Monthly Archives: April 2014

New life, old site — Part of Kenai cannery sees new investment

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ron Hyde, CEO of PRL Logistics, is seen outside the old cannery administration building at the Kenai Landing site that he’s renovated to serve as the office for the new Kenai branch of his operation.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ron Hyde, CEO of PRL Logistics, is seen outside the old cannery administration building at the Kenai Landing site that he’s renovated to serve as the office for the new Kenai branch of his operation.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The devil is in the details. That would make Ron Hyde, CEO of PRL Logistics, not just the planner of renovations and new development at the 100-year-old Libby, McNeill and Libby cannery at the mouth of the Kenai River, but the exorcist, as it’s been one hell of a project.

Hyde bought a portion of the historic cannery site and spent seven months over the fall and winter fixing it up in order to open a Kenai branch of his Anchorage-based business. With road access to the highway, marine access into the mouth of the Kenai River and space to add a landing pad for helicopters, PRL’s new Kenai hub has the capability to service projects across the entire Kenai Peninsula, Cook Inlet and beyond.

“This is the perfect logistics hub, it has been for over a century, whether it’s fishing or fur trading. Back to the Russian days, this has been a logistics spot, so it’s really incredible from that standpoint,” Hyde said.

Also incredible is the transformation the site has undergone — about 100 dump truck loads of gravel for ground leveling and improved drainage,

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Hyde’s goal in renovating the site was to preserve as much history as possible, including any old wood with original character, such as the Libby, McNeill and Libby stamp on this doorframe.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Hyde’s goal in renovating the site was to preserve as much history as possible, including any old wood with original character, such as the Libby, McNeill and Libby stamp on this doorframe.

stabilization of an eroding bluff over the river, and a building remodel so painstakingly detailed that it would have been easier to simply bulldoze and build new.

In terms of heating, electrical, water, technology and much of the structure, the building is indeed brand new. In look, it’s still authentically antique, retaining the century-old feel of the cannery site. And not just a “faux old” veneer of authenticity, with paint treatments to distress new materials or some kitschy items displayed here and there to add character to otherwise run-of-the-mill design.

That approach would have made the job quicker, easier and cheaper. But that wouldn’t have honored the history of the site. Therefore, to Hyde, that wouldn’t have been a job done right.

“It was really a labor of love, to tell you the truth. Every piece of wood we found that had character to it, we used,” Hyde said. “Every single piece in here has come from the original building — we reused everything. The little teeny pieces, we even found uses for those.

“We’re trying to add some romance back into this place.”

Photo by Pat Dixon. Cannery workers wrote their names and dates of work on the rafters of the warehouse at the Kenai Wards Cove cannery. Some date back to the 1920s.

Photo by Pat Dixon. Cannery workers wrote their names and dates of work on the rafters of the warehouse at the Kenai Wards Cove cannery. Some date back to the 1920s.

The cannery site has plenty of character to love, though it’s been tarnished by disrepair and destruction. The Libby, McNeill and Libby cannery started operation in 1912 and was rebuilt after a 1921 fire. It was sold to Columbia Wards in the 1950s and became Wards Cove Packing in the 1980s. It remained in operation, later switching from canning to freezing salmon, until 1998. In its heyday the site was a village unto itself during fishing season — with housing, cooking and laundry facilities for workers, as well as all the warehouse and work spaces, dock facilities, machinery and equipment necessary for cannery operations. The site wasn’t built for winter operations, nor was it maintained against the ravages of time.

File photo. The warehouse at Kenai Wards Cove. The building was dismantled and sold off in 2012.

File photo. The warehouse at Kenai Wards Cove. The building was dismantled and sold off in 2012.

