Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Heard through the headset

We're paying for the sunny spring with a jolt back to a normal summer in a temperate rain forest. The clouds add a Jurassic Park feel to the flights when there are few enough that we can provide a quality tour experience. There was one such break in the weather the other night and world headquarters hot-loaded my helicopter back to back to back.

I don't have the same spiel for each flight, mostly as a way to stave boredom and avoid becoming robotic. It would be a lot easier on the days when I don't shut down the helicopter between flights and loaders bring me group after group of passengers. I could just push play on my natural history humor mixed-tape and be off. Instead I sometimes have to ask myself if I already told this group my fun fact about super tankers or if that was two flights ago...

Anywho, I always pay attention to first timers or nervous flyers in my helicopter. I want people to have a positive experience in my machine (for lots of reasons up to and including that when at a backyard BBQ years from now when a helicopter flies over and someone complains about the noise maybe my former passenger speaks up about the wonderful memories from a flight decades ago) so I call out my turns before I make them, try to be extra smooth with my control inputs and in general make it as pleasant as possible. So at the end of the last flight of a very long day when I asked somebody's grandmother, who had told me as soon as she put on her headset that she had never been in a helicopter, "So Pauline, what did you think of your first helicopter ride?" while we waited for the blades to stop spinning so they could head back to their hotel and I could dream of murdering a beer while doing my paperwork.

"Well, I'll tell you, the helicopter was a lot nicer on my hemorrhoids than the tour bus."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Exposing the soft pink underbelly

A friend of a friend took a look at a project I've been pumping myself up to do for a few years. My pen pal pushed me to get started and so I did. Start. I thought starting would be the hard part. Getting over the idea of how incredibly arrogant it is to think that other people may be interested in one's life story was hard. Especially living in a place like Alaska where there you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a world class adventurer.

But get over it I did, because I had to or the project would never have gotten started. And completed phase one. With some help from my pen pal, I completed a book proposal. Or seven drafts of one, actually.

Phase two in the perfect world goes like this: You send out your book proposal with a query letter, an agent falls in love with the idea, negotiates a large advance, you land an artist in residence spot at the National Park of your choosing, the hardcover shoots to the top of the NY Times Bestseller List, the movie rights are sold for an obnoxious amount of money, Hollywood asks you if you'd rather have Brad Pitt or Edward Norton play you etc. etc. and you buy an island.

Phase two for me so far has gone like this: I send out the proposal to an agent. Said agent doesn't respond. Repeat.

So I enlisted the help of one Iver Arnegard. He's a friend of a friend who I met once years ago, likely eight beers into the evening. Arnegard is a professor of creative writing who recently had a collection of short stories called "Whip and Spur," published. You should check it out. It's Cormac McCarthy with punctuation.

Iver was nice enough to read through it and give me some encouraging feedback. The nuts and bolts of it was this: I need to delve deeper into the emotional bits, the failures, the lack of confidence, the vulnerabilities, the lost loves, the losses in general, the reflections on my inadequacies.

He's probably right, it'll make a better book. It'll probably make my mom cry. Hell, it'll probably make me cry. I guess that's the point.

FNG Again

I'm flying on the other side of the Chugach Mountains for the summer season. Valdez is more stunning than I had remembered. Eight-thousand foot peaks shooting right out of the sea, a proper port town and the largest tide-water glacier in Prince William Sound right next door.

It's the bottom of the totem pole for me (which is another one of the things whitey got wrong, the most important being is on the bottom so that you can look at it from eye level and the least powerful being is on the top and outta sight) this summer. That means the choice flights go to the guy that spent the winter in Valdez and that I probably won't fly the R66 cuz he needs hours in it to advance his turbine time. No biggie. I still have lots to learn about bouncing through the mountains without bouncing off them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

End of the line

I hurtled into Anchorage. I checked the clock and knew that I should stop and get rid of a cup of coffee before I showed up at the tire place to avoid dancing an uncomfortable jig while waiting in line. Alaska’s largest city is no metropolis so I wasn’t surprised to find a friend in the public restroom of the furthest south grocery store.

