Talkeetna Character…

Last Friday I was sitting in the KTNA studio riding herd on the soundboard as KTNA broadcast one in its series of live summer concerts – “Live At Five” – from the Talkeetna Village Park.  Although the concerts go on ‘rain or shine’ I had been wondering about that day as it had rained fairly substantially from very early morning right through until maybe 15:30 and was just beginning to clear up by 16:20.  As I left for the station around 16:30 I made my typical swing by the refuse reclamation site to drop off a bag of waste and then stopped by the PO to check mail before ending up at KTNA.  As usual the board was set up, the sound checks already made and my introduction and close out neatly typed up and awaiting me on the desktop.  With just ten minutes to go the skies actually cleared and we had yet another good Friday afternoon for a live concert.

I kicked off the broadcast right at 17:00 with the brief introduction and then settled in to monitor the soundboard.  Generally nothing is required although on the odd occasion the talent might get a bit ‘energetic’ with their performance and thus require a tweak to the output levels on the board.  This was not the case this Friday and I enjoyed the broadcast while futzing with my laptop which I intended to use as the music source for my Monday evening show.  Prior I’d been using iTunes on the studio Mac but I’ve had a real ‘love-hate’ relationship with that app and that Monday it had really screwed up my show three times.  I swore that was the last time and hence decided to use my laptop.  Given I had almost an hour and was in the studio I verified I could use the new software I’d just downloaded and get the necessary output at an acceptable level.  Once finished I started prepping for my Friday evening newscast which runs from 18:00 to 18:25.  In so doing I went over the weather, news, announcements, classified and ‘Denali Echoes’ which is a service for local listeners without phone service.  Because the day had turned out so well I left the blinds up in the ‘fish bowl’ – a name many folks apply to the studio in the cupola on the main floor (see the following image) – to enjoy the sunshine.

KTNA Studio on East Second Street in downtown Talkeeta

KTNA Studio on East Second Street in downtown Talkeetna

With about four minutes to go I happened to notice a small white car pull into the KTNA lot.  As I made sure everything was set on the soundboard for my interruption of the concert so I could give the 18:00 local newscast I noticed an elderly gentleman slowly climb out of the car and shuffle up the steps of the porch and try the front door of the studio building.  As it was just shy of 18:00 the staff had left for the week and the door was locked.  He turned my way and saw me sitting at the board; he then turned and walked to the porch window to the studio.  Just as he did so we hit 18:00 and I broke into the concert with the closing teaser.  He evidently didn’t realize I was broadcasting live as he proceeded to knock on the glass.  I was just finishing up the closing so I held up my index finger in that universal ‘one second’ gesture, finished the close out and went to music.  I then removed my headphones are walked to the window.  He proceeded to to show me a worn wallet which he said he’d found and someone had told him to bring it to the studio.  I apologized, told him I was broadcasting live and asked him to just leave the wallet on the supporting frame of the easel on the front porch.  The windows have screens which aren’t easily removed so I couldn’t take it; in addition the main office area and front door are closed off when the staff leaves for the day so I couldn’t easily walk around to get the wallet.  He obliged and I quickly thanked him and dashed back to the board so I could get the newscast underway.

I slightly misjudged the time required to handle all the information and had to scramble to get everything squeezed in but I did make the hard break at 18:25.  I arose, stretched and walked to the back door which I exited, walked around to the front porch and retrieved the wallet.  I had made a brief announcement right at the termination of the news that a wallet had been found and was being held at the KTNA studio.  As I walked back to the side door and worked the lock I was deciding how to notify the staff and volunteers of the ‘find’ and where to put it.  I returned to the studio to tidy up so the next volunteer coming in for a Friday night music program would have everything set up as expected.  While doing so I observed a young man walking east on East Second Street and angling towards the studio; he was wearing a rather concerned look.  When he turned to the porch steps and began to climb I was sure I had the owner.  He tried the front door before I could get the window open once again.  He recounted how he’d lost his wallet in town and had been told to check the ‘radio station’; when I held up the wallet his face broke into a huge smile.  Just to be sure I asked him his name and verified it matched that on the driver’s license.  Then I explained I would come out the side door and give him his wallet.  I walked to that door and met him at the side of the studio.  As he gratefully accepted the wallet he thanked me and I told him it was our pleasure and I hoped everything was intact.  He quickly rifled through the wallet and then said; “Thank God for small town America – even all the money is here!”.  I told him I was happy for him and wished him a good week; he said now that he had his wallet back he was definitely going to do just that…

As I finished prepping the studio and drove home I kept thinking just how great it was that this community has such honest people within its ranks!  Someone could have just kept the wallet or even taken the money but turned it in yet this didn’t happen and the wallet and its entire contents were returned in full.  This is such a simple thing yet especially in hard times this speaks volumes as to the honesty of an elderly gentleman which allowed a young man the opportunity to enjoy his weekend.  It made me feel good to be a member of this wonderful community.  It also reinforced the valuable service KTNA supplies; because it is the local voice of the Upper Susitna Valley it is also a clearing house for information and someplace most folks know of and use.  I’ve lived in this area for almost a year now; previously I lived in many places in the Midwest – mainly around medium to large cities – and I can tell you getting a lost wallet returned with all its contents would be a news worthy story.  Yet here in Talkeetna it just seemed so ‘everyday’.  Not that I needed it but as I pulled into my driveway I realized I had yet another affirmation that I really did make a very wise choice when I loaded up my household and made the 4,200 plus mile drive to my new home in Talkeetna!

