Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Little Miss Molly McWiggles

This Christmas was extra special for the Martin family this year. As Dad and I were doing some Christmas shopping, Dad suggested that we swing by the Human Society and take a look at what kinds of lab mixes they had. I rarely pass up a chance to check out unwanted or abused pets that need a good home. As we walked around looking at the various mutts that were kenneled up some looking excited and friendly, and some looking wary and very skeptical, we saw about three dogs that may fit the picture at the Martin household. Then I came across this scrawny but friendly African wild dog looking wiggling pup standing in the middle of her kennel trying to determine if she could trust me or not. About ten seconds later, she was pressing up against the chain link so I could pet her more. Then she sat back against the wall and waited to see who would come around and say "Hi" to her next. She had been in the kennel for about 5 - 8 days and had 2 - 3 people interested in her. My Dad agreed with my selection of a possible dog and we filled out the paper work for possible adoption.
Two days later, we brought both Mom and Katja back to visit her and see how everyone would get along. Holly, recently changed to Molly, had just gotten out of surgery, so she was pretty mellow. Katja had greeted her long enough to get annoyed with "in your face" puppy behavior. Mom really took a liking to her as well. By the end of our visit, including extensive paper work, she had officially become ours.
Molly has been at the house for almost a full week now and she is getting along pretty well. Katja maintained her distance during this time and whenever annoyed would retreat to my bedroom upstairs to escape. Recently, they have been playing more inside and out. Poor Molly gets rolled over and over again as they tear around the yard. They have developed a mutual respect for each other. Molly has learned how to interact with Katja without getting snapped at and Katja has been much more receptive to Molly's puppiness during the last couple of days.
Dad loves the dog because of her loyal nature and her level of intelligence. She now responds to "Molly" and will seat, stay, and heal pretty consistently. She also has a mellow nature and spends a lot of time either curled up in front of the fire place or stretched out in the sunniest part of the house napping or just observing the mindless interactions and goings on of us humans. She is learning that her kennel is where she sleeps at night and freely goes in on her own accord now. During the night, she still wakes up and starts whining and asking to get some attention. A quick reprimand, a little tough love, and she usually quiets down again. She still does have the occasional accident in the house, which is also troubling to my Dad. It's been 12 years since he has had to train a puppy. I won't say that "you can't", but it is "hard to teach old dogs new tricks." They do like to take a little nappy nap time each afternoon. Dad's best friend.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

I love my Leatherman

Some of you may know that I am the proud owner of a snow machine (snow mobile) now, a four year old Yamaha Venture Lite. Some of you may also know that I don't always stay on the road, stay within the lines, follow the crowd. So last night, I decide to take my machine out and run Katja. It also goes without saying that my students have been excited to follow me on the new ride out over the frozen tundra. Luckily, one of my students decided to follow me last night. As I cruised out the trail, I decided to check out a little short cut that I noticed last year. As I approached the the little short cut, I noticed that it was drifted over and there was not a trail cut through the area as there was the previous year. I stopped to right on the edge of the drop off, which was only about 2 - 3 feet, and decided to back up and go around. Unfortunately, my "tank" of a snow machine didn't want to back up and started digging into the deep snow. So, the only other way was to plunge ahead and make for the best. Upon arriving to the scene, the first words out of my student's mouth was OMG - what have you done?

To make a long story short, I got stuck among the willows in the drop and had to use my student's assistance to run back to my house for a shovel and my leatherman. Returning to the disaster, I quickly cut the willows away from my machine with the saw of my leatherman and then did a little digging to where I could lift the front of the machine around, which enabled me to drive out of the ditch. I love my leatherman! My machine might still be in the ditch if I didn't the WAVE to help quickly clear and free it from the willow branches.

I imagine that most first time snow machine owners have done something stupid like this and had to learn from their experiences. I'm sure that won't be the last time I have to call on someone's assistance to get me out of a jam with my new toy. I'm just glad that I didn't roll it over. My Yamaha is very heavy and I don't think that I would be able to flip it right side up again.
Lessons for the day:
1. Keep the rubber side down.
2. Stay out of the ditch.
3. Always carry a leatherman.

