Road-tested relationship — Honeymooners seek wisdom, advice via motorbike on Alaska-to-Argentina drive

GTD_2to3_ratio[2].jpgBy Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

With fifty percent of marriages ending in divorce, a British couple wanted to road test their brand-new union to make sure they stayed on the happier side of that statistic. For some, that might mean visiting a counselor, spending some quality time together or getting advice from other couples.

That was the plan for the Mike and Alana Clear, too, and then some — some 20,000 miles, eight months, nine relationship experts and advice from over 100 couples from the Kenai Peninsula all the way to Tierra del Fuego.

“We’ve decided to use our honeymoon to benefit our brand-new marriage, not just sit on a beach somewhere squabbling.”

They decided to film the entire expedition and turn the results into a feature-length documentary called “Going the Distance,” which has just been released this week. The film already has gained notoriety, being selected for several film festivals and winning a gold in the 2014 International Documentary Movie Awards.

The couple was married in 2009. It was love and laughter at first meeting, but they wanted to be serious about the success of their marriage and devised the trip as a sort of marriage gauntlet. In the first part of the film they undergo DNA testing, neurological scans and meet with a noted psychologist to evaluate their compatibility. The test results are sealed in an envelope, to be opened only at the end of their trip.

In July 2009, the Clears flew to Anchorage to meet the Ural motorbike with sidecar that they had shipped across the pond, and set off to the Russian Old Believer Village of Nikolevsk outside of Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula to meet their first couple. Nina and Dennis, who were media shy but did consent to being filmed for the documentary, made for a charming first interview.

“Eighteen years. I love my husband. It’s my love. Just when I meet him, I love him,” Nina said.

“You get married you become like, a one. Sometimes get in an argument and before you know it all the friends know what they were arguing about. I tell them, ‘Don’t go and tell your friends about it. Because it’ll be over before you know it and your friends will keep dragging it around,” Dennis said.

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Skilak hike good for wildlife sight — Great outdoors proves out in relieving midwinter doldrums

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Aagje Buzink, visiting from the United Kingdom, and Colleen and Lynx (in backpack) Robertia walk across frozen Skilak Lake recently, enjoying a winter day in a portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Aagje Buzink, visiting from the United Kingdom, and Colleen and Lynx (in backpack) Robertia walk across frozen Skilak Lake recently, enjoying a winter day in a portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Taking our first steps on the Hidden Creek Trail, spruce-scented air filled our noses, and the thin canopy of fir branches along the narrow path sheltered us from the soft snow that was sifting like powdered sugar from low clouds overhead.

We quickly wound our way through the old burn of 1996, where the world seemed monochromatic from the thin skiff of snow that crunched underfoot and dusted the scores of old charred tree trunks that lined the ground in every conceivable angle.

We weren’t eager to get to Skilak Lake, but were moving steadily, likely the result of our lively conversations and the positive energy that comes from receiving winter visitors. My wife, Colleen, and I, along with our 2-year-old daughter, Lynx, were hosting some British friends, a husband and wife, the former of which just returned from several months work in the pressure cooker known as Afghanistan.

We wanted to treat them to something completely different than the hustle and bustle of the busy London metropolis, and even more stressful Kabul, where our friend only knew travel by wearing a bulletproof vest and riding in an armor-plated vehicle.

What could be more tranquil, more peaceful, more rejuvenating to the soul than a winter day spent in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge? A 1.92 million-acre wilderness that, for us, serves to be as therapeutic to our mental state as it is recreational, during long winters where sunshine is often weak, if present at all, for months at a time.

When we arrived at the shore of the 15-mile-long, 4-mile-wide Skilak Lake, we knew we had made the right choice for our hike.

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View from Out West: Community charm calms winter’s long arm

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Dillingham’s Beaver Roundup includes games (including the outhouse race seen here), music, food, fireworks — all the festivities needed to brighten the turn from winter to spring.

Photos courtesy of Clark Fair. Dillingham’s Beaver Roundup includes games (including the outhouse race seen here), music, food, fireworks — all the festivities needed to brighten the turn from winter to spring.

By Clark Fair, for Redoubt Reporter

Ravens supply the only activity at the Dillingham city dock these days. The dock itself, sheathed in ice and drifted snow, is littered with large construction items and heavy equipment destined for the first barge of spring. The ravens, meanwhile, perch on and squawk from the multicolored stacks of shipping containers, and they cavort and twirl and soar in the winds that swirl above Nushagak Bay.

About 200 yards away, past the penned Doberman that barks at each passerby, customers at the Sea Inn Bar — “Enjoy the Sea Inn … until you can’t see out” — linger outside only long enough for cigarette-break companionship. Inside, they swill beer at the scattered tables or the darkened counter and shout at each other over too-loud recorded music. The scene is about the same at Dillingham’s only other bar, the Willow Tree, nearly a mile and a half away atop Windmill Hill. Thursday nights at the Willow Tree are reserved for trivia contests, and poker is featured at least one night a week. Live music appears occasionally at both venues.