In 2004, private developers Steve Agni and John Faulkner — veterans of the visitor industry in Southcentral with Land’s End Resort in Homer and the Van Gilder Hotel in Seward, bought the 65-acre, 35-building site to turn it into Kenai Landing. The project was meant to be a destination for tourists and locals alike, with a hotel, condos, a restaurant, theater and Pike’s Place-type marketplace of local arts and crafts vendors, all marketed with the site’s historic appeal. Meanwhile, the docks would still be operational and fish processing would continue.

But the development dreams didn’t materialize into reality, and Kenai Landing closed in 2010. In June 2012, the 40,000-square-foot wood warehouse was dismantled and sold off, and Kenai Landing Inc. was looking to divest itself of other bits and parts of the property, as well. Continue reading

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Pick the fight — Weed warriors target invasive aquatic elodea

Photo courtesy the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The invasive elodea plant reproduces asexually, thrives in cold water and spreads rapidly. The Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Weed Management Area is spearheading efforts to remove the plant before it reaches a critical mass, such as seen here in a lake in the Lower 48.

Photo courtesy the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The invasive elodea plant reproduces asexually, thrives in cold water and spreads rapidly. The Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Weed Management Area is spearheading efforts to remove the plant before it reaches a critical mass, such as seen here in a lake in the Lower 48.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

A scourge threatening the ecological health of waterways in the Nikiski area — and possibly beyond, if it isn’t stopped — sounds like something out of a science fiction movie:

The invasive submersed aquatic plant elodea was first found on the Kenai Peninsula in September 2012 in Stormy Lake. Left unchecked the plant can spread exponentially, as only a tiny fragment of elodea — attached to a float plane or boat propeller or trailer — is all it takes to start a new colony. It can not only survive freezing temperatures, but the hybrid species of the invasive plant seems to actually be thriving in Alaska’s cooler waters.

Yet it seems so innocuous. Elodea is a common aquarium plant and specimen in school biological supply kits. But if left unimpeded in ecosystems where it does not occur naturally, elodea can and will entirely suffocate a water body, growing in a thick carpet from shoreline to shoreline and from the lake bed to the surface.

Ecologically, the choking mass would ruin spawning areas for salmon, trout and grayling, as well as migration areas for waterfowl. An infiltration also poses safety hazards, as a lake full of elodea would limit people’s ability to swim, float-plane rudders could be snagged and boats wouldn’t be able to navigate due to clogged propellers.

Efforts are being made to curtail the infestation, with a meeting held last week in Soldotna, hosted by Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Weed Management Area partners, to discuss the continuing efforts to stop the spread of elodea, proposed methods to eradicate it from currently infested water bodies, and to inform the public about the dangers of this seemingly innocuous plant.

Brianne Blackburn, a natural resource specialist with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, gave an update on the state’s response to elodea.

The Division of Agriculture issued an emergency action quarantine for five species of aquatic plants March 5, she said. It prohibits the importation, sale and intentional transport of elodea, as well as Brazilian waterweed, hydrilla and Eurasian watermilfoil.

Blackburn said that an aggressive outreach campaign is ongoing to inform the public about elodea, the dangers of it thriving and what can be done to keep it from spreading. Outreach also is occurring to other state and local agencies to ensure their operations don’t accidentally spread elodea, such as when fire crews take water from local lakes to combat a blaze.

“We wouldn’t want them to take water from an impacted lake and introduce elodea to another,” she said.

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Friendly fights — ‘Odd Couple’ is regular riot

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Felix (Jamie Nelson, left) gets up the nerve to speak his mind to Oscar (Ian McEwen, right), in one of the many fights the poorly matched friends have after attempting to coexist as roommates.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Felix (Jamie Nelson, left) gets up the nerve to speak his mind to Oscar (Ian McEwen, right), in one of the many fights the poorly matched friends have after attempting to coexist as roommates.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

An odd couple. It’s such a common phrase that one need not have ever seen the Neil Simon play and subsequent takeoffs to be familiar with the reference to a buttoned-up, mannerly, meticulously scheduled, order-obsessed neat freak and the fun-loving, gregarious, unkempt, devil-may-care extrovert best friends, who nevertheless spend much of their time wanting to maim each other.

