Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Amazing feet — ‘Bigsock’ takes monumental knitting effort



By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

At 5 feet tall and growing, this is one sock that isn’t likely to get lost in the washing machine.

Barbara Waters, of Kenai, has taken on a knitting project of record-breaking proportions. She’s taken custody of the aptly, if unimaginatively, named “Bigsock.”

The sock was started in 2006 by Joanna Ratcliffe in the United Kingdom, who wanted to hold a charity knitting event for U.K.’s National Knitting Week. She wanted to start a giant circular knit and contacted the Guinness Book of World Records, but they weren’t interested. A giant sock, though, got their attention.

“They said, ‘Oh, cool, that’s been done. See if you can top it,’” Waters said.

The Sheep Farmers Association of Austria holds the current record for the largest hand-knit sock. To beat that project, the Bigsock must measure over 12 feet long before the heel is turned. It’s about 23 feet in diameter, or about 11 feet wide. Ratcliffe started the sock with 1,500 stitches cast onto 10 needles. It takes about an hour to knit one row all the way around the sock.

She had no intention of knitting the entire thing herself, however. After getting it started, she sent the sock out into the world, into the hands of other knitters who could contribute some time and yarn to the cause.

The sock has been to New York, Georgia and Colorado. Waters heard of it through an online knitting site, www.ravelry.com, and decided it’d be fun to bring it to Alaska.
“I thought, ‘Sure, I’ll take it and get as many rows on it as we can,’” she said. “I’m just weird enough to do something like this.”

She signed up to host the sock and it got to Kenai in early October.

“So it arrived on my doorstep, this humungo box that weighs like 40 pounds,” Waters said. “My husband said, ‘Did you order something?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that sock I told you about.’”

He may have forgotten about it at the time, but Waters’ husband won’t soon forget it now, since he’s been elected to lug the thing around during its time on the central Kenai Peninsula.

Waters brought the sock to Mugz coffee shop in Soldotna on Oct. 11 and had six to eight people help knit more rows on it, including a few ladies from the local Soldotna Knitters group, the coffee shop baristas and even a 3.5-year-old girl.

On Oct. 18, Waters had the sock at the Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai. The shapeless heap of multicolored thread was pooled at her feet in front of the fire.

“There’s no theme. It’s the sock of many colors,” Waters said. “People have put fuzzy yarn in and sparkly yarn. Most knitters have a stash of balls of yarn left over from projects.”

A rotating cast of knitters kept Waters company throughout the morning as the sock slowly grew. Twenty-two or 23 people in all knitted Oct. 18, including two of Waters’ daughters and five of her grandchildren. For many, it was their first time knitting. Waters was happy to demonstrate a skill she’s been doing since she was 14.

“It’s just one of those things where you relax and do it. It’s all in fun,” she said.
Waters figures the central peninsula has been responsible for about an inch and a half of the sock’s current 5-foot-plus length. She’s taking it up to Anchorage next, and it may make a trip to Fairbanks before coming back to Waters. She plans to have another couple knitting events locally before plunking down the $100 it will take to ship the sock off to its next destination in the Lower 48, where more knitters will contribute.

“I’m touching something that’s been touched by so many different people,” Waters said. “That’s the fun part of it for me.”

Waters’ daughter, Jennifer Ticknor, was less philosophic about the experience than her mother.

“Think about how many germs are on this,” Ticknor said.

Waters was undaunted, and said she is happy she has a chance to participate.

“How often do you get a chance to try for the Guinness Book of World Records?” she said. “But none of that is why I did it. I don’t know why I did it, it’s weird.”

For more information about the Bigsock, and to track its journey, visit the Web site, http://big-sock.blogspot.com.

Pebble Mine dialogue ‘whethers’ concern — Opponents question how unbiased process will be

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Before deciding whether they would participate in a stakeholder dialogue process about Pebble Mine bankrolled by the proposed mine’s parent company, attendees of a meeting last week wanted to know if not building the mine was even an option.

Representatives from The Keystone Center, an independent mediation organization out of Denver, held a meeting at Kenai Peninsula College on Oct. 13 to explain how a Pebble Stakeholder Assessment and Dialogue Feasibility Study would be conducted, in the hope of garnering participation from peninsula residents in the dialogue meant to determine whether the mine should be built, and if so, how that will occur.

Pebble opponents in the audience were skeptical that “whether” was even an option in the process, since Northern Dynasty Minerals is footing the bill.

“There’s kind of an inherent problem because Pebble does have a predetermined outcome. For them, it’s not a whether. It’s a how for Pebble. So I just see an inherent problem, or the perception of one,” said Dave Atcheson, who is on the board of directors for the Renewable Resources Coalition, which opposes Pebble Mine. “And I read a lot about your group, and you’re a well-respected organization … but it’s a little different situation when you’re hired by the group that wants the how.”

Todd Bryan, Ph.D, a senior associate with Keystone, said Northern Dynasty hired the organization, but the group is independent and the mining company did not influence the process Keystone designed to gather stakeholder input, nor would it influence the outcome of the dialogue process.

“It’s not our goal to help Pebble get a mine,” Bryan said. “… When somebody pays us, they often have an outcome they would like to get. We make it very clear that it’s not our goal to get that outcome for them. In this case, we’re not trying to achieve their goal; we’re trying to help people out there make a decision about this very important project. We wouldn’t be in business for 36 years if we weren’t able to maintain that firewall between us and our work, and them and their work.”

Bryan said Keystone is typically brought in by government agencies to reach consensus between stakeholders, usually in land-use debates where public lands have multiple and conflicting mandates. Working for a for-profit business is rare.

“It’s seldom industry hires us because a lot of times the industry doesn’t see that there are multiple interests at stake and a need to try to balance them, but in this case, Pebble sees that,” Bryan said. “I think Pebble recognizes there’s an extremely valuable and sensitive salmon fishery that is particularly at risk and there are significant development needs that are trying to be met.”

Keystone began the process last spring with a stakeholder assessment that involved interviewing about 90 people on all sides of the issue. From that they categorized stakeholders in a continuum of being adamantly opposed to the mine and unwilling to participate in a dialogue process, to those who supported the mine and didn’t believe a dialogue process was necessary.

The dialogue process would be for people in between; those who are opposed to the mine but think it will be built and want input into how it will be built; those who don’t feel like they have enough information to decide whether they support the mine or not; and those who support the mine and think a dialogue process will improve the mine’s design.