Stay tuned for more adventure from ... Qasaq with a snow machine.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The alevin are coming! The alevin are coming!

In mid-November, the Eek junior high and high school students started incubating salmon in the classroom as part of their science classes. For the first couple of weeks, the students just monitored the eggs as the embryos squirmed around inside. Keep in mind, at this stage, we could see the embryos, particularly their eyes, inside the eggs. Around November 28th, we started noticing some of the eggs hatching and alevin (salmon embryos) emerging. We currently have about 60 - 70 alevin squirming around the bottom of the fish tank. Some have swam out of the basket that holds the eggs in the tank. Many are still mixed in with the remaining eggs that haven't hatched yet. The early hatching of the eggs came as a little bit of a surprise. We were anticipating the eggs hatching around the middle of December. Apparently, the hatchery in Anchorage sends out eggs that have been fertilized a slightly different times and have been developing longer than others. Therefore, we witnessed eggs hatching right around 400 ATUs, which is normal for Coho salmon. I am expecting that we will still have some eggs that haven't hatched by the middle of December, but most of them should be hatched. Keeping my fingers crossed.

The students have been very willing to help maintain the water quality of the tank and to help remove eggs that died before hatching as well as some alevin that didn't fully emerge from the eggs and thus died. When the alevin start hatching, the embryonic fluid inside the eggs starts to build up and create a foamy layer on the top of the water. This is a critical period of time for maintenance and doing water changes to minimize the amount of foam in the water. These embryos require very high water quality and will die if toxins build up and don't get cleared out. In the natural environment, this embryonic fluid flows on downstream and allows the alevin to develop in the fresh water.

Thankfully, the alevin do not need much maintenance after they have hatched. The carry a giant yolk sac, like some grotesque, over-extended stomach. This is their food supply for the next 4 weeks. So when I return from Christmas break in early January, I will most likely find that some of the alevin have "buttoned up", meaning they have used up their yolk sac and will be looking to start feeding in the water column. During this time, the salmon fry will shoot to the surface and take in gulps of air to help inflate their swim bladder, which will enable them to maintain their buoyancy level in the water column. The tank will take on a whole new look. Then again, since this is my first experience in raising salmon in the classroom, I'm not really sure what to expect when I get back to my classroom. We'll have to wait and see.
Stayed tuned!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Temperature Fluctuations - Only outside

I don't know if it's global warming that causes this region to always have a warm spell hit this time of year, or if it's just a natural cycle that I need to get used to. I do know that one weekend, I'm waxing skis and getting ready to hit the trails and the next weekend, I'm wiping mud off my boots and sweating in the classroom. It has warmed up, above freezing, for the past week, ever since the NYO team went to Chefornak one and a half weeks ago. And it's been raining almost non stop since then. Now, today it is finally cooling off below freezing again. There is still some light precipitation, but oh oh oh... only if all that precip we had earlier had been snow. We would wading through snow drifts up to our waists. Oh well, I guess we will have to wait a couple of weeks again.

One place that the temperature has been very stable is in our school's new Salmon Incubation Tank. Yes, we set up the tank on the 13th and 14th in preparation for the arrival of 500 Coho salmon eggs. I had four students, two high schoolers and two middle schoolers help set up the filtration system, cooling system, add the water, and insulate the outside of the tank. Then on Tuesday evening, we received our shipment of salmon eggs. Again, students helped to safely transfer the eggs from their chilled shipping environment to the tank water, which had been chilled to approximately 8 degrees C. (46.4 degrees F.) When I checked the eggs the next morning, there was only one casualty. I safely removed the dead egg with a turkey baster, and since then, all the eggs look viable.