Depending on the day, the city’s four restaurants are generally quiet in winter. Most folks are at home, feeding themselves jars of last summer’s sockeye or slabs of packaged moose meat from the freezer. At the two gas stations in town, the customers come and go, dispensing their own fuel at $6.70 a gallon, except on Thursdays when Delta Western offers a discount.

The staffs at Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge are mostly hunkered down in their offices, completing the paperwork from the last busy summer and planning ahead for the next one.

The one consistently busy site is the Dillingham Post Office, although the action also can be intense at city hall if the topic du jour is controversial enough. Traffic is fairly consistent at the grocery stores — N&N and the A.C. — and sometimes at the liquor store between them.

On some weekends, basketball tournaments fill the gym at Dillingham High School, drawing excited local supporters and boisterous village crowds flying in from Togiak to Manokotak, from New Stuyahok to Koliganek. But such contests occur infrequently, and the gym usually echoes emptily except for practice sessions after school.

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Plugged In: Tighten settings when shooting in low light

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Joseph Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

Recent advances in high-ISO digital technology have greatly expanded both practical and artistic photographic capabilities, allowing casual photographers to readily capture images and data previously unobtainable with a hand-held camera.

Practical uses include photo-graphing construction details in the dark recesses of a troubled project, distant wildlife at first light and industrial operations at night. Artistically, good low-light capabilities provide new ways to visualize and depict the world around us rather than merely imitating the past.

After some trial and much error, I’ve evolved a personal low-light exposure and post-processing technique that relies on the high dynamic range of RAW image files from specific cameras to produce large, high-quality, fine-art prints. Fine-art prints are usually at the apex of output quality, so this same technique should be workable for day-to-day practical applications, as well. Your mileage may vary, of course.

jk Illustration 2 - water tub and fencingThe low-light exposure concepts that I’ll discuss today, and the post-processing software techniques that I’ll discuss next week, work well for me. In the Web version of this article, which you can find by pointing your Internet Web browser to http://www.redoubtreporter.wordpress.com, we’ve posted several examples from my new solo photo exhibit, “Veiled Images,” which opens at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus gallery Feb. 27. All images in the exhibit were shot hand-held at ISO 1,600 to ISO 3,200 in very dim light, and then printed quite large, about 23 inches on the long side. Next week, we’ll take a look at the specific post-processing techniques used to optimize these photos.

Overexposure and flat contrast are among the most common problems encountered in low-light photography, aside from camera shake and subject motion blurring. Almost by definition, low-light situations really do tend to be dark, with deep shadows, a few too-bright highlights and poor separation of the midtones. Photos of these situations should not be unnaturally bright if they’re to look true to life, yet we need to preserve contrast between adjacent midtones and not lose detail in the brighter areas. Exposure tailored to facilitate later post-processing is crucial.

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Display of life — Dena’ina winter gathering, Kenai museum exhibit celebrate today’s thriving culture

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Alexandra “Sasha” Lindgren, with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, tells the “Chuda Fiona Goes Berry Picking” story at a Dena’ina Heyi Winter Celebration held Friday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, amidst the “Dena’inaq Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living” exhibit on loan from the Anchorage Museum.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Alexandra “Sasha” Lindgren, with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, tells the “Chuda Fiona Goes Berry Picking” story at a Dena’ina Heyi Winter Celebration held Friday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center, amidst the “Dena’inaq Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living” exhibit on loan from the Anchorage Museum.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A museum exhibit is typically about history — descriptions of already happened events, depictions of olden-days practices, displays of long-ago artifacts — preserving the past through research, recollections and re-creations.

That’s part of what “Dena’inaq Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living” is about. The Anchorage Museum exhibit, on loan to the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center until May, is a cataloging of the history and traditions of the indigenous Athabascans of the Cook Inlet region.

But it’s not just a static look at a once-upon-a-time culture. It’s an exploration of how that culture has transformed over the years, into what it means to be Dena’ina in the 21st century. Along with the to-be-expected old pictures, ancient artifacts and re-created models of how things used to be, are hands-on iPad learning stations, audio recordings and film clips of how things still are today. In that sense, the exhibit is as alive and contemporary as the Dena’ina themselves.

“(What) we tried to convey is not only to educate people that we were here, but that we’re still here. So we had Dena’ina artifacts going all the way back to Captain Cook in 1778 and his voyage all the way up to we have photographs that were literally taken in the summer of 2013 right before we opened the exhibit, so we’re showing that it’s still a living culture,” said Aaron Leggett, one of the co-curators of the exhibit for the Anchorage Museum, and a Dena’ina himself, from Eklutna. “We’ve had an intense amount of change, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is still Dena’ina Ełnena — our Dena’ina homeland — and that we’re still here as a people and that we still fight to maintain some of our traditions and culture, even if we don’t always necessarily recognize it. It’s still building up that sense of pride.”

