Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Not thrifty in support — Bishop’s Attic needs bigger space to keep up with mounting donations

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The donations room behind the back partition at Bishop’s Attic thrift store in Soldotna could be a scene from a horror movie for anyone who hates housework.

Kitchenwares and picture frames form stacks needing to be dusted. Boxes of electronics components and small appliances wait to be arranged on a shelf. Bags containing who-knows-what (one time it was a petrified horn) sit in corners until someone has time to see what’s inside.

Then there’s the clothes: Sacks and stacks of them, all piled into a mountain of fabric reaching nearly to the ceiling.

Going through it all — checking for holes and stains, sorting by size and style, affixing prices and getting it out on the racks — is a labor of love, say the store’s volunteers and employees.

If that’s the case, then Bishop’s Attic is certainly well loved, because there’s a whole lot of work involved.

“It’s overwhelming, but it’s good,” said Julie Soltis, who volunteers at Bishop’s Attic up to six days a week. “Some days you open the door and you want to go back home again.”

Donations have tripled in the last three years, and they don’t come in any predictable pattern, said Betty Phelps, who has worked at Bishop’s Attic for 15 years.

“Every day is different. You just don’t know,” she said. “I don’t even want to say we have cleared out three bags, because then it’s like, kabam!

“Everyone says with the economy people would be holding back and holding on to their stuff, but they’re not. We’re getting more clothes than I’ve ever seen.”

Dealing with donations is a constant battle that can never be won, at least in Bishop’s Attic’s current configuration. Even if the store had more volunteers — which it needs — and could somehow create extra hours in the day to go through all the stuff, there still isn’t room to display everything for sale. For all the racks, stacks, shelves and display cases full of items in the store, there’s just as much or more waiting behind the partition.

And that’s just in the clothes and housewares store. A few doors down in the Soldotna strip mall along the Kenai Spur Highway is another Bishop’s Attic store devoted to furniture, crafts, sports equipment and seasonal items. That store was opened to alleviate crowding in the original store. Now it’s just as full.

But don’t get the wrong idea. Keeping up with donations may be an impossible task, but Bishop’s Attic wouldn’t have it any other way. The more donations the store gets, the more items it can sell, and the more it can help the community.

“Everything that we make here, after we pay bills, goes right back into the community,” Phelps said.

The Kenai and Soldotna Catholic churches operate Bishop’s Attic. It opened in Soldotna about 15 years ago as a way to meet the needs of the community, said Jackie Swanson, a member of Bishop’s Attic’s board of directors.

Selling affordable clothes and merchandise is helpful to people with low incomes, but where the store really provides service is in donating the money generated from the store’s sales. In the last five years, Bishop’s Attic has donated about $115,000 to various community groups, including the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, ABC Crisis Pregnancy Center, Love, INC., and the National and International Aid Agency, Swanson said.

The store generates money for three continuing education scholarships and provides community service opportunities. It also gives gift certificates to people in need, such as victims of house fires, residents of the LeeShore Center, returning National Guard members and people helped by the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“That’s what we’re there for, to supply for the needs in the community,” Swanson said. “The community supports the store. It’s just so gratifying to see the piles of things that come in on a regular basis and be able to turn that around to the community.”

Business has grown 50 percent over the last five years, which means the amount the organization can give back to the community has grown, as well. With continued community support the board of directors sees potential to contribute even more but needs more space to do it, so it has been considering finding a bigger home for Bishop’s Attic.

It’s a difficult decision to make. On one hand, a bigger space would mean more merchandise could be displayed and potentially sold. On the other, it could mean higher costs, which cuts into the amount the organization can donate.

“The more we pay in overhead, the less we can give back to the community, so it is a double-edged sword,” said Carol Brenckle, board president.

“As a board, we have some responsibility to make some good choices,” Swanson said. “We feel like, in business you need to gamble sometimes, but we’re in a little bit different position here, so we need to be courageous and careful at the same time.”

Meanwhile, employees and volunteers try to move as much merchandise as they can, but don’t put out so much that racks and shelves get crowded.

Sales are a big help. The store often has 50-percent-off sales, and the $5-a-bag sales at the end of each month are legendary. It also helps that the store draws an array of shoppers.
“We reach out to a wide customer base, not just those who have a desperate need, but a wide range,” Swanson said. “I know when I walk in there I walk out with something, and I’m not even shopping.”

Gary Merryman, of Soldotna, says he shops at Bishop’s Attic a couple times a month looking for items he can’t find anywhere else. He likes to tinker, and the thrift store often has components he can use in his projects.

“We’ve got limited shopping down here,” he said. “… You come in here sometimes and find some odds and ends to put something together with.”

He said he could afford to shop elsewhere, but everyone appreciates a bargain.

“It’s just a good place to come, and you see all types of people in here. It’s not just people down on their luck, it’s people like myself. You shouldn’t categorize someone as down and out just because they come in here.”

Suzanne Lagasse, of Soldotna, said she sometimes finds clothes for her daughters, but more often is looking for business casual work clothes for her.

“I just don’t see the point in spending big money on name brands at the store when you can get them here, too. I figure, let someone else pay the big bucks,” she said.

“I get a charge out of someone saying, ‘That’s a cute outfit.’ I’ll say, ‘This whole thing was five bucks at the thrift store.’”

Whatever the reasons that bring customers in, Phelps hopes they keep coming, so Bishop’s Attic can keep growing.

“We can help so many more people,” especially if the store had a bigger space, she said. “I pray about this every night. It could happen. Nothing’s impossible through Christ.”

Muddy waters: Slikok project mired — Choice to drill garners question of water safety

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

Plan B for getting a water pipe across Slikok Creek is making lemonade from lemons that shouldn’t have grown in the first place, according to Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum.

A project to extend city of Soldotna water service along Kalifornsky Beach Road and out to the Kenai River Campus of Kenai Peninsula College has been on hold since early September, when the first attempt to get the pipe past Slikok Creek ended up threatening the health of the creek.

The project originally called for doing a 100-yard underground bore and running the pipe under the creek, which is a productive spawning ground for salmon and trout. The boring process involves injecting mud into the hole to help move the pipe along. But something went awry and the mud started surfacing in the creek.

The mud was water-based and not a pollutant in a chemical sense, but it raised the turbidity level in the creek, said Rick Wood, head of the water department for the city of Soldotna.

Turbidity refers to the amount of particles, such as mud and silt, in water. If there’s enough of it, it can settle in gravel among salmon eggs and suffocate them, or ruin otherwise healthy spawning habitat. When it’s suspended in water it can clog up fishes’ gills so they can’t get enough oxygen, and it can eventually make it so juvenile fish can’t see to eat.

