Pain; or why I should probably learn to say no occasionally

I haven’t been posting here much lately, but it isn’t because I haven’t been writing anything.  In fact, I’ve been doing almost nothing but write, and my carpal tunnel has been acting up so badly that I’ve pretty much been trying to rest my hands.  Over the past year, I’ve  gotten  invitations to contribute papers to several interesting volumes.  I’ve sent in various abstracts for papers at meetings, some of which led on to proposed volumes.  Then I actually submitted abstracts to a couple of proposed volumes I heard about from my husband or various listservs.  All of them had deadlines well in the future, and I didn’t expect all of them to be of interest to the editors anyway.

But no one turned any of the abstracts down, and I had a more successful field season than expected, which lead to the RAPID proposal to NSF to salvage the Ipiutak structure, which took time to organize and execute.  Then the person in the parka turned out to have more than a parka, which meant more time for documenting things.  So now I have a bunch (by bunch I mean 6) of papers due by mid-January, along with a review, a short presentation for a meeting next week (which the organizers just asked be emailed to them by Thursday, a week before the talk!), travel for that meeting and another one, both in some way connected to developing repositories that are responsive to communities of origin, a proposal, Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping and travel to and from New York State for Christmas!  Yikes!  What in the name of caution was I thinking?

I don’t have much trouble doing papers for meetings.  I tried to avoid the cognitive traps of PowerPoint (Tufte 1993), and use lots of pictures, and I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Toastmasters, so I can get up and talk.  This is not a surprise to those who know me :-).

I can even write (via keyboard or voice recognition) fairly quickly, thanks to Freshman English at Bryn Mawr College.  Having to have x pages handed in by 9AM Monday morning come hell or high water concentrates the mind wonderfully.  However, actual papers, with proper references, formatted as required by the particular journal or publisher, take a bit more time.  I’ve got one paper submitted, four in various stages of writing (one of which the research for is continuing but almost done), and will start the talk for the meeting tomorrow.  My hands and wrists hurt a lot.  So does my head, now that I think about it.

Time at the Range

As part of my job I manage a project which operates a North Slope climate monitoring site for Sandia National Laboratory. It can involve shotguns (although I don’t normally act as a bear guard), so every year we need to requalify. Long story, but we go to Fairbanks to do it, so that’s where I am.


We use the range on South Cushman, where we have to do two runs with a moving bear target on a sled. It doesn’t count if you don’t get enough shots in vital spots on the bear to stop it before it would get you (assuming it was an actual bear).


Afterwards, we clean the guns before they get shipped to Barrow. The bore snake, pictured below, is an awesome invention, which I wish someone had thought of when I was a kid. The seemed to be a new sort of solvent, which seems to work well, but it doesn’t smell like the old stuff. Cleaning guns & the smell of solvent always brings back memories of my dad & Farfar ( his dad) when I was really little. Farfar came over visiting from Denmark, and they went hunting a lot, which meant lots of gun cleaning. One of the first words I said was apparently gun (only I apparently pronounced it “guck”).

In the small world department, it turns out that one of the project scientists from Fairbanks has been reading this blog for a while. She only just put together that I was the Anne on the weekly project calls!


Trip to Wainwright–Maudheim?

When I got the information from the AHRS files, one of the two sites listed was Maudheim.  I recognized the name, but had connected it with a Norwegian-British-Swedish station in Antarctica.  Obviously that wasn’t it.  It turned out the Maudheim near Wainwright was a station that had been built by Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian explorer, in 1921 or 22 in connection with his planned flight over the North Pole.  It was meant as an overwintering base, although it seems that Amundsen actually spent the winter in Nome, leaving his pilot Oskar Omdal to take care of Maudheim and the plane.

After the expedition was over, Maudheim was apparently acquired by the Midnight Sun Trading Company, which seems to have dealt in coal from small mines near Wainwright as well as other standard items.  There may have been some additions to the building.  Although the trading post seems to have gone out of business quite some time ago, the building survived for many years.  According to Tim, he was told it was torn down a few years ago since it was not being maintained (no real owner) and people in Wainwright were afraid it was becoming a hazard for kids.

Footprint of a building, probably Maudheim.
Ice cellar near Maudheim site.


Further adventures

I have been majorly busy since the last post.  I had two days to get a RAPID proposal in to NSF for funds to salvage the remaining portion of the Ipiutak structure.

