Category Alaska

Celebration of Heritage: In Commemoration of my Grandmother, Ticasuk

Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown

Last week the Nome campus of University of Alaska Fairbanks named and dedicated a Student Resource Center to my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown.

Invitation to the dedication ceremony

In 1984, two years after her death, The Crossing Press selected my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown, as one of twelve women to appear in a calendar recognizing heroines of the feminist movement. The family joke at the time was she’d be proud to appear with the other eleven women, but irritated over being named a feminist. She stood in the month of July. Other women in the calendar included Golda Meir–Prime Minister of Israel; Elisabeth Kubler Ross–a psychiatrist that revolutionized hospice care and our understanding of grief; and Carrie Chapman Catt–a suffrage leader that helped establish the 19th amendment, women’s right to vote.

During portions of the last century Alaska Native languages were not allowed to be used in schools, and various cultural practices were also banned or illegal. My grandmother, Emily, fought to have such laws changed while also encouraging her students to speak their language anyway. As a result, she was fired from her teaching post. The local communities demanded she be reinstated.

Emily went on to dedicate her life to preserving the stories, history, and knowledge of our elders publishing three books and leaving multiple manuscripts. In order to direct her work, she spent her life earning multiple degrees, spending much of her time on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. While there she helped start the Alaska Native Studies program, and helped found the Alaska Native Heritage Preservation movement through the state. She was recognized as a result by both a President of the United States, and the Governor of Alaska.

She died in 1982 near the close of her PhD at the age of 78. One week later University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded her an Honorary Doctorate for the work she had already completed.

Dad at the dedication ceremony

my dad at the dedication, photo from Heather Jones

Last Thursday, my parents and extended family flew to Nome to attend the celebration of my grandmother’s life, and the opening of the new Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center. The Center symbolically brings together Emily’s two passions — preserving and sharing knowledge of our heritage, with an eye towards learning for the future.

In her book, The Roots of Ticasuk, she explains the meaning of her name, Ticasuk. “My Mother explained that my Eskimo name ‘Ticasuk’ meant not just ‘Hollow in the Ground’ but the place where the four winds stored their treasure gathered from all over the world, and I felt very good about my name after that.” For Emily, heritage and education were those treasures.

Thank you to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus.

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Happy Birthday to my Sister Paula

Happy Birthday to my sister Paula

Us Kids

us kids. from left: Melanie, me, Paula

My sister Paula today celebrates a birthday. Ten years older than me, she fills few memories of mine from before she left for college. But in her returning to Alaska before I myself left home, she stands instead as a guidepost through my adulthood. More than any other member of my immediate family, Paula has lived with a kind of malleable steadfastness I admire. The rest of us shine different gifts.

Soon after college my sister Paula returned to Alaska and began a job she still keeps. That was two and a half decades ago. A few years later she bought a condo she was later able to sell and invest from in a house with the man she’d marry a little before I graduated from high school. They still live in that home in Alaska.

Looking back, I see that I have lived my adulthood driven by curiosity and a thirst for improvement through challenge. In the midst of such searching, I’ve come to find clarity with gracefulness as the core of my values. In seeing this finally, I am able too to recognize it is Paula that has given me my example of a person living with strength through clarity. At the center of every decision she’s made there is a commitment to forthright follow through, to family, and, most central for her, to God. Such persistence has made her life a miracle.

Soon after turning thirty, Paula gave birth to their first daughter, also my parents’ first grandchild. Melissa was two months old when, having just returned to work after maternity leave, Paula had a grand mal seizure during a working lunch. She was diagnosed with a lethal brain tumor and immediately rushed to surgery. The prognosis gave her less than two years to live. It’s been now almost twenty.

Doctors have since told us she is one of two people in the country known to have survived such a tumor. Speaking with her about her miracle of health she states plainly that during her ailment she focused on one thing — prayer for her daughter to have a mother.

I return to Alaska once or twice a year. I am often lucky enough to see Paula outside Alaska again one other time a year. Still, I rarely tell her what today I wish for her to know. Here it is.

