The temperature on Easter Sunday reached 56F degrees in Fairbanks. The last time we broke the 50 degree barrier was on September 30.
My daily hikes have been taking place in the morning now. Partly, because the day is usually wide open for interpretation, but mainly because the snowpack is still firm early in the day. Breaking trail gets old in a hurry. The mukluks will be retired any day now for the rubber breakup boots.
Our length of day has surpassed 15 hours. In fact, length of visible light, has gone over 17 hours. The northern lights have been out, but they are already faint, unless they put on a show around 2am. Soon, we will not see them again, until late August.
Rabbits can be seen morning & evening, bounding over the massive piles of snow with ease. Already, the new brown fur is mixing with the white of winter. An owl can be heard at night, hooting off in the distance, and I have seen the tracks of lynx, but the wary cat has evaded my camera traps. Neither the owl nor the lynx seem to have put much of a dent in the rabbit population. The frisky bunnies seem as numerous, if not more so, than last year.
Plow it, and they will land:
Creamer’s Field on Wednesday
At the end of last week, the annual plowing of Creamer’s Field happened. The old dairy farm is now a migratory waterfowl refuge. The field is used to tempt waterfowl away from Fairbanks International Airport. Fairbanks has an annual lottery on when the first Canadian goose lands at Creamer’s. It’s not as widely bet on as the Nenana Ice Classic, but it may be as closely followed. Creamer’s saw its first arrival on Sunday the 12th. However, for only the second time since 1976, it wasn’t a Canadian honker that landed first, but a pair of trumpeter swans. When I was out there on Wednesday, the swans were off in the distance and ducks were flying in, and landing on the puddles. The woodchucks are also out and about at the refuge.
This is the first month of April that I have spent in Alaska since 2003! I always leave around the end of March, if not earlier, to get some traveling in, and head to the Frozen Four Hockey Championship, wherever that may be held. It’s a bit odd for me to be here to watch the snow melt.
With the above average snowfall this past season, and the quick upturn in temperature, we are in for a very messy breakup with winter.
The ice hockey arena, where the University of Alaska Nanooks play their home games, was recently converted to an overflow, field hospital. The arena adds 100 beds at the moment, to the 38 beds at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital set aside for Corvid-19 patients, and the 26 beds in the intensive care unit. Like every community around the globe, everyone here hopes the arena beds are never used.
Alaska had 13 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday. The state total was now at 226 cases, still the lowest of every U.S. state, but our population is also among the lowest. 27 Alaska residents have been hospitalized, and the state has seen seven deaths, with two of those deaths taking place Outside.
Fairbanks had six of those new cases, for a total of 71 in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
The city of Dillingham, Alaska and the Curyung Tribal Council recently sent a request to the governor to close the Bristol Bay commercial fishery. That was huge news in Alaska. Bristol Bay is the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. Both entities told the State of Alaska that there was no way to limit the small communities exposure to the virus, and the communities lack the health care resources to handle a pandemic. Tens of thousands of fishermen and fish processors will soon start their migration into the region, as we get closer to the fishing season. There has been no official response from the State of Alaska, although fishery workers are considered “essential” by the State.
Conoco Phillips, the oil field giant, has shut down its remote North Slope oil fields, and have placed them into long-term storage due to coronavirus concerns. A BP worker at Prudhoe Bay had recently been diagnosed with the disease, putting several workers in quarantine.
Travel to Alaska by nonresidents is obviously frowned upon. Visitors are expected to quarantine for 14 days if they do arrive in the state. The cruise ship industry will not be visiting Alaskan ports until July at the earliest. Alaska has little, to no say in that. All Canadian ports of call are closed until July 1. An intriguing maritime law prohibits international cruise ships from carrying U.S. citizens from one U.S. port to another. In other words, they can not go from Seattle, Washington to Skagway, Alaska without a stop at a foreign port – namely a Canadian port. Until Canada opens its ports, Alaskan ports will remain closed to the cruising industry.
