Friday, December 28, 2012

Fishing in Alaska - A Winter Activity?

Our first trout of the day
The weather lately has been frigid – single digits or less – but today broke warm (18˚F) and windless, so my son and I packed up and hit the lake for our first ice fishing this winter. Ice fishing season in Alaska begins as early as October, and runs through March before the ice becomes too soft. Many local lakes offer not only rainbow trout, but landlocked king salmon, silver salmon, dolly varden (Arctic char), burbot, and grayling.

We have two lakes within a few miles of our house. One of them is full of pike, and Alaska Fish and Game attempts to purge it every few years without success. The other lake is stocked with lovely little rainbows, so we favor that spot. Our bait of choice is cocktail shrimp, the stinkier the better. I’ve known people to fish with small chunks of herring, last year’s salmon roe, even kernels of corn or cheese puffs. (And, of course, there is always Power Bait, but I’m cheap.)

The snow over the lake wasn’t deep, but it had the fine, sandy quality only weeks of extreme cold can create, with a wind-blown crust over the top. Walking to a suitable spot was like walking on sand, and I had to take off my parka before we stopped to set up. Sweating in cold temperatures is dangerous, because once you cease moving and cool off, if your clothing is wet, you can chill too quickly and develop hypothermia. Luckily, I wasn’t that hot, and soon had to bundle back up with a cup of hot tea at the fishing hole.

We don’t have an electric auger, only a hand crank, and the ice this time of year is around fifteen inches thick, which makes bringing along a robust teenage boy a must. The ice below the snow pack was nice, solid black-ice. We routinely drive our vehicles onto the lake without a second thought (although today we hoofed it.) For safety, ice should be a minimum of four inches thick for one person ice fishing, seven inches for a group of people, and nine inches for vehicles. The National Weather Service posts ice thickness predictions, and this time of year some places in Alaska may have ice as deep as 48 inches! I wouldn’t want to hand auger through that ...

We only fished a couple of hours, until our fingers were numb, but we brought in plenty of little trout. And we had a great time hanging out, which is rare these days now that the kids are older.

Tam Linsey is a lifelong Alaskan who writes science fiction romance. When she's not writing, she enjoys gardening, hunting, fishing, and foraging. You can read more about her on her website at

Friday, December 21, 2012

Return of the Light!

My chapter members have been writing about Solstice, which is wonderful. How can I not follow up on that theme, given that today is actually - finally - Solstice? Solstice brings back the light. It reminds us that the world won’t always be plunged in darkness. As much as Spring, it is a time of renewal. A time to work the creaks out, stretch, and lift our faces to the sun.
Aside from the emotional and spiritual aspects of solstice, in Alaska, getting minutes of daylight back every day is important. Really important.

In other places, though, Solstice is often overlooked. If it’s acknowledged at all, it’s with an almost indifferent shrug. Other dates get the attention. Hanukkah has just ended. The last minute rush for Christmas is in full swing. Plans for New Year’s Eve are being set. It’s easy to forget that Solstice is here, too, which is a shame. So I have a suggestion.

Back when I worked in human services, I had an exercise I did with my groups. Take a piece of paper and brightly colored pens and write everything you liked about yourself all over the paper. It was good for these women to see it, have it there in front of them. One woman, though - it was eighteen years ago, but I remember her so clearly. When it came time for me to show off everyone’s papers, hers was almost blank. In one corner, in little tiny letters, in black ink, she had printed “I’m a good friend.” All I could do at first was look at it. Finally, I looked at her and asked if that was really all she liked about herself. She nodded. My heart broke.

I did the only thing I knew to do; I told her it was the saddest thing I had ever seen. I told her we were going to fix this. The rest of the group chimed in. They loved her. They knew there was more to her than that to like. As much as I wanted to let them go, the point of the exercise was to acknowledge what we liked about ourselves. In this instance, the group didn’t matter.

