The Iniskin quake so shook up the Betster last week that yours truly totally forgot about one of the most important Alaska holidays ever — Marmot Day, of course. Thanks to the bold vision of former Gov. Sarah Palin, Alaska declared Feb. 2 as Marmot Day in celebration of our own big furry rodent, known in Inupiaq as “siksrikpuk.”
Remember KLM Flight 876, the jet that went through the Redoubt Volcano ash in 1989? All four engines shut down and the jet fell 13,000 feet before two could get restarted. Everyone landed safely, but what a ride.
That’s sort of how Alaska felt early Sunday morning with the 7.1-magnitude Iniskin earthquake. It was like an entire state flew in a ginormous plane. For about 30 terrifying seconds we didn’t know what would happen when the shaking stopped. Other than some broken bottles, in Homer we did OK. Four Kenai homes burned, but no one died.
If the clouds clear, for the next month we’ll see all five bright planets clustered together. “Bright” here doesn’t mean planets that did really well on the SAT, but the ones visible with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They’ll be spread out from east to west like pearls over Kachemak Bay.
Next Monday honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., widely considered the man who inspired the modern Civil Rights movement. Through his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Aug. 23, 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., King motivated millions to work toward equality for all. King might have said he was nothing more than one man with a gift for oratory and organizing, and that the movement was won by the collective efforts of many.
Seven days into the new year, and already it’s shaping up to be a doozy. To recap the news so far:
• A big, sloppy winter storm roared in, causing ice jams on the Anchor River, knocking over street lamps on the Spit and blowing off roofs.
As our planet rounds the point on its revolution that we arbitrarily call a new year, you might think to yourself, “How did I get here?” Three-hundred sixty-four days ago there you were, chowing down on Hoppin’ John and starting the year.
Now here you are, the end of 15 years into the 2000s. No one has figured out what to call this decade. The Tens? A hundred years ago no one cared, so busy were they trying to stay alive during the Great War. Now we worry about not losing all those nifty electronic devices so critical to life in the 21st century.
By one of those odd coincidences, today marks not just Christmas Eve, but Eid Milad ul-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, and Friday — that would be Christmas — also is a full moon. It’s the first time there’s been a full moon on Dec. 25 since 1977. As fans of Luke, Leia and Han know, that also was the year the first Star Wars film opened.
Congratulations, citizens. If you’re a new Alaska resident and you’ve stuck it out this long, hurrah. On Monday you will achieve an important Cheechako status, your first winter solstice. That’s also the day winter officially begins, although in Alaska your mileage may vary. We tend to count the start of winter as the day we change our snow tires.
On Monday the Homer City Council passed the budget for 2016, thus showing that unlike the Alaska Legislature they can do the one job they have to do on time and without a lot of drama. OK, a little drama, but still. They didn’t go into extra sessions and even saved the city some money by not meeting twice this month.
Yep, just like you the council has a punch list they have to get done before the end of the year. We’re not talking shopping for the holiday. We’re talking the things you must get done before 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31 ticks into 2016.
The Betster has this neat little iPhone app called SunGraph that can calculate hours of daylight anywhere on the planet. Punch in a few buttons and it shows, for example, that in Tierra del Fuego the sun rises at 5:44 a.m. and sets at 10:53 p.m. If you think our puny 6.5 hours of daylight is depressing, enjoy a cup of schaudenfreude. In Barrow, the chart for sunrise says “no sun today.”
Almost 400 years ago in September 1620, 102 immigrants on the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, Mass. Over the winter, almost half the colonists died of scurvy and exposure. The next spring, the Wampanoag people welcomed the Pilgrims. A Pawtuxet Native, Squanto, taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, catch fish and tap maple trees. In November 1621, grateful for surviving the winter, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag shared a feast. They lived in peace for 50 years.
We Alaskans know about darkness. We know about the chill that descends upon us, sucking joy from life. The events of the world break our hearts, and though we might light candles and pray, sometimes we will wonder if hope can stem the tide of darkness. More die. More are maimed. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, quoting Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Winter can feel like that, an arc of the sun too long to rise far above the horizon. Ice seems to freeze instantly below our feet as we skate across Beluga Lake. Winter has us in her grip.
Now that we’ve dumped Daylight Saving Time for the season, we’ve entered that time when Alaska gets dark and gloomy. If you want to get going on a good winter grump, you’re in luck. Along with darkness comes all varieties of weather misery: snow, ice and rain.
Monday marked the 15th anniversary of continued habitation of the International Space Station. Ever since the first crew arrived on Nov. 2, 2000, at the big tin can in the sky, 220 people from 17 countries have called it a temporary home. Zipping around Earth at 17,500 mph, 26,500 meals have been served at Chez ISS. Drinks have been from water recycled through the station’s Water Recovery System. Don’t think too hard about where that water comes from.
Homer could be like this super-duper productive place except for one tragic flaw: We live in Homer. It’s not that we’re not hard-working souls, ready to take on the tough jobs and get our Carhartts filthy. We do that. Or rather, we try. Sometimes this awesome world on Kachemak Bay gets in the way.
As the city of Homer slouches toward a budget to be born, seasoned citizens might ponder how the heck we ever managed in the days before huge oil revenues and big federal spending. From what the Betster understands in talking to pioneers who lived here long before reliable internet, it was dang tough.
On Oct. 18, 148 years ago, at the Governor’s House in Sitka, Russia formally transferred possession of Alaska to the United States. Soldiers marched, sabers flashed and, oh yeah, the double-eagle flag of Imperial Russia got stuck on the flagpole. Several soldiers had to shimmy up the flagpole to get it loose, only to have the flag flutter down and get impaled by Russian soldiers’ bayonets.
If it seems like Alaska has gotten a little less populated, well, you’d be right. According to a recent report In Economic Trends by economist Neil Fried, 7,500 more people left Alaska than moved here in 2014. That’s not as big as in 1983, when 25,000 people left the state. Don’t panic: the figure is for 2014, before oil prices dropped and politicians began talking about revenue enhancements. OK, next year you can panic.
Should a 22.3-foot tide fall at the same time as a southwesterly, people are like, OMG, look at that, waves be crashing on the Spit. They seem surprised that rocks as big as basketballs get thrown up on the road, turning the asphalt into Tranquility Base after Neil and Buzz blasted off to Apollo 11.
Oh, and then when a cold front out of the west slams into a warm front from the east, the dudes go, Whoa! Snow! Yeah, that’s right. Snow, in Alaska, in September. What did you think this was, Maui?
In the past week, the weather has ranged from toasty warm to rain with a chance of seagulls to just a light touch of mid-elevation termination dust. On Tuesday morning ice covered the Betster’s windshield thick enough to require three minutes of scraping. That includes digging out the ice scraper. Some people never could find scrapers and so used handy implements like spatulas.