From the interviews, Keystone compiled a list of environmental, economic and social issues and concerns the dialogue process would address, including damage that may be done to fishing and the Bristol Bay watershed, the lack of economic benefit the state would get from the mining operation, and the loss of subsistence opportunities and related cultural impacts on Natives in the area.

Bryan outlined the three stages of the dialogue process Keystone recommends. All stages involve opportunities for input, Bryan said.

“They can leave the talk at any time if they decided they’re totally opposed to the mine. Participating in the process does not inherently mean any support in any way, shape or form in the mine. We don’t want people to think by participating it’s some kind of tacit support of it, because it’s not,” he said.

In the first stage, independent science panels would be formed including independent, recognized, unbiased experts to review and assess the credibility of data that’s been gathered on Pebble in five topic areas — geology and hydrology; water quality; fish, wildlife and habitat; social and economic dynamics; and sustainable mining practices.
That last topic sparked some heartburn.

“Sustainable mining sounds kind of like an oxymoron to me,” said Jerry Brookman.

Bryan explained that it’s an industry term, referring to the sustainable economic development of a mine. But perhaps defining what that term means for stakeholders could be part of the dialogue process, he said.

“To me, sustainable is salmon coming back year after year after year, not taking a chunk of gold and making a ring out of it, that doesn’t seem sustainable to me. So I will definitely be interested in your definition for that,” said Krista Nyberg.

The second stage in the process involves joint fact-finding working groups, made up of scientists and stakeholders charged with gathering additional information to fill in any gaps or lingering questions that are identified in the independent science panels stage.

Stage three is the project planning collaborative, where a group of 20 to 30 stakeholders representative of those for, against and undecided about the mine, use existing information and additional information gathered to develop an “environmentally and socially preferred mining scenario or scenarios,” Bryan said.

Bryan said the plan is for the mine alternative designed by this group to go to Pebble to be submitted for the permitting process.

Brookman pointed out that Pebble is already working on a mine design, independent of the eventual results of the dialogue process. Bryan said the intent is to merge the two plans.

“At some point of the process we will merge the two things, the Project Planning Collaborative with what Pebble has already done,” he said. “The benefit of that is people will be able to react to what Pebble has come up with … the other side of that is that Pebble will have made some preliminary planning decisions independent of this collaborative planning process.”

Atcheson wanted to know if there was any guarantee Pebble would include the recommendations that come out of the dialogue process. There are none, Bryan said.
“We don’t know what Pebble may do. They may decide to go through the permitting process on their own, without any consensus from the groups,” Bryan said.

“I would feel a lot better if, as the process goes along, the public was allowed to have more information about what it is they’re proposing to do,” Brookman said. “Because once it gets to the public comment period, it’s already mostly set.”

Choosing to be involved in the process is a way to have a say in what happens with Pebble, Bryan said.

“There is a chance that it will get a permit, so it might be wise to participate in this process and to try to influence its design, if it’s going to go forward,” Bryan said.
Members of the audience said it seemed like the process is designed around the idea that the mine will happen, with each step progressing to the ultimate goal of producing a design that will be submitted for permitting.

“There’s a huge population that wants that land for hunting and fishing and keep it pristine, with no mine — none,” Nyberg said. “And I feel like they aren’t being represented in this. And if Keystone is supposed to be a nonbiased report, it’s already sounding like it’s not really quite there.”

Bryan said there is an option at each step of the process for stakeholders to decide that no mine is the best mine, and reach consensus on recommending Pebble not build anything. But that may not happen. Even if it does, a “no mine” consensus from the dialogue process doesn’t mean Pebble won’t be built anyway. If that’s the case, it’s better to have a voice in designing a mine alternative, he said.

“After getting information, if people decide to leave the process and go fight (the mine), we want to make sure people are free to do that, but that doesn’t mean Pebble won’t go ahead and seek a permit,” Bryan said. “Leaving the process doesn’t change what Pebble may do.”

Bryan said meetings of the independent science panels will be shared by video teleconferencing with communities around Southcentral, including the central peninsula, and will be held as early as December. If the process continues to the joint fact-finding stage, that likely will take place in December and January. Stage three, the project planning collaborative, is tentatively scheduled for early 2009.

Bryan said he thought the Soldotna meeting went well, and he appreciated the feedback.
“People were asking really good questions. It really showed that they thought about this a lot and it’s a really critical issue to them. We want to show them that the process has some merit and we’ll work on making it more relevant,” he said. “… I think that they have valid concerns about it and they are important. We understand their concerns and why they have them.”

Atcheson said he questions the process’ funding, and is interested to see if Keystone will address the concerns raised by the audience.

“It concerns me a little that they’re being paid by the Pebble Partnership. The Keystone group’s well-respected and everything, but it makes me a little leery of the process. And that’s a concern for a lot of people, I would think,” he said. “And I don’t like that there wasn’t a no mine option. I think they heard me and the other people that voiced the same concern.”

First tracks — Skiers get early chance at powder








By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Amid the chorus of groans and complaints that arise when snow falls, there can be heard a few other sounds — the scritch of a plastic ski scraper peeling off the summer’s protective coating of wax, the clatter of poles being retrieved from storage, snippets of conversation speculating whether there’s enough powder down or if Bill has groomed yet.

Last week’s snowfall was just enough to suppress the mud and detritus on Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview High School with a fresh layer of white.

“This is our number one activity in the winter. We pretty much look forward to it,” said Terri Springer, of Soldotna. She and her husband, Brian, were skiing at Tsalteshi Saturday afternoon.

“We talked to some friends who skied last night. We were shocked it was in that good a condition, so we grabbed everything this morning, hit the wax and drove over here,” Brian Springer said. “Bill did a great job getting these trails ready.”

“Bill” would be Bill Holt, in charge of trail maintenance at Tsalteshi. With barely 3 inches of snow down last week, and despite the fact that it was only Oct. 14, he ran grooming equipment over Tsalteshi’s 14,000-plus meters of trails. This is only the third time in the 13 years he’s been grooming at Tsalteshi that he can remember being able to ski so early.

“There were two years in a row when you actually started skiing on October 15,” he said. “One of those years we were skiing into April without any breaks. They weren’t always good days, and sometimes it’s marginal, but it has happened before that it’s started mid-October.”

There were some bare patches over the weekend, especially under large trees and on the slopes overlooking Skyview with direct sun exposure, but overall the trails were covered and skiing great, the Springers said.