Drilling was stopped as soon as the mud was discovered in the creek.

“We didn’t want to have anything like that with our name on it.” Wood said.

The problem was caught early and the amount the turbidity level was raised wasn’t any more significant than a natural event, like a beaver dam breaking, Ruffner said. The Kenai Watershed Forum and Fish and Game were notified immediately and monitored the creek to ensure no significant damage was done.

“It got caught right away and the contractor’s a pretty first-class guy,” Ruffner said. “They did exactly what should have been done.”

But he questions why it was done in the first place.

“What I don’t know is how we got to this point, that would be really nice to know, because now that we’ve got a pipeline laid in both directions, with a gap where the creek is, it’s the wrong time to really look for a good solution,” Ruffner said. “So this is really going to be one of those cases of, ‘Let’s make some lemonade out of the lemons we’ve got there.’”

Wood said underground boring is a fairly new procedure in Alaska. It was thought to be safe for the creek, he said.

“Where they’re doing it you do mostly short runs. We were trying to do six to seven hundred feet,” Wood said. “We were led on by one of the contractors that was doing the drilling before we even put it out to bid, he thought it wouldn’t be a bit of a problem. The general contractor and city of Soldotna agreed. But, hey, enough is enough. We don’t want to risk any environmental damage.”

Now the plan is to wait until February or March when the water level in the creek is lowest, divert the creek, dig a trench, lay the pipe, backfill the trench and return the creek to its natural route. The city expects to hear whether it will get the permits required for the project in January, Wood said.

It’s a fine plan, as far as it goes, Ruffner said.

“There are always things that can go wrong, but doing it in the dead of winter when water levels are as low as they can get and working when the ground is frozen minimizes risks. They’re doing everything they can to make sure the lemonade is as sweet as possible,” Ruffner said.

Sweetening the deal even more is an opportunity to actually help the creek. There’s a section of it about 100 feet away from the drilling location that was damaged in the past when it was used as an ATV corridor, Ruffner said. The crew could put the pipe through there and repair the damage to the creek when they redivert it.

“So there’s the lemonade part of the story,” he said.

The sourness comes from Ruffner’s contention that pipes shouldn’t be run under creeks in the first place.

“At some point they’re going to fail and have to be tore up. At some point you’re going to have to go in there and dig these things out. So there’s no way to avoid impacts,” Ruffner said.

A better alternative would be to run the pipe along College Road, about a half-mile away, and cross the creek at the bridge, Ruffner said. He thought that was the plan, since there was a water main already put in place across the creek when College Road was torn up last year so the culvert Slikok Creek passes through underneath the road could be replaced.

Wood said water and sewer lines were installed at the creek crossing when the culvert was replaced. Since the road was already being dug up for the culvert, the idea was to install the water and sewer lines in case a bridge is ever built across the Kenai River off Poppy Lane, Wood said. The city considered using the water line for this project, but it wasn’t feasible because that route wouldn’t maintain the pressure required for firefighting purposes, he said.

Wood said there has to be a certain level of water flow maintained for fire hydrants. Using the water main at the culvert would add 5,000 feet of pipe to the project, which would result in lower water pressure and volume, he said.

“It wouldn’t serve a purpose. They’d (KPC) have to have another water source even if we did go along the College Road,” Wood said.

It also would be more expensive. With engineering and construction costs, pipe in this project costs $130 a lineal foot, Wood said.

“Times 5,000, it starts adding up,” he said.

At $265,000, the underground bore already was more expensive than if they’d diverted the creek in the first place, Wood said. But now the college, which is footing the bill for the project, has to pay for the failed bore and the creek trench project.

“They’re paying for all of it to get water from K-Beach to the college. We’re going to do it like we would for the city, we’re going to look for the cheapest route to do it for them,” Wood said.

Ruffner said money shouldn’t trump the importance of minimizing impacts to the creek.
“If it costs more, then whoever is paying for it just needs to raise more money to do that,” he said.

Better yet, everyone involved should learn a lesson from this scenario and avoid plans to lay pipes under sensitive creeks.

“I would be happy with the proposed solution if we learned a lesson and changed our behavior in the future,” Ruffner said. “It’s a palatable solution, for sure.”

“When we heard directional drilling under the creek we didn’t think much about it. In the future, we probably learned our lesson, that we ought to think about those things, and if there’s an alternative route, take it. Even better than that would be a policy saying, ‘These are the corridors that you can provide utilities through.”

Wood said the original plan was to have pipe laid by Oct. 15. Now the project could take until June.

Municipal conference would prioritize projects based on boroughwide benefit

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

When it comes to legislative funding, “we” gets more attention than “me.”

That’s the idea behind the formation of a Kenai Peninsula Municipal Conference, an organization that will lobby for legislative funding for projects on a boroughwide basis.

John Torgerson, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, rolled out the plan to form a municipal conference at a Kenai Peninsula Community Development Forum held Oct. 24 at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai.

He hopes to have involvement from the borough government, city governments, chambers of commerce and tribal governments from across the borough. Representatives will consider projects from Hope to Homer, Seward to Tyonek, and vote on which ones to pass on to the Legislature for support.

“This organization will take these projects from a regional level and make them a boroughwide issue,” Torgerson said.

Instead of Seward stumping for its own funding, or Kenai seeking money for its issues, a municipal conference would prioritize projects on a boroughwide level. A project would need to win the votes of three-fourths of the members of the municipal conference to make it on the priorities list.

“That’s how you get out of that regional, ‘I want to build my road in my backyard,’ approach. This is about the borough … all of us together,” Torgerson said.

“In that statement comes the strength of the organization because it is about the borough and it’s about priorities, and it has a pretty high bar to make the list.”

The organization is in its infancy. Bylaws are being drawn up, with reference to other municipal conferences in the state, Torgerson said. The ins and outs of how it will work are still being decided.

Torgerson said he is past president of a previous Kenai Peninsula municipal conference that was started in 1986 by former borough Mayor Stan Thompson. Funding for that organization fizzled out in 1997, he said. By that time Torgerson was in the Legislature.

Membership in that conference operated on a dues basis, with governments contributing 10 cents per resident and business organizations paying a flat $100 fee. Torgerson said the budget in the 1990s was $8,000 to $10,000 a year to cover overhead costs and lobbying trips to Juneau.

How this incarnation is funded will be up to members.

“Every year you vote your dues and ask to be funded,” Torgerson said. “And it changes. It’s sort of a living, breathing document that changes along with the times.”

He anticipates support for the idea.

“I have a feeling it will be well-met with because I think everybody sees the need for a unified voice when we can agree, and when we can’t we need to understand what’s going on in other jurisdictions in the borough. We’re all the borough,” he said.

