet on the shore of Sixmile Lake, was in a far different and less urban setting than working in the Kenai-Soldotna area. The population is less than 200, with roughly 90 percent being Alaska Natives. There, Ferguson taught kindergarten through 12th grade from 2002 to 2005.

“It was an amazing experience. I have a bachelor’s degree in cultural anthropology, so this was a great way to combine that degree with my teaching degree. I learned the importance of being observant. I learned what it feels like to be a minority for the first time in my life,” she said.

Ferguson also learned that the title of teacher wasn’t just one worn from nine to five.

“Living in a village of only 200 people created a unique situation. Not only was I a teacher during my workday, I was a teacher 24-7 as a part of a very small community that I was actively involved in,” she said.

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Winter that isn’t — Record-breaking warming period persists, chilling winter activities

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Depending on your perspective, the recent stretch of April-in-January weather in Alaska is a dark cloud or a silver lining. Dog mushers, skiers, ice fishermen and snowmachiners are missing out on their activities, while those not fond of snow and cold are enjoying the midwinter reprieve. Side roads are slick with ice from melting and refreezing snow, but shoveling hasn’t been required for a while. There have been reports of bears finding their winter naps disrupted, but moose, at least, are enjoying easy travel and a bounty of browse.

On whichever side one falls, both can agree to one thing — January has been the weird winter that wasn’t.

“If it weren’t for the low sun angle you’d think it was late April,” said Dave Snider, TV Desk lead meteorologist with the Anchorage National Weather Service Forecast Office in a forecast recording Jan. 24.

Using Anchorage as an example, the average high temperature usually stops hitting 40 degrees after Nov. 17 and doesn’t reach 40 again until April 4. The average low remains below 32 degrees after Nov. 12 and stays that way until April 22. Not so this January, which has become the warmest period from Jan. 1 to Jan. 23 on record since 1985. According to the NWS, Monday temperatures busted records across the state — Seward hit 61 degrees (previous record was 55 degrees in 2005), Homer reached 57 degrees (51 in 1994), Alyeska Resort in Girdwood also recorded 57 degrees (50 in 1995), Denali National Park hit 52 (51 in 1961), Nome reached 51 (46 in 1942), Talkeetna spiked at 47 (46 in 2004) and Soldotna recorded 50 degrees (40 in 1972). It was 7 degrees in Barrow on Monday, and minus 4 in Green Bay, Wis.

While the state has seen some high precipitation amounts — particularly in Southeast and Valdez, it’s mostly been coming down as rain. Snowpack has been rapidly decreasing across the state with as much as 2 feet of snow melting away in the last week in some parts of Prince William Sound and the Kenai Peninsula, according to the NWS.

Don’t expect that to change on the peninsula in the next week, with the NWS forecasting chances of rain or mixed rain and snow and continued above-freezing temperatures.

While Alaska has fast-forwarded to spring this month it seems to have exported winter weather to the Lower 48, with snowstorms and severe cold plaguing the Midwest on down to the Gulf Coast.

This weather pattern is called an Arctic Oscillation. The fast-moving winds of the jet stream steer the weather we experience at the surface, Snider said.

“The south-to-north orientation that flow, at the upper levels of the atmosphere, latches onto some tropical moisture and heat across the Pacific and produces the weather we’ve experienced,” he said.

Cooler air from the north is being ferried on down south. A ridge of high pressure extending from the western Lower 48 up through British Columbia and Alaska is holding the inverted temperatures in place.

“Convection, which is upward-moving air, has been going full tilt across the tropical Pacific Ocean, so much so that the area involved would cover twice the size of the Lower 48 United States. That’s the source of the moisture making it to Alaska. And if that continues, the ridge of high pressure over Alaska could remain intact,” Snider said.

The latest forecast model predicts that the high-pressure ridge will most likely hold into February, although Snider said the NWS has low confidence in that model at this time. The silver lining for winter enthusiasts in Alaska is the possibility that as this North America high-pressure ridge breaks down the North Pacific jet stream could shift to the west.

“Which could lead to more of a northerly flow across Alaska. That means it’s going to get colder, more like late January or early February-type weather,” Snider said.

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Art Seen: Rare views alight — Statewide photo show highlights curiosity

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The Alaska Photographic Center’s “Rarefied Light” statewide juried photography exhibition has a reputation as a contemporary show leaning toward abstract, manipulated or otherwise nontraditional art shots. Given that, the assumption might be that it skews toward newer photographers —whippersnappers being so avant-garde, and all.

Not so. The 2013 traveling exhibition, on display through Feb. 5 at the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus, displays the work of some longtime, experienced photographers in the state, including three from the central Kenai Peninsula.

Magical things happen when a practiced hand combines with an exploratory mind. Experimentation, whether with technique or perspective, opens up new frontiers of imagery, a freshness that can be particularly relished by photographers who are decades into wielding a camera.