And what better way to demonstrate that currentness than with live performances, fresh food, laughter, visiting — people coming together to celebrate tradition as it’s experienced today? That was the idea behind the Dena’ina Heyi, a winter celebration, held Friday by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe amidst the exhibit at the visitors center.

“We knew that we had to acknowledge the fact that this traveling exhibit was here and it’s been a long time since we just celebrated with our family and our friends and our community,” said Alexandra “Sasha” Lindgren, director of tribal government affairs for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. “And we wanted to acknowledge all the hard work that the Anchorage Museum did, get the community to come in and look at this exhibit and share some of our stories and songs. … Anything that says, ‘We’re still here,’ resonates with our tribe, our families.”

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Being idle not in his nature — KPC biology prof retiring, will continue studies

Photos courtesy of Kenai Peninsula College. Dr. David Wartinbee works with students in one of his classes in the biology department. He’s retiring at the end of this semester.

Photos courtesy of Kenai Peninsula College. Dr. David Wartinbee works with students in one of his classes in the biology department. He’s retiring at the end of this semester.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Change comes at a slower pace to the Kenai-Soldotna area, but even here things can’t stay the same forever, and Kenai Peninsula College will soon adjust to the loss of one of its longest-serving professors.

“I’m going to miss the teaching part and seeing students move on to bigger things,” said David Wartinbee, professor of biology, who has taught human anatomy, microbiology and numerous other science classes at the college for the past 18 years.

Wartinbee has decided that this will be his last semester teaching full time, but said he is not reconsidering his long-ago decision to settle and work in this area. He and his wife first visited Alaska in the early 1980s and, like many seduced on a vacation, they decided they should move to the Last Frontier.

“My wife and I drove up on the Alcan, which was gravel and pretty rigorous back then, but we fell in love with Alaska — the mountains, everything about this place,” he said.

At the time, Wartinbee was teaching in the Lower 48. After earning his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh in 1975, and following that up with a Juris Doctor degree to practice law in 1993, he began teaching and earned a professorship at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.

Though they had lost their hearts in Alaska, they couldn’t bring the rest of themselves north at the time.

“We looked for jobs, but didn’t find any right away, at least none that appealed to us. I was offered a biologist position with (the Alaska Department of) Fish and Game, but it was down in Ketchikan and it rains too much there for us,” he said.

They refused to give up on their northern dream, though, so while Wartinbee continued teaching in Pennsylvania, and even retired after 22 years of it, they continued making annual sojourns to Alaska, looking for work and land.

“We kept coming back for 14 years, exploring different parts of the state. If you can drive there, we’ve been there. We wanted to get the flavor of each part of the state to find where would be right for us,” he said.

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Enjoying a cold one — Organizers toast success of 1st Frozen River Fest

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi. Attendees of Frozen River Festival on Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park warm themselves by a fire while sampling the many cold beverages on tap from 12 brewers and wineries in the state.

Photos courtesy of Joe Kashi. Attendees of Frozen River Festival on Saturday at Soldotna Creek Park warm themselves by a fire while sampling the many cold beverages on tap from 12 brewers and wineries in the state.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

At an outdoor beer festival, the challenge is usually keeping the beer appropriately chilled. That was not a problem at Saturday’s Frozen River Fest at Soldotna Creek Park. The challenge was keeping the beverages from freezing.

“By far it’s the coldest I’ve ever been at,” said Shawn Standley, from Denali Brewing Company in Talkeetna, one of the 12 Alaska brewers and wineries represented at the festival, which was organized by the city of Soldotna and benefited the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race Association and Kenai Watershed Forum.

“We try to bring things to festivals that you can’t find in a store normally. So today we have a German-style dark lager called a Schwartz Beer. And we also have a Belgian Dark Strong aged in cabernet barrels. These are beers that you don’t typically find out in market, or you might have to come to Talkeetna to get,” Standley said. “The Belgian, I think, has been pretty popular today. I’ve been busy, I’ve been pouring all day. People are drinking and having fun.”

Standley and some of his fellow brewers were set up in a tent, ostensibly for warmth, but a malfunctioning heater left him braving the single-digit temperatures along with the festival crowd.

“It broke, so this tent is heat-free. We’re the tough ones,” he said.

Still, Standley isn’t unfamiliar with the crisp charms of an Alaska winter afternoon.

“This is like a normal day in Talkeetna, no big deal,” he said.

The key is to dress in layers — “About eight,” he said — and maybe hop a bit to keep circulation going. The unfamiliar part was serving beer outside in conditions that usually warrant coffee or hot chocolate. But Standley said that not participating in Frozen River Fest would have been even more unthinkable.

“Well, the community of brewers here in the state are pretty tightknit. So when anybody tries to do something, especially something new that really benefits the community, we all jump in together and help each other out. So there really was no question about whether or not we would come or not,” he said.

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