“As good as the trails are out here, I don’t think many people have gotten the word yet. There aren’t many tracks out here yet,” Brian said.

Holt estimated there were only five or six people a day skiing Friday and Saturday.

“You can almost tell who’s been skiing from the tracks,” he said. “I’ve been having some e-mails from folks who have asked, ‘Is it really skiable?’ and I’ve said ‘yes.’ … The skiing’s actually really good. I had a lot of fun out there.”

It may have only been fun while it lasted, though. Sunday and Monday saw above-freezing temperatures, and there was rain in Soldotna on Monday night. The forecast for the rest of the week calls for highs in the 30s and only slight chances for snow.

“I’m praying that it sticks around. I see that water’s dripping off my roof now. That doesn’t bode well,” Holt said Sunday.

In packing down the snow that fell last week, Holt was hoping to drive frost into the ground and squeeze the air out of the snow so it would last longer than it otherwise would. Even if the trails don’t stay skiable, Holt is hoping the base he created stays at least mostly intact, so when new snow falls it will have something to stick to.

“With a good snow base there we don’t need much more powder, if we don’t lose this, to have really good skiing,” Holt said. “I would think another two inches of snow would be pretty good.”

Very good would be six more inches, and more restraint from motorized winter enthusiasts.

Early in the weekend a snowmachine drove over the Rabbit Loop, which branches off the soccer field, and on Saturday a four-wheeler tore up large sections of the Wolverine Loop — the one accessible by the trailhead on Kalifornsky Beach Road across from the Soldotna Sports Center. Whoever it was took out the fence bordering the parking lot, as well.

Holt spent time Saturday trying to undo the damage, but there wasn’t much snow to work with to erase the tracks.

“It was real frustrating. I had to end up going over it more than I wanted to,” Holt said. “The places where you go over a bump you cut down to dirt.”

The trail is closed to all motorized vehicles. Walkers and dogs also are asked to stay off the trails. Not only do they pose a safety hazard to faster-moving skiers, but footprints can also damage the trails.

“If they go in when it’s soft or after I’ve groomed and put footprints in it, they stay. I can’t really get them out because you can’t cut,” Holt said.

Tsalteshi will host Besh Cup classic sprint races this year, and Holt would like to have a new course built that starts by the football stadium, crosses the soccer field and goes up and down the hill overlooking the field. To do it, he’ll have to cut three more 30-foot-wide tracks traversing the hill.

Besh Cup results are used to determine Alaska’s representatives to Junior Olympic competitions.

“If we get more snow and start skiing there’s probably no way,” Holt said. “I can’t in good conscience drive a Cat over well-groomed ski trails.”

Holt and other workers made improvements to the trails this summer. The Beaver and Raven loops and Blue Bayou were widened in anticipation of extending the trails’ lighting system to those loops, possibly next year.

The base of the Raven Loop, where the biathlon range is, was also rerouted to ease the transition from the massive Raven downhill to heading back up the hill.

“We used to live in Anchorage,” Brian Springer said. “You’d ski at Hillside or Kincaid. This lacks nothing to those. They might be bigger, but as far as beautiful trails and different options, Anchorage doesn’t have anything on us.”

Tsalteshi events
The Tsalteshi Trails Association is planning a busy winter of events. For more information, specific times or to become a member, visit the Web site, www.tsalteshi.org, throughout the winter.

Many of the events are snow-dependent.
  • Tsalteshi kickoff orienteering event, Nov. 14 4:30 p.m. Get acquainted with the trails by following clues to different locations on the trails. If there’s no snow, bring running or walking shoes.
  • Youth learn-to-ski program for ages 8-14. starting in November. Ski rentals will be available for those needing equipment.
  • Adult ski clinics, classic and freestyle, starting in November.
  • Race series for classic and freestyle, Tuesday evenings starting in November.
  • Annual Tsalteshi Trails Association Board meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Kenai River Center on Funny River Road. New board members will be elected and door prizes will be drawn for new and current TTA members in attendance.
  • Wood, Wool and Wassail ski event, Dec. 28.
  • Skyview Invitational high school ski races, Jan. 16 and 17.
  • Besh Cup races, Jan. 24 and 25.
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough School District high school borough races, Feb. 14.
  • KPBSD region races, Feb. 20 and 21.
  • Tour of Tsalteshi community race, with 15-kilometer and 30-kilometer races, March 14.

Individuals make big impact together — Grassroots group pools financial resources to help neighbors in need



By Naomi Hagelund
For the Redoubt Reporter

Financial hardships are becoming increasingly common as the economy continues to struggle. Those without health insurance are struggling even more, and those who do have health insurance are finding it difficult to pay the health care costs not covered by their insurance plans. That is where Impacting Together steps in. A band of local residents dedicated to giving back to the community, Impacting Together met on Oct. 6 for their second meeting since the founding of the group in April.

The group was formed by Peggy Morris, Rhonda Larson and two other women. The idea occurred to them after hearing of a similar group called Impact 100 in Le Grand, Ore., formed by Morris’ sister. The group in Oregon was based on the idea that 10 women would bring in 10 more women each, and the group of 100 would donate $100 each and disperse it to people in need throughout the community. In the group’s first five years, it donated over $77,000.

The central peninsula group started with four people, but has expanded to around 20, with 65 people on the organization’s e-mail list.

The group’s goal is to help people in situations where the government or other organizations cannot. In April, a family had a child who needed medical care in Anchorage, but couldn’t afford the gas to make the drive. Impacting Together donated enough money for the family to get the child to Anchorage.

“I think we all have friends and neighbors that are just in a hard crunch at the time. We are going to see a lot more of that,” Morris said. “We donate money for groceries or gas or things of that type, so that these people know that people care.”

At the first meeting, the group donated $3,700. At the most recent meeting the group gathered $4,050 in donations.

“We’ve put over $7,000 back in the community between two meetings,” Larson said. “We are not a wealthy community, so that is awesome.”

At the last meeting, the organization helped a woman who had no health insurance get dentures. A young man with a minimum-wage job and no insurance was given enough money for the dental care he required. A man recovering from a car accident was given money to help with his growing medical bills.

“It’s amazing the variety of needs that have been met,” Larson said. “It’s a sort of need you don’t have to fill out an application for, it’s just your neighbor saying, ‘Hey, I’ve pooled my resources with the rest of the neighbors and this is how we can help you.’”

The group holds meetings twice a year, and anyone who donates $100 is considered a member. Members can nominate someone they know to receive financial assistance.

