Daily Archives: August 5, 2015

Grave concern — Volunteers undertake cemetery preservation

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tracy Miller, president of the Totem Tracers genealogical society, examines the remains of the Kasilof Boat Harbor Cemetery. The group is trying to preserve the site and expound on its history.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Tracy Miller, president of the Totem Tracers genealogical society, examines the remains of the Kasilof Boat Harbor Cemetery. The group is trying to preserve the site and expound on its history.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Up until about a year ago, you wouldn’t think there was anything special about the seemingly vacant lot along the last bend of Kasilof Beach Road before reaching the north beach of the river mouth.

But there’s more than just untamed grass sprinkled with trees and wildflowers, and littered with trash, toilet paper flags and other evidence of the illicit camping and vandalism that’s plagued the area during fishing season. There are indications of habitation that have stood for a century, but without intervention, won’t be standing for much longer.

That’s where Tracy Miller and the Totem Tracers genealogical society come in. The group has taken it upon itself to preserve the old Kasilof Boat Harbor Cemetery before the little-known burial site is lost to all but history.

“It’s an abandoned cemetery, it needed some help. These people, their headstones were made well enough that somebody cared enough for it to last over time. So I think that our generation at least should pick up and make sure that maybe they’ll last another 50 years, or 100 years,” Miller said.

In the late 1970s, the Totem Tracers set out to catalog all graves on the Kenai Peninsula, from Hope to Homer, and produced a book of their findings in 1983, which was updated in 2004.

“The genealogical society, we like dead people,” Miller said. “We like the history of it. We get a lot of local people trying to find relatives, and we’re hoping to be able to at least give them a little bit of help.”

The project unearthed a lot of interesting history, and one of the most intriguing finds was the Kasilof burial site. There are four century-old graves surrounded by wood picket fences, with 5-foot-tall, rounded, cedar plank-grave markers affixed to the fences, bearing raised lettering still legible today.

The oldest says, “In memory of William Freeman, a native of Finland. Aged 65 years. Died Sept. 30, 1906.” Next is Alex Benson, of Sweden, who died at age 38 on May 6, 1907. Harry Mason, of Norway, died June 4, 1915, at age 67.

A grave marker from the cemetery made its way to storage in the anthropology lab at Kenai Peninsula College after it was apparently stolen from the site.

A grave marker from the cemetery made its way to storage in the anthropology lab at Kenai Peninsula College after it was apparently stolen from the site.

The fourth marker is no longer at the site. It’s believed to have been stolen around 1980, and was discovered in a ditch around 1990. Soldotna Police found it and it ended up with Dr. Alan Boraas, anthropology professor at Kenai Peninsula College, who has been storing it in the school’s anthropology lab. It reads, “In memory of Fred Sandel, a native of Finland, aged 70, died Oct. 9, 1925.”

Another marker was documented in the book, as well — a long, thin board that is thought to mark a mass grave of Chinese men. And one newer grave, for Peter Bates Walker, born May 10, 1935, died Oct. 31, 1982, who lived next to the cemetery, also is at the site.

Other than Bates being noted as “Good father, husband, friend,” there is no further information about those buried beneath the markers. No epitaphs to hint at who they were, what happened to them, or why four Scandinavians and an undetermined number of Chinese men were living, much less buried, in Kasilof around the turn of the century.

The Totem Tracers don’t know much for sure, but they’d like to find out. First, though, this summer, they’d like to preserve the history, and then in the winter start working on the mystery.

“It’s history and I have a fascination for cemeteries, genealogy. I just want to know who these people were,” Miller said.

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Filed under Almanac, history, Kasilof, Uncategorized

Sound tradition — Summer Music Festival continues on high note

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. The Madison String Quartet performs a Noontime Concert on July 30 at the Soldotna Public Library as part of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival. The series of lunchtime concerts continues through Friday, with the gala concert Saturday.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. The Madison String Quartet performs a Noontime Concert on July 30 at the Soldotna Public Library as part of the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival. The series of lunchtime concerts continues through Friday, with the gala concert Saturday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

For classical musicophiles, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Summer Music Festival has lots of musical minutia in which to indulge. And for those who might not know somma from staccato but just want a good show, the festival offers a whole other set of terminology in which to tune:

“Oh my goodness,” for example. Or, “Wow.”

“Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 — oh my goodness. That was a couple years ago,” said Tammy Vollom-Matturro, artistic director and conductor of the orchestra. “Last year was Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 — oh my goodness. Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 — wow. We’ve done some major pieces of music, and this year we’re performing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.”

Modest Mussorgsky’s innovative, folk-inspired piano composition is rich with emotion and power, intensified by Maurice Ravel’s orchestration which elevates the piece to the symphony level. Russian composer Mussorgsky wrote it in 1874 in tribute to his friend, Viktor Hartmann, as though Mussorgsky and his listeners were walking through an exhibit of Hartmann’s art and architecture, which itself was heavily inspired by Russian folklore.

“Pictures” is the cornerstone of the orchestra’s gala concert Saturday at Kenai Central High School, which itself is the cornerstone of the orchestra’s two-week music festival. Every year the 30-year-old-and-counting orchestra stretches itself a little bit more, always striving to set a little higher note.

“Gosh, the programs have just gotten more and more difficult and challenging, our players are getting better and we have players coming from the Lower 48 as well as all over the state that come and play with us,” said pianist Maria Allison. “The concerts have just built, the program has built, it’s really grown.”

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Drinking on the Last Frontier: Cheers to beer culture — Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival toasts growth in craft brewing

Photos courtesy of Elaine Howell. The crowd enjoys last year’s Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival.

Photos courtesy of Elaine Howell. The crowd enjoys last year’s Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival.

By Bill Howell, for the Redoubt Reporter

When beer writers like myself talk about a region’s beer culture, they are referring to the totality of the relationship between the people of a particular locale and beer. Not just how many beers are brewed there or how many bars have them on tap, but how craft beer is viewed and valued by folks.

In the past 11 years that I have lived on the Kenai Peninsula, I’ve watched our beer culture grow from almost nonexistent to one of the best in the state. Let’s take a look back at how we got from then to now.

In 2004, the only craft brewery on the peninsula was the Homer Brewing Co. While well established, it did not distribute its beers outside of its local area. This made getting growlers filled during a visit to Homer a ritual for beer lovers from anywhere else on the peninsula. Most local bars carried Alaskan Brewing Co.’s beers, and a few might occasionally have a beer from Midnight Sun or Silver Gulch on tap, but that was about it.

All that began to change in May 2006, with the opening of Kassik’s Brewery and Kenai River Brewing Co. Suddenly, fresh, handcrafted beer was no longer an 80-mile drive away — it was right here. People’s interest in and experience with craft beer began to grow. The process accelerated again with the opening of St. Elias Brewing Co. in May 2008.

I will humbly claim a small bit of the credit for some of this growth on behalf of my annual beer course at Kenai Peninsula College (started January 2007) and this monthly beer column (first written November 2009). Craft beers, both from local breweries and around the state, are now fixtures in our bars and on our liquor store shelves. Even Seward finally got some craft beer love with the opening of the Seward Brewing Co. in 2012.

In addition to all the advances enumerated above, perhaps the biggest single indicator that the craft beer culture of the central peninsula has come of age is the growth of our beer festivals. With the establishment of the Frozen River Fest in February this year, we now have two annual beer festivals in Soldotna. The biggest and oldest of them — the fifth annual Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival — is happening this weekend.

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Salmonfest still a feast of sound — Music festival changes name, not its approach to diverse music, entertainment

Photos courtesy of Salmonfest. Salmonfest bills itself as three days of love, music and fish —in this case a carved wooden salmon equipped with a torch to add some light to the night revelries.

Photos courtesy of Salmonfest. Salmonfest bills itself as three days of love, music and fish —in this case a carved wooden salmon equipped with a torch to add some light to the night revelries.