The Ipiutak structure excavation and the sea

I was scheduled to go to Cape Espenberg to take part in a project there under the direction of John Hoffecker of INSTAAR, and had to get on a plane on July 28.   I wasn’t due back in Barrow until August 13th, and NSF had to process all grants before then, so if the proposal didn’t get in then, they wouldn’t be able to get the money out if it was successful.  Since the house could go in a storm, I spent 2 days writing & submitting the proposal, threw my stuff in a dry bag & my day pack and left for Cape Espenberg.

I had a great time there, with interesting archaeology, which will be a post for another day.  From Cape Espenberg, I flew to Kotzebue and then on to Point Hope for the North Slope Borough Elders/Youth Conference.  It was a great conference, and I had a great time, despite finding out that the workshop I thought I was giving was actually a talk to the entire conference (which I had no PowerPoint for).  Another post for another day.  While there, I found out that the RAPID was successful.

I got back to Barrow after some weather and plane repair delays, to find that the surveyors who I was supposed to work with had done their thing and left town.  I’ve been extracting info from them and trying to get that survey set up, since the report needs to get done, the helicopter needs to head south & I have a 4-day  trip to New York State scheduled on the 25th.  Meanwhile, it turns out that most if not all of the heavy equipment in Barrow is either committed to a job or broken, so we’re having trouble getting a bulldozer to move the 100 yards of gravel piled on top of the rest of the Ipiutak structure.

If that’s not enough, a human skull was found in Wainwright by surveyors (actually the same surveyors) who were doing preliminary work for a possible road project.  The client decided that it would be a good idea to get an archaeologist to come down and see if the skull was an isolated find or if there might be more, and give them suggestions for how to proceed with the road design, as well as make sure the proper reports and documentation were done.  I leave for Wainwright tomorrow afternoon, and hope to be back Friday night, weather permitting.

On top of that, there’s a teleconference & a meeting in the morning.  I just finished an interview with Pat Yack of Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN), who won a ticket to anywhere ERA flies and used it to come to Barrow.   It was quite enjoyable, since he’d done some homework, and asked intelligent questions.  Turns out he’s next-door neighbors with Max Brewer, the long-time NARL science director who lived in the house we now live in.  Small world.

Pat Yack, APRN, at work in the Nuvuk lab
Pat Yack, APRN, at work in the Nuvuk lab

A new crew

Once again, I have been spending time choosing the crew for the summer season at Nuvuk.  There are a lot of factors that go into the choice, as I explained last year.  Once again, I think (hope) I’ve got a good group.  Most of the high school students have worked on the project for some time, some for several years.  We’ve got one who has been working in the lab for months, and a couple who are totally new.  We start orientation on June 13th.

One of the NSF-funded folks was actually on the crew in 2009.  Dr. Tom Besom was going to be in Kamchatka this summer, but the project sort of fell through, so he’s coming back to Nuvuk.  A good thing, since he is fluent in Spanish (his primary research specialty is Andean mummies) and will be a big help with making sure the Mexican students from the Mexican-American Exchange project who will be joining us get clear explanations and translations.  Krysta Terry was also going to return, but her father has a serious health problem, so she can’t take off for the Arctic.  Even though we have jet service twice daily and three times on Thursdays and Saturdays, it can take a couple of days to get to most place that aren’t on the West Coast; more than that if the planes are fully booked with tourists or the weather is foggy.

I’ve still got to do the final update of the memo we’ve developed for new crew on what and what not to bring (no flashlights), and send that out.  Now the fun of trying to book cheap, yet not horrendous travel for five people to Barrow…

Heading home

I’m in the Anchorage airport waiting for a plane to fly back to Barrow. I’m coming back from a very interesting meeting in Tromsø, Norway, dealing with threats to the Polar archaeological heritage. More on that later.

I stopped in Anchorage for the weekend to check out a friend’s library for some literature on the NW Arctic and Seward Peninsula for an article I am writing. Found a bunch of good stuff, which he’ll drop off at a copy shop that does a lot of work for lawyers. Way cheaper than Kinko’s, and they can make PDFs, so we’ll both end up with electronic copies, which are pretty nice for the field.

A Meeting in Abisko

I’m at the Abisko Naturvetenskapliga Station (Scientific Research Station) in northern Sweden.  There is a meeting here of scientists and station managers who are involved either directly (or indirectly in the case of non-EU participants) in a project called INTERACT which is about building research & monitoring infrastructure for arctic research.  I’ve come along since my husband is here representing the Barrow Environmental Observatory, and we are both giving papers at a meeting in Munich after this.

It was quite the trip to get here, but the station is very nice, and it looks like it will be quite an interesting meeting.