The next meeting is slated for March 9. All community members are welcome to join the organization. For more information, e-mail impactingtogether@gmail.com.

Playing along — School district enacts sportsmanship policy


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Skyview High School’s Kyle Day was straining to keep his shoulders off the wrestling mat as his opponent from Colony High School tried equally hard to grind him into it. At the same time, his coaches, teammates and Skyview fans in the bleachers strained to be heard over each other.

“Turn it up a notch!”

“You can get away!”

He did, and went on to win the match Saturday, in the Peninsula Duals wrestling tournament hosted by Nikiski High School. But before he went to receive the slaps on the back and other congratulations from his team, he did what every Skyview wrestler does, win or lose, at the end of every match — shook his competitor’s hand, then his competitor’s coach’s hand.

It doesn’t take long for the post-match ritual to become second nature to the athletes. That’s how good sportsmanship should be.

When it’s not, it takes a little extra attention.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is a few months into its first school year with a new sportsmanship policy in place.

The Alaska School Activities Association and Kenai Peninsula School Activities Association already have rules regarding sportsmanship. The new sportsmanship policy doesn’t change or add anything to those rules, it just focuses attention on them.

“It’s an emphasis on existing rules and what the expectations for people’s conduct are,” said Dave Jones, assistant superintendent of instructional support. “We wanted to let them know that we’re going to hold ourselves to a higher standard.

“Communitywise, it’s a just a lot better experience if everybody is out there supporting their team or their student or child in a positive way and respecting the opponents enough to treat them in a positive way, as well. It just makes for a lot better quality of activity.”
The same penalties and consequences for poor sportsmanship exist this year as in past years, but Jones is hoping the consequences won’t be needed.

“If you do something like that then you get the penalty, the penalty doesn’t make it acceptable now,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is change people’s expectations of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. It’s not acceptable to get those penalties.”

Jones wrote letters explaining the importance of good sportsmanship and the district’s commitment to it that were given to all athletes and their parents at the start of the sports seasons, and coaches are expected to discuss the issue at parent-student meetings that kick off each sport. The district also created sportsmanship pamphlets that have been distributed at high schools and high school sporting events that outline examples of good sportsmanship for everyone attending a game, from players and coaches to cheerleaders, spectators and sports announcers.

“So everybody gets the idea, ‘Hey, we’re all here to support in a positive way,’ and make sure everybody involved has a worthwhile experience and doesn’t have a negative experience,” Jones said.

The policy was brought about in part as a response to examples of poor sportsmanship that occurred the prior year.

“There were some incidents last year within the district that weren’t good, and we didn’t want them to be repeated, and we wanted to come out in a proactive manner,” Jones said. “It was on the verge of becoming a large problem, and so we wanted to address it before it did.”

He didn’t want to discuss specifics of the incidents, he said.

“When things like that happen and it gets in the news it reflects badly on the district and schools and the students, and we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. When people come play on the peninsula, they’re glad to come play because we’re great sports,” Jones said.

He added that today’s sports culture contributes to the problem by creating the impression it’s OK to act like a jerk.

“I think what’s happened is in professional sports and in college sports, which you know young kids watch on TV, all the showboating and fighting has gotten out of hand, and it started to trickle down to youth sports,” Jones said. “… On the professional and college level so much of the stuff has become negative, so we’re trying to stress more the positives of good sportsmanship.”

At Saturday’s wrestling meet, parents said they didn’t see a large problem with poor sportsmanship in the district, more like isolated events.

“You see it more with parents, than kids,” said Skyview High School parent Freddie Pollard Jr., who was there to watch his son, Freddie Pollard III, wrestle.

Pollard said he thought poor sportsmanship most often turns up at events with lots of spectators, like football. But even if poor sportsmanship isn’t endemic, it’s still good for kids to be aware of it.

“I think it’s important. It prepares you for life, I would say. I think you can show spirit without showing poor sportsmanship,” Pollard said.

Fellow Skyview parent Bobbie Wilson, who was there to cheer on her son, Bryce Wilson, agreed with Pollard that poor sportsmanship isn’t a large issue in the KPBSD.

“I think for the most part the kids do a good job showing good sportsmanship. If you do see bad sportsmanship, it’s usually because the kids are disappointed in themselves. They’re not being bad sports to the refs or players, it’s just because they’re not happy with themselves,” she said.

Nevertheless, students should be aware of what it means to be a good sport.

“It’s very important,” she said. “We have little guys looking up to them. They set an example. We have Pop Warner football looking up to high school players. I think it brings them together as a family on a team, too.”

Eli Ward, a sophomore wrestler at Nikiski, said he’s noticed poor sportsmanship in the district, mostly at large schools with a history of winning records.

“The bigger schools that have been on the top in the past think they can go out there and walk all over (their opponents),” Ward said. “You may be talented, but if you don’t work hard and respect the other players, you’re not going to make it out there in the real word.”
Ward said he’s gotten the message about sportsmanship long before the new policy was enacted.

“Ever since seventh grade all my coaches say, ‘Go out and play for fun, go hard and show respect to the other players.’ It doesn’t matter if they’re more or less skilled, you should always show respect to them,” he said.

Jones said he heard mostly positive comments about the sportsmanship policy when he set it in motion. The negative comments he heard came from people who thought it was targeting them, specifically. Jones said the policy covers the entire district and doesn’t focus on any one school or sport.

“One of the objectives that I told the administration and coaches when I first had some of these meetings was that we would like the activities and sports on the Kenai Peninsula to be as respected as we are for our classroom activities and results,” Jones said. “We’re one of the leaders in the state in academics, and we want to be one in sportsmanship.”

He said the sports season has gone well so far this year.

“I think we’ve seen better overall behavior. We’ve had some isolated incidents, but compared to the prior year, knock on wood so far, this has been a lot better,” Jones said.

Knowing the process — Soldotna man puts history of guiding, meat processing to use in new business


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Avery Hansen has the best problem any new business owner can have — he’s been too busy since opening AK Custom Meats on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna.

AK — which refers to Alaska, but also stands for the owners, Avery and Kimberly Hansen — opened about three months ago. The store missed summer tourism season, but fall hunting has brought in enough business to keep Avery’s days, and refrigerators, plenty full.

Moose, caribou, bear and hog processing, “we’ve been doing quite a bit of that,” said Roland Hansen, Avery’s father. Roland is up from Washington state minding the new store while Avery is on a deer-hunting trip in Wisconsin.