The three days of fish, love and music at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds each summer has a new name but all the old favorites the throngs of concertgoes have come to know and love.

When the Renewable Resources Foundation handed the festival off to the Homer-based Kachemak Bay Conservation Society this year, RRF kept its rights to the original Salmonstock name, so this year’s fifth annual festival became Salmonfest.

Jim Stearns, producer/manager, and much of the managing staff continued on with the festival this year. Really, not much has changed with Salmonfest other than the name and the weather — which was a spectacularly sunny improvement over the rain in past years.

Salmonfest maintained its successful recipe of blending a small-town country atmosphere with a highly charged music festival.

Last year’s festival drew more than 6,000 attendees. This year’s Salmonfest drew large crowds Saturday and Sunday following a slower- than-usual Friday, due to the traffic delay from an accident on the Seward Highway south of Girdwood. Many of those stuck in the delay Friday afternoon were treated to an impromptu concert from one of Salmonfest’s top-billing bands, The California Honeydrops from the Bay area, walking and playing their instruments along Turnagain Arm.

Salmonfest still prides itself on being a family friendly festival and the Small Fry was a big hit again, complete with animal petting, face painting and a giant outdoor slide.

salmonfest 2015The festival continued its educational component, with booths staffed by Musicians United to Protect Bristol Bay, the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, The Wild Salmon Center, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Cook Inletkeeper, Kenai Watershed Forum Stream Watch, the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Salmon Beyond Borders, Save the Chuitna and the Save the Susitna organizations.

The tastes of Salmonfest gets better and better each year. From food vendors hawking grilled cheese and nan bread stuffed with delectable goodies to Alaska-fresh seafood, the hungry could find it all — Thai, Mexican, Cajun and other cultural cuisines to the simple fair offerings of burgers, dogs, fries, pizza, cotton candy and pulled pork.

As in years past, Salmonfest featured the work of artist Ray Troll adorning the stages, buildings and in merchandise booth.

One of the more popular activities of the weekend was the aerial group photo in the rodeo grounds Saturday with more than 400 participants. Homer artist Mavis Muller is the director/facilitator of this human mosaic. Muller also brought along Fireball, a huge woven alder branch sculpture, where it was on display near the Ocean Stage.

The music, though, continues to be the biggest draw. Stearns uses his years of expertise managing tours for the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia to blend in a mix of established bands, headliners and up-and-coming acts from across Alaska and the country.

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Plugged In: Depth of field key for sweet fireweed photos

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi.

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi.

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Nothing else feels so much like high summer on the Kenai Peninsula as a brilliant field of fireweed, and the fireweed has been spectacular this year, only now reaching a peak along the side roads north of Homer’s Diamond Ridge and Skyline Drive.

On the central Kenai Peninsula, the fireweed is already near the top of the stock due to our unusually warm days, and the city of Kenai’s lovely field of flowers across the Kenai Spur Highway from Walmart is poised to burst into constant and intense bloom.

As I’ve made fireweed photographs over the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of many lessons.

Some might think it a stretch to call most fireweed or other flower photos fine art, but so what? Not every photo has to have a lofty purpose beyond our pleasure in capturing the moment. Everyone’s taste varies, of course, and what works for one person may not be the only correct approach. So, vary your technique and try to see a very common Alaska subject in a way that’s uniquely yours.

Several focus challenges commonly occur when photographing a field of flowers. Depth of sharp focus — termed “depth of field” — may either be too shallow to sharply capture a subject that’s both expansive and deep or, depending on your subject and composition, may not be shallow enough to properly isolate a strong foreground subject by blurring out the background.

Cameras built around smaller sensors use lenses with a shorter focal length to achieve the same magnification. Those shorter focal length lenses have inherently greater depth of focus compared to the longer focal-length lenses used for larger cameras when both lenses are set to the same aperture. For that reason, a Micro Four-Thirds camera mounting a wide-angle lens set to a small aperture like f/8 will show more depth of sharp focus from front to background than a full-frame camera using a larger sensor for the same apparent subject magnification.

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