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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Nora & Stuey's Safari Photos

Stuey and Nora each have their own obsolete waterproof camera.  Stuey has the 'camera that would not die but that takes terrible pictures' that I replaced after the elk hunt.  Nora has Zoya's old waterproof camera.  That camera really did not deserve to be replaced, but if you give a camera to one kid in the interests of diplomacy you better give the other a kid a camera too. The kids love to take pictures and shoot video, and I think a normal camera would have lasted maybe about a day in their hands.  Those cameras take A LOT of abuse.

Anyway, Yesterday I decided to expand their photo horizons outside of the house, and took the kids to Abercrombie on a photo safari.  I checked out the macro focus setting on my camera and the kids took pictures of various random things with their cameras.  Here is what they came up with.

Stuey's picture of daddy taking a picture of an eroding archaeological site

Stuey's still life of beach kelp - he likes the frame feature on his camera

Nora's used the zoom to take this landscape of the North Sister

Nora documents archaeological site erosion herself

Below are some of their pictures from inside the house that they took during the past month.  They seem to love the various effects and frames that come with the cameras.  I love how they capture the most random moments.  As adults we tend to ignore kids with cameras, but they are taking pictures!  Patrick

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Point & Shoot Macro

Today I took Nora and Stuey on a 'camera safari' to the beach at Fort Abercrombie.  Unfortunately the tide was in - I had hoped that we could take cool underwater pictures in the tidepools.  So we spread and took pictures of different things.  I'll post their pictures tomorrow.  Today I'll post the pictures I took with the 'macro' and 'super macro' focus feature on my new point and shoot.  I found I could take pictures like less than a centimeter away.  But I did have issues keeping everything in the picture in focus.  Kind of cool to see what lichen and moss looks like when you look at it super close!

Stuey called these lichen 'petzals'

When I was taking this pictures the kids both thought it looked like noodles

Evolution of Archaeo Field Camps Part 2

Starting in 2006 we started to use lightweight teepees and take down wood stoves made by a company called Kifaru.  The wood stove and teepee weighed around 15 pounds total - and suddenly we were living large.  The wood stove was a HUGE change.  I remember the first night in the new Kifaru teepee on a survey on Upper Olga Lake.  It was raining and blowing out, but we were all happily gathered around the blazing wood stove while the tent fabric billowed and the rain pitter-pattered.  No more retreating to personal tents after dinner!

In fact, the comfortable cook tent with wood stove presented a new problem - the crew liked to stay up late by the stove and was often groggy the next day. Still the stove was great for morale and no more putting on wet clothing in the morning!  Also it is much easier to get up in the morning if you know there is a hot stove and coffee waiting in the cook tent.

An unexpected benefit of the wood stove is that we started to cook on it.  We still used the coleman 2 burner, but on extended trips we were using half the fossil fuels that we did in the past.  We also started to look at the landscape differently - looking for wood for the stove.  We learned to appreciate wood resources and actually learned a lot about the landscape and gained an affinity with the ancient peoples and their use of wood.  One big lesson is that these are not 'treeless' landscapes and that willow is GREAT firewood despite what people think of it today.

Field Camp at Penguk Site, King Salmon River 2010

Even with the big top teepee and stove our field camps are still pretty light and easy to set up.  In 2010 at a remote archaeological project on the other side of the Alaska Peninsula we brought along the camp banya, inflatable canoe, a large crew and supplies for 4 weeks and still managed to fit into 2 Beaver floatplane loads.  And it is nice to have camp set up quickly - even at Penguk our camp still took only around 2 hours to set up (and take down).  We also learned that teepees lack mosquito netting. .. ... and other than headnets we still have not figured that one out.

Dinner in the big top - Penguk 2010

Andrew makes use of the banya (camp sauna) - Penguk 2010
By this time my archaeological field camps had influenced what I did in hunting camps.  I now go backpack hunting with a lightweight teepee and woodstove for shelter.  On a recent backpack elk hunt our tent and wood stove combined weighed less than 5 pounds (both made by Titanium Goat - click here to learn more) and all five of us slept inside.  And now, in turn, what I do on hunting trips is again influencing what I do in field camp.

Recent archaeological fieldwork has consisted of river surveys - hence no more base camps.  On these surveys we had to set up camp multiple times.  And, more importantly, we had to be able to fit everything into 2 inflatable canoes.  On our trip last May Jill and I and the 2 rafts, food for a week and all our gear only weighed 690 pounds (our third team member Matt joined us in the field).  Even going so light it was still a tight fit getting everything into the canoes!