Dear Paula,

You have taught me the power of steadfastness. Your life is a testament to faith. I am grateful you are my sister. I wish for you to know, I count you among my blessings. You stand as a model to me of clarity, and learning to grow through grace. For by grace you have been saved by faith. Through your clarity, God’s light shines.

Happy Birthday to you. This is a day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

My love to you. God’s love for you. Amen.

Your sister,


Meals with Melanie: A Thank you for Mattei’s Tavern, Los Olivos

Dinner at Mattei’s Tavern

On Sundays we’d go for pastry. In the 1980s, a small rush of French émigrés made their way to Anchorage, Alaska and started a revolution. They opened bakeries for breads, cakes and delicate sweets.

My family attended Sunday service at the stone chapel downtown. We’d don our best clothes, with long winter coats, and simple shoes then duck-walk across the icy parking lot to keep from falling. After the hour-long service, longer with communion, we’d pile back in the car and stop half way home to pick up Napoleon, Éclair, and cheese Danish when my dad was in town.

He worked every other week at the North Slope of Alaska building and maintaining the electrical needs of arctic oil feeds. On alternate weeks he was home.

Sundays, then, began with a sense of grateful reverence, recognition of how we were blessed. Celebration came through simple silence, moments of prayer communing with god. It continued with simple sweets. The warmth of the prayer coupled with the prickling joy of delicate French sugar. The entire day given a feeling of bright gratitude with the pastries a symbol of the gifts we gained.

Alaska’s food revolution came eventually to include more variation in foods, and my mom’s love for pastries evolved into my parents’ love for bistro fare. Bistros for them a perfect restaurant balance — good food touched by congenial service — hospitality with conversation.

My sister Melanie and I inherited our parents’ love for food. She (along with my friend Fred) sparked in me more than anyone my original love for wine. We found together our enthusiasm first and foremost to bubbles. Together we have devoted ourselves to restaurants around the United States and Canada looking always for food with a deft hand, a delicate intricacy of flavors paired with beautiful wines, in a forum that celebrates warm hospitality.

At its best, eating meals with Melanie feels of succulent revelry — that original sense of simple gratitude our parents gave us through Sundays of church and pastry blooming into a kind of reverence for the beauty of flavor, time together, and relaxing service. Some of my happiest moments have come from these meals.

In the last year, Los Olivos has opened a new restaurant, Mattei’s Tavern, bringing together the history of place — the venue opened for the first time in 1886 — with the intricate freshness possible in today’s farm-to-table restaurant culture.

Chef Robbie Wilson offers a seasonal menu designed to showcase, on one side, foods that might have carried that original 1886 menu elevated with a gentle lift — schnitzel of flatfish kept away from the heavy side, accented with the crunch of pickled mustard seeds and calabrian chiles. On the other side, he offers too foods carrying the cultural flavor fusion that so clearly speaks of now — short rib pot roast put along side lightly cooked vegetables and poured over with fresh made ramen broth. On both sides, the flavors are rich, layered, with a light bite of surprise.

The Mattei’s team also hosts the expertise of wine director Stephane Colling. His wine list shows smart devotion to Santa Barbara wines. He seems to select labels that consistently give clean fruit expression with the juicy and often mineral length that works so well with food. The list treats local wines seriously, however, by offering more than merely what comes from Santa Barbara County, offering too worldwide selections.

The current by the glass iteration, for example, mixes local jewels with worldwide gems. It’s possible, for example, to taste Goodland Wine‘s Happy Canyon Sauvignon Blanc, then follow it with Mulderbosch‘s South African iteration. The intent seems less about comparing the county’s wines to wines from elsewhere, however, and more about selecting beautiful wines for a range of palate interests that can be poured at a range of price points.

Visiting Mattei’s Tavern the thread that winds through the decor space, the menu, the wine list seems to parallel my description of Chef Wilson’s food — layers of interest, warm expression, and bites of surprise. The approach to service and overall presentation bring together the heritage of the place with modern flare. The salumi plate, for example, Felix Mattei’s Dirty Laundry, literally hangs prosciutto (my favorite) and coppa with clothespins over a board carrying pickled vegetables and mustard. One of my favorite details houses the children’s menu within the slides of a working View Master, giving kids their own visual treat for the meal.