It takes some serious staying power to be so well known as to coin a stereotype of a relationship dynamic that’s still familiar nearly 50 years since the play debuted on Broadway. And Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar have just that, as evidenced by a production of the “Odd Couple” staged this week at Triumvirate Theatre in Soldotna.

odd couple ladelNeither Ian McEwen, playing Oscar, nor Jamie Nelson, playing Felix, had seen the play or the entire subsequent movie, but both were familiar with its classic characters.

But they wondered if the script could live up to the fame, or if it was more the magic of the actors who popularized the show — Walter Matthau and Art Carney in its Broadway debut, Matthau and Jack Lemmon in the movie, and Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in the Broadway revival.

Turns out that the acclaim for the script is no oddity — it’s every bit deserved.

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In land they trust — Alaska recognized for community conservation efforts

Photos provided by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. development committee members and staff Betsy Webb, Mandy Bernard, Marie McCarty and Denise Jantz enjoy a break in the sunshine during a meeting in Homer last week of land trust representatives throughout the state.

Photos provided by the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust
Kachemak Heritage Land Trust. development committee members and staff Betsy Webb, Mandy Bernard, Marie McCarty and Denise Jantz enjoy a break in the sunshine during a meeting in Homer last week of land trust representatives throughout the state.

By Hannah Heimbuch

Homer Tribune

One of the amazing things about the work of land trusts across America is the size of its impact compared to its airtime, said Washington D.C.-based conservationist Rob Aldrich following a visit to Homer last week.

“Land conservation is one of the best-kept secrets in the environmental sector,” he said.

Land trusts around the nation are responsible for preserving 50 million acres. That’s equivalent to about 60 percent of the 84 million acres held in U.S. national parks. And yet, much of it happens outside the public eye.

That, however, is changing.

Aldrich joined representatives from seven Alaska land trust organizations and several national organizations in Homer for the Alaska Statewide Gathering of Land Trusts last week. This year’s theme, community conservation, goes right to the heart of Aldrich’s new position as director of community conservation with the Land Trust Alliance.

Community conservation is about involving citizens in the lasting, professional work being done by land trusts around the country, he said, making people aware of land conservation work and opening a dialogue with communities about what they want from their open spaces.

“For us it’s a brand-new program,” Aldrich said. “And the Alaska land trusts are really out in front. … They recognized early on that community support is critical to their success.”

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Plugged In: Best gear, or best to keep looking?

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

What’s best? Those two apparently innocent words too often result in a torrent of emotion about seemingly logical and dispassionate technical issues.

Although I don’t have a fire-resistant Nomex suit handy to deal with the inevitable fanboy flamings, I thought that I’d tackle the question in any event. But, rather than merely pontificate on my own, I first checked on what the real experts had to say.

Technical Image Press Association is an international group of technology and photo editors and reviewers drawn from 28 major publications in 15 technically advanced countries. Each year, TIPA chooses the “best” new product in every major photo category. Rather than be flamed myself, as inevitably happens whenever people become emotionally charged about their favorite technology, I’ll just report, although comment upon, TIPA’s choices in each category.

Best new ….

  • Mobile photo app: Photosmith 3, but check out Adobe’s Lightroom Mobile, introduced since TIPA. Personally, I don’t think any mobile device other than a really fast multicore CPU, SSD solid-state-disk notebook computer has enough horsepower to do any serious photo post-processing. However, if you’re simply uploading “selfie No. 1597” to Facebook from a smartphone, then Photosmith 3 is your app.
  • Imaging innovation: TIPA chose Canon’s new CMOS sensor with dual-pixel autofocus points. Personally, I think that’s a yawner. The on-demand mechanical anti-aliasing found in Pentax’s K-3 digital SLR is technically more interesting, potentially useful and unique. Sony’s A7 series full-frame cameras are also more indicative of future trends, fitting extremely high image-quality hardware into a very small and relatively affordable body. Lytro’s “light-field” cameras allow later selective refocusing in computer post-processing, bringing critical but out-of-focus subjects back into focus. Lytro’s innovations are still immature as marketable products, but they’re an exciting harbinger of the future.
  • Professional SLR lens: I do agree with TIPA’s choice of the Canon EF 200-400 f4L telephoto zoom with a built-in “1.4x tele-converter” as a professional lens. Often, pro photographers need a great deal of telephoto reach and this lens provides a lot of options in a single package.

