2008.07.16 Checking in with the 49th state

Written by David Green.


I used to write occasionally about the oddities of life in Alaska—back in the good old days when I received three or four Alaska papers in the mail.

I started trading newspapers back in the 1990s when we visited my wife’s brother, Kevin, in Anchorage. It lasted for several years, but someone must have wondered why they kept mailing these free papers to Michigan every week. I was cut off.

When Kevin came for the recent wedding, he brought an issue of the Anchorage Daily News for me to catch up on events.

Gasoline prices continue to be higher in Alaska than anywhere else in the nation. The July 2 report noted the average was $4.64 a gallon.

A Black Hawk helicopter crew from Ft. Wainwright rescues an average of one person a week out in Alaska’s wilds, but that will soon end when the crew heads to Afghanistan.

In Wasilla, the city council voted 4-1 to ask the mayor to resign over business dealings with a frontage road and new shopping centers.

“What I have done is denied myself the opportunity to have the best bacon-cheeseburger in Alaska,” Dianne Keller said.

Dr. Leland Jones will remove “lumps, bumps and warts.”

What’s that? You want me to back up and give an explanation for the cheeseburger comment? The Wasilla mayor hasn’t been able to visit the Windbreak Café since November because of the nasty things being said about her.

A backpacker with a fractured foot was rescued 40 miles north of Ambler. A body was found in the Yukon River.

The International Conference on Permafrost was underway. About 80 percent of Alaska stays frozen, but that amount is getting smaller. As the melt continues, damage to roads, buildings and other infrastructure is expected to cost billions of dollars.

The average age of the seven people listed in the obituaries is 52. The average age of Anchorage’s five homicide victims from 2008 is 33.

John Calvert was fishing far out into the Cook Inlet when he ate a halibut eyeball. His fishing companions had just landed the 11th halibut of the trip and one of its eyeballs was knocked out in the landing and lay on the deck.

A deckhand told Calvert it was good luck to eat an eyeball so he swallowed it whole.

An hour later he caught a 279-pound monster halibut. As of July 2, that fish led the derby in Homer.

They play baseball in Alaska. The league features the Alaska Goldpanners (Fairbanks), the Anchorage Bucs, the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, the Mat-Su Miners (Palmer), the North Pole Nicks, the Peninsula Oilers (Kenai) and the Athletes in Action Fire. But if you’re a true fan of the big leagues, you already know that dozens of Alaska Baseball League players have made it into the majors.

There’s a park on the east side of Anchorage where at least 20 grizzly bears visit for salmon fishing. A teen-ager was mauled there recently while competing in an all-night mountain bike race.

Kevin also brought a copy of the Anchorage Press, a free entertainment weekly that includes columns by James “Dr. Fermento” Roberts. He wrote a touching tribute called “Last Beer with Mom.”

“I’m a tough case,” he wrote, “because I evaluate everyone through beer goggles. Beer goggles, like mothers-in-law, get a bad rap.”

His mother-in-law died recently and he talked about the importance of beer in her life. She didn’t drink a lot; beer was just a tool to quench her thirst and she liked the taste.

He writes about her final weeks (“She’d been circling the drain for quite some time, both physically and mentally...”) and he remembers their final beer together.

The good doctor went south to Denver to bury Mom and recall their shared moments in beer. She left a few bottles behind for him in her refrigerator.

Now he’s back at work, suggesting stops at Wasilla’s Great Bear Brewing Company, the Silver Gulch Brewing Company in Fox, Homer’s Ring of Fire Meadery, etc., for his ultimate Alaska beer break.

I enjoyed the brief reconnection with the 49th state through two newspapers. It’s Alaska residents like Dr. Fermento that remind me of the unique character of those people to the north.

  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.base Ball
    UMPIRE Thomas Henthorn tosses the bat between team captains Mikayla Price and Chuck Piskoti of Flint’s Lumber City Base Ball Club. Following the 1860 rules, after the bat was grabbed by the captains, captains’ hands advanced to the top of the bat—one hand on top of the other. The captain whose hand ended up on top decided who would bat first. Additional photos of Sunday’s game appear on page 12 of this week’s Observer. The contest was organized in conjunction with Stair District Library’s Hometown Teams exhibit that runs through Nov. 20.
  • Front.chat
    VALUE OF ATHLETICS—Morenci graduate John Bancroft (center) takes a turn at the microphone during a chat session at the opening of the Hometown Teams exhibit at Stair District Library. Clockwise to his left is John Dillon, Jed Hall, Jim Bauer, Joe Farquhar, George Hollstein, George Vereecke and Mike McDowell. Thomas Henthorn (at the podium) kicked off the conversation. Henthorn, a University of Michigan–Flint professor, will return to Morenci this Sunday to lead a game of vintage base ball at the school softball field.
  • Front.cross
    HUDSON RUNNER Jacob Morgan looks toward the top of the hill with dismay during the tough finish at Harrison Lake State Park. Fayette runner Jacob Garrow focuses on the summit, also, during the Eagle Invitational cross country run Saturday morning. Continuing rain and drizzle made the course even more challenging. Results of the race are in this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.
  • Front.crossing
    Crossing over—Jim Heiney was given a U.S. flag to carry by George Vereecke (behind Jim in the hat), turning him into the leader of the parade. Bridge Walk participants cross over Bean Creek while, in the background, members of the Morenci Legion Riders cross the main traffic bridge on East Street South. Additional photos appear on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.hose Testing
    HOSE safety—The FireCatt hose testing company from Troy put Morenci Fire Department hose to the test Monday morning when Mill Street was closed to traffic. The company also checks nozzles and ladders for wear in an effort to keep fire fighters safe while on calls.

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