One Person’s Garbage…

Those of you who follow this blog know of my love of volunteering; I only discovered the joy in doing so once I retired but in those few years volunteering has become a staple in my existence.  I do so love the ‘warm’ feeling I get from engaging in efforts which I know will directly assist other people but the real beauty is how much more I get out of my actions than I invest!  As such volunteering for me is a true ‘win-win’ situation.  My first love was working with elderly dementia victims; this was brought about by regularly visiting my mother as she slowly succumbed to the horrific ravages of that wicked disease Alzheimer’s.  In hindsight it’s a miracle I even tried this work as I had no formal training and as so many who knew me across the decades pointed out I did not suffer fools gladly.  But for some reason I found the patience and especially the empathy to enjoy working with such folks.  Herein lies another wonder of volunteering; it caused me to really push my comfort zone and try things I never would have thought of doing.  This same situation is reflected in the volunteering I do at the local radio station (KTNA 88.9 MHz/ktna.org); as a young child I spent years in speech therapy and was never comfortable speaking in front of other people.  Yet now I handle the Friday evening newscasts and host a music show on Monday evenings.  Volunteering has also proven to be a well-spring for developing new friends and acquaintances; this was essential as when I relocated to the outskirts of Talkeetna I knew no one.

While I enjoy my KTNA efforts they are largely something I do because I enjoy live radio although I know it also helps out KTNA by filling air time with local broadcasting and the station is the only source of timely news, weather, announcements and local information for the upper Susitna Valley.  The work I currently do that really nourishes my spirit involves volunteering with the Upper Susitna Food Pantry (aka ‘the Pantry’).  By investing just a few hours a week I know that I am helping insure that local families and individuals are getting more nutritious meals and in some cases even meals at all.  Most of my time involves driving to specific warehouses (those that handle receiving ‘Food Bank of Alaska’ donations) in Palmer and Anchorage to sort through donated food stuffs, load up my vehicle and haul my load back to the Pantry where it’s cataloged and then distributed.  I truly enjoy interacting with the representatives from the other 10 to 12 food charities in the Mat-Su Valley.  We meet at these warehouses on specific dates just in advance of an arriving semi loaded with donated foods.  We then divvy up the food, get it segregated and weighed by group, assist each other in loading our vehicles and haul our loads.  The folks are really great people and I really love just interacting with them.

The ‘Food Bank of Alaska’ does a great job in collecting a variety of foods and getting them to these locations where generally they are completely utilized by the charities.  But sometimes there are remnants and sadly many times they go to the dumpster or refuse collection point.  It breaks my heart to see perfectly edible food being just thrown away.  The food we see is completely edible but sometimes has cosmetic defects – mainly fresh produce – or has passed its shelf life.  As such it’s deemed ‘donate only’ although it’s still completely safe to consume.  Having spent twelve years in food manufacturing and food R&D as well as obtaining a BS from Michigan State University in Food Science I understand the potential liabilities with such food products most of which we can thank the damn trial lawyers for exacerbating.  But as a culture we have some very ‘unrealistic’ concepts regarding what is edible and what is not; it’s these concepts which cause us to be so wasteful.  Because of my background and experience I know the general costs associated with most food groups; this goes far beyond what the foods might fetch on the open market.  So when I see a pallet of bananas destined to be dumped because they are brown and a bit ripe I recognize we are truly wasting good food.  I’m not suggesting we learn to eat ‘green’ meat or fuzzy bread but certainly could eat much of what we currently deem as garbage.  The aforementioned brown bananas can be frozen and then used in bakery products or in drinks.  People often throw cheese out when it shows a bit of mold yet with a sharp knife on can easily remove the mold and a bit of the cheese as well such that the mycelium and similar contaminants are separated from the otherwise perfectly acceptable food.  One should also remember many cheeses would not exist were it not for molds and their actions.  I could go on and on but you get my drift.

The United States literally does feed much of the world and as such we are in a unique position to be able to begin to affect changes in our own cultural beliefs regarding what is edible.  For so long we’ve been so rich that it was viewed as almost our ‘right’ to waste food but such times are coming to and end.  As the earth’s population continues to increase there are more and more mouths to feed but we continue to deplete our soil base and have to turn to ‘mega-farming’ to economically continue to crank out huge quantities of basic food stuffs.  Over the long haul such practices are most likely unsustainable; they will be further negatively impacted by climate changes.  Now is the time for we Americans to begin to really recognize that our gift of fertile lands, copious water sources and farming technology is not without limits and we must work to better live within these limits.  On a longer term I can see where currently unacceptable food sources will have to be utilized; insects as a source of protein is just one of these sources.  To most Americans the thought of consuming ‘bugs’ engenders feelings of disgust but it’s amazing what hunger will do to one’s perspective regarding food.  If in doubt just talk to someone who has spent five days in the wild with only the clothes on their back!

