Hole in the Clouds

Tag: Alaska

I can see Russia

Nov 6, 2009

During last year's Republican convention, when Sarah Palin was first introduced to the world outside Alaska, many Americans in the lower forty-eight or forty-nine began to google her name obsessively, desperate to find out who on earth she was. Political bloggers in Alaska rose to the challenge, and some of them developed loyal followings from far outside Alaska, even after Sarah Palin stepped offstage and went off tiptoeing through the tulips.

Among the best and most successful of the Alaska bloggers is a woman who calls herself Mudflats. Grateful readers of her work--Mudpuppies--recently presented her with a handmade quilt celebrating the world she has written about online. Each quilt square is centered on a pair of boots, the better for traipsing through the muck of politics. This "I can see Russia from my airspace!" square memorializes one of Palin's more notorious stupidities from the 2008 campaign.

Mudflats continue to blog, bringing humor and enthusiasm to discussions of life in Alaska and politics in Washington or wherever. She speaks up especially for the downtrodden, for people we tend to overlook or shove aside, perhaps because they live in villages at the furthest extremes of the Alaskan bush, where nobody but Mudflats bothers to see the tough times in their airspace.

Russia   Sarah Palin   Alaska   (Image credit: Mudflats)  

The professor and the monk

Dec 11, 2009

Geology professor Harold Stowell from the University of Alabama recently taught a workshop in Beijing and then caught a train on the new railroad connecting China and Tibet. After a ride lasting forty-eight hours along the highest train tracks in the world, he got off near this monastery, where he says a monk approached him and asked to have this picture taken.

Dr. Stowell , who was my master's adviser at Alabama, started out in geology the old-fashioned way, prospecting for gold and uranium in Alaska. One summer, he found a nice gold mine in a spectacularly beautiful setting at the mouth of a fjord in southeast Alaska. He showed the mining company just where they should come in and tear up the mountain, scarring a pristine landscape and leaching poisons into the fjord. They would have to start by building a road two thousand feet up the mountain to access the best approach to the gold. But in that part of Alaska, land at two thousand feet above sea level is buried in snow and ice almost the entire year. The company decided that a mine so high up would be uneconomical, and Dr. Stowell recalls that he expected to feel disappointed but actually felt tremendously relieved. The place wouldn't be ruined after all.

His latest research projects involve fieldwork in Doubtful Sound and Secretary Island, New Zealand, where he is trying to figure out "the relationship between partial melting, garnet growth, and strain during late stage extension of the lower crust." I would have to agree with him that not enough is known about that stuff, even though it won't help anyone find more gold or platinum or oil or anything else useful.

Harold Stowell   Alaska   Tibet  

The new fence

May 31, 2010


When Sarah Palin discovered that the house next door to her lakeside mansion in Wasilla had been rented to writer Joe McGinniss--an investigative journalist working on a book about Alaska that was unlikely to be sympathetic to her world view--she quickly put up a tall fence to block off his side windows.

"Wonder what kind of material he'll gather," mused Palin, "while overlooking Piper's bedroom, my little garden, and the family's swimming hole?"

The family's swimming hole? Um. That swimming hole is a 360-acre lake with a Best Western motel, at least four paved ramps to accommodate boat trailers, and umpteen float-plane docks. 

I can understand how she feels. I wouldn't want my next-door neighbor to be writing a book about how stupid I am. But if he were, I think I'd probably try to be nice. It wouldn't work, I'm sure, and he'd go right ahead and write his book pointing out all my stupidities. If I'd been nice to him, however, I could lick my wounds afterwards by telling myself: What a jerk. I went out of my way to be nice, and look what he did.

By accusing McGinniss essentially of stalking her, of spending his days waiting for a glimpse of Sarah in her bathing suit and standing at his window staring at her little girl in her bedroom, Palin is . . . well, it works for her.


Sarah Palin   Alaska   Joe McGinniss   Wasilla  

Bad Photo of a Good Cabbage

Jun 23, 2012

This picture needs something to suggest the scale of what we're looking at in the University of Alaska botanical garden in Fairbanks. The person in the background isn't really close enough to the cabbage that's the center of attention here. But perhaps, if you know about those Alaska cabbages that top out at 50 or 100 pounds or suchlike, inspired by sunshine 24 hours a day, then you can freely imagine the scale and be appropriately impressed. (Hint: Think Little Shop of Horrors.)

landscape   garden   summer   Alaska   Fairbanks  

Bigger Bird

Mar 28, 2014

The Dreamlifter, world's largest cargo plane, stops off regularly in Anchorage, Alaska, en route from parts suppliers in Japan to a Boeing aircraft assembly plant in Everett, Washington.

Some of the parts that travel by Dreamlifter are large modular sections of Boeing 787 jetliners, known as Dreamliners. The sub-assemblies, much too large for other cargo planes, used to be transported by ship, which could take thirty days or more and sometimes led to delays in final assembly.

In 2005, four 747 passenger planes were remodeled to fly as cargo planes carrying the sub-assemblies, which are loaded through a wide hatch at the stern. Other cargo planes can carry more weight, but none can match the four puffed-up Dreamlifters for sheer volume of storage space.

landscape   mountains   Alaska   winter   airplane   Anchorage   747   Dreamlifter   787   Boeing   (Image credit: nikonmojo)  

Two Polar Bear Trousers and Three Towels

Jan 1, 2018

New year or no new year, new Mondays are always in our face.

From 1995 to 2002, Finnish photographer Tiina Itkonen chronicled life in an Inughuit village in the highlands of extreme northern Greenland. The Inughuit are our planet's northernmost residents.

Another photo from Itkonen's Inughuit Portraits series shows a smaller pair of those polar bear trousers on the legs of a young boy named Masaitsiaq. Low on the wall behind Masaitsiaq are six sharp knives mounted on a magnet. Inughuit babies and toddlers must develop caution and common sense at a much earlier age than the children we know.

Alaska   clothesline   Monday   (Imag credit: Tiina Itkonen)