The Kenai Peninsula Municipal Conference doesn’t preclude individual cities or the borough government from seeking funding for their own projects outside the conference. But where legislative priorities align, they’ll have the support of a group representative of the entire borough, not just one section of it.

Torgerson expects the group will consider alternative energy projects, school funding issues and a lot of roads projects — like a proposed Sterling Highway bypass around Cooper Landing and designating a section of the Sterling Highway as a scenic byway.

“There’s no limit to the issues, except what people want to vote on,” he said.

Even if there isn’t enough support to get a project on the organization’s legislative funding priority list, just having a discussion about it will be valuable, he said.

“A lot of the benefit of this is not only to produce that (priority list), but to get everybody in the same room and figure out how to face problems and address them as neighbors of the borough.”

Checking out — Businesses move toward electronic protection

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

When LaDonna Jenson makes a purchase, she prefers doing it with a check.

“I don’t do debit. I like it in paper so I can see it in front of me,” she said. If she pays with credit or debit, it’s harder to keep track of her account. “Pretty soon you’re going, ‘Oh, it didn’t go through.’”

Paying with a check isn’t a problem where she works, the Flower House in Kenai, but it is at a growing number of businesses om the central Kenai Peninsula that no longer accept checks.

Country Corner restaurant in Kenai is one of them. The restaurant stopped accepting checks in April.

“It’s simple — we’ve had too many people bounce checks, so we decided not to take checks anymore,” said Maria Iverson, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Tim. “At first it was once in a while, then it was like four checks bounced within four months. And it’s such a hassle, trying to get a hold of the customer before we take it any further.”

When they tried to cash a check that bounced, they’d attempt to contact the person who wrote it. Most times it seemed to be an accident and the person would pay what they owed. But it isn’t always easy, or even possible, to find bad check writers.

“We have no idea who they are or what they look like, we have so many people come through here,” Iverson said.

The fee at her bank for submitting a bounced check is only $5 each time the check is run, Iverson said, and the amount checks were written for was relatively low — just the cost of a meal. So it wasn’t a money issue for them, it was more the inconvenience that prompted the sign in the window and at the cash register declaring that checks aren’t allowed.

If Iverson knows the person, she’ll usually accept their check, she said. But for new customers, it’s cash, credit or debit only.

“We actually had a customer place an order to go, he whipped out his check book then saw the sign, then he just had to leave because he didn’t have any cash,” Iverson said. “It’s not that much, but it does hurt us a little.”

Don Haralson, who was at Country Corner on Monday having lunch with his wife, said he didn’t mind the no-check policy.

“I can see why they do it, a lot of places get so many bad checks,” he said. “I don’t ever write checks anyway, except to pay bills. I’ve seen some people writing a check for 50-cent purchases.”

Jenson said it’s rare for the Flower House to get checks that bounce, so checks are still accepted. They don’t get many checks to begin with, since most of their business is done over the phone, with customers submitting credit card numbers. If the Flower House bills someone who has an account, oftentimes they’ll send in a check, but even that is moving more toward credit card transactions, Jensen said.

When they do get bounced checks, it’s usually in November or December.

“It’s the holidays for us,” she said. “They overextend themselves on credit a lot.”

The Hair Stop salon in Soldotna is becoming a rarity these days — a business that only accepts checks or cash, no credit or debit allowed.

Candy Ervin said it’s too expensive to switch to credit and debit. You have to pay for the card reader machine, then you’re charged a transaction fee and interest, she said.

“We’re independently owned, and we’re a co-op, so it’s too expensive for a small business owner,” she said.

Several stylists lease space at The Hair Stop, but each is their own business. So they’d need a credit card machine that could have different accounts for all of them, or they’d have to sort out who gets which transaction.

They don’t get enough bounced checks to be worth the hassle and extra money, Ervin said.

“In the last two years I’ve had one, maybe two bounced checks, and the people came in and paid them. They’re like family around here. You know, we all make mistakes. It just happens,” she said.

Fees for insufficient-fund checks vary by financial institution, said Nancy Usera, senior vice president for corporate development with Alaska USA Federal Credit Union. Costs for credit and debit machines also vary by provider, but they do offer a level of protection to businesses.

“There’s a growing trend among even small retailers to accept debit and credit cards. You go in and get a fast-food lunch and can pay with a debit or credit card. It’s one way for merchants to protect themselves from bad checks,” Usera said.

“Obviously, there’s a huge cost to bad checks associated with it for the merchant, for the individual, and the whole process of checks that end up with insufficient funds is a real problem for a lot of businesses, which is why I think some merchants are going to credit or debit.”

Check your checks
Some bounced checks are accidental, but many more are instances of theft or fraud. The U.S. Department of the Treasury released a study that said there are $1.2 billion dollars worth of bad checks written every day in the United States, said Don Krohn, a former detective with the Anchorage Police Department and now a bank security officer for First National Bank of Alaska. Krohn does seminars on financial security for the central Kenai Peninsula.

“You lose in two ways. Number one, once the bank detects the check is fraudulent, they’re going to come back to you for the money,” he said. “You’re losing merchandise and losing the face value of the check. It’s kind of a two-pronged loss for them, and it can be costly. Especially if they’re selling high-dollar items.”

There are some things businesses can do to protect themselves from bad checks, Krohn said. For one thing, businesses can just not take checks.

“My biggest thing is trying to get people to move toward doing things electronically, because electronically is much safer,” he said.

If you do accept checks, consider spending some money to protect yourself. There are services businesses can subscribe to that screen checks, but those databases only catch checks that have turned up bad before, not first-time offenders, Krohn said.

A better system is one that treats a check like a debit card transaction and transfers money from the payer’s checking account to the business account immediately.

“How much money do you have to lose? What is your threshold before you go out of business? How much do you want spend on these safeguards, or not take checks anymore?” Krohn said.

Krohn doesn’t tell people not to accept checks, he said. It’s been part of U.S. society for so long that it’s hard not to take them. But he said businesses should follow some basic safety procedures:

  • Ask for ID when accepting a check. Compare the signature and personal information — name, address, phone number, etc. — on the ID to the signature and information on the check.
“You want to make sure the person in front of you is the person who owns the check. Make sure the person’s information is on the check. Too often I see people accept the ID and not look at the person at all. People doing that for a living know that and will frequent the businesses that don’t look at that,” he said.

  • Train employees to be on the lookout for suspicious checks.

“It’s indiscriminate purchases,” to look out for, Krohn said. “They buy things that they can pawn and sell to their friends. T¬hey don’t come in and buy diapers or milk for their kids.”

