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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Battle of the Books

By Zoya Saltonstall

Thursday February 25th, 2016
Kodiak, Alaska

8:30 AM
"Good Luck Battle of the Books Team!" The St. Mary's school mates cheer in unison off the porch. I'm picking up four  students from the St. Mary's 3rd/4th grade class to go compete in their  first ever Battle of the Books.  The morning school assembly cheers the students on as competitors  climb into my car.

8:45 The  St. Mary's 3rd/4th grade battle  team arrives to the Kodiak College library conference room. For months they have been meeting, reading, studying, quizzing on a list of 13 books which they'll be questioned on.  This experience is all new to them. St. Mary's hasn't had a battle of the books team for many years. 

The room is set up with conference table, with  speaker phone in the center  grown-up chairs surrounding it. The students try out the padded, wheeled chairs with big smiles on their faces. 

Freshly homemade Blubbery buckle, little cutie oranges and bottles of water sit in the corner table. The students grab books and do last minute flipping through to get final details into their minds. The room is quiet. My digestive system gurgles and I have no appetite.  

8:53 Its audio conference time. We are supposed to do a  practice call in to make sure the line works. The kids watch on nervously  as I attempt to dial in. 
First 9, then the number. Wrong. Abnoxious beeping tone. Try again. 

Still wrong. Deep breaths, I tell myself, trying not to panic.  I try to deny the fact that 4 months of preparations could be lost in a failed dial into the audio conference. Our library support and fellow battle mom,  Sara, arrives and  tells us that prefix  8 will get us out of the phone system.  It works. We're in! 

Amen! The kids looked relieved. I can breath again. 

8:55 AM Official Dial in time for Battle of Books! We hear the voices of adult leaders and kids from all over the state across the speaker phone. Team names are being introduced.  The Amazing Lynx, The fuzzy Lumpkins (I'm still not sure what a lumpkin is), the Superreaders and  our team-The St. Mary's Bears are all ready to go. All off in our various corners of the state, we're coming together to see which team knows these books inside and out. 

9:05 AM After several minutes of rules, the battle begins. The First question is read by the moderator. Mute is activated on our phone so other teams can't hear our discussion. The teams have  30 seconds to discuss the answer and write the question down on their paper. Every battle of the books question starts with "In Which book…." and the team mates scroll through their mental list of books to decide which best answers the question. 

9:30 AM The Kenai team challenges a question. A judge is called in on the conference to determine whether the challenge is granted.  The case is presented and the battle judge grants the points. We all see first hand that battle challenges can indeed be won!

A serving of moist blueberry buckle warms spirits and eases nerves. 

9:50 AM Half time and stretch break. We are slightly behind the leading team- Kenai. There are lots of high fives and excitement at the questions the team got right and the possibility of sliding ahead of  Kenai in the last rounds. 

10:20 AM Its ten questions later and tensions are high. After many missed points, we have fallen out of the top ranking. Only 1 team will be progressing onto the next round-and it won't be us.  Just one question at a time, my co-leader Aileen reminds the team. Looks of despair come over their faces and I'm impressed with how Aileen's encouraging words bring back their smiles. 

10:50 AM "What is the moral of battle of the books?" a student teammate asks. I understand his frustration, the time invested. Its not a question the parents can answer for them, but rather one they have to answer for themselves.  

Perhaps the answer comes in the form of experiences such as time together after school for many months, reading new books and now-  sharing pizza together afterwords at the large conference table.  The kids  gobble away then go outside for a few minutes before heading back to St. Mary's. 

11:30 AM On the drive back to school, the kids ask me when the books for next year will be announced. I look in my rear view mirror and they are 100% smiles in the back seat. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a physical therapist and mother of two. She loves warm cookies out of the oven. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Another Jet

 Yesterday I went for a cross country ski in the sunshine.  I much prefer cross country over downhill skiing so whenever there is enough cover down low I get out the skinny skis - no matter what the conditions up high.  And it was a glorious day for a ski.  Warm with no wind, and a good base of snow.  I flitted through the spruce trees, bombed across meadows, saw a few deer, and totally re charged in the sunshine.