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‘The Winter Bear’ tackles issues of suicide

Photos courtesy of Anita Algiene. "The Winter Bear" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 25 at the fairgrounds in  Ninilchik and 7:30 p.m. April 26 at Ionia in Kasilof.

Photos courtesy of Anita Algiene. “The Winter Bear” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. April 25 at the fairgrounds in Ninilchik and 7:30 p.m. April 26 at Ionia in Kasilof.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In Athabascan culture, a winter bear is a powerful figure deserving of caution and respect, both in physical and spiritual form. A brown bear interrupted in its hibernation, rousing too early from its den, is dangerous, grumpy, hungry and more likely to fight than flee. In traditional times, it was a heroic right of passage for a young man to face the bear with just a traditional spear. In modern times, hunting is not as necessary to survival as it once was, but new challenges facing youth these days have every bit the power to destroy lives as the claws and jaws of the winter bear.

A play by Anne Hanley, to be performed this week on the Kenai Peninsula, uses the allegory of the winter bear as a way to explore one of today’s threats — that of suicide. Though particularly affecting Native youth in Alaska, suicide is unfortunately a widespread phenomenon.

“I think the issues are pretty universal,” Hanley said. “Most of us have had some kind of a brush with a suicide incident, whether it was a relative or ourselves or whatever. We’re all human beings sort of going through this together.”

The play is about a young Alaska Native man who is having a rough time in his life, so bad that he’s considering suicide. He gets sentenced to spend time with an elder, Sidney Huntington, but the sentence turns out to be a blessing.

“The elder turns him around using traditional culture. I think it’s a message of hope that the boy is able to turn things around, able to kind of individuate and become himself, and even in the end become a leader,” Hanley said.

The plot and the boy are fiction, though the elder is based on the real, now 99-year-old Sidney Huntington, of Galena. Huntington has had quite the storied life — father of 20, himself the son of an Athabascan mother and gold-miner father, serving on the Alaska Board of Game, helping found the school in Galena, starting a fish processing plant and running dogs with his brother, Jimmy, who served in the Legislature. Hanley, a former Alaska Writer Laureate, was commissioned in 2008 to write a play about Huntington, and chose to focus on his heart for mentoring youth.

“He’s just an incredible man, and in his life Sidney himself has mentored many young people, especially young men, because he’s gone through the same cycle of drinking and all that that it seems like too many people go through. He picked himself up and changed his life and has always taken it upon himself as a duty to be interested in young people and try to help them so that they can turn their life around if they need to and make good decisions,” Hanley said.

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Spring brings birds, beluga whales — Researcher seeks sightings, annual birding festival ready for liftoff

Photos courtesy of LGL Alaska Research Associates. MMPA/ESA research permit No. 14210 This adult beluga, designated R1238, was photographed in the Kenai River delta in 2012 by LGL Alaska Research Associates. It is presumed to be a mother based on photographs with an accompanying calf. Belugas can be seen in and around the Kenai River in spring and fall and have been seen by several people in the last week.