Instead, I turned her paper over and handed her a hot pink marker. This time, though, she wrote:


It filled the page. Those five words took over those 8.5 x 11 inches in hot pink. She started to weep, saying “it’s so beautiful…it’s so beautiful…” Let me tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye in that room.

Which brings us to my suggestion. In a few weeks, many people will make New Year’s resolutions. Now, I dislike them, I have to be honest. Starting a new year that way inherently requires us to make a list of things we don’t like about ourselves. Why would we do that?? But I get that I am in a minority, so I’m not going to tell you not to make a New Year’s resolution. Go right ahead. Still, along with those resolutions, this year, let’s start by celebrating the things we like about ourselves here at the Solstice.

Get your piece of paper. Get your colored markers. Fill your page. Make it big. Make it loud. Make it yours. I promise you, there is something wonderful about you. You are worth hot pink letters pouring off the page. What better way to celebrate the fact that the cold winter is on the way out then by embracing the light inside of us?

When you’re done with it, tuck it away somewhere safe, frame it and hang it on your wall, tape it to your bathroom mirror. Whatever you do, don’t just throw it away. We can revisit them next Solstice and see what we can add to it.
Until then, may your 2013 be even better than your 2012.
---Pauline Trent

Thursday, December 13, 2012

COUNTDOWN! It's coming! Winter Solstice!

Everyone! Quick! Check your calendar. It’s coming!
Winter Solstice - and all any Alaskan can say is:
“Yay - bring it!

We celebrate the Winter Solstice with more than a party. We have a festival. Why? Because it marks the longest night we’re going to have and from here on out we get about 15 minutes of daylight back each day. No big deal? Well. Let me give you a few secrets of this wonderful State:
Winter is dark.
Dark. (Oh. I said that)                           Here is yesterday morning at 9:45 am.
I walk my dog three times a day.
Faithfully. In all kinds of weather and conditions.

I’ve been in the state over a decade, but less than a half-century. That’s puts me halfway between a Cheechako and a SourDough.
    (see Lizbeth Selvig’s earlier post for what on earth those terms mean.)

So. Since I’m an Alaskan, and a dog owner, I don’t just own any dog. One of them is a Black Labrador. I think this breed is up there on the Alaskan Favorite Dogs List. I swear. Every truck that goes by seems to have a black lab in it.

My dog would make a great sled dog (if a scent or something interesting along the path didn't waylay him) He's got great torque. Strength. If he had a sled, he'd be pulling it.

His name is Coal. As in "Lump of COAL". He was my 2002 Christmas gift I didn’t think I wanted. (Silly me. He’s been my buddy for years). Here is a picture of him. He looks adorable and sweet.
This is not a dog who just expects a walk. Trust me. When it is time to take him for his ¾ mile slog through any weather, this sweet old guy turns into a very spoiled dog with a mission.
"Get the leash and get moving, lady."

Yesterday, I decided to take the Boston Terrier along, too. Why? He wanted to go. He was at the door. He doesn't like his doggy coat. Or his doggy boots. And he detests his doggy halter. But he wanted to go. So...he got dressed in all that.
Here is that particular perpetrator
What happened?  He turned into a wuss at the halfway point and got a luxurious berth in mom's arms under her coat, with his head out the collar so he could watch the proceedings and enjoy everything. He'll probably want to come along today, too. And they ask if I get exercise while I write.

So, hey. Alaska is gorgeous in the winter. With a coat of snow. And when the daylight does decide to grace us, you can actually see it. Here is a photo from our walk area taken an hour later. That's right. 10:45. We have light. No sun, but it is daylight. See what I mean? Winter wonderland.
Northern style.