  • Set a policy that checks over a certain amount have to be reviewed by a supervisor.
“Don’t let an employee have to deal with a really large purchase without a supervisor coming in and assisting, because it can be somewhat unnerving for somebody to be taking a large check from somebody that’s overbearing, or maybe they don’t have the confidence in checking the items that they should be checking,” he said. “Say, ‘Anything over such and such dollar amount, I have to review.’”

  • It’s also important to keep your checks from being stolen and passed off fraudulently, Krohn said. Keep your checks in a secure location. Put your information on them, like address and phone number, so a thief can’t write it in on their own. And don’t be too trusting, of anyone.

“A major portion of check theft and fraud and credit card fraud comes from a family member stealing it,” Krohn said.

  • Keep a close eye on your accounts. Check them every day. If there’s a problem, it’s better to catch it immediately, rather than waiting for the bank statement in 30 days, at which point your money could be gone.

  • Take advantage of bank services. With positive pay, businesses can send their bank a list of check numbers that are OK to clear every day, and the bank only allows the transfer of funds for those specific checks. With reverse positive pay, you get a list of pending transactions every day looking to take money out of your account that you can approve, or not.

  • Be smart in electronic banking. Don’t keep all your money in a checking account. Keep it in savings and only transfer out what you need for working capital. And ask your bank about ACH (automatic clearinghouse) filters.

An ACH transaction is what happens if you pay a bill electronically by telling it to transfer money out of your bank account. If someone fraudulently obtains your account information, they could drain your account through an ACH transaction unless your account is protected from it.

“All financial institutions have these tools to protect against that, and if you don’t go out and try to prevent somebody from stealing your money, you can’t expect somebody to always be standing there watching out for what you’re doing,” Krohn said.

Krohn said he’s available to give seminars on financial security. Anyone interested can contact him at dkrohn@fnbalaska.com.

Plugged in: Getting physical with computer security

Last week, I discussed some obvious computer security oversights that might compromise you and your business. (Well, maybe not sufficiently obvious, because they happen with regularity.) Before turning to another topic, a broader overview of computer security seems in order.

Protecting your computer data is as basic as locking your house or car and buying basic insurance to protect you in case of loss. Extending this analogy, computer security has two components. An electronic “lock” protects you against those who might invade your privacy and misappropriate or vandalize your data. Physical security, including data backup, protects you against physical loss such as fire or theft. These components require different actions by you. I’ll address physical loss this week because, in some ways, it is more straightforward.

Casualty losses such as fire or flood damage and thefts of computers and related equipment like printers are fairly common. Your best bet under these circumstances is to ensure that you have adequate physical security for your premises and that you maintain enough insurance that includes replacement coverage for office equipment. In that regard, it’s no different than protecting any other sort of valuables with one exception: you’ve also lost a great deal of crucial information unless you back up your data every day. I have had clients who failed to ensure that their business data was regularly backed up and who went out of business after their premises and business equipment were destroyed by fire. In fact, losing the bulk of your business data is one of the surest paths to business problems.

Electrical damage from sudden power loss or high voltage surges can be obvious, such as smoke rising from your system. More common, though, is subtle damage such as scrambled accounting programs and other databases. These sorts of programs are among the most common used by businesses and among the easiest to scramble due to uncontrolled shutdown in the event of a power loss or rogue voltage spikes in the event of a power surge. Most insurance policies will not cover hardware failure or data loss arising from either voltage surges or power failures. You’re on your own in these circumstances. Luckily, it’s pretty easy and inexpensive to cover yourself.

Another threat to your data is hardware failure, whether a hard disk that makes a sudden harsh grinding and then stops working or a gradual failure of a hard disk controller on your main system board that slowly scrambles your data until it becomes unusable.

However, as much as 80 percent of all data loss happens because of operator error, whether your own or an employee’s, not because of fire, theft or hardware failure. That’s a grim statistic.
Once we understand why data is lost, it’s fairly easy to reduce the likelihood and consequences of loss. The most obvious step is ensuring that you back up your data every day and take the data backups physically off the premises, storing the data backups at home or some other secure premises where the same fire, theft or other casualty won’t result in loss of your backup data.
Next week, I’ll outline some easy, concrete steps that you can take to avoid losing critical computer data.

Local attorney Joseph Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and has been writing and lecturing about technology throughout the U.S. since 1990 for American Bar Association, Alaska Bar Association and private publications. He also owned a computer store in Soldotna between 1990 and 2000.

Beat of their own drum — Kenaitze youth group develops tradition of laughter

By Jenny Neyman
Redoubt Reporter

The drumming can be heard from the parking lot outside Fort Kenay in Old Town Kenai: a rhythmic pulsing that sounds like a heartbeat. In a way, it represents one.

The Del Dumi Intertribal Drum program’s goal is to promote sobriety, respect, cultural awareness and pride in area youth — the lifeblood of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s future.
The drum program, for ages 13 to 18, is part of the tribe’s Yaghanen Youth Programs (meaning “good place, a safe place for the heart”). The youth program also includes the Jabila’ina Dance Group and Ggugguyni Native Youth Olympics Team, all of which are open to all youths, whether or not they’re Native or tribe members. The drummers, dancers and NYO athletes gave a demonstration of their activities at the Pamyua concert Saturday in Kenai.

Michael Bernard, Yaghanen programs director for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, said the youth programs began in the 1990s to give kids healthy activities to be involved in after a tribal youth committed suicide.

“The council decided we didn’t want this to happen again. We needed to come up with some things for our youths to do so they’re not going out drinking and doing drugs and alcohol and getting in trouble,” Bernard said.

The gravity of the group’s mission, combined with the steady thumps that reverberate in the windowpanes of the 100-plus-year-old log structure, sets a serious mood when walking into drum practice Thursdays. It’s immediately shattered by the howls of laughter that come whooshing out the log door with the warm air.

The group, gathered around a large hide-covered wooden drum, has disintegrated into laughter so incoherent it’s hard to tell what set them off. It could have been a drummer owning up to a missed beat or a premature start to a solo, and everyone else joining in to dispel any embarrassment.

“We laugh a lot but we don’t laugh at anybody,” said Doug Gates, a tribal advocate. “We won’t laugh at you, we’ll laugh with you.”

Or it might have been someone getting creative with lyrics. When the group practices Christmas standards around the holidays, for instance, “French hens” often becomes “French toast” in “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Or maybe it was Bernard attempting to sing falsetto — not a natural range for someone built like a football player.

Whatever the case, a brief break was in order for everyone to collect themselves and start again.