Avery is more than confident to leave the store in his dad’s hands, since that’s where he learned meat processing in the first place.

“I have three boys, they all grew up butchering and smoking meat,” Hansen said.
Hansen and his family opened a custom meat-processing store in Washington in 1981. They opened a grocery store in Warden, Wash., in 1983, which they still operate, and sold the custom meat store in ’85.

Avery used his early meat processing education to some degree being a guide, but he eventually wanted to focus more on processing meat, rather than producing it.

“Avery had been a guide for eight years. He wanted to do something other than be a guide, so we’ve been thinking about this for quite a while,” Hansen said.

Hansen’s grocery store in Washington plays a large role in Avery’s new business in Soldotna. Hansen accumulated a lot of the equipment in Washington for the new store, and now supplies the store with the premium meat it sells as retail and uses in making sausage and other products.

Pork comes from the Midwest, and everything else comes from Washington and Oregon, shipped up fresh through the wholesaler Hansen uses for his grocery store.

Hansen said AK Custom Meats uses only lean pork shoulder meat, and carries all-natural, USDA-choice beef from Painted Hills Natural Beef Inc. The meat has no added hormones or antibiotics, is 100-percent vegetarian fed and source verified.

With hunting season in full swing, that’s been the store’s main focus so far.

“We’re starting slow. There’s just one guy in the shop (Avery). We don’t have a lot of employees. It keeps you pretty busy when there’s just one guy doing everything,” Hansen said.

They plan to expand their retail offerings soon, however. Currently they make a few varieties of sausage, all with lean meat, not fat, so the result isn’t greasy.

“There’s no fillers. It’s nothing less than 80 percent lean beef and the pork is all lean pork shoulder meat. When you eat the sausage, that’s the difference you’ll feel — it’s just a leaner, 100-percent meat product,” Hansen said.

A sausage kitchen, curing facility and smokehouse on the premises allows the Hansens to make their own sausage and pepperoni sticks, cure bacon and smoke prime rib and baby-back ribs. They also plan to have steaks dry-aged for 20 to 24 days. For fall they offer hickory-smoked turkeys and jalapeƱo cheese dip, and for the Christmas season they plan to have sausage and cheese gift packs.

There’s still some open space in the store, so they may add new products or services in the future, like FedEx shipping or fish boxes in the summer. Fish processing isn’t on their list of things to specialize in, though.

“We don’t want to compete with some of the other businesses in town,” Hansen said.
Instead they’re sticking to the tried-and-true recipes they’ve been using for decades and a reliance on customer service.

“Basically we just want to provide a premium product and want to be able to do what the customer wants,” Hansen said. “We would love to take orders from them and have it cut and prepared the way they like it.”

Chuck Marquaret, of Soldotna, said the store already prepares things the way he likes it. He came in out of curiosity when he saw the store’s sign on the highway. On his first trip he bought some cheddarwurst and German sausage — both excellent, he said.

“I just fed it to my kids, they said, ‘That’s good!’” he said.

That’s the reaction the Hansens desire.

“You should always do what you know how to do,” Hansen said. “(Avery) just knows what he’s doing and feels confident doing it, and puts out a good product.”

Crazy for drama: Play examines reality, insanity


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

For a play about insanity, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” has a lot to say about reality.

The story is set in an insane asylum in the 1960s, where patients struggling with mental illness are subjected to the abusive power of their caretakers, as well as the “treatments” that are supposed to make them better — like electroshock therapy and frontal lobotomies.

“Having grown up in the ’60s, the show for me really epitomized the whole struggle between the establishment and the forces for change that were going on during the ’60s, really at all levels,” said Ken Duff, who is co-directing the play with Ann Shirnberg for the Kenai Performers.

Duff, who directed “Bus Stop” for the Kenai Performers two years ago, said he wanted to do “Cuckoo’s” because he enjoyed the book the script is based on, and saw a lot of relevance in the story. His background in social work, as the executive director of Frontier Community Services, lent him firsthand knowledge of a lot of the themes explored in the play.

“I just loved the Ken Kesey book,” he said. “That, coupled with having grown up in the ’60s, and I actually worked at a similar-type facility in Kentucky. … It was part of my history.”

Duff said he sees what happens in the asylum, with new patient McMurphy warring against the power structure of Nurse Ratched, as a microcosm of the turmoil of the 1960s, as the United States moved from the “Leave It To Beaver” era of the 1950s to the upheaval of Vietnam.

Chief, a largely silent Native American patient whom McMurphy befriends, delivers monologues that narrate the story and sum up the inherent conflict of the play, Duff said.
“Throughout the entire show he delivers these monologues that really define what’s going on in the asylum, but on a broader context, what’s going on in society at that time,” Duff said.

“In today’s society I think we look at a show like this and say, ‘You know, that’s just fiction.’ Well, it wasn’t. That’s exactly what was going on in our mental hospitals at the time. … It’s grounded in the reality of what was going on at the time and how people in authority were able to have just incredibly abusive behavior.”

The play has a large cast, with more than 10 actors playing the patients and staff of the asylum. It’s been an interesting rehearsal process getting the actors to understand and embrace their characters — a tall order since the characters are, well, crazy.

“It’s coming together really nicely,’ Duff said. “Even those with fewer lines, they’ve developed this wonderful character for their particular part. They’ve just each kind of taken their own particular role in it and made it themselves, and it’s been beautiful to watch.”

Allen Auxier plays the Chief, with Jamie Nelson as McMurphy and Terri Zopf-Schoessler as Nurse Ratched.

“Those two just play off each other wonderfully,” Duff said.

Feeding off the atmosphere that’s created when everyone onstage is into his or her characters has been the best part of the show, Nelson said. And the depth of the relationships between the patients was a pleasant surprise, since that isn’t played out in the movie version of the book.

“When I was reading the script I saw a little more camaraderie than I did in the movie, so I really liked the relationships that there are in the stage play,” Nelson said. “The movie’s so much about the craziness in the story arc, you don’t really think of the touching relationships in there. That’s what I’ve really tried to focus on bringing out.”

Nelson took the role anticipating it would be a new experience for him.

“I really enjoyed working with Ken in ‘Bus Stop.’ I knew this would be a challenging character that was different than the other roles I’d done before,” he said.

It has been challenging, but rewarding, as well.

“(McMurphy) has a lot more energy than I ever have in my own life, so that has been fun. He has a lot more passion than most people come across.” Nelson said.

