Memorial Day Show

Once again I find myself reflecting upon this very special Monday and wondering just how many of my fellow Americans are doing the same. Indeed, we should start every day with a brief review of all we have to be thankful for and our freedom should be right up with the top five selections. But this Monday has been set apart as ‘the’ holiday to honor our vets and all they have done for us. While the focus of the holiday is on those vets who gave their all for this country and its people I prefer to include all our vets in my reminiscing. As a country we can never hope to adequately thank our vets for all their incredible effort on behalf of not just Americans but so many people around the world.  Most of us have no real feel for the level of sacrifice these brave men and women put forth on a regular basis to ensure our comfortable and free lifestyle.

Yet we are a country divided; one in which a large faction seems intent upon destroying the very liberties and freedom we hold so dear. There is a fringe liberal movement that would shame us into weakness by holding that we are an imperial power bent solely on dominating the world at any cost and as such we are evil. Tell this to the survivors of the Nazi concentration camps or those who endured natural disasters around the world across the past 15 years and are alive today only because of the generosity of the American people coupled with the power and strength of our military who selflessly were almost immediately on scene to provide assistance, supplies and comfort.

We elected a president who believes we should no longer be a major player on the international stage; that we have for far too long meddled in other country’s business simply for our own gain. And he and his dysfunctional administration have sought to ‘lead from behind’ – the very phrase is idiocy personified – while slowly eroding our military power. As a result we now live in times that are actually more dangerous than those of the Cold War days when it was the USSR and the USA at odds. During such times each super power had too much to lose to ignite a full blown conflict; nowadays with the likes of al Qaeda and ISIS bloodying the news we are all vulnerable to terrorism from savages with no moral compasses. While nuclear Armageddon hardly felt ‘safe’ as someone who lived through those dark days it was preferable to the specter of nuclear, biological and/or chemical terrorism initiated by fanatics with nothing to lose.

I fear for my country yet I cannot deny ‘we the people’ allowed this situation to grow and fester through inattention and an unwillingness to understand what was happening within our government. Decades of preferring TV and video games to becoming involved in the political process has left us with a bitter legacy which has poisoned so many people’s outlooks on this once great country. Fringe elements on both ends of the political spectrum utilize the fallout from this poisoning to recruit new ‘believers’ in the war for the country’s soul while so many of us are forced into inaction because we can see no way to reverse this trend.

Against all this I cannot help but wonder what all our veterans would think of this country; the same they spilled blood to support and often gave their very lives? Would they be proud of their efforts and sacrifices? Or would they just be befuddled and confused regarding what has happened to ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’? Sadly I believe it would be the latter and that is a disgrace upon their collective honor, one they shouldn’t have to bear.

On this most poignant of national holidays I fear for my country yet I also have hope because of the legacy our veterans have given us; that of commitment to cause, dedication to principle and a willingness to sacrifice everything to perpetuate the dream of a free, proud and strong America. They have done, and do, so much for us and ask so little in return. Yet the debt we owe them is immeasurable and we can never hope to even begin to adequately repay them for their service. Across my years I’ve purchased and stuffed packages with ‘comfort’ items going to troops overseas, I’ve written letters to many service men, I’ve assisted in cleaning local veteran’s cemeteries and I give as much as I can to support organizations like the ‘Wounded Warrior Foundation’ and ‘The Snowball Express’. But in the end it all seems so meager, so little in the face of their sacrifice. Yet I will continue to do what I can because our vets deserve it…and so much more!

Tonight, if tuning into 88.9 KTNA Talkeetna or listening on ‘KTNA.org’ I will once again make a very humble offering in the form of:

“Good Evening, you are listening to KTNA broadcasting at a frequency of 88.9 MHz on your FM dial and streaming live via our website – KTNA.org.  It is now 20:00 on a Monday evening and that means it is time to ‘Take A Little Trip Back…’ Tonight is a special program as once again we find ourselves celebrating Memorial Day; as such this is the day we take time to remember all those who gave their lives to ensure this country would remain free. Indeed, this is something we should reflect upon each and every day because as this holiday so poignantly reminds us:  ‘Freedom isn’t free!’ I’m dedicating this entire to show to all our service women and men, whether still with us today or deceased, Thank You All for your dedication, your courage and your sacrifice!! You embody the very best this country has to offer and ‘we the people’ owe you all a debt we can never hope to adequately repay. With the greatest of respect I dedicate the next hour to our vets…”

Mother Nature Says ‘Good Morning’!