We shook hands, his damp from a fresh washing, and agreed to get together once more to play cards before the summer swallowed us up in its manic-ness.

I pulled into the tire changeover place fifteen minutes prior to opening. The necessary pit stop put twenty-five people in front of me. I walked past a smattering of people that make up this city on the edge of the wilderness. I few had heads down engrossed, or pretending to be, in their screens. The man at the front of the line, (when had he arrived?) leaned on his diamond willow walking stick. I noticed that it had one of those flip down ice cleats at the tip. Sweet aftermarket alteration.

I rounded the corner walking past a man wearing ear buds and talking on the phone. During our time in line he ended and started several conversations. Through body language (non-verbal communication is the college class that I use most often in the real world, or the real world in this dimension, anyway) I knew that the woman in front of him grew increasingly annoyed. Later they would approach the counter together. Was it the phone calls or an off-hand remark over breakfast that bothered her?

I took my place at the end of the line and a well-dressed young man greeted me. We chatted for a bit about how nice a day it was to wait in line. Then he leaned in and whispered, “What’s going on, is there a big sale today or something?” I smiled and welcomed him to the state. He knew nothing of studded tires and procrastination in the 49th state.

It’s wonderful how you can show up at the tire shop and see the full spectrum of Alaskans from the crusty Sourdough, who could give a brown bear a run for its money with his studded walking stick, to the fresh-faced newbie from Pennsyltucky who hasn’t slid sideways yet cursing to himself that it’s time to dig the winter tires out of the shed.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Solstice number two, 2014

A fair number of you stalked me through the first half of the year. I went underground in an attempt to shake the tail. I had a minor surgery with major blood loss. I know, I know, face injuries always bleed a frightful amount.

I attended the wedding of close friends in Colorado in August. I heard the food was good but I didn't eat as is my custom in large groups. Sometimes I fill a plate and push bits around until they disintegrate while watching others dig in like Tony Soprano on a New York Italian (sandwich, not whore). As far as wedding bands go, the rest of you knot-tiers have a much higher bar to meet. Those boyz rocked twice as much as they rolled.

The husband made me take his motorcycle for a ride as it had been neglected all summer. I re-aggravated that exposed nerve associated with why Mr. Young's proclamation hadn't been, "We're going to Oklahoma." Bee and seagull worship aside, that place is stunning (a word used too often in parts of the Southern Hemisphere).

I hopped a train in a half-assed circumnavigational attempt on the contiguous states. Couldn't bring myself to leave Boston for Florida. Next time. Those of you that haven't ridden the rails in this country have missed out on some amazing scenery and delightful conversation. Tops involved an ex-con and an Amish gentleman debating the problems with the attention span of our country's youth.

I met up with my pen pal in NYC. They're right, it's a hell of a town. Hot tourist tip: the cheapest beers in the city (unless you date a bartender) are Bud pounders on the Staten Island Ferry. And the ride is free and beautiful, you can even see Trenton, New Jersey.

I'm currently sock sorting in Wisconsin. Mokodi is the Japanese word that springs to mind. It means the same but different. The same is grading skins is grading skins the world over. The different is no crashing rental cars or partying with movie-star midgets.

Whether you celebrate this time of year by lighting candles, sacrificing goats, or humans, I extend a hearty, "What up?" to you and yours.



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

World Cup, Whirled Peas?

I agree with Chuck Klosterman and his assessment of the beautiful game's popularity in the United States. The kids destined to be picked last love soccer because all they have to do is run back and forth to participate. There's no need to get anywhere near the ball to look like you are pivotal to the match. Kids get their pictures in the yearbook and then never have to think about sports again.

Most athletic American kids still choose ball sports where you actually have to touch the ball or individual sports that require you to directly compete. Maybe in a generation or two that will change. The fact is that the USA sends its fourth-tier(fifth maybe if you count hockey) athletes to the World Cup.

