Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mysterious Observations: Fairbanks, Alaska

It's true, Alaska is big, especially when you reach it by driving through British Columbia and the Yukon.

A little more than 3000 miles from our home in Utah to Fairbanks, where Lyn's sister Michele and brother-in-law David live, and where my son Ben is a graduate student. Ben's wife Rachel and my granddaughter Ingrid, along with my son Sam who is working on a riverboat this summer, round out the family reasons to visit a place crawling with tour busses this time of year. The deepest pleasures of the trip were, naturally, family related, but I'll write of them on the family blog.

So, back to the beginning: it's a big state with a big mountain and big rivers and big animals and a big-mouthed ex-governor. But in the end, it was a couple of smaller things that caught my fancy.

First, David and Michele's outhouse.

Constructed of cedar and smelling like a cedar chest, clean and comfy, airy and light, it was a

pleasant place to pass time.

Flowers in the window.

Aspen and birch rustling outside.

And improvements to come. I suggested piped-in jazz, and David's thoughts jumped to an 8-track system he thought he could install.

In the meantime, there's plenty to contemplate, including a print of "animals carrying the hunter to the funeral" -- a translation of the original Slovenian phrase.

I did some looking and found that the image was from a panel of a beehive -- thus the notch in the bottom -- and that the practice of painting sometimes satirical scenes on beehive panels is common in Slovenia.

1876 must be when the panel was decorated.

Why the print is in the outhouse is somewhat of a mystery, since it was left there by the previous owner.

For some more bee-hive-panel painting, click

Besides the outhouse, I was most intrigued by a skull and antlers hanging high on the wall of John Holmgren's machine shop, overlooking a specialized ice-coring bit John had made for a scientific project and a set of bright metal "snow pillows" for remote sensing of snow depth and a hand drill John was making for a scientist to use atop a 20,000-foot Peruvian mountain. The main mechanism for the drill had been pilfered from a bicycle bought on the internet, pedals and a direct-drive shaft removed from the brand-new bike, the rest of which was still in the box. A $400 bike saves me a lot of work and the scientist a lot of money, John said.

But back to the antlers and skull.

Lyn and I having been writing about barbed wire for the past year, about the actual invention and about how its meaning has been constructed over the past century. It's a dance back and forth between the wire itself and what it means.

What John had hanging on his shop wall was a study in wire and the natural world it disrupts.

Smooth wire, not barbed, but still, obviously, dangerous.

John was riding his snow machine one winter from the Toolik Research Station north of the Brooks Range to Prudhoe Bay. About 45 miles south-west of the bay, he saw a caribou antler sticking up out of the snow. When he pulled on it, he got the antlers, skull, and tangle of wire.

How the caribou became entangled in the wire is a mystery.

Two mysteries, then, from an outhouse and a machine shop in a big state

1 comment:

Diego Ibañez said...

Scott, eventually Alaska will have to realize that all its secrets cannot maintain hidden for very long. Especially with you lurking around. :)

Damn, both mysteries are fascinating.

1- I need to get me one of those bee-hive-panel paintings
2- Out houses are cool again.

The bee-hive-panel link doesn't work...