Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Kilcher Family

Dale Matson

The third season of the Discovery Channel series “Alaska The Last Frontier” has just concluded with the final episode culminating in the birth of Eivin and Eve’s son Findlay. Findlay will be the fourth generation of Kilchers living on a 600 plus acre homestead near Homer Alaska. My wife and I record the program for viewing at an earlier time on the following day and have watched all three seasons of the program.

As with any reality series, I suppose there are things staged to heighten the drama like the fact that they seem to be eternally behind with their chores and preparation for winter. Otto seems to be the one who lacks a sense of urgency about the importance of timing. This sometimes creates tension between Otto and his son Eivin like when the tide came in and they had to stay overnight where they were until the tide went out, simply because they got a late start once again. One could also question the extent that they need lay up enough food for the winter or they will ‘starve’. Much of the series has to do with gardening, hunting and fishing to provide the necessary food for the extended family.

Although their setting is primitive and isolated, they do have a considerable amount of heavy equipment to help them expand and improve their compound. This includes bulldozers, backhoes and a barge. There is often a sense of work as play for Otto who spent much of one episode attempting to blow a stump out of the ground in a land-clearing project. I sometimes hold my breath as I watch Otto climb trees with chainsaws or walk along on top of the scaffolding of his new shed or nearly get kicked while removing porcupine needles from a horse’s mouth. Otto’s wife Charlotte is a great friend and helpmate to Otto. All the Kilchers are resourceful and creative in the way they tackle problems that arise. It seems like they can always find something lying around the property to improvise a solution like when Eivin used an old bicycle as a means to spin honey out of a hive.

Even though they have the acreage, much of their episodes take place 20 miles away where the cattle graze in the summer and out in the ocean for fishing or on distant islands for hunting.

I think there are plenty of family members for the audience to identify with and each family member has his or her own personality. Atz is the oldest Kilcher, married to Bonnie. He is the family anchor and reminds me of my own father. He spends much of the summer alone protecting the cattle herd from wolves and bears. His son Atz Lee is more laid back than his cousin Eivin who was charmed into building a round outhouse for Eve. Eve is a self styled hippie and Jane is continually earning her spurs as she works with her husband Atz Lee. I am reminded of the episode he left her alone in bear country after teaching her to shoot a big bore pistol. Both the young wives are determined and sturdy.

And why do we watch this saga played out in slippery snow, sticky mud and cold rain? We watch it because it is above all a human saga. It is a story of a family who respect and help one another, each doing their part and each sharing the load. It is a family who are good neighbors to their far-flung neighbors, who lend a hand when a hand is needed. Sometimes it is the gift of a musk ox.

They are also thoughtful and pensively reflect on the necessary loss of life for animals that are a food source for them and the natural but sad death of livestock that have become pets too. Nothing goes to waste. They are often caught in the act of being themselves like when Otto yelled at Charlotte to shut up during a tense work situation.

We like watching them. The family life cycles are linked to the seasons. It is by no means an ideal life but it is how they react to these harsh situations and the kindness they show in relating to one another that keeps us looking forward to every episode. 



Monday, January 27, 2014

Aerobic Meditation

Dale Matson

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NASB).

As someone who completed two 100 mile runs people often ask me what I thought about during the time that I was running. My response is that I thought about everything and I thought about nothing. There is something about prolonged aerobic activity that not only produces endorphins, a naturally produced narcotic; it also produces a connection with nature and God. It provides a peaceful and righteous fatigue. 

As an ultrarunner, I would sometimes run, singing in the Spirit while moving along the trails. Trail running is part of the religious experience of the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico. I don’t want to single out running however, as the only aerobic meditation. Open water swimming, climbing a steady grade on a bicycle and cross country skiing are other ways that I have experienced this. There is a fundamental goodness about prolonged rhythmic movement.
You too may have been immersed in one of these activities in the context of a group as a form of social interplay where personal defenses were dropped and people discussed parts of their lives not shared with others at any other time. There is a healthy and playful vulnerability. It is similar to what is termed “Free Association” in therapy. There is a similar transference and bonding. It reminds me of the experience of community at the communion rail during the Eucharist.

