Monday, January 30, 2012

Sunday before the snows

Yesterday I went to the marina to snap a pic or two of the ice and boats.

I was supposed to fly out this morning, But, it dumped snow on us last night. Enough for me not be able to catch the plane. So I stayed home and had time to play with pics, as I waited.

As I was watching a sea lion come out between the ice,
suddenly I heard something close over my head.

A parade of eagles flew over me. Over twenty, it seemed. Suddenly form the canneries, over the water, they came to the parking lot where I was.

Turns out a fellow threw some food out to the ravens and
the eagles must have noticed from over a quarter mile away.

So, they came to watch, hoping for their chance
of a little meal in the 20 degree cold day.

And one landed close enough for me to take my best picture of the day.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Big waves on a cold day.

A scene you'll often find in Kodiak is people stopping at Mill Bay whenever storm comes up.

Here's what I saw last week. It was 20 degrees and windy. In fact, just a few minutes taking pictures made my fingers colder than they have ever been. I apologize for not zooming the pics the same size. But avoiding frostbite seemed like a good idea at the moment.

For comparison, let me show you a picture form last Fall: Two Coast Guard helicopters practicing rescues off the tip of Spruce cape.
I want you to notice is that the cliff is over twice the heigth of those helicopters.

Compare that to last weekend's waves (taken with a lot less zoom).

The spray seems as high as that cliff, 2 helicopters high....
but that wave was much further out to sea!

And...if you look North....
the other end of Mill Bay doesn't look any more inviting to a boater.

Check out our video of the waves:

20 degree air, 30 mph winds, and 37 degree water.
Can you imagine falling from a boat in those waters?
You have five minutes to say your prayers!

PS We're not planning on taking out the kayaks for a while.

It's been cold here!

It's been cold here!

So, how do we stay so warm?

Answer: our wood stove with soapstone walls.

But don't think we keep it at 81 degrees inside. No, we forgot to open the door in the basements room with the stove. That made it really hot down below.

When the wife is not here, I keep the upstairs at 53 degrees and the bedroom at 62.

Warm and toasty, compared to the single digits we are having these days!

Alaskan oil, part 2

You've heard of the Alaskan pipeline.

Well here it is.

From the northern shores in Prudhoe bay to the shipping terminal in Valdez,
800 miles.

Travelling under ground, above ground, and on bridges over rivers and streams.

48 inches wide.
Capable of holding 9,000,000 barrels of oil when filled.

But, that's the problem. It is not filled.

In fact, it is only carrying 1/2 the volume it did during its peak. Plus the oil is not he same quality it used to be. It has a lot more paraffin (eg wax) than it did originally.

The low volume and extra wax means it is likely to solidify in the pipe at our cold temperatures. There is talk of adding heating elements to the pipe to keep the oil moving.

Those are not just problems for us. They are problems for you in the lower 48 as well. You can no longer count on Alaska's current oil fields as a reserve in case foreign oil to the US is cut short. You'd better be thinking of expanding production.

There is much debate these days in the Alaska government on how to do this. Oil income is what funds the stat treasury: itmakes up to 90% of the state's "unrestricted" income.

Governor Parnell wants to decrease the taxes oil companies pay the state to stimulate exploration drilling here in AK. That is counter to ex-Governor Palin who raised taxes during her term. Parnell thinks there is now too much competition for exploration in the oil sands down below so we have to make it more attractive to the drillers.

According to the Kodiak newspaper: "Under the current tax structure, which features a 25 percent base tax rate, a progressive surcharge is triggered when a company's net profits hits $30 a barrel. The idea when the law was passed in 2007 was that the state would help companies on the front end, with things like tax credits, and share with them when oil flowed and prices were high.

But critics, including Parnell and the oil industry, argue the surcharge at times of high oil is excessive and a disincentive to investment."

So, if oil production is really going down, we have a problem. On the other hand, something has apparently come out in the courts. British Petroleum, a major producer here, has in its records that the pipeline is expected to keep working well till 2060; not 2025 like the tax cutters claim.

I don't know what is best. Our state government will decide on a tax rate during this session of the legislature.

But, I have to tell you this story. I asked a VP of Exxon-Mobil a few years ago what they felt about the high taxes in Alaska. Here is his response: "The tax is higher than we'd like. But the Alaskan government is fair. We know we can count on them not suddenly pulling the contract out from of under us." And that was way before Chavez took their assets in Venezuela away form them.