Photos courtesy of LGL Alaska Research Associates. MMPA/ESA research permit No. 14210
This adult beluga, designated R1238, was photographed in the Kenai River delta in 2012 by LGL Alaska Research Associates. It is presumed to be a mother based on photographs with an accompanying calf. Belugas can be seen in and around the Kenai River in spring and fall and have been seen by several people in the last week.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

As the dance that is the turning of the seasons quickens pace from the slow winter waltz to the sprightly jig of spring, wildlife picks up its pace, as well. On the Kenai Peninsula, bears emerging from dens, moose dropping calves and caribou migrating to their summer territory might get the most notice from humans this time of year, but for those with an eye for it, a more intricate choreography can be seen.

Unseen under the water, hooligan are returning to the rivers, drawing in more visible, yet still special-to-see visitors — beluga whales.

“In the spring and fall we have belugas coming in. This is the time of year and the sightings have gone up,” said Ken Tarbox, with the Keen Eye Birders group and a retired Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist.

Belugas tend to hang out in the mouth of the Kenai River around river miles three and four, although they’ve been known to go up past the Warren Ames Memorial Bridge on Bridge Access Road. This year they’ve been sighted as far upstream as Kenai Landing, and also pushing up Cook Inlet past Salamatof toward Nikiski.

“They’re obviously coming in here, poking around, feeding and doing their thing,” Tarbox said. “We’ve counted as many as 30 whales before, but this year I think the peak count so far is 12 seen in one group going up the river.”

Not only is it exciting to catch a glimpse of the white undulations breaking the water’s surface, the sightings have scientific value, as well. The National Marine Fisheries Service catalogs all beluga sightings in Cook Inlet, with as much detail as reporters can include — time, date, location of sighting, number of whales seen, number of calves seen, activity, direction of travel, etc. But before the information gets to NMFS, Tamara McGuire with LGL Alaska hopes the reports come her way to aid in her continuing photo-identification projects of belugas in the inlet.

This beluga whale, designated R875, was photographed in the Kenai River delta in 2012 as part of LGL Alaska Research Associates’ photo identification projects. Whales have been sighted in and around the Kenai River recently, and LGL asks anyone spotting a beluga to report it through the website www.cookinletbelugas.com.

This beluga whale, designated R875, was photographed in the Kenai River delta in 2012 as part of LGL Alaska Research Associates’ photo identification projects. Whales have been sighted in and around the Kenai River recently, and LGL asks anyone spotting a beluga to report it through the website http://www.cookinletbelugas.com.

Belugas bear distinctive marks — scars from injuries or infections — that stay with them throughout their lives, making them visually distinct and identifiable. Since 2005, McGuire has been photographing inlet belugas, building a database and distinguishing individuals by the marks on their left and right sides so that more insight can be gleaned from future sightings, such as about their habitat and migratory patterns.

The project has primarily focused on Upper Cook Inlet — around Anchorage, Knik Arm, Turnagain Arm and the Susitna area. In 2011, the Kenai Peninsula Borough divvied up federal money it was granted to gather information about belugas in borough waters to fund several scientific projects. Among them was LGL expanding its photo identification project to the borough-area waters of mid Cook Inlet.

From 2011 to 2013, LGL identified 85 belugas in borough-area waters, with 78 percent found in Turnagain Arm, 22 percent in Chickaloon Bay/South Fire Island and 9 percent in the Kenai River delta.

One of the questions LGL hoped to settle is whether belugas around the Kenai River in the spring and fall were a separate group from those that frequent the northern inlet. And indeed, they are not.

“The whales that we were able to identify from the Kenai River, we were able to match them up with a lot of the whales we see up by Anchorage. The ones we were able to identify look like they were the same ones, so that was pretty interesting,” McGuire said.

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Autism walk focuses on help, hope — Annual event offers support for families

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Maguire Merriman, 13, diagnosed with autism roughly six years ago, displays some of the bracelets and key chains he made and was selling during the Walk for Autism held Saturday in Soldotna.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Maguire Merriman, 13, diagnosed with autism roughly six years ago, displays some of the bracelets and key chains he made and was selling during the Walk for Autism held Saturday in Soldotna.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

When Tonja Updike’s child, Garret, was born 11 years ago, it didn’t take long for alarm bells to ring in noticing some odd behaviors: little eye contact with peers, playing near people but not with them or a preoccupation with cars wheels rather than the toy car itself.