These camps are a bit more minimalist - no chairs, coleman 2 burner stove, or cast iron frying pan - but with a wood stove going they are still a far cry from the 'refugee' like camps of 10 years ago.  We now do most of our cooking on the wood stove, and only use a small 'pocket rocket' propane stove to boil water quickly.

Our food is another story, but funnily enough we still eat pretty much the same types of meals that we did 10 years ago.  Rice and bean type meals (Zatarains mostly) with cabbage, onions and hard salami added in.  We also eat a lot of wild greens - nettles, fireweed, lambs quarter, morel mushrooms, fiddleheads.  Nettles cooked with SPAM is a favorite.

Float trip camp - Karluk River 2012

Jill and Matt enjoying dinner cooked on a stove - Karluk River 2012
Anyway, I doubt our 'field camp' is at its apex.  These days electronics (GPS, computers, cameras etc) have become more important in the field and we've been experimenting with lightweight solar chargers.      Also how much longer will I be able to sit cross-legged on the ground while cooking?  It will be interesting to see what our camps look like in another 10 years!  Patrick

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Evolution of Archaeo Field Camp Part 1

I have been running remote archaeological excavations and surveys for over 10 years now, and during that time our camps have evolved quite a bit.  Our field camps have gone from minimalist to 'cushy' and then back again to 'cushy minimalist'.

My first archaeo field camps owed a lot to what I had already been doing on remote hunting and skiing trips - basically I tried to go as lightweight as possible.  Our camp was designed to fit into backpacks.  No electric fence, no raft, no cook tent, no nothing really.  We did bring along archaeological gear (transit, shovels, buckets etc), stainless steel bear proof containers, a Coleman 2 burner stove, and a chair for Don - so were not strictly 'backpack' mobile.  When we moved camp that first year we floated the bear containers in an inflatable truck tire inter tube with a weaved mesh seat - this did NOT work very well.

Neither did the no electric fence idea, and near a commonly used campsite a problem bear raided our food supply (see chewed plastic tote in third photo).  We had kept our cooking area and tents separate, and I learned another lesson.  ALWAYS sleep close to your food so that you can hear the thieves at work and defend your stuff! Every night the bear kept on coming back into camp but we put shovels and trowels etc on top of our gear, and when I heard the commotion I'd get up.  The zipper on my tent opening was enough to cause the habituated bear to run away (he'd been shot with bean bags numerous times by the USFWS ranger).  One time I awoke, and the bear was trying to get away carrying one of the huge steel bear proof containers.

That year when the sun shined eating our meals outside was quite pleasant.  However, eating outside was NOT pleasant in the rain and wind.  We ended up creating a tent using our transit tripod as a center pole.  Also, after losing half our food we ended up eating king salmon extensively, and learned the meaning of the term - protein starvation.  Carbos, fat and variety are VERY important. In 2003 on the Ayakulik River we lived like refugees.

Don and Mark eating breakfast on the Ayakulik River 2003

Don enjoying a beverage - Ayakulik 2003

Living like refugees - our dinner 'tent' Ayakulik 2003

After that experience, on subsequent surveys we started to bring an electric fence, inflatable canoes, a lightweight cook tent, and a few more amenities, like chairs, along on surveys.  Our fence runs on aa batteries and weighs less than 10 pounds (with wire and poles), and the cook tent weighs only a couple of pounds.  So we were still pretty lightweight, and this was important.  For instance, it allowed us to fly 4 people and gear to Chirikof Island for a 2 week survey and fit in one load for the 2 1/2 hour floatplane trip (under 1200 pounds total).

Still when it rained or blew very hard we had to take down our cook tent.  Also, we barely fit inside and it was sort of like a weird game of Twister to get everyone situated for meals.  We thought we had it pretty good, but bad weather meant we were tent bound for the duration.  There really was no way to warm up and dry gear - the only option was to wear more clothes or hunker down in your sleeping bag.

Camp on Chirikof Island 2005 complete with electric fence

Catherine, Mark and Don living large in the Black Diamond Mega Light - Red Lake 2004
The next step in our field camp evolution was teepees with woodstoves.  And this was HUGE.  But to read about it you will have to wait until my next post.  Patrick

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Christmas break and Qwirkle

Holiday Break has been very fun. Patrick is off from work-as the museum is closed, but I'm continuing to work. 