There are funny moments in the play, and intense ones as the drama plays out. Duff hopes audiences will be swept along by the story, and the comment it makes on society.

“I think the audience will be entertained by (the funny moments),” Duff said. “My hope is they leave with this really poignant understanding of how power can be abused, … and this glimmer of, you know, some of the good guys got away. “

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” will be performed at 7 p.m. Oct. 24, 25 and 31, and Nov. 1, 7 and 8, and 3 p.m. Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and kids. The show is PG-13 and not recommended for kids under 13.

Art Seen: Guilded age — Photo group exposes new show














The Kenai Peninsula Photography Guild is a diverse group of beginning or advanced, and amateur or professional, photographers. The majority of the members are from the Kenai Soldotna area, but they welcome new members from all over the peninsula and state.

KPPG is open to the public and designed to be a forum for people who are interested in all aspects of photography, from pinhole cameras to the advanced digital SLRs.

The guild was the brainchild of Greg Daniels and Pat Dixon and started in 1996. M. Scott Moon, Bill Heath, Greg Daniels and John Demske were also at those initial meetings and still remain active. Their annual group show is currently on view at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center.

Some of the exhibited pieces give explanations in regard to process, materials and occasionally even intent. It is interesting to me, especially when viewing photography, to be made aware of the processes involved. It can often give me a richer sense of the work. The show would have hung together more fluently if this were a consistent element. I am quite impressed with the size of the exhibit, however, and can see that the Photo Guild is quite alive and well.

“Weathered Sunset” by Erik Massey captures the feel of the beach softening in the sunset. The planks of an old dock and, for that matter, the vividly purple Mount Redoubt in the background, seem as natural of an occurrence as the waves on the shore. I get frequent requests for more Mount Redoubt images at my gallery, and this piece does a nice job of presenting it in a nontrite manner.

I thoroughly enjoyed Traci Knudsen’s “Untitled — Palladium Print” for not only its visual interest, but because I just love “untitled” pieces that are actually titled. I have often used this whimsical practice. Perhaps it is the Dadaist in me.

Roy Shapley’s “Tidal Ice” is a great example of solid composition mixed with sensate movement. I feel solidly rooted in the sand, but dizzy with the movement of the water. It is a classic silver-toned black and white print, an old friend in an exciting new world of photography. The composition of “Untitled/Orchid” (there we go again! I love it!) by Brandi Petrey is interesting to me, but the digital technique seems somewhat forced. I guess I prefer to feel like the manipulated effect is a happy accident, like it seems to be in Clayton Hillhouse’s “Journey, Seward” and Brandi’s other piece “In Bloom.”

William Heath’s “Sunrise and Fog” has both ethereal and earthy qualities. The color is evocative of emotions one might feel while viewing the splendor of the scene. It’s hard to put a name to, but it’s palatable and somehow able to touch an inner chord. It is a photo that I could enjoy in my own home, with repeated viewings, like a visual meditation.

Sandra Sterling comes close to this effect in “Visions,” but I find myself distracted by the human subjects doing mundane things in the scene.

Mary Albright has also approached this effect in “Peaceful Evening,” which also has human subjects, but who are looking serene and suit the image better. I find myself wanting to crop out a large portion of the sky in order to approximate the feeling I get from the Heath piece, however. The scratches on the Plexiglas are also kind of distracting.

John Demske’s “Energy” is certainly filled with it, and the angle and lens distortion add to the effect. Printing on canvas creates a unique texture and I find myself wishing he had not glazed his pieces (put glass over them) but had allowed the canvas its due by leaving it bare. His other two works, “Heavy Snow — Six Mile Canyon” and “Winter Forest — Portage Valley” have equally interesting texture and would also do well without glazing.

“Waste Can II” by Rachel Lee (the youngest entrant and daughter of Joe Kashi) is a fantastic “grab” of mundane beauty. There are numerous shots in this exhibit of dewdrops on flowers, most of them interestingly composed and with nice plays on focus. None of them compare, in my mind, to a shot like this that can take you out of your predispositions and make you wonder at the beauty of absolutely common objects as seen through the eyes of an explorative photographer. Her “Burned Tree” is another intriguing work, but I find the inverted example displayed next to it to be sort of unnecessary.

“Tapeats Creek I and II” are sensual palladium process prints by Kristin Mitchell. There are a number of this type included, owing to a recent workshop locally. I find I want to climb inside of her images and explore. The rough edge created by the process is typically inviting to me, as well.

The abstraction quality in Joe Kashi’s “The Crossing’s Doors” provides delicious textures and understated colors. Genevieve Klebba’s “Inside the Tidal Pools” interests me, not only because of an almost archetypal split-shot effect (horizontal lines break the image almost directly in half), but because I discovered a bountiful goddess image in flesh tones reflected in the foremost tidal pool, which just plain old makes me happy.

Photo Guild meetings are usually held the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Interested folks can e-mail wheath@acsalaska.net, or call Bill at 283-5015.

Zirrus VanDevere is a local mixed-media artist and owns Art Works gallery in Soldotna. She has bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and education.

Arts and Entertainment week of Oct. 22

Events:
Ongoing
  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna has a group show, “The Color of Music,” on display through October.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has watercolors by Sherri Sather on display through October.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has watercolors by Pam Mersch on display through October.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Emily Grossman on display through October.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Amy Warfle on display through October.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has “Out of the Bag,” an experimental exhibit, on display through October.
  • The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center has a group exhibit by the Kenai Photo Guild on display through October.
  • Veronica’s coffee shop in Kenai has photographs of Veronica’s through the seasons by Joe Kashi on display through October.

Friday
  • The Kenai Performers will stage “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at 7 p.m. the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and kids. The show is rated PG-13.

Saturday
  • A bookmaking workshop will be taught by Karen Dorcas from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Kenai Municipal Library. Participants need to register and pay the $20.00 materials fee. Call 283-4378, visit www.kenailibrary.org or e-mail jniederhauser@ci.kenai.ak.us.
  • A make it and take it Halloween and fall craft fair for kids in grades kindergarten through sixth will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. at Soldotna Middle School. Admission is free. Call 262-3151, ext. 24.
  • The Alaska State Fair grand champion 907-pound pumpkin, grown by JD Megchelsen, of Nikiski, will be carved by Benjamin Schliefman, a Tlingit carver from Juneau, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. Free pumpkins will be given away to the first 50 families attending. Call 283-1991.
  • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at 7 p.m. at Old Town Playhouse. See Friday listing.
  • The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers will hold a concert with Juice Newton (“Angel of the Morning,” “The Sweetest Thing” and “Break It To Me Gently”) and Gary Puckett (“Young Girl,” “Woman Woman” and “Over You”) at 7:30 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Tickets are $33, available at Whitey’s Music Shop. Funds raised benefit the Safety Bear, CSI Forensic Science Camp, Children’s DNA Identification Kits and youth sports on the Kenai Peninsula. Call 283-9302.
  • The Clam Shell Lodge in Clam Gulch will have its annual Hippy Olympics, with games, prizes and music by Three-Legged Mule at 8 p.m.