“We’ll get into this laughing fest where we can’t hardly play anymore,” Gates said.
But they can and do, because even in the drum group’s goofiest moments, there’s a sense of seriousness in what they do.

It plays out in myriad ways, from the respect in how they treat each other — they’ll laugh with you, never at you — to the traditions governing how the drum is played.

Songs have a specific format. Everyone drums on the same beat, and the leader —on Thursday it was 17-year-old Chris Anderson — starts the singing with a solo. There’s a chorus, and the leader signals with a sweep of his hand that the next solo is up for grabs. If someone wants it, they indicate so and Anderson acknowledges it, or he designates someone to sing. There are hand signals for speeding up and slowing down, and a motion to get everyone drumming on the same beat.

The drum itself has rules associated with it. It’s made from a cottonwood stump with hide stretched over it and special items sealed inside — an eagle feather and three agates, three being a lucky number and agates being lucky stones, Gates said. It was constructed in the early 1990s, Bernard said, when tribal elder Peter Kalifornsky was alive. Kalifornsky named the drum Del Dumi, because that was the sound he heard in his head when the drum played, Bernard said.

When drummers prepare to play, hide-covered drumsticks are always passed to the left. At the end of a performance, everyone places his or her right hand on the drum for a moment of silence. If dancers are performing, as well, they ring the drummers and place a hand on the shoulder in front of them. Then the eldest person at the drum says a prayer, offers a few words of thanks or in some other way commemorates the moment. When drummers pick up their chairs to leave, one chair is always left behind until the drum is removed.

Interior Alaska Natives, not the Kenaitzes, traditionally used large drums like Del Dumi. The Cook Inlet-area Dena’ina used more portable percussion devices, like handheld hide drums, wooden plank drums or birch sticks beat together, Gates said. The large communal drum was adopted into Kenaitze programs in the early 1990s as a way to promote sobriety from substance and alcohol abuse, said Maggie Jones, a tribal advocate.
“It’s to keep you focused. It really draws you in and you think about going out and being strong,” she said.

Anderson joined the drum group after moving to the peninsula from Palmer in 2004 and getting involved in the tribe’s NYO program. He started singing solos, realized he was good at it and became a drum leader.

“I love everything about it. There’s nothing to really point to, just everything — I like being here, the drumming, songs, the fun and the seriousness when we do an event,” Anderson said.

Jack Williams, 14, said he likes the drum group for the same reasons as Anderson. He joined a little before Anderson did, when his mother suggested he give it a try.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it out.’ I think it worked out pretty good, actually,” he said.
Some songs are just for fun, like Christmas carols or Wilson Pickett’s “Land of A Thousand Dances,” where drummers fling themselves around in chair-bound circles at the end of each chorus: “Na, na na na na ... .”

“That makes me seasick,” Jones said.

Other songs have more traditional meanings, although it usually isn’t conveyed in the lyrics. The words that are sung usually aren’t even words, they’re vocables, Jones said. The song’s meaning comes from how and when it was used.

“This is one where we build it and build it and build it; it’s really powerful,” Bernard said of the “Badger Song.” “Think about why they’re doing this. It’s not just for something to do. Picture it; they’re getting people riled up. They’re like, ‘Come on, let’s do it.’ So at the beginning it’s like, ‘We’ve got something to go do,’ and by the end it’s like, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Del Dumi’s finale is “Red Earth,” an honor song. No matter what humor precedes it, “Red Earth” is played with complete seriousness. “We do some fun things that are really silly and goofy, and we do some really serious things. It’s kind of a mix of everything,” Bernard said. “It takes a special person to realize the drum is a serious thing, but it’s also a place to have fun with other people who like the same things.”

For Bernard, as a youth counselor, that’s the most impressive part of the drum group.

“They can have fun then turn right around and be completely serious. That says a lot about their character,” he said.

Art Seen: Artistic challenge ‘found’ in KPC gallery

“Works from Found Objects” is as the name suggests, a show of a number of individual works that include found objects. What isn’t readily apparent is that the objects hail from a single source.

Drew O’Brian was cleaning up the Kenai Peninsula College machine shop and made an offer to Joy Falls, another faculty member, who teaches sculpture and ceramics. She was thrilled with the idea of utilizing some of the mostly metal objects in her own art, as well as offering them up to the other art faculty members. The culminating project stands as a cohesive faculty exhibit on view in the Gary L. Freeburg Gallery until Nov. 13.

Cathleen Rolph’s singular contribution is a totem-sized “fetish.” It is called “Oath Taking Figure and Sacred Trust,” and is a joy to absorb. She has driven large nails and spikes of many styles and types into a wooden post that feels as if it is splitting from the pressure of it.

The abstract “face,” however, feels quite serene and compassionate. It reminds me of Francis Picabia mechanical drawings from the Dada era; especially the effect of the red paint applied to the inside of the post where it is split apart, so that it is visible and protected, all at once. Also Picabia-ish are the multiple gears surrounding the “neck” area.

Celia Anderson, currently appearing to be the most prolific of the bunch, has become increasingly political and heartfelt with her work. She tackles issues as serious as poverty, genocide and AIDS, but presents them with such cunning aesthetics that you don’t feel preached to or hammered down from the weight of it.

In “Darfur,” dyed material is the base. The process is called arashi shibori, a Japanese technique of creating the fabric surface by folding, wrapping and binding it on a pole, and then utilizing a reductive method termed “discharge dying.”

To this she has added rusty chain and a good-sized broken bone that was amazingly also acquired in the machine shop scavenge. The center of the piece is the pure black of the material, providing a polarizing and psychological dimension in relation to the subtle Conté crayon drawings of skeletal shapes on the right side. The work is beautiful, the message, unsettling.

Similarly, in the acrylic on canvas “Holes in the System,” the colors and brushstrokes are luscious and inviting, yet the yearning in the subject’s eyes is painful to witness.
He looks as if he is being squeezed by the top and bottom edges of the canvas. His pockets are turned out and empty, and metal discs flow to either side and right off the canvas to the surrounding wall space.

The discs could symbolize money or coins, and have the movement of an energy flow, outward and dissipating. The darkness surrounding him and the constricted composition evoke a desperate feeling.

There is an ominous tone to William Heath’s “Monument,” as well. The colors are cold and crisp. The machine in the photograph seems to tower over us, even though the image is of moderate size.

I get the sense that all of the artists are uncomfortable with these difficult times, and that there is an underlying tension with hints of angst to be found among the otherwise pleasing arrangements.

During World War I many writers and artists were aware of a growing discomfort with the way things were headed, and it showed in their work. Dadaism was an organized effort to throw the world’s deeds back into its face and ask “why?” thereby exposing the nonsensical nature of war and violence, and the political machinery that creates it.