(PS I must say that in Kodiak, I would deny that I know anyone who is a leader in Exxon...since the Exxon Valdez oil spill it is a company-non-grata around here. More about that another day.)

Anyway, what would your state do if it had resources that were being drained?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Wife stops moose stomping with shovel.

Here ia a good Alaska story.

Fortunately, we have no moose on the island.

But, this is where we are going to see the beginning of the Iditarod!

By LISA DEMER Published: 01/23/12 06:09:57

An agitated moose ran down and stomped a well-known Bush pilot from Willow, but he was saved when his wife grabbed a shovel from their pickup truck and whacked the big animal until it backed off.

George Murphy, 82, and his wife, Dorothea Taylor, 85, told the story of their recent moose encounter Sunday afternoon from Murphy's hospital room in Anchorage, where he is recovering from gashes to his head and left leg as well as seven broken ribs.

It is really worth reading the full story online at:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Let's talk about AK oil, part 1

It is January,so we are all thinking of paying taxes. Fortunate for us, we don't pay state taxes. We do pay real estate taxes, though. But, in some communities like Anchorage or outside the city limits of Kodiak, we don't pay sales taxes. And here is why:

The state taxes the oil companies on the oil they withdraw form the state. So the government can operate the state with that money.
Other states use their oil production money to also fund some of their expenses (like New Mexico) or to fund education (like The Univ of Texas; Texas A&M originally got their $ money form state income related to farming and ranching).

Alaska, so far, has enough income to fund their expenses and to actually share some of that with the residents. The yearly distribution comes in September/October and is called the Permanent Fund Dividend.

The amount of distribution is based on the amount that is present in the Permanent Fund form prior years of oil taxes and the investment returns in the fund. The distribution depends on the average in the fund for the prior 5 years.

Back in 1983, they gave out $ 386 per person. We have gotten as much as $ 2,069 per person in the state in 2008. So if you are married and have 3 kids, you get a $ 10,000 check. After the 2007 stock market drop the value in the fund dropped, so we are down to $ 1,170 per person this year. Still, pretty good, don't you think?

What do we do with that money?

Merchants want you to spend it, so they have large PFD sales. Car dealers start advertising let you drive away in July in a new vehicle as early as July if you promise to use the upcoming PFD as a down payment on a new car.

Some use it for their yearly vacation. Yes, Hawaii is very popular in the winter!

And some put it all away for their children's college education (what self control those people have!)

Others, like us, consider it an "assistance" in paying the high heating bills in Alaska. Yes, we get the oil out of the ground. But then it goes to the lower 48 for processing and we get it back form you at above $ 4 per gallon (more than what you pay down below). Go figure!

Anyway...don't get too jealous of us. Remember; our official "cost of living" is 1.26to 1.32 times the average of the lower 48. And to tell you the truth.....we think it is much much higher.

More about that in the future.

But, in any case, if you are homeless or out of work: don't think of moving up here merely for that check. It won't be nearly enough to keep you warm (or alive) in the winter.

We'll talk more about the future of oil in AK in part 2.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Train them early, and they will learn!

In Kodiak, many eat what they hunt or fish. Many subsist on it. We've know teenagers who have not had beef at home for years.

Needless to say, their training must start young. At the shooting range I can tell you that some kids just above 10 years of age have knocked down five plate by the time I am still aiming at my third.

So here is the lead story in our newspaper earlier this week:

KODIAK — The amazing thing isn’t that 15-year-old Stephanie Blondin won this year’s Eric Lochman Big Buck Contest, beating hunters many times her age.

It’s that she’s done it twice.

In 2006, Blondin won the contest as a 10-year-old, just four years removed from shooting her first Sitka blacktail on Kodiak Island. This year, she proved the win was no fluke by repeating her top honors, defeating 65 other competitors.

“She smoked everybody here,” announced Jesse Glamann of Mack’s Sport Shop, which sponsored the contest. “It was really close until we got to No. 1.”

Read more:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Russian New Year's Party

As we've said, we do things to keep busy in the winter nights. And it is good to have two versions of the Holidays by re-celebrating with the Native & Russian festivities. This past weekend they celebrated New Year's with a masquerade ball at the Sun'aq Tribal Center.

Read more at:

And here are some pics we just dug out from last year's celebration of the Orthodox Russian New the Roman Catholic Church.

