Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Week in Review

Returning to my place of employment has been an easy transition this time around. It doesn't hurt that I am working day-shift during this two-week tour of duty. Nor does it hurt that 'business' is slow this time of year. There are very few tourists wandering into areas they should not be, and few other unusual events requiring my attention. Based on the past 6 days, I'd have to describe this tour of duty as "comfortable".

We've had a very nice fall of snow recently. I guess it started snowing seriously on Tuesday, and continued through yesterday. Even now we are getting some light flurries adding to the snow depth. I'd estimate we have a total of 12 inches of snow here at my place of employment, about 50 miles north of Fairbanks. If we have anything close to this at home I'll be able to train dogs with a sled rather than on wheels. Since my four-wheeler can't be trusted to run dogs, that is a very good thing. It represents a late start to the training season, but dogs seem to train more effectively in front of a sled than they do in front of a machine anyway.

Speaking of dog mushing, apparently a musher has built a cabin or homestead just a few miles south of my Place of Employment. I'm not sure of his name, but he has been running his team past the pump station, apparently on a 2 days on, 1 off schedule. I've seen him most frequently running a 10 dog team of nice, racy looking Alaskan huskies. I convinced the snow plow operator to leave a layer of snow on the parking lot where this guy crosses so he won't tear up his runner plastic on frozen gravel, and I'm hoping to convince him to come by for a visit one of these afternoons. It would be nice to have another musher to converse with while I'm away from my own home and team.

Family News

The other day I received an Email from my sister reporting that my niece, Beth, went into the hospital with a burst appendix. She had to undergo surgery of course, but is apparently recovering nicely with help from her mother. It was a dangerous situation, but apparently she is going to be just fine.

Putting Slack Time to Good Use

My job is certainly not all hustle and bustle. In fact, there is very little hustle and bustle to my duties, and the companies I work for prefer it that way. When the guy responsible for security and medical care is busy, it means that something very unusual and probably very bad (aka expensive) has happened. Much of my slack time this tour has been spent catching up on some reading, and figuring out how to use some new (to me) software.

First, I finished a new book I purchased while at the North American Voyageur Council's gathering in Wisconsin. Ryan R. Gale's book The Great Northwest Fur Trade, A Material Culture 1763 - 1850 was released just a few months ago by Track of the Wolf, Inc. I would recommend this book as a good starting point for the new historical reenactor who is interested in portraying any of the northwestern fur-trade characters. It is well researched and foot-noted, contains many excellent photographs of existing artifacts as well as period illustrations, and is written well enough to hold the reader's interest.

I consider this book to be a good overview of the northwestern fur trade, but it is not burdened by excessive detail. It provides enough information for the reenactor to develop a believable general persona that will allow you to participate in even the most strictly juried fur-trade reenactment events even as you research the details of your chosen historical counterpart more in-depth. It is definitely a "tertiary resource", but it's a damned good and useful tertiary resource.

The other book I've been putting to good use is Dreamweaver CS4 for Dummies by Janine Warner. When I bought my Mac I was no longer able to use MS FrontPage to write and manage my web-sites, but it didn't take long to figure out that "Dreamweaver" is misnamed. It should have been called "Nightmare-weaver". It's a much more capable program than FrontPage, but it's also more complicated and mush less intuitive. I haven't found any of the on-line tutorials to be particularly useful, but Dreamweaver for Dummies seems to be just the trick for figuring out the ins and outs of this particular program.

Exercising some Foresight

Even when I'm not home to manage my kennel, kennel management remains active in my brain. The current difficulty lies in ensuring my dogs are properly cared for while I'm away at my place of employment. Boarding the dogs at other musher's kennels is an OK solution for now, but I don't feel that it's the ideal answer. It requires me to transport the dogs to their boarding kennels in two different trips, and to immediately fetch them home when I return. Even though my boarding kennels give me a screamin' good deal it is nonetheless expensive, and I'm thinking there may be a better way.

I'm thinking that I can maintain more control over the dog's care by recruiting a handler to care for the dogs at our own yard while I'm away. I've spoken with other mushers working a similar schedule that have traded housing for labor and been very happy with the arrangement. The only down-side I can see to having "live in" help is that I really don't want to share my home with a room mate, and I can't imagine very many people interested in a house and pet sitting gig that requires them to move in and out every month or so.

So, I'm thinking it would behoove me to build a small handler's cabin on my property in which a handler can live with a degree of privacy and stability that I can't currently offer. I have my friends Aliy Zirkle and Allen Moore "crunching the numbers" to estimate how much the project will cost. Once I have a figure I can consider approaching the bank for a home equity or home improvement loan to cover the cost.

We are currently thinking in terms of a 12' X 16' wood frame cabin with a sleeping loft and kitchenette with lots of windows for natural light, electrical power and either wood or oil heat. It won't contain a bath, but I can offer in-house shower and laundry privileges to a handler who will need access to the house to water and feed the dogs anyway. We'll have to see how that idea progresses once we have some reliable cost figures to work with.

Keeping Dogs is Resource Intensive

There is no question that keeping dogs is resource intensive. In 2007 it was estimated that the average American dog cost his or her owner over $1500.00 for care and maintenance. When I consider that my kennel related costs averaged about $1,050.00 per dog that same year, I find it a believable figure. What I haven't calculated is the environmental cost of keeping dogs. Apparently some folks in Great Britain have done so for me and the result is rather startling.

According to the authors of the new book Time to Eat the Dog, it takes 0.84 hectares of land to keep a medium-sized dog fed. In contrast, running a 4.6-litre Toyota Land Cruiser, including the energy required to construct the thing and drive it 10,000 kilometres a year, requires 0.41 hectares. (Reference New Scientist)

I suppose that after reading that article I should feel guilty - but, well, I just don't. The only way to live a "carbon free" life is to die, and I'm just not quite ready to do that.

Mystery of the Day

Todays "mystery from history" comes from a story in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It seems that back in 1911 two brothers, John and Gus Nelson, were murdered. Based primarily on circumstantial evidence one Joseph Campbell was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. It was a short sentence, because on August 23, 1973 Mr. Joseph Campbell escaped from the federal pen at Leavenworth, KS and was not seen again.

The story offers up lots of questions. Was Campbell really the killer? The governments case was not particularly strong. One must also ask what became of the man after his escape from captivity? Did he actually return to Alaska as vowed? You can read all about this mystery in the article - "Alaska man remains missing 90 years after escaping from Leavenworth Prison."

An interesting detail from the article - in April, 1912 rental fee for a sled dog team was $3.00 per dog per day.

I s'pose that's about all that's bouncing around in my fuzzy little brain today, so I'll post and it and move on. Hope you are enjoying a great weekend.

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