My students then had to calculate the estimated time the "eyed" eggs would hatch. I wanted them to hatch close to our departure for Christmas break, so that we wouldn't have to worry about maintenance of the tank while we were gone. The egg development depends mostly on the temperature that we keep the water. Students have been measuring the water temperature everyday and calculating the ATUs (Accumulated Thermal Units). Coho salmon eggs hatch usually around 450 - 500 ATUs. Today, we calculated that the eggs have 371.5 ATUs at this time. We lowered the temperature of our tank to 7 degrees C. (44.6 degrees F.) so that the eggs would hatch around Dec. 11 - 13 and we would have enough time to do the 3 - 4 water changes necessary to maintain good water quality. During this time, we will lower the temperature of the tank down to 4 - 5 degrees C. in order to lower the biological activity.

While we are on Christmas break, the Alevin will be hiding deep in the rocks of the tank, slowly absorbing their gigantic yolk sacs. When they finally "button up", they will emerge from the rocks again and be free swimming salmon fry.

Overall, the students are pretty excited about the project. I usually don't have to ask for volunteers to help with maintenance and data recording for the tank. It actually presents another factor of classroom management that I have to deal with. Students love to just sit there and watch the "Salmon TV."

So stayed tuned for updates on Eek School's Salmon Incubation Project.
Thanks for reading!


Monday, November 08, 2010

Getting Ready for Winter Fun

Well the temperature has dipped below the freezing mark. We actually got snow back in the end of September. It didn't last long. I believe the current snow will be here until April.

So in preparation, I set up the ski waxing station and prepped my skate skis for my second season of ski fitness. I am very much an intermediate skier and even less experienced at waxing, but I was very happy with the outcome of my wax job this time. Waxing skis is a very detailed and scientific process. There are numerous different waxes for specific temperature ranges. There is wax for new snow and old snow. There is high temperature (iron temp) flourocarbon wax and lower grade wax that you have to apply more often. And its pretty darn expensive. Yeah, leave it to me to find an expensive hobby.

All this will hopefully lead me to be geared up for the Tour of Anchorage again this coming spring. 25 Kilometers of rolling, scenic, perfectly groomed ski trails around Anchorage. Last year, my first year, I was brutally humbled at my lack of fitness and my lack of preparation of enough fluids and energy food. This year, I hope to crush my time from last year.

More importantly, these preparations with the skis is getting Katja very excited for another season of skijoring. We actually went out on Saturday this weekend, although the amount of snow was a little lacking for skis just yet. I know this because I fell a couple of times due to my skis hitting rocks just under the snow. I fell hard. I have a bruise on my hip and a mangled elbow to prove it. But that will heal and leave me stronger and more armored for the rest of the season.

So for now, my fingers are crossed for more snow and suitable temperatures for outdoor fun and adventure. I do have a snow machine (snow mobile) this year as well, so that will be beckoning me to head out for longer adventures. I might even be able to scoot over to Quinhagak (35 miles away) to ski with some friends there.

And with that, I wish you all a wonderful winter with bountiful amounts of snow and sunshine. Happy Trails,
Dirk and Katja

Salmon Workshop

Hi all,
This event is actually quite old by now, but it is still worth posting. I had the great opportunity of venturing to Fairbanks for 4 days and attending a workshop to bring Salmon into the Classroom. It is a salmon incubation project to help expand the awareness and educate students about this amazing and extremely valuable Alaska resource.

We learned about some incredible information regarding ocean acidification, cultural history, life cycles of the different salmon species, and a host of great resources on line to enhance and supplement curriculum in all areas of education. We were actively engaged in many classroom activities related to salmon migrations, human impacts on salmon populations, and salmon anatomy.

I got lucky and was able to come back home with a complete kit for the Salmon Incubation Project and will be receiving 500 Coho (silver) Salmon eggs on Nov. 16th. My middle and high school students will then be in charge of caring for the eggs until they hatch and raising the young salmon fry until the end of the year.
Unfortunately, we will have to destroy the young smolt at the end of the school year, but next year I hope to take the project to the next level and actually collect eggs from our local Eek River. Then we can release the salmon smolt back into the Eek River again at the end of the year.
It was a very exciting and rewarding workshop and I am very "egg"cited to get started with our project. The students are excited too and keep asking me about when we are getting the eggs.

Stay tuned as I will try to write some posts on our progress with the project.
Until next time...