Currently our difficulties in feeding our own people stem mainly from distribution issues and can be solved.  But we will soon face honest food shortages if we continue on our current path.  It really is time to reassess what we as a culture deem to be unacceptable for consumption as food; all too often what we view as ‘garbage’ would gladly be accepted as wholesome food by others.  So allowing such foods to simply go to waste is unacceptable.  We need to learn from those around us who are more than willing to consume what we currently term as ‘refuse’; it’s a simple case of one person’s garbage being another person’s treasure..!

Latest Airborne Scourge

Now that summer has officially arrived it’s no surprise there are a few annoyances tied to the season; the two leading the ‘annoying’ category are the mosquitoes and the tourists.  I’ve written about the latter ‘ad nauseum’; the ambivalence I feel towards the masses are shared by all the locals.  Tourist dollars keep Talkeetna healthy but to get those dollars we must deal with hordes of RVs, trailers, fifth wheels, campers and people strung out along Main Street.  The latest insults are those that feel it’s okay to walk down the center of the Spur in town and Main Street; they might move for traffic or they might not.  This is just plain irritating and more than once I’ve wanted to lay on the horn and give the real stragglers a good push but I’ve reigned in my frustrations and remained ‘civilized’ while waiting them out.  The only solution I’ve found to this point is to avoid going into the village as much as possible; without question we just surrender Talkeetna to the tourists from mid-May through mid-September.  More than once I’ve longed for an over-protective moose cow with a spring calf to wander into the village; the tourists are dumb enough to want to pose ‘up close and personal’ with the wildlife and that would no doubt winnow down their numbers!

However, by far the most annoying summer insult are the masses of mosquitoes.  There seems to be no end to their number but I have noticed an ‘evolution’ to their population.  In mid-April through mid-May they were mainly the large, slow-moving variety.  I’ve speculated these had to be carry-overs from the previous year given their size as there’s no way they could grow so large in such a short time especially as the night-time lows were still solidly freezing any liquid water.  I’m guessing these critters find a way to survive the winters maybe by hiding in decaying vegetable matter which gets covered with snow; the slow decay releases enough heat to allow them to keep from freezing solid.  Once the spring sun melts off enough of the snow pack they once again take to the air and begin the mosquito season.  By early to mid-June their numbers appear to dwindle; perhaps they are not built to live for two full seasons?  If this was the end of the story it would be great but sadly this is not the case.

They seem slowly supplanted by very small versions of themselves; I’d guess the smaller mosquitoes are maybe one fifth to one eighth the size of the large ones.  However, they are even more voracious and what they lack in size they make up for in sheer numbers.  Based upon their smaller size they also appear to have a number of advantages over their larger kin.  They are much harder to hear and its virtually impossible to feel them land upon one’s bare skin.  As such they are a real pain to keep at bay.  I’ve yet to discover a means to keep them from coming in on the dog’s coats which means I’ve now adopted a new routine.  Any time the dogs have been outdoors, regardless of duration, I keep them in the mud room for maybe fifteen minutes and then I enter with my trusty can of ‘Country Vet Fly Spray’ which has a fairly potent pyrethrin content.  I briefly brush the dogs watching for any departing mosquitoes and then give each of them a spritz of the spray.  The spray is approved for food surfaces and hence is not toxic although I’d prefer not having to use it at all.  Then I let the dogs into the main house, give them another fifteen minutes and start a ‘search and destroy’ mission.  Without a doubt I will find and kill at least five additional mosquitoes.

Even doing all this does not insure a mosquito free dwelling; I learned a month back that its wise to make a final pass through the main floor just prior to crashing with the same spray.  I give each corner and all overhangs a brief spritz of the spray before heading upstairs to my bedroom.  This pretty much guarantees I will get a good night’s sleep sans mosquito bites; in the morning I clean off all the mosquito corpses on the window sills.  Of course with each new morning we begin the entire process anew.  I’m just thankful I’ve discovered ‘Deep Woods Off’ which is the only product I’ve tried that keeps the outdoor mosquitoes at bay when I’m outside.  It is 25% DEET and while the substance is supposed to be safe when used as directed I still am not a fan.  But then I’m not sanguine with running the risk of exsanguination every time I walk outside either; given the options I’ll use the DEET.

Not that I needed another reason to favor the Talkeetna winters but this issue surely supports my love of the snow and cold.  I can deal with -25 F air temps by just dressing properly; the only way to attempt to deal with the hordes of vampire-like mosquitoes is to employ chemical repellents and cross one’s fingers.  Given the mosquitoes and the tourists I have yet another couple of solid reasons to yearn for the first hard frost…