Throughout the meal, server Jenny Mitchum offered a comfortable touchstone. She hit the balance I enjoy of showcasing the food as it arrived, checking in to track our needs, and giving us space to enjoy our conversation.

I appreciate the revitalization of the historic Mattei’s Tavern space. Partners Robbie and Emily Perry Wilson, plus Charles and Ali Banks, have navigated the challenge of utilizing a historic landmark in a manner that honors its heritage while celebrating fresh new flavor for the region.

I can’t wait to meet my sister there for dinner.


The Mattei’s Tavern Website:


Thank you to Robbie Wilson and Stephane Colling.

Thank you to Jenny Mitchum.

Thank you to Jason Smith.

Thank you to Charles Banks.

Thank you to Sao Anash.

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Generations of Gratefulness: Bringing my Family to South America

I was raised in a multi-generational family in which the strongest tradition is sharing what we appreciate, and what we have learned through stories about the history of our own and our family’s lives. In thanks for the people with whom I was able to travel Chile and Argentina, I share this story. Thank you.


Travel from Alaska to Argentina

I was six the first time my maternal Great Grandmother, Umma, left the state of Alaska. As a full Aleut, she’d lived her life on the Western coast in first one fishing village, and then another. The area is Russian Orthodox.

Orthodox priests were assigned regions to lead, rather than individual churches. Every few months the priest would arrive in a village, and the people would quickly get married, buried, and baptized. And confess.

Confessions occurred in the small church cabin painted with holy pictures, and maintained by my Great Grandfather. Inside, the village would gather, most standing except for seats for the elder women. My Umma would sit through the service, as I stood behind her, my hands crossed on her right shoulder.

Villagers would wait through incense and prayers, blessings till time for confession, then stand in a line to speak to the priest. But first the priest would cross to the front to give communion to Umma where she sat, then return to the back to receive all the others.

Confessions in Orthodox tradition occur in full view, rather than to the side in a small box of a room. After the people proceeded past the priest at the back of the church they would continue in a circle around the sides, kissing holy pictures, till they met Umma. Then the villagers would stand and wait to greet and kiss her too. Sometimes they would also bless me. She was an elder of the community. As her great grandchild, I received honor from her too. It was a blessing I carried with me by being her relation.

My mother was the oldest of her family. She was raised by her grandparents, while also close to her parents. It was partially tradition of staying close to her elders, partially particulars of their own family.

As the story was told, when still young enough to walk to the back of the church, Umma met with the priest. My mom was still little. He said to my Great Grandmother, “someday this one will take you much farther than you’ve ever expected.” Our trip out-of-state was the journey.

Our entire family traveled together landing in Seattle, then driving to Oregon to my Aunty for Easter. I sat in the back, on the edge of the seat between my great grandparents on one side, my middle sister on the other. In the front, my parents and oldest sister rode. On the drive we would come around corners and discover another tall building, or a greater expanse through the trees. Umma would grab my back, squeeze, and whisper, Aling-na! her surprise for everything new that greeted her. On our arrival in Oregon we shared a bedroom. She told me the story for the first time of how the priest had predicted our travel.

She told me too how after I was born she would look at me and smile, then say to my mom, I don’t know where that one came from. It was her way to say too she didn’t know how far I would go.

My parents were both raised in coastal villages. My father, Inupiat, originates further North. Their home regions were small enough both chose to board elsewhere in the state for high school. For university they studied in Fairbanks, where finally they met and decided to marry. Both remained close to their extended families but in having children they made a choice to raise their daughters outside their villages. We spent winters in Anchorage attending a mainstream school, summers on the Western coast commercial fishing with our Native family.

My parents’ wish for their children was for us to be clearly based in our Native heritage while capable of asking only what it was we wanted to do, without question of if we could do it. A life migrating between Anchorage for school in the winters, and the coast for work in the summers was part of that.