Ellen Chambers’ cozy constructs in this exhibit inform me that although there are sharp differences between many of us, we are all interconnected and can find some sort of balance if we learn to work together. We just have to stop taking sides.

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 Nov. 5

  • Already Read Books in Kenai has “Collections” on display through November.
  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna has a group show on display through November.
  • Art Works in Soldotna has photography by Joe Kashi on display through November.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai has Dena’ina art and regalia on display through November.
  • Kaladi Brothers on Kobuk Street in Soldotna has artwork by Jan Wallace on display through November.
  • Kaladi Brothers on the Sterling Highway in Soldotna has art by Jan Klebba on display through November.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town Kenai has “Only Moose,” an invitational art show, on display through November.
  • The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center has a group exhibit by the Kenai Potters Guild on display through November.
  • Veronica’s coffee shop in Kenai has photographs of Veronica’s through the seasons by Joe Kashi on display through November.

First Thursday
  • Artists Without Borders in the 4D Building in Soldotna will have an opening reception for its group show from 5 to 7 p.m.
  • Already Read Books in Kenai will have an opening reception for “Collections” from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
  • The Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center will have an opening reception for the Kenai Potters Guild group exhibit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
  • Art Works in Soldotna will have an opening reception for a photography show by Joe Kashi from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • The Funky Monkey coffee shop in Kenai will have an opening reception for a Dena’ina art and regalia show from 6 to 9 p.m.
  • Veronica’s in Old Town Kenai will have open mic music from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
  • There will be a bluegrass jam at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
  • The Kenai Writers Group will meet at 6:30 p.m. in the Kenai Municipal Library conference room. Open to the public. Bring copies of your work to share.

  • The Soldotna Senior Center will hold its 12th annual juried amateur art show in conjunction with the center’s fall bazaar.
  • The Kenai Performers will stage “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at 7 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai, with Allen Auxier, Saraya Coburn, Angie Lyon, Terri Zopf-Schoessler, Dagmar Mayer, Dan Van Zee, Crockett Schipman, Andrew Gunter, Glenn Tinker, Scott Coburn, Lisa Nugent, Jamie Nelson, Donna Shirberg, Doug O’Hara, Charlotte Schipman and Sally Cassano. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for seniors and kids. The show is rated PG-13.
  • Emily Grossman will perform a recital with Maria Allison, piano accompanist, at 7 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church in Soldotna. Selections include Bach, Schubert, Bartok and Stravinsky.

  • Soldotna Senior Center juried amateur art show and fall bazaar. See Friday listing.
  • The Kenai Fine Arts Center will have an opening reception for its "Only Moose” art exhibit form 6 to 8 p.m.
  • “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at 7 p.m. at Old Town Playhouse. See Friday listing.

Nov. 14
  • Peninsula Artists in Motion will hold its third annual dance concert, with choreography by Chris Morin and Rick Langely, at 7 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. Invited guests include the Anchorage Classical Ballet Academy and Encore Dance Academy. Tickets are $10 general admission, $8 for students and seniors and free for kids 5 and under. Tickets are available at Charlotte’s and Encore Dance Academy in Kenai, River City Books in Soldotna, and at the door.

Nov. 15
  • The Kenai Performers will have a potluck and annual meeting at 2 p.m. at the Old Town Playhouse in Kenai. Topics include a review of last season and notes on upcoming opportunities for Kenai Performers, information on a capital campaign to buy a permanent home for the company, and a new proposal process for the 2009-2010 season.
  • Peninsula Artists in Motion dance concert, 7 p.m. at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School. See Nov. 14 listing.

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

Live music

  • BJ’s in Soldotna has Hobo Jim on Saturday night.
  • 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 live music by Loretta S. and J.D. Uponen on Friday night and Emily Barry on Saturday night.
  • The Maverick in Soldotna has acoustic classic rock by the Free Beer Band at 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
  • Moosequito’s in Sterling has open mic night Wednesdays and Lulu Small on Saturday night.
  • 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 and originals 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. Friday.

  • 9 p.m. Thursdays 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.

  • 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.

Where there’s a Will ... — Biologist had wild time in Alaska

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

The mystery of the naked boater guy — like many enigmas — began simply and innocently enough, and ended with a logical explanation.

As Cooper Landing’s Will Troyer relates in his latest book, “Bear Wrangler: Memoirs of an Alaska Pioneer Biologist,” the whole episode began with his desire to capture some images of Alaska wildlife with his 16 mm movie camera.

It was the early 1950s, and Troyer, fresh from Oregon State College with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife management, had recently been hired as a territorial enforcement agent in Southeast Alaska. Hoping to eventually parlay the enforcement position into a biologist job, he was based out of Wrangell and tried to spend his free time learning more about photographing his new environment. A target that intrigued him strongly was the wily mountain goat.

When a sunny summer day arrived, he started his “photographic safari” by climbing into his skiff and motoring up the Stikine River until he located a suitable access point to the high mountains. Tying off his boat to a spruce tree on the banks of Andrews Slough, he slid into his daypack and began working his way through thick alders toward a snow-filled draw that led up the mountain.

Digging the toes of his boots into the hard-packed snow, Troyer ascended steadily. Although it was “a bit slippery,” he said, “it beat fighting the alder brush and devil’s club thickets that covered most of the slope.”

Soon he was in goat country, but, much to his disappointment, he could find no goats. He searched and rested and searched some more. He placated himself somewhat by shooting pictures of alpine vistas and of slopes covered with wildflowers, and then in the middle of the afternoon, frustrated, he began his descent.

To avoid the brush and the thorns, he opted again for the snowy ravine.

“I whittled off a 6-foot alder pole with my pocketknife to aid in going down,” he said. “The snow was slick, but by sitting down, digging in my heels, and riding the alder stick, I managed to stay in control most of the time as I slid.”

Kicking up a spray of snow with his braking boots, he slid and spun downward, occasionally veering dangerously close to the alders lining the edges of the ravine. “Several times I caught myself saying, ‘Whew! That was a close one!’” he said.

“Finally, I really got out of control. I went spinning down (the ravine), and I just knew that I was going to fly into an alder and break a leg or something. But I glanced off of an alder and just got stopped before I hit a group of solid ones.”

Realizing that he was jeopardizing his health, he abandoned the ravine and beat his way through the brush to the slough. Before he reached his skiff, however, he was nearly driven crazy by swarms of mosquitoes, active and hungry now in the warming summer air.

“My shirt became covered with the dark demons that bit unmercifully,” Troyer wrote. “In desperation I ripped off all my sweaty clothes, threw them and my pack into the skiff, and dove underwater.”