First, a welcome into the party from the cold and snow:

With a series of songs by each table:

Then the large group singing to all:

Being "Russian", the men break out into a dance:

The public joins in:

Till everyone participates in a good time:

So, we say: Happy New Year once again.

We're sorry to see that the lights and decorations will finally be coming down.

But, don't worry, Valentine's Parties are just around the corner.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Renda makes it to Nome

The Russian oil tanker Renda has made it within 6 miles of Nome, where it awaits daylight to inch slowly closer to shore to unload it's precious petro cargo.

It has taken a little longer than expected: originally they talked about it getting there about 4 days after the beginning of the year. But it had to return to Dutch Harbor for repairs.

Then they found the travelling speed slower than expected: turns out that as you try cutting through ice and moving forward, the ice might be carrying you in the opposite direction. In a book I read about a stranded boat north of Russia, sometimes they travelled 14 miles on the ice and found themselves having made only one mile north to south progress.

Anyway, once it gets light on Saturday (about 11:30 AM) they will travel within one mile from Nome. There they will let the tanker freeze in place. Then they'll run a hose for one mile to the city and start pumping.

But they will have to plan a little more; they will only be allowed to start during daylight. They'll then have walkers along that mile to be sure no oil leaks onto the ice as they unload 1,300 gallons of diesel and gas.

And there is a small problem ..... there is only about 5 hours of daylight in Nome at this time of the year. So. it'll be at least Sunday before that starts.

After that is done, the Coast Guard's Healy will break the ice free form the tanker and let it head out for home.

We don't know what news stories you in the lower 48 are keeping up with. But here in AK, this is one story we follow whenever we get to the Internet or turn on the radio or TV.

Check it out at

PS for an interesting read on being ice bound on a ship for 1 1/2 years in the Siberian Artic...and the final effort of 235 miles in 91 days over the ice and water back to civilization, check out the book of the Russian ship Saint Anna in the early 1910's: In the Land of White Death.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Starring in Kodiak

We are celebrating Christmas again tonight in Kodiak.

If you look at it right, it's the 3rd time this Holiday.

Of course, Dec 24/25 was celebrated. Then on January 6/7 came: time to celebrate the Russian Orthodox Christmas. But we had a blizzard that night. So a few did celebrate it with services at the church and the native museum.

But an important part of the festivities were put off till today. So tonight they will carry a spinning star from the church to the homes of members on a pre planned course. There they will celebrate with some nourishment, payers, and a small ceremony. Then the group will follow the spinning star to another home for more celebration. At the end, they will return the church.

Quite a tradition. And a nice way of keeping the faithful together as a community within our community.

To see a starring form another part of Alaska go to the YouTube video below

And here is a short article about the celebrations a few days ago, which goes along with the pic at the top:

KODIAK — They came slow and in groups, getting rides and helping each other from snow drifts, but 10 inches of snow couldn't keep Kodiak's Orthodox Christian worshippers from church on Saturday, Christmas day.

The Orthodox church follows the Julian calendar, and thus its Christmas falls two weeks later than the date celebrated by other Christians.

While that sets Orthodox Christians apart, Alaskan Orthodox worshippers have traditions that separate them even from their counterparts in Europe and Asia.

Foremost of these is the custom of starring, or Slaviq. Celebrants carry a large, colorful star from the church to the homes of those celebrating the holiday.

Accompanying the star are carolers who sing traditional Slavonic hymns.

On Saturday night in Kodiak, the star's first stop after leaving Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral was the Alutiiq Museum, where almost 50 people gathered to sing and share conversation.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at

Read more: KODIAK — They came slow and in groups, getting rides and helping each other from snow drifts, but 10 inches of snow couldn't keep Kodiak's Orthodox Christian worshippers from church on Saturday, Christmas day.

The Orthodox church follows the Julian calendar, and thus its Christmas falls two weeks later than the date celebrated by other Christians.

While that sets Orthodox Christians apart, Alaskan Orthodox worshippers have traditions that separate them even from their counterparts in Europe and Asia.

Foremost of these is the custom of starring, or Slaviq. Celebrants carry a large, colorful star from the church to the homes of those celebrating the holiday.

Accompanying the star are carolers who sing traditional Slavonic hymns.

On Saturday night in Kodiak, the star's first stop after leaving Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral was the Alutiiq Museum, where almost 50 people gathered to sing and share conversation.

Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Merry January Chirstmas !

Yes, it is Christmas in January.