Reflecting on my recent trip to South America, I find myself overwhelmed by generations of gift. I am the only member of my family, besides my daughter, that no longer lives in Alaska. My sisters are both quite accomplished but have chosen to live their lives there in the state of our birth. In this way, I stand both as a fulfillment of my parents’ wish that we succeed in the broader world, and as the one who suffers an effect of that gift without family near by. Family for Native people is integral to who we are, and part of any accomplishment we keep. It is me that must do my work, but my family that has made that possible.

We departed Argentina recently on their mother’s day, a celebration in recognition of the generations of women that are family. Before leaving we shared lunch with Nicolas and Elena Catena. They are two people that, like Robert Mondavi for California wine, helped carry Argentine wine into the greater international presence it has today. Spending time with them was an honor.

We were asked, each of us, to speak to what we learned in tasting wine in Argentina. Alyssa Vitrano began by realizing the parallels of her Italian heritage with that of many of the people in wine of Argentina. Mary Orlin, Kelly Magyarics, and Mary Gorman-McAdams spoke eloquently about the quality of the wines we’d tasted, and the intricacies of vineyards with landscape. We all mentioned the warmth of people that received us. When it came my turn to speak I was flooded with the voice of my Great Grandmother — her story from the priest and my birth. Sitting with such accomplished, warm-hearted people there in Argentina, my family’s wishes for me had sent me farther than I ever expected.

Thank you most especially to Marilyn Krieger and David Greenberg.

Thank you to Alfredo Bartholomaus, Alyssa Vitrano, Kelly Magyarics, Mary Orlin, and Mary Gorman-McAdams.

Thank you to Nicolas and Elena Catena.

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How to live Alaska with Forlorn Hope + Dirty + Rowdy

Living Alaska

Growing up in Alaska I could only run or ski so long. A group of us would leave the house and run several miles across town to the cross country ski trails where a truck with our equipment would have driven to meet us. Then we’d nordic relay around the course in preparation for upcoming races. Still, even after several hours of training, we’d be out of something to do.

Besides one year with a late hour coffee shop in town, mostly there was nothing to do if you were underage. Then, even when drinking became an option most of the bars were too sketchy to waste time in. As a result, my friends and I had to get creative on what to do to pass the time. Mostly we spent our time driving, getting to know all the streets of neighborhoods all over town. Or, we’d come up with ridiculous games specific only to that evening’s mood then race around in the dark fulfilling the task we’d made up.

Last night, my sister Melanie, our friend Robin, and I decided to reprise Alaska ridiculousness with a new game. We had to on-the-fly design a photo series of iconic Anchorage moments showcasing a bottle of Forlorn Hope San Hercurmer Delle Necce, and Dirty and Rowdy Semillon.

Here are the photos from the series.

The Alaskan Athletes Hall of Fame

Susan Butcher in the Athlete Hall of Fame

Susan Butcher, 4-time winner of the Iditarod, was the baddest bad ass athlete the world has ever known. For real.

The Wild Animals Almost Got Us

Musk ox sniffing out the wine

That Musk Ox was totally sniffing out our wine. Melanie even set off an alarm trying to save us.

dude. bear almost got our wine.

Dude. The bear almost got the bottles.

oh shit dog!

Oh shit dog.

One in Three People in Alaska Has a Pilot’s License

my sister good woman

One in three people in Alaska has a pilot’s license, and the state is covered in lakes. So, there are lots and lots of float planes.

she braved leach infested water for this stuff

Melanie took off her shoes and braved the waters of a leach filled float plane lake. She brave woman.

wines on the floats

When traveling you are likely to meet bear.

wine on floats

Bring wine.

Totem Poles are so Alaska

Taco King Totem Pole

Totem poles are from Southeast Alaska but in Anchorage even Taco King “Real Mexican Food” has its own Totem Pole. #TacoKing

Tourists Run the State

The Alaska (tourist) train

The Alaska Railroad only moves tourists. Through town. The tourist train crosses the middle of town then up to Denali National Park and on to Fairbanks. We showed those tourists what’s what.