When I got home I realized that the cross country ski with the kids the day before and yesterday's ski were the only times I have gone cross country skiing all this year!  I'll add that we did have good cross country skiing in December but none until now in the new year 2016.  That's amazing, and just goes to show how warm it has been.

And it is not going to get better. It is supposed to rain 1 to 2 inches today and blow 60 mph - on the map below the tighter the lines the windier.  Another jet of warm air off of the North Pacific.  I guess my cross country skiing might be over for a while.  Patrick

Monday, February 22, 2016

Some Snow Time

Yesterday Stuey, Nora and I drove up to the pass for some time on snow.  At the house there still is not any snow on the ground but at the pass there is more than a foot the fluffy stuff.  When we left the house it was, as Nora put it, 'slushing'.  Mostly Rain mixed with some snow falling out of a dismal grey sky, but at the pass it was all snow squalls and sunshine.  We found winter after just a quick 20 minute drive!

The hardest part about driving to snow is finding a place to park

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Yesterday we had a scout troop hike planned through the woods in the afternoon. I didn't think the recent rain  would end for our walk, and I asked the scouts to dress warm and wear boots to tromp through the mud. They all came very prepared to be in mud and wetness.

As we drove out to Russian Ridge Trailhead, snow fell from the sky and we all felt giddy with excitment. The snow sprinkled down on us in the woods. "Its so magical, Ms. Zoya" the scouts said. Erica and I agreed!

We found a comfy spot in the moss and enjoyed rice krispie treats and hot cocoa to celebrate two scouts' birthday.  The snow renewed our winter spirits and I was glad we were out and about in it.


Saturday, February 20, 2016

How old is this Site?

The white Katmai Ash fell in AD 1912 the Glaciers melted sometime between 12-18 thousand years ago - all the other layers date to somewhere in between

We've been digging at the Kashevaroff Site for 3 years now, and based on the types of artifacts we've been finding and the stratigraphic evidence I have had a pretty good idea of the age of the various layers we've uncovered. But a few days ago we got back the results of three radiocarbon dates I had run on charcoal from the site.  Now I have official confirmation of my educated guesses.  And guess what?  My estimates matched the radiocarbon results pretty much exactly! 

This does not always happen.  Once I thought we had been excavating a 6000 year old house and then after radiocarbon analysis it ended up as 3000 years old.  Radiocarbon dates are a good check, and this time they confirmed rather than refuted my interpretations of the site's stratigraphy.

The ancient Alutiiq structure seen in the profile in the picture above - the flat surface in the lower right above the mottled ashes is the floor of the structure - ended up a little older than I thought it would be.  It had ground and chipped tools so I had thought 6300 years.  It ended up dating to around 6700 years old.  One of the oldest dates for ground tools on the Archipelago.

We also believe the inhabitants were catching seals and smoke processing the meat on site (we only found calcined sea mammal bone - no fish).  As suspected this activity was on going 4 to 5000 years ago.  The grooved cobbles pictured below might have been used to hold down nets used to catch seals.  If so these are the oldest net sinkers ever found on Kodiak.  Later in time netsinkers became more standardized and had the notches on the long rather than short axis.

It's nice to finally have some firm dates!

These notched cobbles were created around 4300 years ago

The charcoal at the bottom of this small processing pit dated to around 4700 years ago

Raw data sheet for the radiocarbon dates

Radiocarbon dating works because every living thing incorporates carbon into their bodies (all carbon based life anyway) and a percentage of this carbon is the radioactive isotope carbon 14.  Through time and at a steady, known rate the radioactive carbon breaks down into normal carbon 12.  So by measuring the ratio between carbon 12 and radioactive carbon 14 one can get an idea of how long ago the organism died and stopped incorporating carbon.  The half life of radioactive carbon 14 is about 5700 years ago - so if half the expected carbon 14 is present then the organism died around 5700 years ago.

However,  radiocarbon time is not the same as real time. Scientists figured out the decay rate of carbon 14 by dating the individual tree rings of really old bristlecone pines.  They knew the exact age of the wood they were dating and were able to create a curve showing the age of the wood and the amount of radioactive carbon left in the wood (see multiple points on curve below).  What they discovered is that the curve wobbles all over the place - it turns out that the cosmic rays that create carbon 14 vary slightly in intensity through time.  Hence radiocarbon time, unlike real time, speeds up and slows down.