Where am I going with this? Good question. The 21st. The headlines. The hype. The conjectures. the blogs. Up here? Well...Winter Solstice comes every year. And we love it. I think they're having the usual party in town. They'll have fireworks (the lights show much better now than in the summer when it's daylight), libations (what fest isn't made better without those?), and lots of fun (because we're at the turning point up here. From here on out it's sun, sun, sun. Or at least, we know it's coming). This year is no exception. It'll be great.
Oh. Just to show what I usually get to look at while I'm walking, here's the view from one section of our walk; during autumn, which was really gorgeous this year. It doesn't get much better. Oh. I have to go now. I have a labrador knocking his head against my keyboard. Smart dog. He hasn't gravitated to tugging at my chair yet.        (That will be next).

Take Care! And enjoy the 21st! I'm pretty sure I'll be out and about that day. Walking the dog.

--- Jackie

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Shortest Day of the Year or the Longest Night of the Year

I used to scratch my head when I saw calendars that marked December 21st as the first day of winter. As a life long Alaskan I thought, first day of winter my ass, we’ve been in it for a couple months and we are just hitting the heart of it next month and have more months to go. How can December 21st be the first day of winter? Maybe in Kansas, Hawaii or California some exotic place in rest of America…
I recently learned while researching this blog that the change of seasons are marked by changes in the Sun cycle, these changes are called Solstices and Equinoxes. So it’s not the temperature or weather changes they are using- it is the cycle of the sun and the axis of the earth.

Meanwhile here in Alaska depending on your location and the impact of global climate changes, winter starts in September, October or November. Also dependent on geographic location in this massive state is the length of the long winter night. For example here in Anchorage located at the south central portion of the state on December 21, 2012 the sun will rise 10:14 AM and set at 3:42 PM the length of our day will be 5h 27m 40s. Sounds like a long night right? Not compared to Barrow, the northern most city of Alaska, which is around 728 miles as the crow flies from Anchorage. In Barrow the sun went down on November 17th at 1:44 pm and it is still down, in fact the sun will not come up in Barrow until January 23 at 1:11 pm, so there night is three months, not 30 days as many of been misled to believe. The long winter night in Barrow lasts 67 days that is 9 weeks and 4 days. So here in Anchorage I can’t complain or say that 5 and ½ hours of daylight is paltry when I look at a night that lasts for 3 months.

Interestingly many pagan rituals of winter Solstice permeate our modern culture today. The celebration of the returning Sun can be found as far back as Ancient Egypt as they rejoiced in the rebirth of Horus the god of the sky and his left eye being the Sun and the right eye being the moon. The Romans partied like Romans during Saturnalia a celebration of their god of abundance and agriculture Saturn during the winter Solstice. Not only did they party like Romans, but masters would serve their slaves, kind of like boxing day without the slaving part.

The pre-Christian cultures of Northern Europe also celebrated the winter solstice and the coming of the longer days with the burning of a Jul or Yule log. They would cut a tree that could burn for twelve days as a symbol of fertility and the return of the sun. A pig would be sacrificed and eaten at the feast. They would decorate trees with pieces of cloth and gifts to tree spirit, which also occurred in the Druidic Cultures as well. I even read on the Skanland website that a large wheel would be lit on fire and rolled down a hill to encourage the sun to return.

In Alaska, Russian Orthodox Christmas will be celebrated on January 7, 2013 and it is kicked off with Selaviq or the Starring. It is a wonderful fun filled event, Stars made of cloth or yarn on a wood frame, which represent the guiding star that led the Three Wise Men to Jesus are blessed and spun. These stars travel from house to house in the community blessing the people and their homes. The carriers and stars are welcomed into homes for tea and feasting.

So whatever you may be celebrating on these dark winter nights I suggest you turn out all your electrical lights and burn a few candles. I have been doing that since last summer to get a feel for the historical I am writing set in Iceland during the early settlement period. I know one thing for sure all those winter Solstice parties had a lot of candles, which is probably where are tradition of Christmas/Fairy lights comes from. Careful, don’t stub your toe while negotiating your living room by candlelight and please don’t do an Edie and catch something on fire!
Happy Solstice, Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Festivus, Happy Chrismukkah, however you choose to celebrate the long winter nights in the Northern hemisphere enjoy!

--- Carmen Bydalek