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Digs

When I left Eek last year, I had moved myself out of the new teacher 4-plex and into more modest living quarters. It is still very homey and I have a place to myself again, which I happen to prefer right now. I also only have to worry about Katja chewing up my belongings and not anyone else's. Most recently, she chewed up my new stereo remote.
Some other perks about my new living arrangement are ...
1. I get my own laundry appliances. I don't have to share with anyone else. After all, I am an
only child.
2. I can play music as loud and as late into the night as I want and no one complains about it.
Katja may not like it too much, but she doesn't complain.
3. I now have cable T.V. as well. This could be one of my downfalls this year. As my friends can tell you, when I watch T.V., nothing else gets done. Conversation is lost. I truly zone out. Like a zombie. Until I fall asleep. It's not something I am particularly proud of.
4. I can clean as often as I like...which ends up being less often than I should most of the time. I
do clean up eventually.
5. If I burn dinner, no one else knows about it. It happens to everyone once in a while.
6. I have a spare bedroom that I reserve for guests of the school, friends, and a place to store my fly fishing equipment and tie flies.

My classes this year are exciting as well. I'm teaching 7th and 8th grade math, science, and health/P.E. and High School Biology, Algebra, and Alaska Studies. I enjoy teaching High School level classes, although I do feel more pressure for getting grades in for transcripts and such. Things are going pretty smoothly. I have 15 middle school students and 10 high school students. I definitely deserve to have some smaller class sizes after teaching 23 students last year that ranged from 4th to 8th grade...for every class...all day long. Last year was rough. I am taking on more responsibility as well this year. I coach Cross - Country in the fall which starts up on the first day of school. I also coach our NYO (Native Youth Olympics) team in the fall and spring. I am also acting as the Athletic Director this year for all sports. I am feeling good about the roles that I'm taking on this. I just don't want to have to be the acting Site Administrator if need be. I will gladly let someone else take on that responsibility.

The last picture here is a view of my village along the banks of the Eek River. The river is tidal here and in order to catch fish, one has to travel up river about 15 - 20 miles. This fall has been particularly rainy, so the river levels have been extraordinarily high and the fishing has been pretty bad...at least for me. Therefore my world is far from perfect. I hope to get some fishing in before the fall season is over. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring is in the air

I say this, but we will still have mornings of 23 degrees F. and occasional snow squalls. For the most part, spring has arrived and the winter season is slowly trickling away. Each day gets up to about 40 - 50 degrees now and more and more snow disappears for another 8 or 9 months. With the temperatures warming throughout the region a couple of things happen.

1. Ptarmigan start to appear and you can hear them clucking and laughing across the tundra in all directions. They still have their white winter foliage for now, but they will be quickly molting and starting to adapt to their brownish environment again. I actually got out a couple of weeks ago with a couple of students and bagged 3 - 4 ptarmigan. They will go nicely in a stir fry or stew. With the ptarmigan out, the students are itching for the end of each school day to rip across the tundra on their snow machines or 4 wheelers with their 22 rifles or 20 gauge shotguns to bag as many of tundra chickens as possible. They usually have to travel at least 3 - 4 miles to find descent sized flocks of birds to hunt.

2. All that wonderful white stuff is melting and running into giant puddles and mini lakes across the landscape. The actual lakes are still quite frozen, but the top layer melts more and more each day the sun shines down it. This gives the kids an excellent opportunity to go "skipping" or "sliding" on their snow machines across these water covered pieces of ice. So, all evening long, the intermittent screaming of snow machines can be heard as they race across the water. If you keep your speed up high enough, you won't sink and swamp your snow machine. Even if you did, there isn't any real danger of sinking to the bottom of a lake...yet. That day will be coming soon and each day, the risk increases.

3. The snow is really mostly gone already. There are occasional patches of the white stuff left, but most of the trails that were used in the winter are now turning to torn up strips of tundra moss, blueberry, blackberry, and cranberry plants, and other types of vegetation. We actually had an elder gentleman from the village visit several classrooms in the school and talk about reducing the human impact on the fragile tundra by staying off of it with machines. And just like kids everywhere, there are always some that ignore the wisdom and advise of adults and do whatever the heck they want. The fact is that the tundra does an incredible job of bouncing back. This has been happening for years now and each fall when I return, the tundra has returned to it's springy, supersaturated carpet of vegetation. It's still sad to see the condition of this ecosystem as the season changes from winter to spring and no one wants to put their machine away for the summer and fall. They are just to darn fun!