And this is why all radiocarbon dates should be calibrated into real time.  At times (see below) a radiocarbon date can intercept the curve in a number of places, and there is also always a degree of possible error.  For this reason all radiocarbon dates end up as an actual range of time and not a single point in time.  But depending on the age that range can be small or large.  For instance, the calibration curve shown below shows a lot of wobbling between 4500 and 5000 years ago - radiocarbon time was slow, the curve flat, and the range of the date is large.  Another of the dates shown above has a smaller age range because between 6500 and 6800 years ago radiocarbon time was moving fast and there was a steeper curve.

Anyway, the take home message is that radiocarbon dates are NOT all that precise.  I'm happy with plus or minus 100 years or so, and fully realize that they do not represent a point in time.  Patrick

How raw radiocarbon dates are calibrated against a curve

Friday, February 19, 2016

We got dumped on!

Powder on the trees and the sun even came out!

 I was sick for the last few days and did not go skiing.  It was super stormy and rained hard in town.  So today when I did go I was pleasantly surprised to find three feet of new snow on the mountain.  That's a serious powder dump.  There is even a foot of slushy snow at the pass.  It was so deep that I had to go super fast so as to not bog down.  And when I did wipe out I was buried.  It took a while to get back up onto my skiis.  Now let's hope it sticks around, or, better yet, we get some more!  Patrick

My ski poles are 4 feet long so there is almost 3 feet of new snow below my skiis in this photo

The snowboarders had a hard time post holing up the mountain

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

President's Day Ski

I love the President's day Holiday.  It seems to be one of the few holidays us adults get off but the kids still have to go to school (thank you teachers).  And this year the weather was perfect - sunny, calm and cold. 

I headed up Pyramid for a day of back country touring.  Usually when I go skiing it is an 'after work up and down' affair.  But yesterday I took my time and did some exploring.  The cold temperatures had frozen up the snow - so no powder - but the light was stunning.  A few low clouds created a contrasting mottled shadow pattern on the landscape - the white peaks contrasted with the dark clouds.

I literally ran into some goats while skiing down a hill.  I heard their hoofs on the snow and was trying to figure out where the sound came from when I saw the herd running away.  I later watched them climb up the backside of Pyramid.  Beautiful day.


Goats climbing the backside of Pyramid

I later skiied into the south bowl on the frontside and looked up and saw all the goats in a line above me on the summit

Bruce and Birch also enjoying the day off ptarmigan hunting

Daily Ski

Ptarmigan tracks and new snow on the mountain

On Sunday I went up Pyramid in the morning.  It had been raining in town overnight but had cleared off by the time I headed up the mountain.  It was the first time in a few days that I could actually see anything while skiing.

As usual I discovered that Dale had beaten me up the mountain.  He usually skiis early on the weekends while I beat him up during the weekdays.  Between the two of us we totally tracked out the new powder in the North Bowl.  Patrick

Dale descending

My tracks

Saturday, February 13, 2016


By Zoya Saltonstall 

Long confused glances from strangers, psychic moments and strong coincidences are a daily part of my life as a twin. Some of my Mountain Views column readers may not know I have an identical  twin sister, Ella, here on the island.  Ella and I  are of similar height, weight and totally identical voice. Telling us apart is no easy feat.
This week is National Twin week (thank you, Facebook!) and I thought that  a perfect time to share a couple  twin anecdotes.

Last Friday  I went into Cost savers to get some dog food and bulk sized processed food. An hour later, I realized I forgot weekend beverages  and went back inside. As I walked by the registers, the cashier with the pink highlights  in her hair looked at me suspiciously. "Your sister was just here." she said. 

 "Actually,  that was me. I was here an hour ago.  I forgot something so I came back." I reply with a slight I-know-where-I-was tone in my voice.

"Okkkkkk" she says. "Unless you did a super fast outfit change it was your sister" she replied-very confidently. She was in the midst of a transaction, and her eyebrows were raised in a very unconvinced angle.  The people in line looked over at me and smiled in curiosity. 