For me running has always been my drug of choice on a gently rolling trail through the woods along a lake. I hear the sound of my footfalls and breathing automatically timed by my steps. Running downhill on a single track trail elicits a rhythmic dance step to avoid rocks and roots. There are things about each of the other activities that appeal to me also. It is difficult to describe the joy of a good road bike with highly inflated tires on new asphalt and a tail wind. It brings an almost effortless ride where bike and rider become one.

Cross country skiing is fast on a freshly groomed trail over new powder on a sunny day with no wind. It is wonderful to hear the squeak of poles striking cold snow. The ski strides are confident and one’s balance sure. A fresh glide wax wards off sticky transitional snow as the day warms. Swimming is an adventure in open water, raising the head occasionally to navigate to a point on another shore.

Occasionally there are glimpses of water birds or airplanes or even the moon in a sunny sky as the head turns to breath. Swimming is Tai Chi in the water. It is always a matter of working on the form. It is a complex coordination of discreet micro movements united in a common goal of moving forward.

These moments and movements are so very basic in a body God has provided for us. It is times like this when I am reminded of St. Paul’s comments about our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit. I think about these holy acts of aerobic meditation, dedicated to God, being equal to the manual acts of priest at the altar. For as we move, we move in Him, in whom we live and have our being. (Acts 17:28)        

Friday, January 17, 2014

Bear Canisters

Dale Matson

LtoR Garcia, 2 Home Made, Bare Boxer And Bear Vault Solo

Bear Canisters are a fact of life for overnight travelers in the National Parks. Frankly, I have not only come to accept them, I have come to embrace the concept of bear canisters. Andrew Skurka is less enthusiastic about bear canisters.

Bear Canisters are a tradeoff of additional weight in the backpack opposed to safe food storage. This is good for the bear, good for you, and good for those that follow you. There is also the additional merit of compliance with the laws. You can be fined.

My first experience with bear canisters was a Garcia model 812 that I purchased on e-bay. The name "Joe" is etched into the top of my canister. Empty, it could still be the largest and heaviest single item in your pack at 12 inches x 8.8 inches in diameter and 2 lbs. 12oz. It will be the heaviest pack item with food etc. It is not even suitable for most packs under 35 liters. It has a capacity of 614 cubic inches and can supply storage for more than a weeks worth of food. I also store my scented items in it at night.

These models are often available for rental in camping stores or many permit stations. A coin is required to secure the lid and retail prices vary around $75.00. My other criticisms are that the opening is a bit small and you can’t see what is inside. There is a carry case available that fits over the canister and will allow it to be carried on the outside of the pack.

My next bear canister was a Bear Vault BV450 (“Solo”). This canister will fit in smaller backpacks such as the Sierra Designs “Discovery 30” (30 liter). The canister has a 440 cubic inch capacity and weights 2 lbs. 1 oz. I have used it on several four day/3 night trips. I like being able to see inside but some have complained about condensation issues because it is transparent. My biggest criticism is the difficulty opening it in the morning when the canister is wet with dew. It is difficult to hold the canister, squeeze the lid and unscrew it at the same time although I have recently learned to use a credit card to defeat the lock mechanism. It is one choice for lightweight backpacking at about $65.00. There is a Bear Vault BV500 that is lighter and higher capacity than the Garcia model also available.

Home made bear canisters:   over the years, I have attempted to make an even smaller bear canister for 1 or 2 night trips. I can say with certainty that the plumbing and irrigation supply stores know me on a first name basis. This has been to no avail. My efforts have yielded smaller but heavier containers that are not “Park approved”.

My final bear canister is a “Bare Boxer Contender” that looks like a miniature version of the Garcia bear canister. It is 175 cubic inches, 7.4 inches diameter. It is 8.0 inches long. The canister is listed at 1.85 pounds and is hard to find but available for about $60.00 here.
The latch mechanisms in the cover require reading the directions and you will need a key to open them.

Finally, I want to offer some additional advice. It is a good idea to have a sealable plastic bag to put trash in, to keep the canister clean and odor free. If you use the Garcia, cover it for overnight or turn it upside down to keep rain out. Place the canister far enough away from your tent but remember you may have to find it in the morning if you get up before daylight for that cup of java. Resist the urge to use the canister as a clothing storage container to save space when the food supply gets low. You do not want your clothing to smell like food or vice versa.