Finally, some snow! And birds at the feeder…

The Town of Ballston, where my mother lives, has been fairly lucky as far as snow this winter.  They’ve gotten some, but haven’t really been hammered.  As a result, it was a white Christmas, but only just, and the snow was getting a bit worn-looking.  The storm that has been creating havoc in the eastern US for several days was expected to miss entirely, but by Christmas it was tracking close to the coast, and so we did get some after Christmas snow.  It was a pretty decent nor’easter along the coast, but we just got outer snow bands, for a total of about 5-6″ overnight.  The trees were all snow-covered, and the bare patches and dirty spots disappeared, making everything clean & bright and new when I went out to get the paper (Paper delivery!  Something we don’t have in Barrow.  We can’t even get paper sent to the stores, apparently.  And the newspapers wonder why readership is declining…).  It’s hard not to feel optimistic when one goes out after a snow storm is over.  The winds weren’t too bad here, although we did get enough gusts to take much of the snow off the evergreens over the course of the day.

The other thing was that the snow covered many of the plants, so the seed eating birds were looking for something else, and found the seed bell we’d gotten them for Christmas.  We had a pair of cardinals, juncos, a blue jay, and tufted titmice and chickadees.  Only the latter two stuck around until I got my camera out.

Action at the seed bell.
Tufted titmouse.

As far as I could see, there were no deformed bills in the bunch, unlike the situation in Alaska, where they are becoming alarmingly frequent.

Picking up the rental car–more exciting than you might expect

I was scheduled to pick up a rental car on Thursday.  My brother drove us to Enterprise (who had the cheapest long-term 4WD rates around) to get the car.  Seems like a simple thing….but not so much.

First, we were heading up Middle Line (or Middleline, depending on which sign you want to agree with on the subject of spelling), just getting ready to turn right onto Geyser Road to head to Saratoga.  My brother had stopped at the stop sign, and a fellow in a pick-up who had the right-of-way started through the intersection.  Some dude heading south on Middle Line blew through the stop sign and T-boned him, sending him spinning towards us.  He wound up doing a 450+, parts flying everywhere, but didn’t actually hit us.  So we pulled over (on top of one of the truck’s running boards, as it turns out), made sure everyone was alive & not bleeding and called 911.  I actually pulled my phone out to call and answered an incoming call from my hairdresser, who I promptly hung up on.


My brother's Ford with the front tire on the Toyota's running board.
A bit later, with fire police directing traffic. Stuff from the Toyota flew all the way into the snow to the right of the tan Ford!

The fellow in the pickup was fine, having luckily noticed the other guy at the last second, and floored it, so he got hit more on the bed than right on his door.  The other guy was limping, although he kept saying it was a soccer injury.  He was pretty shaken up, convinced his airbag hadn’t gone off (which it had), and generally freaked out.  We had a bit of trouble getting him to sit down and stay put until EMS arrived.


His car was pretty messed up.  The windshield was impacted pretty hard on the passenger side, which was odd given that he didn’t have a passenger or any head cuts and was holding his chest like he’d hit the airbag & wheel.  Apparently, the starring was from the unrestrained GPS in the front passenger seat. There’s a lesson in that for all you kids out there…


Unfortunate result of using an electronic device while driving...

After the sheriff had statements, we were back on our way to the Enterprise in Saratoga.  We arrived to find cars in the lot, but fortunately my brother didn’t leave, because there was also a small sign on the door saying they had relocated the previous day, a fact which the woman who took my reservation on Monday had neglected to mention!


We drove halfway back to Ballston, and located the new offices in a closed car dealership.  They were getting the wiring for the alarm system installed on the door, so that every time anyone went in or out the tech had to get down and move his ladder.  And one goes in and out a lot when renting from Enterprise…

So we got the Sorrento or equivalent I rented (AWD is a good thing in winter with my mom’s long twisty hilly drive) and set off.  Almost immediately a low tire pressure light came on, so we went back.  They didn’t have air yet, so we caravaned to a nearby Stewart’s Ice Cream, where they did have an air pump.  The Enterprise guy said it was just low because it had gotten colder (which it pretty much hadn’t for the several days before and anyway, we were talking 18F, not -30F) but said he’d give us another car if the pressure was more than a couple of pounds under.  It was six under on the first tire, and we did not need to mess with tires, so we said we’d take something else, please.  He said all they had available was a Suburban, obviously hoping we’d say it was too big to drive.  Since we’ve had, and really liked, 2 of them, that wasn’t a problem, and off we went, to his chagrin :-).  So far, so good, although it appears to be about due for an oil change.

All in all , it took about 4 hours!