I head back to the beverage section and see a friend, Tom checking out. 
"Hey Zoya! Ella was just in here two seconds ago!" Tom says. 

"You really mean, like, 2 second ago?" I ask?

"Yeah! She just left!" he replies. 

 I was totally wrong. Ella had been there.  

"You were right. It was Ella!" I scream across the store to the cashier with the pink  highlights. Even I am confused on this one. The cashier smiles with a  look of satisfaction that comes with solving a puzzle. 

Twins 0, Cashier 1. 

It can be easy to assume that identical twins would always get along, but  I was recently reminded recently to not take  that for granted. A woman my age in my on-line writing class revealed she is an identical twin and doesn't talk to her sister at all. I read this with some sadness, as I enjoy being a twin and I had a hard time picturing otherwise. She spoke of a whole lifetime of great distance between she and her twin and I wondered what that would feel like. A gap? A chasm?

 I empathized with my classmate, as Ella and I have had our  ups and downs (for only brief months) over the years. I know how it pained our family during the brief periods when we weren't getting along. With twins there is a social expectation to be close. "You must be so close" people ask me. "Yes, we are…we're best friends" I reply. So often we finish each others sentences. We get each other. 

Other moments of twin-hood are rich with coincidence- those "twin psychic" type of moments which people love to ask and hear about. Such was a year ago when I picked Ella up at the airport. She came off the plane and we laugh as  we were both dressed in black pants, grey tops, identical black jacket and black boots. People in the airport must've thought we planned that one. Ella and I just stood there laughing at each other. 

In celebration of National Twin week, Ella and I decided we'll enjoy some home made chocolate chip cookies.  Also, Ella just recently dyed her hair red, which might make telling us apart easier. And we'll also avoid Cost Savers at the same time to keep our super-twin-detector-cashier from having to question who is who!  

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a mother of two and a physical therapist. She loves being outside and watching the ocean.

Hospice and Doula work

by Zoya Saltonstall

In the past months there have been several well-known celebrity deaths including  David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both of whom leave artistic legacies in their musical and cinematic talents. Here in Alaska, we said goodbye to Eva Saulitis. Eva was  scientist, teacher, writer who lived in Homer and passed away at her home after a long bout of cancer. Eva shared her journey of preparing for death in her writing; her friends and family were there with her as she physically and emotionally prepared for her death. The close timing of these deaths  bring our own immorality to the forefront of our minds, as we think about how we live, how we want to live and how we want to die. 

How these these final days, hours, and moments of life unfold  are crucial for the dying and the living as well. On February 13th is the 5th Annual Heart for Hospice Ball, a major fundraiser for our Kodiak Hospice Organization.  Hospice is a group which supports families during the time of death and dying. Kodiak Hospice offers in-home support, palliative care as well as bereavement classes/groups. People can be supported by nurses, volunteers and community support in their final days. 

It was in my  living room, at the age of 16, when I learned about the importance of the journey of death.  I sat with my dad during his last breaths. 

My dad  suffered from a six month bout of cancer and 3 rounds of unsuccessful chemotherapy in San Diego. When it became evident that the treatment wasn't working, he was encouraged to return home soon so he could die in Kodiak.  

During those final days before dad's death, we watched him slowly pass from this world to the next. He spoke of seeing people around him, of a feast. Of strawberries. Of an elevator which went somewhere. He wanted us to take the elevator, to get the food. In a span of several days we saw him get ready for the next life. 

Dads agonal, final gasps of air scared me. Even though I knew they were coming, it was something one can never be fully prepared for. "We should call the ambulance" I cried to my family near me. It wasn't a rational response. He was prepared to die. We knew this was coming. 

My family shared that space with him, as he  passed from this world to the next. He didn't seem scared. By the end, he seemed ready.  I wasn't ready and never would be ready. I was 16 and just starting life with him.

Our family was supported by the community in his decision to die at home. I remember a doctor home visit and little need for dad to leave the house for palliative care. There was no hospice at the time, but yet an overall feeling of support of dad being at home. 