The Mortal Coil

Anchorage's whale of mortality

In downtown Anchorage, a block from the courthouse, in front of an office building full of lawyers there is a sculpture of the whale of mortality, whose waves threaten ships and tempt hunters (but the whale dives for wine). (Incidentally, one of the lawyers in this building helped me secure custody of Jr. Thank you, lawyer.)

The Inlet View

with a view of the inlet

The city is surrounded on three sides by the mountains. The fourth side by Cook Inlet.

the view a little later in the light

The sun finally sets this time of year for just a few hours.

Cook conquered the New Worlds, and then one conquered him

Captain James Cook conquered the New Worlds, including Alaska, until the New World conquered then ate him. Go Hawaii!

Junior High is to Embarrass You

I was a Trojan.

In Junior High I was a Trojan. We were all embarrassed even though we barely understood what it even meant.

How embarrassing

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Photos from a 50th Wedding Anniversary

As some of you know, my parents’ celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary this summer. I flew to Alaska to be with my whole family for the event. This weekend we held a get together with many long term friends. It was a wonderful time.

Following are photos of the celebration.

Mom still fits her wedding dress

my mom still fits her wedding dress 50 years later

Oliver, Uncle Kev, and Emily

nephew Oliver with uncle Kevin and cousin Emily

Mariana and Ethel

niece Mariana with long term family friend Ethel

Mom and Violet

mom’s (left) grandma held Violet (right) when she was baptized in Bristol Bay



Rachel and Ethel

Jr outgrew Ethel

Mom, Elaine, and Ethel

Elaine (middle) is also from Unalakleet, my dad’s home in Norton Sound

Eva and Mom

long term friends Eva and Mom

Paula and Chester


mom and Rosie grew up together in Naknek


Sean and Dad worked together on the North Slope, Sean’s wife Tammy, and commercial fish together



Pastor Max from my parents’ church



Dad and Bill, high school and college basketball buddies





sister Paula


Tim (Melanie’s husband) and sister Melanie










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The Glimmer of a Life: Briefly, why I write about wine

Winters ate more than half the year. In Spring, ice floats would form in the streets. I would play by making a leap in my silver moon boots from ice-island to ice-island the half mile walk from school to home. Across the street from the house there was a yard that grew pussy willows, a tree that bloomed fuzz blossoms with the first sun of spring. The rest of the world was wet from winter melt. Each day in March, I would stop the way home from school and pet the tiny bloom with my thumb, then return home.

Opening the front door, my mom would often be at the top of the stairs making food, the light still low that time of year. Sun would rush through the kitchen window and her silhouette would greet me, lit from behind with the light that would lift more for summer.

Growing up in Alaska offered a life of finding richness in deprivation. Produce in my childhood consisted only of dried up oranges, the firmest apples, and pears picked long before they were ripe. In summer, we lived on the western coast and survived mostly on canned mushrooms and frozen vegetables to accent fresh fish and wild meats. The salmon straight from water was so vibrant, its flavor made up for limp broccoli.

The ground of Alaska is barren. It offers open vistas of dramatic landscape, the tallest mountain in North America (Mt Denali) in the distance, but so far across the valley its size by contrast rests a comfortable peak, not so obviously the one that people fall from or freeze upon with regularity. The distances between such great objects make them smaller by perspective.

The earth there is made of tundra. Herbs, berry bushes, and tea grow in peat, bound together through miniaturized roots growing into miniaturized plants. In summer, walking across the tundra it is easy to overlook plantlife, leaving it unseen because of its tiny size until the leaves and bramble break beneath your feet and your world becomes awash in scents. Summers in Alaska for me were like the blind developing their other senses–walks across tundra are so rich in scent, so bare in visual appeal. It is this overwhelming flush of smells I now know drove me into wine. Leaving the Northern climes for anywhere else, I find myself in what might as well be (by comparison) city life. In such a life, there are no scents as rich as home except in a glass of wine.