This (Monday, May 18th) morning started off as the previous three with mainly sunny skies, slightly cool morning temps bound for well above normal evening high temps and light variable air along with a deep silence. I was sitting at my system reviewing some news stories and working on a cup of coffee; in the back of my mind I was prioritizing what I needed to get handled today. Being retired normally leaves me with wide open days in terms of scheduling but Monday’s mean I have to account for my KTNA music show (“Take A Little Trip Back…”) which airs from 20:00 to 21:00. The same is true for Friday evenings when I handle the local newscast although since my accident Thursdays have cropped up in this category as well since I have a morning OT session from 08:00 to 09:00. Because these are in Wasilla, which is 60+ miles to the south, I have to get moving by 06:40 to insure I am on time.

At 07:49 AKDT as I reached for my coffee I heard a distant rumble which reminded me of a jet aircraft spooling up its engines for take-off. This surprised me because usually it is dead silent outdoors during the spring mornings with just the intermittent sounds of the local bird population. Quickly I recognized this was not just noise but rather an earthquake as my monitors began to vibrate in an ‘up/down’ motion. The sound continued to build in sympathy with the vibrations and I could hear many other objects around the house shaking and adding to the din. Just as I was starting to become concerned, maybe 15 seconds into the event, the rumbling subsided as did the vibrations and within a few seconds all was again quiet. The birds had stopped their singing and my German Shepherd Dog – Qanuk – rushed into my tiny office looking for attention and security. Just a moment later I heard my Alaskan Malamute – Anana – walking the steps and joining us. My poor little angel is just coming up on six years of age but already suffers from arthritis and the steep stairs in this place are not her friends so I knew she was a bit disturbed as well. I took a few minutes to soothe and pet both my canine companions all the while telling them ‘everything’s okay’ and ‘it’s just an earthquake’…

My very limited experience with earthquakes was reflected in my guess as to the magnitude; I was thinking it would rank a magnitude between 5.5 and 6.0. However, when the Alaska Earthquake Center at UAF posted this tremblor they initially classed it as a magnitude 4.2 then moved it to a 4.5 before finalizing it at a magnitude 4.26. It was located 14 miles deep and centered just 30 miles SSW of Talkeetna; the relatively shallow depth and close proximity probably caused some of my error in guessing its magnitude. After ‘the Kidz’ were a bit more calm I toured the house and found a few items knocked askew but I’ve seen much worse in past tremblors. All told this was an interesting diversion to a bucolic Monday morning in rural south central Alaska but nothing more.

I knew before I relocated up here Alaska is by far the most seismically active of the fifty states and the Susitna River Valley area is one of the more geologically active in the state.   As such I have learned to both expect and endure periodic tremblors; in fact I must say I take a degree of interest as to their magnitudes, locations and properties.  Some are preceded by noise while others are silent; some show a ‘side to side’ motion while others produce an unmistakable ‘up and down’ sine wave motion and no two are exactly alike.  However, I also remember viewing images in National Geographic of the devastation wrought by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake which, at a magnitude 9.2, devastated most of Anchorage, Seward, Valdez and many points in between.  I sincerely hope I never experience an event of seismic power but then I am one of many living in a very geologically active area.  Like so much that’s a part of living in ‘The Great Land’ one takes the negatives with the positives…

UAF AEC tremblor data

UAF AEC tremblor data

 

The Double Edged Sword of Warm and Dry

Spring ‘sprung’ about two to three weeks early across most of Alaska and with it has come uncharacteristically warm and dry conditions. Many of the locals love the warmth – across the past three days Talkeetna has seen highs running +5 F to +10 F above normal – and are particularly enamored of the lack of mud so common during the spring and break up periods. Indeed, I noticed that across the past couple of weeks driving just 25 mph up and down East Barge Drive produces a dust cloud. In the past such conditions have not appeared until the middle of May if not a bit later. Of course the warmth is just a continuation of the above normal temperature regime Alaska has experienced since the summer of 2013 but now the lack of moisture is becoming a trend as well. As with so much in life, in general, and with Alaskan life in particular this is indeed a double edged sword. 