Several blogs that I follow have asked the question: “What is the proper way to blog during this event?” A few have even stopped blogging altogether. I honestly don’t have an answer. I rarely spend much time worrying about proper, so I’m probably not the guy to ask. As for Circle to Circle, I don’t intend to ignore the current situation, but I’m not going to dwell on it either. Every post will not be Covid-19 related, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to world events or that I’m not sympathetic to the suffering and losses. It isn’t hard for me to get as much coverage as I want on the Covid-19 virus, the difficulty is in limiting it to a manageable amount. One can quickly get overwhelmed, and then it’s hard to pull back out of the funk.
For now, I will continue to do what I do here, which is mainly to blog about Alaska, and its wonderful quirks. Circle to Circle started out to chronicle a long trip, and I still think it’s at it’s best when I’m writing about traveling. Travel will have to stay close to Fairbanks for the foreseeable future, so maybe I can pull some rabbits out of the local hat.
I sincerely think it’s important to remember that there are a lot of beautiful things happening every day out there, among the chaos and uncertainty. Maybe now, more than ever, it is worthwhile to point those things out as they happen. The moose cows will give birth this spring, and I will have little, gangly moose calves wandering about in short order. The sandhill cranes will soon be flying into the region, bugling their ancient call from the skies and tundra. The puddles and ponds will be full of ducks and muskrats, and the beaver will emerge from their domed hut – hopefully with kits.
Everything changes, and, of course, this blog can change at the drop of a wood duck chick. This was/is always going to be a work in progress. Stop by for a virtual Alaskan break, if that pleases you; feel free to fly over, if you feel Circle to Circle is not your pint of choice. Ask questions, leave comments, drop me a line if you’d like. We are all in this together, even as we stay apart.
Over the weekend, I was asked if I had been affected much by actions for theCoronavirus.
Up until now, I’ve been affected only mildly. I imagine that will change shortly.
I’ve had a project going lately, which has taken me out to a few remote Alaska villages. I’ve basically been doing the two week on, two week off schedule, and the virus really hit the fan when I was out in the Naknek region. I finished my assignment, came back to Fairbanks, and will not be going out again. The project has been put on hiatus, although I suspect it has really been cancelled, at least for the foreseeable future.
I had a construction project already lined up for my return. Materials were on site, the building empty, so I worked on that all week, and will finish probably today or tomorrow. Like most people I know who work construction up here, I have no work projects currently on the horizon.
Normally, this is the time of year when I escape and go Outside, thus avoiding the Interior Alaska Breakup Season. A group of us attend the Frozen Four hockey championships that take place every April, but this year they have been canceled. When in the Lower 48, I would check in on my Dad, as well as other family & friends about now, but traveling anywhere is beyond a bad idea, so I’m staying in Alaska. From up here, airplanes & airports seem like giant petri dishes, but to be honest, my greatest unease with travel right now is the thought that if I leave Alaska, I won’t be able to come back! That’s enough to give any cabin-dweller the shivers.
The shelves at the local grocery stores & Costco are looking pretty sparse, but I’m well-stocked anyway. It’s kind of an Alaskan thing, I suppose. When you live at the end of the road, having enough food to get you through a patch of bad weather, or a closing of the Alaska Highway, or a barge losing its load coming up from Seattle, is just something we do. Especially in the winter months. I have a freezer stocked with salmon, rock fish, halibut and other Alaska morsels, so I’m good to go there. I am a bit low on blueberries, but that’s par for the course this time of year.
A friend wanted me to stop by the other day on my way home from work. I declined the invite, saying I should probably partake in some social distancing. I was informed that this was hardly new for me, and the virus was just a convenient excuse. I had to chuckle, because if left to my own devices, I can be a notorious hermit. I have no problem retreating into my little world at the end of the road, and turning off the phone and computer. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, someone threatened to call out the dog sled teams to hunt for me, when I went off grid for barely a week.