The strongest lesson of growing up within Alaska, however, is the incredible mark one person makes. The land of Alaska, with all that tundra-peat, swallows history. What is built sinks into that moistened land. Untended, buildings disappear within a generation. My first trip to Boston, with all its Revolution era graveyards, and people buried four deep atop each other shook me to the core. Nothing stands so old in my frontier. That something could last so long, occur in layers and remain, moved me. In Alaska, a cut to the land shakes the landscape. Roadways appear as stark contrast to the raw earth surrounding. In a land that swallows buildings, your choices will be lost in a generation. But, because history does not own the landscape around you as it does in older cities, the choices of your generation echo much more strongly. One man’s choices change the world.

In Summer 2012, I came to Napa Valley only to meet a few men in wine. I had two days to give for a handful of meetings. In the midst of those meetings, however, I also connected unexpectedly with George Vare. He’s a man that now, in his final project — planting a small vineyard of Ribolla gialla in Napa Valley — has come to symbolize the pinnacle of wine geek accomplishment. After meeting a few Italian winemakers whose choices he believed in, he rescued cuttings of their vines in Italy and snuck them into the United States. From those he began what would be 2 1/2 acres in the town of Napa, leading now to plantings in Carneros, and the Russian River Valley. But he would also go on to impact a generation of winemakers younger than himself. How? to seek unusual varieties, to make wines under the influence of obscure talents from regions barely heard of, to experiment in wine making, measuring standards on a more global rather than simply market scale.

Interestingly, he planted his Ribolla vineyard at the same time he also dove deep into his practices of spiritual growth. The Ribolla was a commitment not of economic capital–he made no money from it–but of giving one self to a project bigger than yourself, to something you simply cannot predict and yet believe in.

Somehow in the midst of all of this, I was lucky enough to spend time with George Vare. He is only one man. He made simple, while brilliant choices. I write about wine because in the midst of all of this, if I pay enough attention, I am sometimes gifted with the glimmer of a life.


Inspired by Stevie Stacionis, Matthew Rorick, and Katherine Yelle; and as in all things, my mom.

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Jr Heads North Soon (Taking it easy here for a few days)

with Jr, photo by Randy Caparoso

Jr, me, photo courtesy of Randy Caparoso

Jr heads North for the summer, as has been our family tradition from the beginning, in a week and a half. School closes for the year, then a few days later she is off to Alaska to commercial fish for salmon and spend time with my family. It’s a multi-generational migration integral to our lives.

I’m the only one not still commercial fishing all summer–I started at 9, became a business owner at 13, and sold it at 23. My sisters, their families, my parents all still fish together. The experience shaped my entire constitution. For more than a decade after leaving the industry, I still had spontaneous experiences in summers of boat-rocking while sitting on dry land. My skin starts aching for salt water. My feelings turn to gush. I become emotive and overly energetic as my body still recalibrates to the expectation of intensive physical exertion on lack of sleep. Last year I channeled that extra energy into three intensive months on the road interviewing people in wine. This year my plans are still in formation.

My family history rises from the land of Bristol Bay on the Western coast of Alaska. I’ve written before, here and elsewhere, of how conception of self and tribe for Indigenous people is rooted in the land itself. It is where we are from that makes our lives possible. This is true of anyone, but it is definitive of what it is to be aboriginal. So, though I return now only sporadically, I send my daughter back every year. She too is of the place from which we come.

Until mid-June, then, I’m slowing down a touch on the frequency of my posting here. I’ll be sharing some work but only a couple times a week rather than the usual three to four. Things will pick up again after June 16.


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And Now for Something Completely Different: Crazy Alaska: The Start of the Iditarod

I got back from Sydney and went right into wine events with friends for a few days. Then I realized I was tired and decided it was appropriate to take the week off from posting. I’ll get back to a more regular schedule this coming week with write-ups from Victoria, Australia, Santa Barbara, California, and the world of Orange wine cycling through together. Since we’re in an interlude anyway, here’s a random tidbit.

The Start of the Iditarod


image courtesy of The Anchorage Daily News: the mushers and the course

In just a few moments… by the time I finish writing this post, Iditarod 2013 will have started.

Iditarod is a sled dog race crossing over 1000 miles of Alaska, traversing some of the biggest mountain ranges in the state, with temperature ranges going from well below zero F to well above freezing. Teams usually start with 12 to 16 dogs, led by a single husky and the musher, all moving a sled packed with several hundred lbs of supplies.