I’ve enjoyed the drought conditions this spring mainly because my two dogs – Anana and Qanuk – are not dragging as much mud and glacial flour based dust into the house. This is a real plus as in previous springs and falls they are often relegated to the mud room for hours after a walk in the hope a bit of the aforementioned detritus might remain on the floor as versed with being carried into the house in general and into my bed in particular. They are not fans of this requirement even though their food and water resides in the mud room. In addition the lack of moisture appears to be slowing the appearance of the annual hordes of blood sucking mosquitoes and no Alaskan will quarrel with such fallout from the dry conditions. If we’re really lucky maybe we’ll see relatively low numbers of the blood thirsty little beggars this season..? One can always hope! 

Warmth is something I do not favor but above normal temps have been the rule in Alaska since I relocated in August of 2013. I have been able to leave windows open the last few nights although I have deactivated the Toyo furnace as the early morning lows have been right around the freezing mark.  I do this to allow the house interior to drop into the low to middle fifties such that when the sunshine returns and elevates the outside temps into the low sixties the interior of the house rarely climbs above 62 F during the day. Because I spend the winter months living at 60 F anything above 65 F starts to feel warm to me; sadly I am all too aware I will once again have to acclimate to 70 F temps as the season unfolds. One negative I noticed about leaving the windows open for multiple days and nights; this morning I awoke to hear two of my interior fire alarms chirping because the relative cold had caused the battery voltage to drop too much. Still and all it has been a boon to be able to open windows and allow the warm and dry outside air to circulate freely throughout my place. 

However, the warmth – especially when coupled to the drought conditions – does have some very potentially negative aspects of which wildfires are probably the most ominous. It seems strange to me that this area could be in a drought when there remain so many lakes, rivers and streams but given this past winter’s snow pack was just 22% of normal and that follows a snow pack of just 30% of normal across the winter of 2013 to 2014 coupled with just 33% of normal precipitation in March and only 20% of average precipitation in April it is no surprise. Sadly we are primed for a bad wildfire season which is based in below normal precipitation in this area across the last year and a half and the well above normal air temps which often foster below normal humidity levels. While most of the locals are cognizant of this potential many of the tourists are not and it takes just one careless camp fire or one smoker flicking a butt from a moving vehicle (why do so many smokers consider the world to be their personal ashtray..?!?!) to ignite a wildfire. By this point the local roadside growth should be greening up but as of yesterday the sides of the Spur remain brown and very dry. 

I have often wondered about this immediate area should a wildfire take hold; the village and most of the outlying areas have just one road to get the local populace out of the area – the Spur. And it runs only from the village south to the Parks Highway (aka AK 3); hence it has just one outlet. Should a fire take hold close to the ‘Y’ – our term for the intersection between the Parks and the Spur – many of us could find ourselves cut off from road access to the Parks and the outside world. Sure, we could walk or use ATVs to make the relatively short trek west to the Parks but that would mean taking only the clothes on our backs and our four legged companions. Needless to say this would not be a good situation but it is something all of us need to keep in mind. All the more reason to stay aware of Red Flag Warnings and be vigilant when burning garbage in our burn barrels as it is much easier to prevent a wildfire than have to fight one. 

So despite all the pluses this warm and dry weather brings to us it also bears the seeds of potential destruction and, as such, is indeed a double edged sword…

The Things We Take For Granted…

It has been over a month since I last posted to this blog; this time corresponds to the time I had my left arm either in a temporary cast, under the knife or in the post-op hard cast. Indeed, my trial began with a hard fall outside the Talkeetna PO on Thursday, March 26th due to my own laziness. In hindsight it is amazing to think that during my morning rush to handle a few chores before an appointment a simple misstep allowing my right boot lace to catch an open hook on my left boot could so change my near term future. One moment I was exiting the PO frustrated because the expected package hadn’t arrived and the next I was sprawled on my right side wondering what in blazes had just transpired. And then the pain began to register; initially involving my right knee and ankle but quickly shifting to my left arm.

After taking a few minutes to attain a sitting position and assessing my condition as well as talking to a couple of folks who witnessed my ‘crash and burn’ these kind folks helped me to my feet. In so doing I recognized my left arm was seriously injured; by the time I’d taken the four uncertain steps to my vehicle I could no longer hold my left forearm horizontal to the ground and the pain flooding into my awareness from my left elbow told me the shock of the accident was wearing off. I couldn’t move my left fingers and the pain was so powerful it was making me nauseous. I did manage to tuck my now throbbing left hand into the left side pocket on my vest, slowly back myself into my vehicle and make a very painful drive home. As I’m really pig-headed regarding pain I decided to wait a few hours to see if the pain would subside; my lack of medical coverage also encouraged me to do so. In this case it was a very stupid move because when I finally yielded and called the Sunshine Clinic I could not get in until Friday morning. This cost me a very painful and sleepless night punctuated by groans, yelps and more than a few ‘colorful expletives’.