Not because the snow came, but because it is Christmas.

At least, it is for the Russian Orthodox. They follow the Julian (eg Julius Caesar) calendar instead of the Roman Catholic corrections to that calendar by Pope Gregory.
(Everyone else in the Western world follows the Gregorian calendar.)

But in any case, yesterday was their Christmas Day. And with the snow, it sure felt like it.

To celebrate, we took a walk behind the house. It started as a gray soupy type of day. But by the end of the walk, the blue skies were coming out.

And to commemorate their day, we took a pic of the Orthodox Church...and one of the eagles by their trees as it checked us out.

See the video at:

And just think, we have another New Year's to celebrate with our Orthodox friends!

Friday, January 6, 2012

At last, snow is on the way !

At last, snow is on the way.

You might not think that is a good thing, but it is.

As we said, Kodiak weather has been much colder and for longer periods this winter than on recent years: One week of temps continuously below the teens in Thanksgiving and then again on Christmas.

The first storm had snow with it. As you can see, this pic, (after the snow melted)in mid December, shows our grass was green despite those frigid temps.

The snow made a nice blanket to keep it warm!

Birds then loved coming to our yard and picking at that green stuff.
We had a few visits of groups of 6 ravens at a time.

But the Christmas frigid spell came without much snow.
Sure, my grass froze and died.

Worse than that, without snow to insulate the ground, it froze for 3 feet deep. People's house water pipes broke and water filled their houses. Water mains in downtown froze and then broke.....making city employees thaw the valves before being able to shut off the water spilling and eroding out the dirt under the road.

So when the weather report came of tonight's blizzard conditions, 5 to 10 inches of snow and 45 mph winds, no one seemed to mind.
And look at it this's not 80 mph winds!

Lucky us !

And, it'll let us take some winter pics!

506 AM AKST FRI JAN 6 2012










Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The ice breaker Healy is on the way

Here is an old pic of the USCG Healy in the Bering Sea, cutting through a thin layer of ice. It's now on its way to accompany the Russian tanker Renda which is taking emergency heating oil to Nome.

It's there just in case the tanker has trouble breaking the 5 foot thick ice on the way.

But today, the Russian tanker had to return to Dutch Harbor, not because of ice, but because of engine trouble. Apparently a valve alarm went off and they decided to return to replace it before reaching the thick ice.

Once they leave Dutch, it'll be 700 miles to Nome and 300 of that will be through the thick ice.

People are now starting to talk about the cost of this inter continental shipping. Seems like it would have been cheaper to ship American oil by plane after all.

There is also talk of bringing small nuclear power supplies to villages in Alaska. Don't laugh. Maybe we'll do a blog about that and you'll see that it is a good and safe consideration.

We'll keep you posted.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Cold water

For those who thought the New Year's Swim pics looked like are some more pictures taken that afternoon, at the end of peninsula from the swimming pictures.

That ice on the rocks makes it look a heck of a lot colder.

And this is the view of the houses and mountain that were behind those swimmers.

38 degree water and getting colder...
usually down to 33-34 in February.

Anyway, someone asked if it wasn't warmer in 38 degree water than in 20 degree with wind blowing on you. That is a question I will have to pose to some of those who got their whole body submerged in the water.

All I can do is quote one of the Coast Guard rescue swimmers on the
"Coast Guard Alaska" TV show:
"The water is so cold that even your teeth hurt".

I hear that other divers made fun of that comment.

But I think that quote will come back into my head whenever I take out my kayak when Spring approaches!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to one and all.
Hope had a good and safe celebration.
We, too, enjoyed our parties and amateur fireworks.

And we assume, if you live close to the water,
that you certainly had a New Year's Swim.

Yes, at about 15 till noon the Mill Bay Beach parking lot gets full
Suddenly people come out of their cars and on to the beach.....
kind of like a flash mob.

But, what I didn't include in this pic was

the frozen water from the drainage pipe form the road above.

The sun might be out. And 22 degrees it might be.

But with the wind chill, it felt like 4 !

In Kodiak, however, that didn't stop these hardy souls.

First the mandatory "picture pose" before the big event.

Then the dash and the splash....

....into the "warm" Pacific waters at 38 degrees !

To experience shock ....
and then the elation of still being alive!

But that doesn't delay the sprint back to the beach ....

....where the "loved ones" are hopefully waiting for you

with a nice dry towel!

Have a Happy New Year !!!