“We knew something wasn’t right and we didn’t know what. We wanted to help him but didn’t know where or how,” she said.

Her son was diagnosed with autism. More specifically, autism spectrum disorder — a group of related brain-based disorders that affect a child’s behavior and social and communication skills.

Updike said that it was a relief to know what was going on so they could pursue treatment, but as a parent whose child had been newly diagnosed, it also meant navigating the foreign terrain of treatment options.

“You’re panicking and you feel alone. It’s a whole new world and a lot of people don’t even know what it is or what it means when they hear the diagnosis,” she said.

In order to help other parents in this boat, or those who have been navigating these waters for a long time, Updike, co-organizer Jerri Braun and a bevy of other volunteers held the Autism Society of Alaska’s Walk for Autism on Saturday at Soldotna Middle School.

“It’s a venue for those involved with autism to share their experiences, from parents to siblings and other family members, to members of the school district, to local agencies,” Updike said. “And we want all of these people to know what is available to them, since everyone may not be aware of all the resources in the state.”

This can especially be the case for single parents, adoptive parents and grandparents or other family members taking in and raising an autistic child.

“Some may have been diagnosed as infants, but some may not have been diagnosed until later in life,” she said. “Whenever they’re diagnosed, it’s important for people to have support and make connections, and that’s what we’re hoping to do with this event.”

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Away from home run — Baseball fan to bat 1.000 on visiting every MLB park

Photo courtesy of Justin Franchino. Justin Franchino, right, at a baseball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in 2006. He plans to visit all 30 Major League Baseball parks this summer. He’ll keep a running blog of his adventure at justinfranchino.tumblr.com.

Photo courtesy of Justin Franchino. Justin Franchino, right, at a baseball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in 2006. He plans to visit all 30 Major League Baseball parks this summer. He’ll keep a running blog of his adventure at justinfranchino.tumblr.com.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

It’s called 30 for 30. At least that’s how Justin Franchino is referring to his summer plan of celebrating turning 30 this year by attending games in all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums.

He leaves May 6 for a three-month trip, starting in Seattle and ending in Denver.

A lifelong Alaskan, Franchino described himself as a basketball enthusiast for most of his life, playing in high school and now coaching. But attending baseball games has been a favorite leisure activity for years — smelling the fresh-cut grass of a ballpark, seeing the first pitch thrown out and wolfing down a hot dog.

“It is America’s pastime,” he said.

Franchino said the impetus to see 30 games in a single season, traveling all over the Lower 48, came not long after watching his favorite team — the Baltimore Orioles — play in their hometown last summer.

“I saw them play in Baltimore and then followed them to D.C and it was a fun trip, so I started thinking, ‘Next season I could do this stadium and that one,’ and then I decided, ‘Why not do them all?’ I’ve always loved sports and travel, so it’s always kind of been a pipe dream,” he said.

The push to make the dream a reality came after some reflection about where he’s at in life.

“I’m single, I don’t have a ton of debt, I just finished my degree and I don’t start my full-time teaching position ’til next year, so it seemed like it was the perfect time. It was now or when I’m 65,” he said.

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Setting new expectations — Game’s afoot in life with sporting dogs

Photo courtesy Christine Cunningham. Every dog has his day. In Winchester's case, any day in the field is his day.

Photo courtesy Christine Cunningham.
Every dog has his day. In Winchester’s case, any day in the field is his day.

By Christine Cunningham, for the Redoubt Reporter

There’s nothing like walking into the house to see the place ransacked and the remnants of a loaf of bread next to your 100-pound Irish setter. If it had been one of the Labradors, there would be a grand display by the one who done it. My favorite ransacker is Cheyenne, a squatty chocolate Lab, who performs Latin dance moves whenever she is caught guilty of a crime. Red, the one who ate the loaf of bread, is the unrepentant sinner. His bread eating is a form of communication in itself: “You leave me at home, I eat your bread.”