My hours as the base physical therapist are going great, and fitness classes have been busy at A Balanced Approach.  This holiday surge of new members is unusual, but I'm thrilled. I think it comes from the new location and everyones enthusiasm for it.  I'm subbing for an evening indoor cycling instructor who is out for a while, which has given me a chance to personally meet the new members. 

For Christmas I gave the kids a game called Qwirkle. It is like a symbol/color version of scrabble. No word spelling skills required. Good for kids 6+ and for 2-4 players. I'm hooked on it. Suddenly Nora and Stuey are at an age where we can all really play board games together! I also got them Sorry! and we've been playing that as well.

Stuey has a definite problem about coming in last. Or NOT WINNING, rather. It happens with going on a walk, skiing, playing games...he has to be first or come in first or he cries. The other day we were skiing and he started crying saying, "I don't want to be the caboose!" Tears poured down his face. 

The same thing happened when playing Qwirkle. He saw that he wasn't winning and he started crying. He again said, "I don't want to be the Caboose!". I couldn't help but laugh, as it was quite cute. That was his way of saying he didn't want to come in last. 

With time he is starting to get a little better with games, although he is still TERRIBLY competitive. I like how excited and engaged he is with the games, however, so thats good!

And some pictures Patrick took recently! The top is at Ft. Abercrombie down the road form our house. 

Abercrombie Surf

Holiday Time


Tuesday, December 25, 2012


I"ve been up since 4:20AM at which time I heard Nora going to check on her stockings. I formally got out of bed at 5:15 AM and Stuey woke up at 5:45am. 

Stueys quote of the day, at 5:50AM, as he is sitting at the counter eating a waffle (before any presents have been opened):  "Mom, when it's going to be next Kits-mas?". 

I groggily smiled and said, "Stuey, we haven't even had this Christmas." He replied, "Oh". 

 The kids have had hours of fun with their puzzles, nerf suction dart guns, snow cone maker, new jammies, etc.

Nora was thrilled that Santa knew she wanted a Snoopy Snow Cone maker.!

Walrus ivory necklace by Local artist, Coral Chernoff. 

My heart goes out to people who have lost loved ones to death the past year. My cousin lost her son last summer, a friend lost her husband just over a month ago and then the Sandy Hook tragedy earlier this month.
I remember how hard the first series of holidays was after my dad died and I've been thinking of people who have experienced recent loss today.

My sister Bonnie sent soft, flannel,  Matrushka Doll (Russian stacking doll) pajamas.  Most comfy PJ's ever!! I want to stay in them all day. 

Lake Gertrude Ski

Yesterday afternoon we went to Lake Gertrude for more cross country skiing with the kids. We shared the lake with a father-son couple who was ice fishing.  There have been several people out ice fishing each day and from the sounds of it, people have been catching edible fish!

 There was no wind to speak of  yesterday and between the late afternoon light, a burst of sunshine and some snow, the scenics were gorgeous. 

Nora suggested we have a family ski race, which she won! We each had our handicaps; Stuey fell right off the bat, Patrick was only allowed to use 1 pole (on skate skis) and I had no poles (on classic skis).  It was fun to see Nora charge ahead and win the race.


Christmas Break

Nora and Stuey love the Christmas break - no school, and mommy and daddy time all the time.  Lots of sledding and skiing.  Thank God it has been nice outside! Can you imagine rain and slop and the kids penned up inside with mommy and daddy 24-7?

Here are some ski photos from the weekend.  On Saturday we went to Swampy Acres while on Sunday and Monday we went to Lake Gertrude at Abercrombie.

  After we had finished skiing on Saturday a bear cub got caught in a hunter's snare in the immediate vicinity and there was a HUGE to do.  Coast Guard Security, irate momma bear, and lots of bystanders. The area has since been closed to XC skiing by the Coast Guard.  I gather the momma bear was NOT pleased that her cub got caught in a trap.  Sadly they ended up shooting the cub, and cited the trapper for a hunting violation (sad for the bears - not the trapper).

The last few days we have been skiing at Abercrombie (more photos to follow).  It is flat and the kids like it because they can go anywhere.  We had races, and played follow the leader.  Stuey demands that I follow him.  Nora has become a pretty good double-poler.  Patrick