The cool water soothed his itchy skin, but the mosquitoes were waiting each time he exposed any flesh to the open air. He couldn’t imagine trying to dress himself while the insects ravaged him, so he decided to get away first and then dress later. Hoisting himself over the side of the skiff, he jumped in, untied the rope, started the engine, and roared away in triumph, “naked as a jaybird.”

“I steered with one hand, batting and swatting mosquitoes with the other, until I lost most of the biting pests,” he said. Then he spotted another boat about 300 yards downriver that was moving his way.
Although the other boat was full of people, the vision of those passengers for a few moments more would be partially obscured by the high alder thickets along the banks of the slough. Troyer thought fast.

“I saw a narrow fork in the river that allowed me to veer to the right and disappear behind an island. I slowed down, quickly got dressed, and headed back to town.

“Several days later, rumors spread around Wrangell that a crazy naked guy was seen boating on the Stikine River. I smiled to myself but kept my mouth shut, and my secret was never revealed.”

This is just one short tale in one of 26 chapters of memories — some humorous, others dramatic or tragic, informative or action-packed — contained in Troyer’s third memoir, a 250-page follow-up to 2005’s “Into Brown Bear Country” and 2003’s “From Dawn to Dusk.”

Despite the “Bear Wrangler” in the title, however, this memoir only marginally concerns Troyer’s renowned work with Kodiak brown bears. One of the four bear-related chapters, “Wrangling Kodiak Bears,” is the source for the book title.

Other chapters concern more of his adventures with goats, including one time he nearly lost the sight in one of his eyes; learning how to be a game warden and a “fish cop”; the prank-filled environment between wildlife biologists and the fishery crew at Camp Island; the construction of the canoe system on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge; close encounters with birds and caribou; the “contest” between Dirty Yantzee and Dirty George; and a tribute to those who have lost their lives in the business of managing Alaska’s fish and game.

Troyer, who was raised as an “Amish/Mennonite farm boy” in Indiana, worked for 30 years for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service before retiring in 1981. He was named manager of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in 1955, at the age of 30, and became the head of the Kenai National Moose Range in 1963.

The cover of his new book, which should now be available in local bookstores, features Troyer in his early 30s in Kodiak, holding up the head of a tagged, unconscious brown bear along a salmon-heavy stream in the Karluk Lake drainage.

Spreading wings makes for turbulent teen years

By Clark Fair
Redoubt Reporter

At the beginning of the 1950s, the village of Kenai was poised on the edge of modern life. In 1948, the Alaska Road Commission had connected Kenai to the new Sterling Highway. And during the ’50s, a new school would be built, a military presence would be installed at Wildwood, the village population would double, oil would be discovered on the Swanson River field, and statehood would follow close behind.

Times were about to change, but for some of Kenai’s teenagers, like teenagers today, the changes may have seemed ponderous and slow.

Young Arlene Rheingans knew something of the world outside Kenai. In 1950, the 11-year-old Rheingans — who had spent the first nine years of her life in Hope after her parents, Ervin and Joyce, had left California in 1937 to seek their fortune mining for gold up Resurrection Creek — had read books and magazines and “Archie” comics, and she had listened intently to the stories of life Outside, stories sometimes as transient as their tellers.

But in Kenai, most of that exotic life elsewhere was simply something to dream about while making do with what one had: typically little or no electricity, little or no indoor plumbing, no telephones or televisions, no local doctor or dentist, and only about 300 other residents with whom to share this fate.

Rheingans was a loyal playmate with friends, was close to her parents, participated in school dramas and musical events, and was an active member of the Kenai Bible Chapel. Once she finished eighth grade at Kenai Territorial School, she found a best buddy in Jackie Benson, and the two of them began spending as much time together as possible. They even taught Sunday school together.

With the advent of her adolescence, however, came what Rheingans called a “mildly rebellious” streak. Some of that rebelliousness was aimed at the Kenai Chapel, which had strict prohibitions on smoking, drinking, playing cards, attending movies and wearing anything more than the lightest trace of makeup.

Rheingans began wearing some lipstick and mascara. When she and Benson had sleepovers, the two girls often crawled under the covers with a flashlight to read Max Shulman novels about the silliness and awkwardness of youth.

Then one day, on a trip to Anchorage with friends, Rheingans and Benson were left alone for a while, and they risked “surefire heck and darnation” to stop along Fourth Avenue and catch a movie —“Jumping Jacks,” starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.

Emerging from the theater 90-some minutes later, their sides aching from laughing so hard, they decided to adopt for themselves the names of the film’s main characters. Benson became “Chick,” the Dean Martin character, and Rheingans became “Hap,” the Jerry Lewis character.

“Early the next day, the (Kenai Chapel) missionary’s wife arrived at our house to read me the riot act,” said Rheingans. “Seems she had been in Anchorage the day before, walking down Fourth Avenue, when who should she see coming out of the movie theater but her two Sunday school teachers.”

Ervin and Joyce, who was the Kenai postmaster, were far from pleased. Still, the girls were not finished with their rebellion.

Hap, who went to modeling school and changed her name to Lisa Marie Graham at age 17 before beginning a 50-year marriage to Tom Augustine just prior to her 19th birthday, said that she and Chick had read somewhere that “a person could get drunk by combining aspirin with Coca-Cola.” So they decided to give that a try, especially since neither aspirin nor soft drinks were prohibited by the Kenai Chapel.

In her memoir of life in Hope and Kenai, “The Dragline Kid,” Lisa Augustine wrote: “For our daring experiment, Chick and I bought a bottle of aspirin at Kenai Commercial and headed over to Mrs. Miller’s (soda fountain), where we ordered two bottles of Coke, ensconced ourselves in the back booth and set about crushing aspirin as best we could and funneling it into the bottles.

“We sipped hesitantly at first, sure that the concoction was going to take immediate effect, then, disillusioned but still a bit apprehensive, drained the drinks just as Louisa’s husband, Freddie, approached to ask with a frown, ‘You kids aren’t up to something, are you?’

“‘Uh, no,’ we blurted, and fled, leaving behind twin bottles coated with aspirin residue.

“The experiment didn’t make us drunk, but it probably did irreparable damage to our kidneys or livers or whatever. On the bright side, I never had a headache for the rest of high school, either.”

But even such a bitter defeat didn’t apply the brakes to Chick and Hap’s string of escapades.

“I suppose we were a little preoccupied with forbidden fruits just then, because not long after that (Coke) episode, we decided to get the whole Kenai Chapel Youth Fellowship tipsy,” Hap said.