Sunday
  • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at 3 p.m. at Old Town Playhouse. See Friday listing.

Tuesday
  • Ground Truth Trekking will give a slideshow presentation about their 4,000-mile trek from Seattle to the Aleutian Islands by foot, packraft and skis, at 7 p.m. at Kenai Peninsula College. Visit www.groundtruthtrekking.org.

Coming up
  • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” 7 p.m. Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 7 and 8, and 3 p.m. Nov. 2 at Old Town Playhouse. See Friday listing.
  • The Soldotna Senior Center will accept entries into its 12th annual juried amateur art show, held in conjunction with the center’s fall bazaar, Nov. 7 to 8. Entries can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 4 and 5. Categories are oils, pastels, watercolors, and drawings; needle arts, beading, quilting and sewing; and three-dimensional. The entry fee is $6, with a maximum three entries each person. Call Mary Lane, 262-8839.

Nightlife:
DJ
  • The Riverside in Soldotna has live DJ music every Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m.

Live music
  • The Funky Monkey in Kenai has folk music on Wednesday night.
  • Hooligans Saloon in Soldotna has rock covers and originals by Tuff-e-Nuff on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has music by Chris Burns on Saturday night.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has acoustic classic rock by the Free Beer Band at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Mykel's in Soldotna has acoustic music by Dave Unruh from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
  • The Place in Nikiski has bluegrass music by Them Other Shuckers around 7 p.m. Friday.
  • The Rainbow Bar in Kenai has rock covers by The Mabrey Brothers at 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Veronica’s in Kenai has open mic music at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, and acoustic music by Digging Roots at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

Karaoke
  • 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays at the Duck Inn on Kalifornsky Beach Road.
  • 9 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays at the .406 in Kenai.
  • 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at Hooligan’s in Soldotna.
  • 8:30 p.m. Friday at the J-Bar-B in Kasilof.
  • 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Maverick in Soldotna.

Other
  • BJ’s in Soldotna has a Brown Bears hockey pregame special with a game ticket, tacos and a beer for $15 from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.
  • Hooligan’s in Soldotna has a nine-ball pool tournament at 9 p.m. Thursdays.
  • The J-Bar-B has free pool on Sundays, a horseshoe pit in the beer garden, and a cash drawing at 6:30 p.m. Saturdays.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has a pool tournament at 8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has a dart tournament at 8 p.m. Thursdays and a duck fart party Friday.

Editorial: Give Pebble talk a chance

Attendees of a meeting explaining a stakeholder dialogue process about Pebble Mine were skeptical that the purpose really is to have input into determining the best mining alternative for the Bristol Bay watershed — up to and including no mine and all.

With good reason. It’s difficult to believe “no mine” is an option when the proposed mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, is paying for the dialogue process.

Mine opponents don’t want to discuss how it might be possible to build an economically productive and environmentally sensitive mine at the headwaters of Bristol Bay.

They’re sure beyond all doubt it’s not possible. They know there has never been a mine of the type proposed for Pebble that hasn’t contaminated the environment, and that the mine’s developers have a poor track record with mining projects around the world. They know how vitally important Bristol Bay salmon runs are, and how impossible it would be to protect them from effects of Pebble.

They want to shout their message loud and clear, not sit through a dialogue of “what ifs” and “maybes.”

The problem is, an increase in volume doesn’t necessarily mean more people will listen. Polls after the Clean Water Initiative failed in August’s primary election showed a sizable chunk of people don’t believe Pebble is as large a risk as opponents say it is, or don’t believe the information that’s come out on either side.

That’s why even Pebble opponents should participate in the dialogue process.

If opponents are correct that this is all a sham to generate good PR for the Pebble Partnership — and they could well be right, since there’s no guarantee mine developers will listen to, much less include, anything that comes out of this process — then so be it. It’s still worth participating.

If opponents don’t join in, that makes good PR for Pebble, as well — here they are extending an olive branch, and their detractors won’t take it.

The dialogue’s coordinator has offered to have people sign a statement saying their participation in the dialogue process does not mean they support the mine. The Keystone Center that’s facilitating the process has a good reputation for independent, unbiased work. Center representatives say they’ll stand up to Pebble if mine backers try to play off the opposition’s participation in the process as meaning environmentalists support the mine.

And if Keystone’s Todd Bryan is right that the mine may be permitted no matter what the opposition says or does, having a seat at the table could give opponents a chance to help design the best mine possible. Granted, to them, no mine is the best mine, but if there’s unavoidably going to be one, why not try to make it the least damaging option?

Most importantly, mine opponents stand to gain an audience for their message if they participate in the process. They can make sure their side is represented, and the information showing Pebble’s danger isn’t ignored.

The Pebble Partnership sees the Keystone process as a tool to help convince the public to allow the mine. Opposition groups should view the Keystone process as a similarly powerful tool bent in the opposite direction.

Guest editorial: Family caregivers need care, too

National Family Caregivers Month, observed every November, is a nationally recognized month that seeks to draw attention to the many challenges facing family caregivers, advocate for stronger public policy to address family caregiving issues, and raise awareness about community programs that support family caregivers. It is a time to thank, support, educate and advocate for the more than 50 million family caregivers across the country.

During National Family Caregivers Month and every day, National Family Caregiver Support Program encourages family caregivers to take four steps every day to empower family caregivers to act on behalf of themselves and their loved ones, and to remove barriers to health and well-being: Believe in yourself, protect your health, reach out for help and speak up for your rights.

Think of a family caregiver you know and celebrate next month by reaching out and offering them a helping hand. Bring them dinner, offer transportation — do something to help.

National Family Caregiver Support Program will be celebrating family caregivers with our annual Caregiver Appreciation Day, Nov. 15 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Soldotna Senior Citizens Center. We will have various health and human service agencies available for information, referrals and workshops. Stop by and enjoy some refreshments, and maybe win a door prize.