Bear canisters are a great idea and rightfully have replaced the “hanging method” that is often not bear proof. The hanging method is not an option above tree line either.   

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Delta Plan: A 25 Billion Dollar Boondoggle

Dale Matson

“After seven years of work, the plan to fix California’s biggest water problem is 34,000 pages long. It is the highly technical Bay Delta Conservation Plan.” (Mark Grossi- The Fresno Bee 01-14-14)

“Overall, the goal is to simultaneously improve wildlife habitat and stabilize water supplies from the estuary, a source of water for 25 million people and 3 million acres of farmland from San Jose to San Diego. Population growth, imperiled fish species and climate change have made that water supply increasingly vulnerable, and the project aims for a comprehensive fix.”

“At the core of the project is a pair of water tunnels, 35 miles long and 40 feet in diameter. They would divert a portion of the Sacramento River’s flow at three new intakes, proposed in Sacramento County between Freeport and Courtland. The tunnels alone are projected to cost $15 billion, which would be funded by the water agencies that benefit.”

Imagine if you will, two tunnels and pumps large enough to empty the entire flow of the Sacramento River. The prime directive in any intervention is; first, do no harm. This intervention is intended to appease the farmers, the Delta restorationists and the consumers in Southern California. These stakeholders have their own ideas about what share of the water they should get. In the end, who will determine what percentage of the flow of water would go to which stakeholder? The answer of course, is the courts would control the water valves. Rube Goldberg would be proud of the logistics of this project. It reminds me of some of the past efforts of the Army Corps of Engineers that were “riddled with patronage”.

The project is conceptually myopic. The assumption is, that if water is more efficiently distributed, we will improve the situation. Unfortunately, the problem has not been properly defined. This is the problem. California does not have enough water and spending billions to build a new distribution system will not solve this problem. Is it simply robbing from Peter to pay Paul? Is this project even cost effective?

One obstruction that will not be removed is not the old system but the old politics of distributing the water. The same court battles will ensue afresh. Does anyone really believe the water will be distributed any faster?

Water is a finite commodity in California and too much of it is already being redistributed to Southern California, an area not suited to support that large a population. We have a seasonally variable amount of Sierra runoff available. The Delta plan is simply mopping up a puddle not fixing the faucet. We also have a California population that is increasing, which requires additional water resources. Something must be done. It means a wiser plan for what is done with the water we do have and how that water is delivered.

In the spring and summer of 2010 I saw enormous San Joaquin River flowage passing through Woodward Park here in Fresno. The water was headed toward the Pacific Ocean. Much of this water was simply wasted because we don’t have adequate reservoir storage to accommodate the runoff from an abundant Sierra Snowpack. Why is there such resistance to more reservoirs being built in places like Temperance Flat above Millerton Lake? This means additional hydroelectric power, recreation sites and construction jobs too.

It also means new approaches in the creation of potable water such as building desalinization plants in places where water is needed most. That means building them in Southern California.
I don’t mind the scale and expense IF it is directed toward an intervention plan that is not counterproductive.

The Delta Plan is not a solution to a problem. It is not a water distribution problem.  The problem is improperly defined and thus wrong headed to begin with. The problem is an inadequate supply of water for an increasing population. The solution will require greater water conservation, additional storage and creation of new sources though desalinization.   

Friday, January 10, 2014

Game Camera II: Bonanza

Dale Matson

Although we once saw a bobcat pass the kitchen window of our cabin, we have never photographed one. I have also been hoping for a photograph of a bear and a mountain lion. We know they are around at this wooded elevation (around 4,500’) near the Sierra National Forest. I have never seen bear tracks but I did see mountain lion tracks in the snow a few years ago. We haven’t had much snow in the Sierras this year and even less at our cabin. We are hoping and praying for our rain in due season.

Today, I checked the memory card in the game camera and hit a bonanza. Sometimes pictures really are worth a thousand words. 



Mountain Lion
Recently Another Photograph
The Same Lion?