Using connections to some of the Army soldiers being stationed nearby, they procured a half pint of vodka and spiked the fruit punch at the KYF Friday-night affair. The most affected person at refreshment time, however, appeared to have been “one of the female pillars of the church, who was acting as chaperone,” according to Hap.

She was “smacking her lips and pronouncing loudly, ‘This is the best punch I’ve ever tasted!’ as she poured her third glassful.”

In 1953, the girls were exposed to even more GIs when the Wildwood Army Station was established. Soldiers regularly came from the base to attend church services and other functions, drawing the eyes of teenage girls weary of the regular male faces around Kenai. Many of the soldiers, some of whom were still teenagers themselves, began dating the village girls.

Then, in the fall of that year, after a variety of such “dates” by both girls, Chick “escaped,” Hap said. She had graduated early from high school, and left for business school in Seattle. “Hap” without “Chick” became Arlene again.

In quick succession, much to her parents’ chagrin, she began dating Walter Hotchkiss, a young soldier from Georgia who was seven years older than herself; she joined the Civil Air Patrol and became a second lieutenant; and, in June of 1955, 12 days after her 16th birthday, she became Mrs. Walter Hotchkiss.

Nine months later, Walter decided he wanted to return to Georgia, and Arlene, who was not quite 17, accompanied him. Five months later, they were no longer together.

Still, the story has a happy ending. Arlene’s faith and her strong personality overcame the limitations of her youth. She learned poise and fashion sense in modeling school, and as the wife of Tom Augustine she had two daughters; stints in modeling, secretarial and volunteer work; and a chance to live in several places around the United States.

Currently, she and Tom live in the retirement community near Sacramento, Calif. She has written a book of humorous poetry entitled “Cheer Up it could be Verse,” and she has talked about, but not committed herself to, writing a second memoir that tells the “rest of the story.”

Editorial — Increased interest should be the new politics as usual

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming... .

Well, not quite so fast. Even though the election’s over, it’ll still be awhile before the dust settles. It will probably take weeks before the last campaign sign disappears from roadsides, yards and windows, and we’ll be seeing bumper stickers for years yet to come.

Long after the physical signs of this election are gone, supporters for various candidates will still be marked by it.

It’s been a whirlwind political year, with tightly contested presidential, state and local races. And even little ol’ Alaska, usually ignored on the national scene, has taken center stage.
Gov. Palin’s bid for the vice presidency and Sen. Ted Stevens’ corruption trial focused a spotlight on Alaska, heating up what was already a hot election season.

Jockeying for control among Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives gave Alaska’s races more weight there, too. Democrats had a better chance than ever before to unseat Stevens and Young. On a national political scope, the outcomes of those races were important to both parties.

All that translated into a nearly unprecedented level of local interest and involvement in the election season. “Who are you voting for?” has unseated even the weather as the conversation topic of choice. And with winter arriving in early October, that’s saying something.

Unfortunately, along with involvement comes animosity. There have been some ugly moments this election season. A rash of campaign sign thefts and vandalism plagued some candidates’ supporters. A Kenai business owner said he had a customer call him a communist because of the campaign propaganda displayed at the store. And sign wavers on election day were met with the usual shouts of profanity and one-finger salutes.

We’re all entitled to our opinions and to express them as we see fit. But being vulgar, rude or obstinate about it doesn’t do anyone any good. It makes the aggressor look like a jerk, and causes anyone within earshot to tune out the message.

It’s unfortunate, but unavoidable, that some election fervor will turn into fanaticism, especially in an election with so much at stake. But now that the votes are cast, it’s time to put the campaigns behind us. We need to stop being just McCain or Obama supporters, Stevens or Begich fans, Young or Berkowitz voters, and remember that we’re all Alaskans, too.

The candidates are elected. They need to do their jobs, and we need to stop fighting for or against them to do so. That doesn’t mean blindly agreeing with anything they say or do, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should stop paying attention. But it does mean our neighbors are still our neighbors, even if their guy or gal didn’t get your vote.

Heightened political awareness is the best thing to come out of this election, and hopefully that level of interest and attention will continue long after the campaign signs disappear. But it should be in a manner that’s reasoned and respectful to each other, and our newly elected officials.

Let’s make that the new politics as usual.

Mosquitoes not gone for long

While we may have complained about an early cold snap this year, we certainly did not complain when the mosquitoes disappeared. But where are they now? Did the frost kill them all? And how do they reappear with the first couple warm days in the spring?

There are several dozen species of mosquitoes found in Alaska, and each of them has its own particular life cycle, although all of them are aquatic. Some prefer lakes, others ponds or various marshy habitats. Eggs are laid in the water and hatch out to become “wrigglers,” or larvae. Most of the larvae feed on algae or dead plant materials. They then form a pupa and shortly afterward emerge and become the aerial mosquitoes we love to hate.

The females usually mate and then look for a blood meal — and your arm looks like a great source of that blood. Note that only the females need a blood meal, so those buzzing around your head are all female mosquitoes.

When you and I swat at the mosquito that’s buzzing about, we probably don’t take the time to differentiate the particular species. But each species has its own approach to surviving the Alaska winters.

Many species overwinter as an egg that is laid in water during late summer or early fall. The egg remains underwater in a diapause state of inactivity until spring thaws. In the spring when water temperatures rise, the eggs hatch and the larvae feed voraciously. Within a week or so, they pupate and quickly become the aerial insects we know so well.

Another overwintering approach is for adults to find a safe hiding spot and wait out the cold of winter. Often these hiding spots are within leaf piles on the forest floor, in tree holes or under tree stumps. These areas, especially with a snow cover, provide insulation from the very coldest temperatures of winter.

An important goal for overwintering adults is to prevent ice crystal formation within their hemolymph (insect blood). First they reduce the amount of water in their hemolymph, kind of like concentrating their blood. Then they produce glycerol within the hemolymph, which acts as antifreeze. Now the adult is protected down to some pretty impressive temperatures. This activity is just like what we do to our automobile radiators each winter. However, if the temperatures around the adult fall below their protected temperature range, the adult will die. Very cold temperatures during a winter with minimal snow cover can reduce the spring population of early mosquitoes.

For overwintering adults, when the ambient temperatures rise in the spring, they are quickly able to leave the hiding place and seek out a blood meal. One particularly large Alaska mosquito uses this overwintering technique so well that it is called the “snow mosquito.” These are usually the first large mosquitoes we see flying around when there is still snow on the ground in early April.

While people are enjoying wintertime activities like skiing, snowmachining or ice fishing, beneath the snow and ice are mosquito adults or eggs, waiting for the return of warmer temperatures.

David Wartinbee, Ph.D, J.D., is a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus. He is writing a series of columns on the biology of the Kenai River watershed.