Greg Daniels, of Kenai, has been photographing the Kenai Peninsula since moving here in 1969, and founded the Kenai Peninsula Photographers Guild 20 years ago. He’s shot the mountains, he’s shot the rivers, he’s shot the Kenai beach — more times than he can count.

“I’ve tried timed exposures with the waves coming in and shooting through ice holes at sunset and waves superimposed over one another and shooting by starlight,” Daniels said.

"Ice Eggs" by Greg Daniels

“Ice Eggs” by Greg Daniels

New techniques reinvigorate his interest, whether he’s trying them out himself or teaching them at a photo guild workshop. His latest interest has been light painting, and his success with the technique gained him entry into the 2013 “Rarefied Light” show with “Ice Eggs,” shot at the Kenai beach.

“I’d never even applied to ‘Rarefied Light,’ before, and I thought, ‘You know, this is exactly what it’s all about. If this isn’t ‘Rarefied Light,’ I don’t know what is.’ It’s very nontraditional,” Daniels said.

The volcanoes across Cook Inlet stand in dark relief against a strip of orange-and-red sunset, beneath a canopy of dissipating clouds. Nighttime seems to progress across the frame, with the grayish-blue water of Cook Inlet running aground against a frozen beach so dim that even the patches of snow have lost their luminosity. That makes a group of rounded chunks of tide-beached ice all the more striking, as they shine so bright they seem to be powered by some hidden source of electricity.

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Plugged In: Cell cameras phone it in on photo quality

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Are cellphone cameras finally “good enough?” Well, that depends on how they’re used, for what purpose and your own standards of acceptable quality.

Let’s first look at some practical comparative examples made for this article by my kid Ray Lee, who’s helped judge the Redoubt Reporter’s recent photo contests. These are not tiny crops greatly enlarged for overstated effect, but fairly large sections of a modestly enlarged 5-by-7-inch image.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 1 is our baseline image, taken under general indoor lighting at ISO 3,200 with an Olympus E-PL5, using the basic kit zoom lens that ships with the camera. The E-PL5 is among the smallest and best large-sensor, compact-system cameras, yet commonly costs less than most current “smartphones” bought at retail.

Even at ISO 3,200, a setting that’s often needed indoors or in dim light, the Olympus E-PL5 produces a crisp, low-noise image with good detail and tonal range. As a compact-system camera, the E-PL5 has image stabilization, RAW file options, high-quality interchangeable lenses and many other useful features not available on “smartphone” cameras.

Figures 2, 3 and 4 were all made with a new iPhone 5, considered to be one of the better smartphone cameras. Of course, the iPhone 5 uses a sensor that’s necessarily quite small in order to fit into the confines of a slim cellphone case. For digital sensors, at least, bigger remains better.

Cellphone camera lenses are fixed and there’s no image stabilization hardware. With the sole exception of the Nokia Lumia 1020, cellphone cameras do not include an RAW file option, forcing you to use JPEG images that are difficult, or impossible, to correct when the lighting’s not perfect.

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Melt felt — Area carvers struggle to save ice sculptures for Peninsula Winter Games

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. An ice sculpture of a butterfly, carved by Ben Firth, of Anchor Point, in front of the Peninsula Community Health Center in Soldotna has held up well despite the rain and temperatures in the 40s late last week. Artists and organizers are working hard to create and preserve their sculptures.

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. An ice sculpture of a butterfly, carved by Ben Firth, of Anchor Point, in front of the Peninsula Community Health Center in Soldotna has held up well despite the rain and temperatures in the 40s late last week. Artists and organizers are working hard to create and preserve their sculptures.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Rain. Not a torrential downpour, but a constant steady stream of water falling from billowing gray clouds that choked out the sky all of last week and through the weekend. The rain dripped from eves and gutters, collected in murky puddles on the ground, and nearly sapped the spirits of organizers and artists participating in the annual ice sculpture-carving event that leads up to the Peninsula Winter Games.

“This is about the worst I’ve ever seen it,” said Anchor Point carver Ben Firth, in regard to the 40-degree weather Friday. “Anything above freezing is bad and rain is the worst. Tools don’t work and the water just runs down the sculptures.”

Firth was working on three pieces this year — a butterfly on a leaf in front of Peninsula Community Health Services, an oil lamp at the entrance of Soldotna Mini Storage and a Fred Bear, the mascot for Fred Meyer, in front of the store.

Photo courtesy of Ben Firth. Silas and Aurora Firth, of Anchor Point, work on carving of a lamp at Soldotna Mini Storage.

Photo courtesy of Ben Firth. Silas and Aurora Firth, of Anchor Point, work on carving of a lamp at Soldotna Mini Storage.

The weather has presented myriad challenges to Firth, who worked on his sculptures last week from Wednesday to Friday, then took the weekend off to evaluate the weather pattern.

