Moving On

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I’m not going to be posting at this blog for a while. I will continue to write, though. If you want to follow my thinking out loud, please click this link and subscribe.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope to see you in the new digs.

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Moose sightings

Moose are of course not exclusive to Alaska, but they are a well known part of the landscape and somehow a visit doesn’t seem complete without a few moose sightings. Although I missed photographing the mama moose and her calves in Anchorage, I had a few more chances in the following days.

Entering Denali Park the afternoon before our bus trip we encountered two calves grazing at the intersection. 

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We hope the mom was around somewhere. The calves seemed pretty calm so she may have been in the bushes.

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Denali National Park

No first trip to Alaska is complete without a visit to Denali. Seeing the mountain (if it lets you and doesn’t shroud itself in clouds) and visiting the park are both unforgettable experiences. On my first trip well over a decade ago the day was misty and rainy so I don’t remember all the topography but I definitely remember the bears. We saw two and they were huge.

For the most part private cars aren’t allowed beyond the first fifteen miles, so the most common way to travel inside the park is on the buses. You can take a bus about 70 miles in, which takes eight hours round trip. And did I mention these are school buses? Made by Blue Bird and everything. You will feel 12 again.

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But it’s well worth the time and discomfort. We saw amazing scenery, including Mt. Denali itself, taiga and tundra landscapes, glacial rivers, and boreal forests. And of course animals. We started small, with a Ptarmigan. This is a mama giving us the evil eye. She had just hustled her chicks into the brush.

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Alaska roadhouse food

Everything in Alaska is big, including the breakfasts. However, these pancakes, which were advertised on the menu as a “small stack,” are the biggest I’ve ever seen.

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The quarter is there for perspective. It was delicious.

This was not a famous place or anything, just an unassuming café attached to a gas station at the intersection of the Denali and Parks highways, in the hamlet of Cantwell. The Denali National Park entrance is 27 miles to the north.

Denali photos to come.

Moderately tiny house

The tiny house boom has made it to Alaska. Not that they weren’t there before; there are a lot of small one-room fishing and hunting cabins, and RVS are ubiquitous. But now people build houses with the tiny house designation in mind.

All of us on this trip have watched some of the tiny house shows, so when we got to our Talkeetn lodging, which was called “Little Cabin in the Woods,” we all exclaimed upon seeing it, “tiny house!”

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We even went to the trouble of measuring it. At 750 square feet or so it wasn’t really a tiny house, but with 6 people it felt quite tiny at times. But it was very nicely designed, with a full bath and kitchen as well as a sleeping loft.

TheHusband and I sometimes talk about having a cabin and Alaska is a great place to get a sense of the range.

Talkeetna Day 2

Day 2 involved a float trip on the Talkeetna River, paddling about 6 miles before we ended up where it joins the larger Susitna (at the point where I took the picture in the previous post). We saw lots of nature!

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This is a beaver dam. There are lots of beavers and lots of trees, so the former have their pick of the latter. You’ll see trees on the banks where beavers have chewed halfway through the trunks and then abandoned them. They prefer the cottonwoods.

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A merganser duck, sitting on a log in the river until we came too close. Then it gave us a dirty look and paddled away.

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A bald eagle visible in the distance. They nest here, presumably for the fishing opportunities the confluence provides (the Chulitna joins the Susitna as well, just above where we were floating).

No bears. They don’t show up in force until the salmon run really gets going next month.

Talkeetna Day 1

Talkeetna is a quaint town that grows from hundreds to thousands of inhabitants during the summer. It’s best known as a staging area for Denali climbs, but there are also great fishing, hiking, and river activities.

And oh yes, the views. The view from the Talkeetna Spur Road just before you get to town:

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Denali on the right, Mts. Hunter and Foraker somewhat obscured by clouds to its left. Usually it’s the other way around.

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The mountains in the background, above the Susitna River.

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Cow parsnip in the massive fern forest along the banks of the river. It’s everywhere right now.

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The fireweed is starting to bloom too.

Oh, and we saw a moose, but no photos this time. He was a relatively friendly moose. We also saw a moose cow and her two young calves while out on a run, but we gave her a wide berth. Mama mooses are deeply suspicious of humans and you don’t want to get trampled when she decides you’re a threat to her babies.

New Year

I wanted to write down my New Year’s goals somewhere public, so that I could go back to them down the road and feel bad about all the things I didn’t get done.

Wait, that sounds defeatist. Let’s try again.

I wanted to write down my New Year’s goals somewhere public, so that I could refer to them through the year and encourage myself when I’m starting to fall off the wagon.

Much better!

In no particular order:

Internet less. Everyone says this, of course, and we all mean it sincerely, with good reason. Online reading and surfing and social media are not the same as reading a book or magazine. They’re more like binge-watching TV, where your senses are bombarded without your cognitive capacities being used in a way that refreshes them. But following through on this goal is the hard part. So I’ve started writing down in my daily planner the times I spend too much time on the Internet. That’s what I call it: Too Much Internet. I write the words in red pen and I block out the hours I’ve spent. I’m hoping that logging my behavior will help me see it more clearly and make changes.

Read attentively. I started to type “read more,” but that doesn’t quite capture what I mean. I’ve written up my 2016 goals and challenges over at Booklikes, where I keep track of my reading. In 2015 I read more SFF and more general/lit fic than I had for a few years, and I really enjoyed that. Right now I’m reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which is accessible but which isn’t a book I can read in a weekend. I read it, set it aside, and then come back to it. I’m still reading romance and mysteries, but I want to read more books that are outside my comfort zone.

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Race, Identity and Identification

The discovery that the head of the Spokane, WA chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal, has been claiming an African-American identity for the past decade despite having white parents and being raised as a European-American white female has been dominating online news and social media for the last couple of days. In the process, race, ethnicity, and identity have been mashed together in ways that make sociologists and other social scientists who study the topics cringe. Repeatedly.

I’m not much interested in contributing to the many, many thinkpieces on the person, her motivations, and What It All Really Means. But I research, teach, and write about ethnicity and race, I’ve been contributing to this literature since graduate school, and I’ve spent a lot of time parsing the differences between various social categories and constructs. So I’m going to write about that.

Let’s get one obvious issue out of the way. Race and ethnicity are both socially constructed. But they aren’t constructed the same way, or according to the same criteria. And they don’t operate the same way in social practice. Although race is subjective in terms of how categories are constructed and in terms of the assignment of those “racial” categories to individuals and groups, it is measured objectively. Whether or not you are of a given race is entirely dependent on whether it is found in your genetic makeup (though a direct ancestor; DNA attribution is much more recent).

Ethnicity, on the other hand, is a combination of genetic makeup (your ancestry) and social practice. A black person raised by white people in an all-white setting will be identified as black by most Americans (they won’t necessarily be considered “culturally” black, but that’s a separate issue). A person born to Italian-American parents but raised by Swedish-American parents in northern Minnesota will be accepted as having Italian ancestry, but she will almost certainly be treated as culturally Swedish-American by most people.

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