I have books to read, letters to write, and LP’s to spin – inside; trails to walk, lakes to circle on snowshoes, and moose to try to capture on film – outside.
We can’t control the virus; all we can do is try our best not to catch it. I hope, and fully expect, to see all of you on the other side of this.
I was reminded of an Inuit saying when revisiting the documentary “Noatak: Return to the Arctic”.
“I think over again
My small adventures
Those small ones that seemed so big
For all the vital things
I had to get and to reach
And yet there is only one great thing
To live and see the great day that dawns
And the light that fills the world.”
A young moose blocks my way to the job site on Wednesday; its twin was eating willows in the slough to the right.
Winter 2019-2020 seems to have dragged on forever. We are finally turning the much anticipated corner into spring. I understand, for some of you, briar & tick season leaves you feeling itchy over the upcoming season, but up here in the Far North, I’m more than ready for spring. Without any hockey, we might as well melt the ice.
Spring officially arrives early this year. We have not seen a spring this early on the calendar for 124 years. Looking at the snow still on the ground here in Fairbanks, only the warmer temps signal any sign of spring.
Here in Fairbanks, we have finally pushed over the 12 hour mark for daylight. We gained 6 minutes, 44 seconds from yesterday. That makes both the moose and I happy.
Claimed by South Saint Paul; adopted by the entire State of Hockey.
Credit: Golden Gopher Hockey
Doug Woog, the former coach of the University of Minnesota Gopher hockey team, passed away this past Saturday. Woog was 75.
Wooger was the Gopher coach for 14 years, leading the team to 12 consecutive national tournament appearances. He led the Gophers to the Frozen Four finals in his first four seasons behind the bench, and to six Frozen Fours in all.
At the time of Wooger’s retirement, he led the team in victories as a coach. Don Lucia has since passed him in wins. Woog still out paces Lucia in win percentage. His win percentage at Minnesota is also higher than two legends of the game: John Mariucci and Herb Brooks.
When Woog was coaching the Gophers, it was common knowledge in Minnesota, that if you wanted to complain about the Gopher power play, you didn’t have to go through the University switchboard. All you had to do was open the Saint Paul phone book: The Woogs were always listed.
After his coaching career, Woog made an incredibly easy transition into broadcasting Gopher hockey games. He was a natural, and another generation of fans came to know the Wooger.
Doug Woog receives a kiss from his goaltender after scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Minneapolis Patrick Henry in the 1959 state tournament. Photo: Minnesota Hockey Hub
Doug Woog made the South Saint Paul high school hockey team as a 5’6″, 140 pound freshman. Woog and the Packers went to four state tournaments in hockey. Woog was All-State for three years, was named to the State’s All-Tournament team for three years, and led the tournament in scoring in 1962.
For good measure, Woog was also All-State in football as a tailback.
Doug Woog as a Gopher; Photo credit: Golden Gopher Hockey
Woog would go on to play for the University of Minnesota, under the God Father of Minnesota hockey, John Mariucci. He won three letters, since freshman were not allowed to play in this era. In 80 career games, Woog tallied 101 points. As a junior, he led the team in scoring, and was named First Team All-America. As a senior, Woog was named Gopher captain, and the team’s MVP.
Wooger showing concern over Referee Shepherd’s eyesight
With all of the high accolades that Woog received as both a hockey player and coach, I think he was really a teacher at heart.
When I was a student at the University of Minnesota, Doug Woog was the hockey coach. I spent many Friday & Saturday winter nights at the Old Mariucci Arena. Campus was a lot different back then. There was no “athlete village”, and running into players and coaches was a common occurrence. Since I played some rec sports during my time at the “U”, I was often around the sports facilities and I only remember two coaches that gave the time of day to the average student. One was the still current baseball coach, John Anderson, and the other was Woog. A quick comment to Woog of “Nice win on Saturday, Coach”, would more often than not get a response about how the transition game wasn’t quite what he was looking for, or the power play left some goals on the ice.