Keeping six sporting dogs entertained is tough duty. They all want to go hunting, regardless of the season. Explaining the hunting regulations to dogs is like reading “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” to kindergarteners. At first, it’s sort of funny, and then it’s mutiny. Some want to eat the hunting regulations and some want you to throw them so they can retrieve them. Only Winchester, a refined English setter, is interested in furthering his study on the subject.

Winchester listens attentively to my rendition of the hunting regulations. He seems to have a good understanding of the game management units and the bag limits for ptarmigan. He is my favorite student. He has distain for his peer hunting dogs that do not aspire to his heights. His upland season is much longer than the waterfowl season, and his work as a pointing dog requires a higher degree of sophistication than the mere retrieval of ducks from swamps and sloughs.

He seems to say, “Read on, mother.” Cheyenne says, “Grrafelshelfinshup,” which means, “My butt is very itchy right now.” Red says, “Shut up and give me some bread.”

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Fools of April

Hunting, Fishing and Other Grounds for Divorce, by Jacki Michels

Every year, it’s the same thing. The sun blazes into the morning window, belying the actual temperature and wind chill outside. By afternoon the earth’s frosted coating melts away as the spring breeze grows sweet and beckons like a karaoke bar attracts a lonely sailor on furlough.

For those similarly affected, you’ll recognize that the symptoms of this affliction began back in February, when you openly lusted after the glossy pages of Burpee, Johnny’s and the like, wishing there was a centerfold pullout of a voluptuous squash. When the seeds finally arrived in the mail, it was as if the karaoke bar closed and now the band had begun to play, and they are smoking hot! It’s time to dance!

And for the April Fool, dance you will. You will go from the penguin shuffle (the move you did all winter to avoid falling on the ice) to the Alaska stomp. Why do we stomp? With a lack of far-north vineyards and fall grapes to crush, we are left to the peculiar tradition of stomping the snow and ice from the yard with insulated boots and waterproof hope. We stomp free the extension cords of winter, we stomp sheets of ice and banks of snow into submission. Giddy with the glory of spring we scamper across the yard and begin to circle the trees counterclockwise, disrobing them of their winter moose-deterrent garland and plastic yuletide prettiness.

The fact that “the last full moon of June” is homesteader wisdom concerning outdoor planting does not deter us from delusions of an earlier full, growing, glorious spring.

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Plugged In: New optic options from old manufacturers

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Until a few years ago, Sigma and other third-party lens makers got no respect, their products viewed as cheap, low-quality alternatives to “proper” optics from prestigious original equipment manufacturers like Zeiss, Canon and Nikon.

That’s changed over the past two or three years. Third-party optical companies have dramatically upgraded the quality of their products, in many cases surpassing the name brands, while remaining relatively inexpensive alternatives.

Partly, that reflects economies of scale. A third-party manufacturer can design and build the same lens for many different camera mounts rather than only their own cameras, spreading fixed research and development costs over many more units.

When a new generation took the reins of family owned businesses like Sigma, they realized that they could, and must, compete on quality as well as price. In the case of Sigma, for example, that renewed focus on quality became evident within the past two years.

Many new Sigma lenses crafted at their traditional Japanese factory simply outclassed the optical quality of brand-name optics, often now made in Third World countries. Despite the higher quality and manufacturing costs of Sigma’s Japanese-made lenses, they’re selling well below the price of comparable Zeiss, Canon, Sony and Nikon products.

Consumers clearly win on quality, variety and price. Even professional reviewers, usually a dour lot, are rooting for Sigma, the underdog made good. So, what products might work for you? We’ll start with Sigma but also mention products from rival Tamron.

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