The year end news comes to you from balmy Bethel, where winter has barely appeared even as the dog racing season got underway. Open water on the Kuskokwim River has driven most teams to train on overland trails, and those trails can be hard to reach for some racers. Already there have been two drownings, and there are open holes all up and down the river. No where is the lack of cold weather more obvious than in the mountain lakes near the Angstman cabin. This photo from the lake nearest to Dillingham in the last week of December is shocking. Old timers there say no one has ever taken a boat up the chain of lakes in January, but it sounds like some are thinking about it now. Alaska has experienced far greater warming than the rest of the US, and it is changing the way people live.
No one has reported the status of Chauekuktuli Lake, where the Angstman cabin is located, but it is almost certainly open. It is around 800 feet deep and subject to some big waves at times so always freezes late even when it is cold. This could be the year it doesn't freeze at all. Speaking of the cabin, readers here have heard about its remote location, but recently the Anchorage paper ran a story about the most remote spot in America, based on some standard criteria. This expanded map shows where the cabin fits in this discussion. The additional hand drawn mark is the Angstman cabin, which is only slightly closer to the nearest village than the most remote spot, around 55 miles, which is also the nearest road or trail. So the cabin is in the top few most remote locations in the nation. That fact was driven home this past summer when visitors from the nearest lodge(15 miles) stopped by for a visit. Some crew members from Tikchik Narrows lodge stopped by in a boat on their day off. It was a nice day so they sat on the deck for a while, and one of them remarked he hated to leave because of the solitude. When asked what he meant, he explained that a large generator runs 24 hours a day at the lodge to supply the numerous staff and guests, and there are steady comings and goings by plane or boat, which indeed makes the cabin seem extra quiet.
A photo last month of a coyote on the farm munching on a deer carcass prompted an online discussion where some advocated for the extermination of coyotes, along with wolves and other predators. Leave more game for humans was their point. That's not an argument that will gain much traction at ALO, where Mother Nature comes first. Humans have done their best to harm the natural environment to the point where we have fouled our water, air and soil, and depleted animal life worldwide. A few clever critters have adapted to humans, and coyotes are among them. There are more now than ever, and one of the reasons is the elimination of wolves in most of the world. Coyotes and wolves don't get along, and they have similar habits. Some scientists suggest that when humans reach the end of their stay on earth, there's a good chance that coyotes will among the survivors chewing on their bones.
A good example of the human approach to nature was on display in the Bethel area over Christmas. Bethel sits at the very western edge of the North American tree line, and a small grove of spruce grows in the slough right on the edge of town, out the front window of ALO. Those trees have only been present for a couple hundred years and grow very slowly. Every year a number of lazy Bethel folks choose to harvest their Christmas tree from that small grove. The trees themselves are hardly worth cutting because they are so spindly, but this year seven newly cut trees were spotted right near ALO. One was a large tree that was cut off at the base, and then the very top was removed leaving the rest wasted. This is the same approach to nature that causes folks to shoot introduced bison and muskox illegally near town, as well as last year's cow and calf moose and whale massacre. The notion that anything living is fair game for the next person that happens by is simply the wrong approach to life.
A better approach is displayed by former Minnesota guy and champion musher Brent Sass. Brent shares a passion for trail cams that allows a person to find out what the neighbors are up to without harming them. These shots from a spot near his remote dog operation north of Fairbanks are outstanding, and qualify as this month's mandatory moose plus. Here are some more shots of critters from the same location.
When mushing, Brent uses dog foot protection from an outfit called dogbooties.com which is part of a Bethel mushing story worth sharing here. A village policeman from the Bethel area was interested in ordering some booties for his dog team, and heard from a fellow musher that they could be ordered online from dogbooties.com. Armed with that information the policeman went to his computer a few days later to make his order. Unfortunately, he forgot part of the name so plugged in booties.com instead. What came up on his screen was clearly not designed as dog foot protection. At the time, the policeman was on his work computer, so he had to inform his employer about the reason his computer was used for unapproved adult web surfing. One suspects the employer was understanding, as least until it was learned that the cop spent 20 minutes on the site.
December marked the 10th wedding anniversary for McKenzie Frye and her husband Jeremiah. These two photos from her table dance at that wedding were posted on Facebook, and brought to mind Kenzie's youth when she played on a coed softball team in her preteen years. She was never shy. One time she was the catcher and caught a hard foul ball that bounced off the ground and hit a sensitive area. Never missing a beat, Kenzie announced loudly "Good thing I'm not a boy."
Kenzie's Uncle Eddie Hoffman was honored with Chief Eddie Day in December, an annual tribute to his time as traditional Chief in Bethel. Eddie was a regular visitor at ALO, sometimes as a client and often as an entertainer. He would expound on the topic of the day, and occasionally it was acutally possible to understand what he was trying to say. One time he brought a state official by, apparently to berate him in front of a lawyer to make it more official. After a loud monologue in the office, Eddie walked into the reception area on his way out and announced to those present, who clearly heard every word he shouted in the back room, "That just shows when we start something, we don't finish it."
Another Hoffman relative shows up in this Christmas photo. Colin is the little guy at Santa's feet, and seems unimpressed. Here's the story. Bev Hoffman leaned on a local lawyer and dog musher to bring a dog team to the day care center and hand out candy a long time ago. The event was a disaster. Old Santa got something in his eye before leaving home, and had a terrible dog run through town to the daycare. Perhaps, just perhaps, the person selected to be Santa had the incorrect state of mind when greeting the youngsters. Colin and the rest of the kids survived, and Santa went on to win the Kuskokwim 300 on the street right in front of the daycare building a while later.
The most notable December legal news involved an oral argument in front of the Alaska Supreme Court in a case appealed by All State insurance from a verdict about a year ago. That case, the largest verdict in Bethel history, is in its 14th year, and ALO is ready for a final result.
Finally, a thought about donations. Many folks donate money and time during the holiday season, and ALO tries to keep that up all year. Basketball coach Greg Popovich was asked recently why he donates money. His answer pretty well sums it up. "Because we are rich as hell and we don't need it all, and other people need it. And you are an ass if you don't give it. Pretty simple."
Now Popovich is richer than most because of his years in the NBA, but his thought should apply to anyone with a little extra cash. Don't be an ass.