It was very apparent within the first few minutes the doctor’s assistant spent looking my arm over that I had broken bones; even though the clinic did their best they were not equipped to image such an injury because I could not straighten it. The clinic tried to locate pain killers but they had nothing for the severity of my injury. I was told to get to the Mat Su Regional Medical Clinic in Wasilla ASAP; they wanted to have an ambulance take me but I talked them into letting me find a local friend to take me. In the end I recognized I could drive and I was not going to pass out from the pain as the clinic folks worried so I packed a simple bag, made the arrangements to have the dogs cared for – possibly for days – and drove the 70 miles south to Wasilla. Thanks to the wonderful Emergency Department care I was immediately given a non-drowsy IM pain killer, had multiple x-rays taken and was given a custom fitted protective cast. Because of the swelling I was sent home with an order to contact an orthopedic surgeon first thing Monday to set up a visit. The surgeon (Dr. William Todd Pace) was able to see me that afternoon and after a brief review of the x-rays told me I had a severe injury in the form of a fractured ulna and a fractured radius with bone pieces visible in the image. He immediately called his assistant and had them clear his afternoon schedule for the next day; this spoke volumes to me regarding the injury’s severity. I drove home and made arrangements for a good friend to drive me to Wasilla the next morning for a noon surgery.

To shorten this sad tale I was taken into surgery by 13:00, given a general and spent 220 minutes under the knife during which time Dr. Pace resurfaced the elbow, cleaned and resurfaced my left radius, set and pinned the two bones and placed a large plate in place using another six pins. Here’s an image of his handiwork:

Serious hardware required to repair my left elbow!

Serious hardware required to repair my left elbow!

And thus I started to really learn just how much I’d taken my health for granted; I began to have an inkling right after the accident but I was still rather ‘shocky’ across those first 30 hours due to the pain and hence didn’t really understand what I was going to endure.  I was given a prescription for Percocet but thanks to the amazing skill of Dr. Pace I only needed them the first few days after the surgery. The hard cast was applied after the surgery on Tuesday, March 31st; it was finally removed Monday, April 27th.  During this four week period I daily learned just how great I’d had it the previous 60 years with respect to my health. Outside of cracked ribs from studying Tae Kwon Do and the ubiquitous broken toes from kicking furniture while barefoot my only skeletal injury was a greenstick fracture of my right ulna when I was in grade school.  Because of this I was ill-prepared to experience life in a cast!

Not a day passed I wasn’t frustrated, angered and/or amazed by how much I used my left arm/hand even though I am predominately right handed. And every time I was reminded just how much I took my generally excellent health for granted. Probably the worst thing was my inability to really bathe; the best I could do for that month was ‘wash cloth baths’ which were pretty much useless. One of the first things I did when I returned from having the cast removed was take a long, hot shower; I suspect this is what a religious experience must feel like! I learned that it is virtually impossible to wash just one hand and also endured the frustration of trying to pull one’s pants up with just one hand. I quickly learned to leave all bottles and screw type containers only partially tightened because otherwise I couldn’t open them. Entering my Ford Escape required a complex operation of backing into the open driver’s side door, then slowly rotating while pulling my legs in and finally reaching over my body with my right hand to close the door. Getting in and out of bed required always moving to a sitting position from the right side, then planting the right hand and pushing off so as to minimize strain on the left arm.  Typing with one hand is an arduous experience; slow and filled with errors. I could go on and on but you no doubt get the idea…

Based on my experience I would request that anyone reading this blog take a few minutes to reflect upon your health; if it is good revel in this fact but even if it is not so good remember it can always be worse. In the grand scheme this ‘very severe’ injury – Dr. Pace finally admitted this was such an injury after the cast came off – provided me with a true wake up call. And while it was a severe insult it pales in comparison to the kind of health issues so many people face on a daily basis. All of us blessed with good health need to be reminded that it takes but an instant to reverse what we take for granted; as such we should celebrate our wonderful luck every day. And we should foster a real sense of empathy for those who do not share in our luck!