Daily Archives: January 29, 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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