Mushers ride on the sled for portions of the race but during the final crunch when teams are pushing against each other to get or stay in the lead, racers will run behind the sled for hours to keep the dogs’ speed up. On downhill slides the musher must muscle the sled around corners to keep the team on trail. And in stuck spots the sled has to be pushed from behind as well. There are two long lay overs required–one of 24 hours, another at 8. Otherwise, mushers simply must check-in at certain points, make sure their dogs are healthy, and then check-out again. Many run for days on end. Incredibly, the race finishes now at just 10 days. All together it’s a seemingly impossible feat.

I grew up watching the Iditarod with dog mushing as a sort of normal option for people, even if only a few chose it. My dad’s close cousin used to race when I was little. Then my dad’s fishing partner spent a year training with the cousin and ran his dog team that winter, completing the full 1000+ mile course. That year I helped my mom sew a wealth of little booties to protect the dog team’s feet from ice and snow. I took up putting the booties on our dog too when I brought him out for a run. He always chewed the fabric off again.

In junior high, I volunteered at the Iditarod call station where people could phone in, the days before the internet or GPS tracking, to find out when and where a particular musher had last checked in along the trail, or who was in the lead.

By the time I went to graduate school in Montreal, life in French Canada was so foreign (tho loved) to me that following life in Alaska became a deep comfort. I’d grown up commercial fishing for salmon in Bristol Bay, which fascinated people, but when they asked me to tell them what fishing was like few people believed my answers. They’d tell me what I’d done wasn’t possible. (Strangely, my life in Montreal included a lot of hearing that my family’s daily reality wasn’t real.) The truth was too that much of the time getting through graduate school with a five year old also felt impossible. In the midst of that, somehow the Iditarod Sled Dog race became a symbol for me of how righteous people can actually be, of how much is possible simply by our deciding to get it done. It was a reminder too that none of us have to prove our accomplishments. Instead, we can just focus on doing good work, while we also celebrate what we love and what inspires us.

By the time I left Montreal fellow grad students that had entered the program believing dog racing was wrong were rushing into class asking me who was in the lead. The stories of mushers that had survived cancer then gone on to win; or the first woman to race; or the people that helped get the race started were inspiring to us all.

Still today, the idea that these people right this very minute are about to start the first steps of an impossible race… it still makes me emotional. There is such a concentration of intention and attention that goes into those early steps of an almost insurmountable task.

Here’s to all the mushers of Iditarod 2013. Run hard. God be with you and keep you and your dogs safe. I’ll be cheering for you.


Here are some great portraits of every musher all cleaned up before the race (you get a glimpse of how fancy Alaskans are actually able to get, though there are mushers here from all over the world):

For regular race updates, including GPS tracking of mushers on the trail, and video interviews of these serious characters:

The best news coverage of the race happens here:

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Alaska Holiday 5: Photos of Juneau

The southeast portion of Alaska rises as a host of islands from the Gulf. In the midst of these rests the state capitol, Juneau, a town that booms in the summer with tourism, and in the winter with politics. The settlement wraps about the base of mountains diving into the surrounding bays and channels. It crosses too over Gastineau Channel onto the neighboring island of Douglas. My sister Melanie and her family live on the Juneau side.

In the course of our few days it has rained, but even so we have watched whales breaching, porpoises swimming in massive pods, both sealions and seals, and a few eagles too–there is an eagle nest in my sister’s front yard. Here are some photos, sea life not included.

The city of Juneau

The city of Juneau

The city of Juneau from Douglas Island

Looking across Auke Bay from St Terese Chapel

Auke Bay

Looking across Auke Bay from the North side of Juneau Island

Looking across Auke Bay from the Douglas side

Looking towards the island of Juneau from the island of Douglas

Looking across Auke Bay from the North end of Douglas Island, towards St Terese Chapel on the island of Juneau

Mendenhall Glacier

Looking up Mendenhall Valley and Glacier (on Juneau Island) from Douglas Island

The backside of Eagle Crest

the backside of Eagle Crest

Happy New Year, everyone!

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