There are many more ways to celebrate family caregivers, take action and communicate the important messages of National Family Caregivers Month. Here are the top 10 ways to celebrate the month:
  • Offer a few hours of respite time to a family caregiver so they spend time with friends, or simply relax.
  • Send a card of appreciation or a bouquet of flowers to brighten up a family caregiver’s day.
  • Encourage local businesses to offer a free service for family caregivers through the month of November.
  • Participate in the National Family Caregivers Association’s free national teleclass to learn how to communicate more effectively with health care professionals. The two free one-hour sessions will be Nov. 6 and 13 at 2 p.m. Eastern time. For more information, visit www.thefamilycaregiver.org.
  • Help a family caregiver decorate their home for the holidays or offer to address envelopes for their holiday cards.
  • Offer comic relief. Purchase tickets to a local comedic play, give a family caregiver your favorite funny movie to view or provide them with a book on tape.
  • Find 12 different family photos and have a copy center create a monthly calendar that the family caregiver can use to keep track of appointments and events.
  • Offer to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for a caregiver family in your community, so they can just relax and enjoy the holiday.
  • Take a few minutes to write a letter encouraging your mayor, borough executive or governor to issue a local proclamation establishing November as National Family Caregivers Month.
  • Help a family caregiver find information and resources on the Internet or to locate a local peer support meeting.

One place to start is by contacting National Family Caregiver Support Program. We hold monthly peer support meetings and caregiver trainings, as well as provide information and assistance in gaining access to needed services. We provide respite on a limited basis, and all of our services are free of charge. The only requirement is that a caregiver is helping take care of someone 60 or older with cognitive disabilities or frail health, or they are helping take care of someone aged 59 and younger with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder. There are no income restrictions. Just give us a call at 262-1280 or stop by our office in the Blazy Mall, 44539 Sterling Highway, Suite 209.

And don’t forget to mark your calendar to attend National Family Caregiver Appreciation Day and learn more about the many family caregiver services available in our community.

Dani Kebschull is the program coordinator of the National Family Caregiver Support Program.

State of remembrance — Readings offer perspectives on last 50 years


By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The backgrounds of those reflecting on Alaska statehood at the Kenai Municipal Library on Thursday were as diverse as those who were here to witness the historic event nearly 50 years ago: A Kenaitze Native elder, a commercial fisherman, a teacher, an oil patch worker, a Russian Orthodox priest.

Some were here at the time, and shared their firsthand recollections of the events surrounding statehood and interpretations of what it meant to their existence at the time.
Clare Swan, a Kenaitze elder, spoke about being born in Kenai and watching her community change, seemingly overnight.

“When I think about statehood, it seems to me that it just kind of snuck up on us,” she said.

Influences from the outside world — notably, the concept of doing business on credit — had drastic and lasting impacts on her culture.

“The Kenaitzes moved from being stewards of the land and water to being consumers of it,” she said. “You know, sometimes I think it’s a new definition of the word ‘charge.’”
Joan Bennett Schrader was in Fairbanks when the Constitutional Convention was in session.

“I remember the winter in Fairbanks. I wasn’t able to get up to the school and listen to them very much, but that’s probably a good thing, because I probably wouldn’t have understood a lot of it. But I’m pleased with what they came up with,” she said.

In choosing a selection to present at the library’s Reflections on Statehood readings, she found herself drifting back to 1959 in Fairbanks.

“I couldn’t find what I thought was appropriate. I went back to the Constitution of the state of Alaska and thought, ‘What was the most important part of the Constitution?’ To my mind, it’s the Declaration of Rights. … Today, a lot of us are really gung-ho on what our rights are, but we forget what our obligations are.”

Nedra Evenson remembered living in frontier Alaska, on her family’s homestead in Nikiski, when statehood was announced. Her family’s path to that point started three years before in Mt. Vernon, Iowa, where she and her husband, Jim, were teaching at Cornell College.

Evenson read Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken,” and reflected on what it was like for her family to take the path less traveled by.

“The road the other young families took, more trodden, was paved to large universities,” she said. “… But we took the road less trodden. We took the Alaska Highway to an unknown future. It was an adventure. We were young and had a boundless belief that if others had succeeded, we could also, and we agreed that we would take whatever employment was available on this frontier to earn our way.”

The diversity in presenters was matched in the diversity of material presented. Some was funny, some more poignant. There were poems, memoirs and even some Alaska ghost stories. Some shared personal memories of their time in Alaska, while others found sentiments worth sharing already expressed by authors.

The Rev. Fr. Thomas Andrew, priest at Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, had intended to find someone else’s words to share at the event. He thought about presenting a sermon, or finding a poem to read. But nothing seemed quite right, so Andrew became a poet himself.

“I just couldn’t find anything, so, why don’t you just make something yourself?” he said.
Andrew had never written a poem before, and doesn’t even read much poetry.

“My children, I used to read to them every night, and there were some poems in there. I think that’s where it came from,” he said.

Andrew and his wife, Theresa, moved to Kenai about five years ago with their five children. He has an education degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and taught for 10 years, everything from third grade up to 12th. But none of that involved being a poetry teacher.

Even without a background in poetry, Andrew said he found the form familiar, since many Orthodox prayers and songs have a poetic feel to them. He doesn’t plan to add poet to his title anytime soon, however.

“You know how they say one-hit wonder? I’m just a one-hit wonder,” he said.

Nevertheless, in about a half an hour Andrew found the words to express what he wanted to say. “They Came Into My House” documents the march toward statehood from the Native perspective, starting with Russians coming to Alaska in the early 1700s, the fur trade, missionaries, the sale of Alaska from Russia to the United States, and Andrew’s hope for the future, that people love each other and live together in harmony.

The state has come a long way toward that goal in 50 years, but it’s not there yet, Andrew said.

“Even today there’s subtle racism going on, subtle discrimination. It happens all the time,” he said. “… I hope it’s getting better. It’s not written about, it’s not said about in history or anything like that.”

Bringing out those different perspectives was exactly what the Reflections on Statehood event was supposed to achieve, said Julie Niederhauser, with the library.

“It really felt like that happened, there was a dialogue on a different level that occurred,” she said.

Other readers at the event were Michael Gustkey, Robert Peterson, Virginia Walters, Sister Joyce Ross, Matthew Peters and Brent Johnson. Bunny Swan-Gease sang the “Alaska Flag” and Rep. Kurt Olson presented the library with a 49-star flag.