I've been asking everyone who's going to win the World Cup. I spent a bunch of time in Jo-burg while waiting for the heli to get out of the doctor's office and was often the only "English" guest in the hotel. The most interesting thing I heard(and I heard it many times) was that Africa needs a continent-wide team to field for the World Cup. I pointed out that football is the least expensive sport, a village only needs one ball and it's the one sport aside from running that Africans could/should be able to compete at a world level and was consistently met with disbelief in my inability to feel sorry for Africans.

Has the world ruined Africa's ability to help itself after years of handouts? I don't know, but I do know that if Argentina knocks Belgium out, conversations at Gentse Feesten on the last day(called the "Day of empty pockets," when all the beer prices are cut in half) will not be about how Europe needs one team for the World Cup. Europeans would riot if Spain and Germany had to play for Greece or France in an all-Euro team. And the rest of the football world would riot, too. But I bet very few would say boo if an all-Africa team were proposed.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Is there a doctor in the house?

In the house of pancakes? That's a question Dean Warham once asked. I bet no one has ever asked, "Is there a mink farmer's son in the house?" People with mongoose problems don't know enough to ask.

The grandkids hung downstairs after Grandpa's funeral when my brother asked, "Do you guys want to go see a bear den?" We had found it while rabbit hunting. The cousins were up for it, so Kyle and I took them to look at a sleeping black bear. Several of us touched it, just cuz when do you get a chance to poke a wild bear, right? Right.

The second wild animal I touched was a mink. We were about to put inner tubes in the Pestigo River for a float when I saw a mink scurrying away from us. I gave chase. It was a magical moment of perfect coordination, running across wet rocks with a sweet bend and grab. I got it by the tail and as I picked it up, it occurred to me that if I didn't let it go I'd get bitten. My friends sufficiently awed, I released the beast. More interesting living through chemicals.

A late afternoon freight haul meant I had to overnight at a different camp. I dig the change of scene, personnel, and menu. My first flight yesterday wasn't until later in the morning so I was on aggressive standby. That particular camp serves employee breakfast right after the morning meeting so that's where I was chilling with coffee. The camp manager efficiently checked in with every department and when finished said, "Okay, what about the mongoose?"

Mongoose? What about them? You know those rings that stay on the milk jug after you twist open the jug? Well, a mongoose somehow managed to get one around its neck. A truly banded banded mongoose. The crew had been trying to catch the creature for some days to remove the band before it began to starve the animal White Fang style.

Tossed towels did as well as the box propped up with a stick on a string. They caught the animal a time or two but had no plan for holding the animal to cut the band off. Hell yeah, nightstops rock.

That day's plan held promise. They put a folding table on its side and draped two corners of a mosquito net over the table. The other corners they attached to fishing line and rods. Eggs thrown in the middle of the mossy net served as bait. I watched with interest, not announcing my skill set, not yet.

It worked too well. When they sprung the trap they had more than a dozen devils writhing around. The air was filled with ohmygods and holyshits. "Do you have any leather gloves?" I asked the manager after they lowered the fishing rods and let the mongoose(geese?) escape.

They didn't but they did manage to find some thick vinyl dish washing gloves. I donned the gloves and waited. What are they biting on? Eggs, mongoose love 'em so much that less than ten minutes after being netted, two snuck and sniffed toward the re-baited trap. One of the two was our target. "Now!(and I rarely use !'s, but this one is warranted)"yelled the manager. Hooks set, two mongoose in the net.

The manager had to show bravery in front of his staff, he stepped in and closed the top of the blue net. I grabbed a mongoose tail with each of my paws. It took a while to ascertain which mongoose was our huckleberry because the band was the same color as the net and the mongooses weren't interested in holding still.

I saw that the one in my right hand was our man. The manager made a silt in the net near the mongoose in my left hand. Half a second later its head was through the hole, I yelled, "Clear," the onlookers parted like the Red Sea and I let go. It shot away grabbing for traction long before it hit the ground. I turned my attention toward securing the head so we could get at its bling.

The mongoose let out a frightful howl, much bigger than one would think a creature of that size capable of bellowing. It's a last ditch defensive mechanism to make a predator pause in shock to facilitate escape. No dice, I wasn't letting go. The manager removed said item with a scissors, I let go, and boy, did it go. The most interesting Thursday I've had in a while.