Once, while at Williams Arena, I literally ran into Coach Woog. I was probably picking up student tickets to the weekend series, and was bundled up to race across campus for a class I shouldn’t be late for. I bumped into Woog on my way to the door, and he joked about my being in a hurry, then he asked if I was going to the game on Friday. I said I was, then I said that the Gophers would have a tough time with So-And-So in goal for the opposing team. Woog then spent the next ten minutes telling me exactly how and why So-And-So would be that tough. Then he spent ten minutes telling me about their defensive corps. If I hadn’t stopped him, I think Coach Woog would have given me the run down on their entire line up, as well. I was young and foolish back then, and I thought that the class was a priority, so I raced off, no doubt leaving Woog chuckling. I was quite late to class anyway, and the professor made sure everyone in the hall knew I was late. It’s only years later that I realize that the class was the least important thing I did that entire day.
My favorite Woog story comes, of course, from North Dakota, Minnesota’s main rival at the time. As a student, nothing was better than a bus ride to Grand Forks to see Minnesota play NoDak. There is just something about youth that longs to be surrounded by people who utterly hate your very existence. A trip to Madison was second best; hat tip towards Peewaukee. Back in the day, when NoDak played the Gophers, their fans would throw dead prairie dogs onto the ice when North Dakota scored their first goal. Woog’s Gophers had one mission: To keep those dead prairie dogs in the NoDak fans’ pockets for as long as possible. A shutout was an epic victory. Woog relished the idea of the stinky, dead rodents thawing out inside the NoDak jackets.
I became excited about college hockey as a very young kid, sitting in the stands at Old Mariucci with my Dad, watching Herb Brooks coach the Gophers to national prominence. That culminated with the 1980 Miracle on Ice. But there is no doubt that I learned the game of hockey watching the Doug Woog coached Gophers.
Woog was a class act through and through, and he will be missed at rinks all around Minnesota. His passion and dedication to the sport was infectious, and he passed that on to so many people, that he didn’t even know were watching.
Four members of the Frozen Foursome+ made the pilgrimage to Toronto to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame during the off day of the college tournament. The Hall was established in 1943; it has been in its current location since 1993.
Dedicated to Mr Hockey
Currently, there is an exhibit honoring #’s 9 & 99: Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. A nice video tribute on both of the legendary players, as well as exhibits highlighting their connection.
One section of the Wayne Gretzky exhibit
One can not argue with the contribution both made to the game of hockey: Mr Hockey & The Great One.
Hobey Baker’s induction plaque
The plaques honoring the players that have been inducted and the various trophies are displayed in the Great Hall, which is in the historic Bank of Montreal building.
The Great Hall’s ceiling
The Great Hall is a stunning room, the highlight of which is the 24 fanned-panel, stained glass dome, with eight stained glass circles, and even more detailed panels on the outer edge and inner section.
Herbie’s induction plaque
The Bank of Montreal building, which is home to The Great Hall was constructed in 1885.
The Original: Lord Stanley’s Cup
The original Stanley Cup, and the retired bands from the current cup, are stored in the old bank’s vault. Now known as Lord Stanley’s Vault.
The Canadiens are well represented
The HHof receives around 300,000 visitors a year. This year, with the Frozen Four held in nearby Buffalo, NY, there was a definite influx of college hockey fans while we visited.
Conn Smythe Trophy
Miracle on Ice
There is an entire section dedicated to international hockey, which includes Olympic Hockey. A large exhibit honoring the 1980 Miracle on Ice team was prominent.
They do play hockey Down Under
A hockey fan could spend several days exploring the Hall. I know that all of our group would have loved to spend more time than we had, but it was a well worth the trip across the border to experience the history of hockey.
A very small section of the exhibit dedicated to the evolution of the goalie mask