On the day of dads death, I witnessed how powerful and important this time and space is. Honoring  the sacred passage of life. We're never fully prepared for these life changes. No class or book can fully prepare us. Which is why that support nearby matters so much. 

As one of my life callings, I am a doula-a support person for women in labor giving birth. I  am with women and their families at the time of birth. It was many years into my doula work before I realized how similar this presence is at birth and death. 
As a doula I  honor the moment as well as the overall  journey. 
As a doula I hold hands, comfort, encourage, smile, cry, laugh, listen.  

Birth and death jolt us out of our existence and make us question all we've ever known about living. Birth and death take our breath away and knock us off our feet-in good ways and hard ways. They are times when a loving presence and kindness can be even more important than words. 

Whether it be first breaths, or final breaths, these are the  times when we need our hand held with caring support in more ways than one. 

Thanks to the dreams and amazing hard work of many local citizens, Kodiak now has a Hospice Program. They are here to support us, to help normalize the death and dying process. To acknowledge a more comfortable, quieter, calmer way of approaching death. 

Thank you, Kodiak Hospice.

Taos' 'Rio' Grand Canyon

The Rio Grande Canyon

One of the cooler things we did while at Taos was visit the nearby Rio Grande Canyon.  The highway bridge goes right across the gorge.  I gather in the old days before the bridge that the canyon was quite the impediment to travel in the area.  Looking down into the canyon from the bridge induced some serious vertigo.  I did not like going anywhere near the edge of the bridge. 

The canyon itself is about 700 feet deep.  It's not anywhere near as big as the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but it does have a bridge across it.  And it is VERY impressive in its own right.


Larry, Mark, Nikki, Tomas, Scott and Tom above the canyon

Me, Larry, Mark, Nikki, Tomas, Scott, Eric, Tom and Lanny

Bridge over the Rio Grande Canyon

Friday, February 12, 2016


Crew photo at Mark's bar

We showed up at Taos in the dark after driving up from the airport in Albuquerque, and then followed Mark's instructions to his bar off of the main square.  As we walked down an alley looking for the bar 3 young women coming the other way exclaimed in unison, 'you must be the roommates'.  We had arrived.

We did well with restaurants and bars - so well, in fact, that I can not remember the name of a single one of them.  The first night we had New Mexican food at Mark's bar.  I had the enchiladas and could not decide between the green and red chilies - so they gave me a mixture of both.  As a point of honor I made Tomas translate the meaning of every Spanish word on the menu.  This was a theme that continued for the entire visit.

We twice ate breakfast at an excellent roadside joint on the way to the ski area that served, among other things, 'Warrior eggs' (Tomas translation).  But the highlight of our time on the town was dinner at a fancy restaurant in downtown Taos.  We started with cocktails in the bar - real mixed drinks like Manhattans - and finished with dinner in the main dining room.  I had a beet salad and a steak, but I noted that there was kangaroo on the menu.


Cocktails at fancy restaurant - Manhattans!

Nikki and Mark

Dinner at a Fancy Restaurant in Taos

Outside at the brewpub near the Rio Grande Canyon

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Accommodations in Taos

Sunlit kitchen

Mark took good care of us in Taos.  He found us an awesome house to stay at and stocked, rather stuffed, the fridge with libations.  The house had rooms for everyone and an amazing number of bathrooms.What was amazing is how small the house looked on the outside.  I gather Taos is also something of an artists' colony and the house was full of local art.

He had teashirts made for each of us with '888' and 'Taos' on them.  A reunion T shirt!  Highlights for me included playing gin rummy with Scott and Tomas, the backyard hot tub (lots of 'hot tub time machine' jokes), and cheese and crackers after skiing.

On the final night Mark cooked up steaks, potatoes, and string beans for dinner.  And we opened a few bottles from the case of wine he had provided.  I do believe that it was the first time that all eight of us who graduated in 1988 had been together since graduation.  We've gotten together 7 a few times but to the best of my recollection never all eight.  Patrick

Mark and Tomas show off the well stocked fridge

Hot tub in the back yard after a day of skiing

Cheese, crackers and libations

Mark's Steak and Potatoes home cooked meal

Killing time in the TV room - note Mather 88 eight New Mexico Reunion shirts