“The lamp has lost some parts, but still looks like a lamp. The Fred Meyer one was worse. It dropped an arm. On the butterfly, we carved the wings way fatter than if it were cold, so they’d hold up to melting,” he said.

Hope is not lost. Compared to wood, ice is more forgiving. It can be reshaped or even “glued” with hot water, so Firth will do everything he can to finish the sculptures and in a way that they’ll hold up to the above-freezing temperatures predicted during the day this week.

Tami Murray, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce organizer of this event, said that some of the artists contracted to create 25 sculptures as well as a huge ice slide in front of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex had been told to knock off through the weekend and not carve until the weather cooled from the rainy 40s to drier days closer to 32 degrees.

“Right now the local carvers are on hold and will work at night,” she said. “Before the melt we had four carvings pretty much done. Those will be repaired as best they can and we’ll go from there. We have a few extra blocks so if we have to we’ll replace the ones that are too far gone.”

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Link in with HEA outage updates — Technology powers connectivity

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Few things kink our technology-entwined lives these days like a power outage. But as computers and electronics continue their integration into all aspects of our work and play, they also offer additional ways to be informed about outages.

Homer Electric Association recently rolled out an outage map on its website, www.homerelectric.com, showing outages as they occur and are resolved throughout the HEA coverage area. Currently the map is only available during business hours — 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, because it requires someone in the dispatch center to input and update outage information and the dispatch center is only staffed during regular hours. But by the middle of June the dispatch center’s hours are to be expanded so that it’s staffed around the clock, and the plan is to expand the outage map’s operational hours, as well.

“The goal is that it will be a 24/7 tool, but it’s just going to take a little bit more work on our end here to make that happen,” said Joe Gallagher, HEA spokesman.

Just knowing about an outage is useful, but being updated on progress to fix the problem is even more comforting. For that, technology — specifically, social media — again offers improvement.

“Over the past year or so we have used Facebook and that has just been a huge tool for information,” Gallagher said.

The standard procedure for letting members know about outages is to send press releases and updates to local media outlets, which distribute the news but with an inherent time lag. Newspapers take at least a day to distribute, and even radio stations can have a delay, particularly on nights or weekends when staffing is low.

“We work closely with all the media outlets and they do a good job but there’s always that time lag. The availability to get that information out quickly was not always there and we would just do the best we could,” Gallagher said.

Even posting information on a website isn’t always a direct means of distribution. It is available instantaneously, but only to those who are actively visiting the site. But with Facebook — or Twitter, on which HEA also operates an account — anyone who follows HEA has updates show up automatically.

“With the advent of Facebook it’s able to pretty much be instantaneous. When we have information about an outage it is immediately put on our Facebook page and it’s available to thousands of people right off the bat,” Gallagher said.

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Halibut quota drops again — Commission tweaks catch allotments for 2014

By Hannah Heimbuch

Homer Tribune

Pacific Northwest halibut fishermen are looking at another year of lower catch limits, according to a recent announcement from the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

In the Alaska Gulf — Area 3A, including Homer, Seward, Kodiak and Valdez — fishermen are allotted a total harvest of 9.43 million pounds — 7.31 million commercial and 1.782 million for the guided sport sector.

The catch limit in 2013 was 11.03 million in Area 3A for commercial alone, but a new management plan combines commercial, recreational and wastage allowances in 2014.

“It does not compare with 2013 directly because the guided recreational and wastage is part of the Catch Sharing Plan implemented by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council beginning this year,” said local halibut fisherman and commissioner Don Lane. Lane has been fishing halibut out of Homer for more than 30 years, and is the newest commissioner on the IPHC.

“2013 IPHC catch limits only included commercial-directed halibut fishery,” he said.

The total allowable catch for Pacific Northwest fishermen in 2014 is 27.515 million pounds. When the sport and wastage numbers are backed out, Lane said, that represents a 20 percent drop for the commercial sector compared to 2013. In Area 3A, that drop is closer to 33 percent for commercial fishermen. The guided sport sector also will have strict limits, holding them to two fish, only one of which may be longer than 29 inches.

The numbers put up by the commission last week are appropriate, Lane said, given the regionwide decline in biomass and the catch and weight reports coming from commercial logbooks. Policymakers hope that sufficient cuts to harvest volume will help the declining halibut resource turn a corner back toward healthier numbers.

The commission is starting to see signs that this strategy is working in Southeast Alaska.

“There are encouraging signs from Area 2C, which have had substantial cuts in previous years,” Lane said. “The 2C survey (weight per unit effort) and catch (weight per unit effort) are positive in 2013. That uptick was positive enough in a number of indicators that the commission felt additional cuts were not warranted and a slight increase was allowed. However, the 2C catch is still at very low levels compared to the last 20 years.”

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