Walking across the tundra with Katja on our daily explorations is kind of nice this time of year. You definitely need your muck boots to keep your feet dry, but with the permafrost still pretty shallow, you can walk across some more swampy areas rather easily. Katja usually finds about 12 - 15 bones that have been covered up by the snow and will find a spot to settle down and gnaw on the skeletons of the dead every so often. I've taken to walking because... obviously I can't ski (much to my dismay) and I don't feel like trashing my bike in the muck. The running shoes will be broken out soon enough.

Time is ticking away for the school year! In another 28 days, Katja and I will be walking barefoot on the grass around my folks home in Maryland or running the C&O canal along the Potomac River. Looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Skijoring on the Tundra

Untitled from DirkMartin on Vimeo.

Well winter is dragging on. Not that I'm complaining about it. I'm actually glad that we still have enough snow for skiing. This video is from two weeks ago when I went out early in the morning and just kept on going. I got out to this video site and rested for a while playing with my camera set up. Then I just continued on to a nearby fish camp on the Eek River. I was still feeling fresh, so I went about another 1 1/2 miles up river and then turned around. Looking at my GPS, I figured I skied about 15 miles total that day. It was the longest distance I've skate skiied since the race in Anchorage. When I got home, I laid around the house nursing my sore, tired muscles and my new blisters from my boots. Katja slept for the rest of the day. I love my skate skis!
I'm not looking forward to the snow leaving us here, but it's going to happen sooner than later. It will be interesting to see what happens in Eek. I imagine that things will turn pretty swampy and marshy, but it still won't be as bad as my experience in Toksook Bay last spring. There, I lived in one of the lowest areas in the village and basically had a small river running past my house and emptying into a small pond just below my house that almost flooded my knee high boots when I waded through it. Hopefully that will not be my experience here in Eek.
On a brighter note, the warming temps will bring the Ptarmigan out of their winter hiding. I hope to take the bike or skis, which ever is more efficient, or buy gas for one of our students to take me on a snow machine. Either way, I want to do some hunting. Ptarmigan is really good in stews and stir fry. Since my salmon supply is almost gone, I need to look for other bounty of the Delta. I'll keep you posted. Hope you enjoyed watching the video as much as I did making it.
Thanks for reading,
Dirk and Katja

Monday, March 15, 2010

My First "Last Great Race"

I've been in Alaska for almost 4 years now and have yet to see a dog mushing race. So, when a couple of friends mentioned that they were going in for the 2010 Iditarod and the Tour of Anchorage nordic ski race, I jumped at the opportunity. I asked for a couple of personal days to allow myself a relaxing stay in Anchorage without having to rush back to work right away. I'm glad I did that, because I had a hard time walking around after my ski race.
I stayed with some friends from Eagle River, which sits right at the base of the Chugach mountains. My friends stayed downtown Anchorage at the Millenium hotel, which happened to be the base of operations for the Iditarod Race. The lobby of the hotel had tons of gifts and memorabilia for purchase and there was always lots of people mingling around the tables and displays.
Saturday morning was the ceremonial start for the Iditarod. The first musher started around 10 am and others continued a staggered start every two minutes until around 1:00 pm. They ran the dogs about 4 - 5 miles around Anchorage. The city of Anchorage had to truck in tons and tons of snow to fill the streets of town so the dogs could actually pull their sleds. The official start of the race was Sunday at 2:00pm in Willow, AK near Wasilla where there was plenty of snow. We were concerned about parking, because "Fur Rondy" had been going on for a couple of weeks and downtown had been crowded the whole time. Fur Rondy is a two week celebration focusing on the Iditarod, Native Arts, and culture. We happened to find relatively close parking spaces near a part of the course that was not too crowded. We were able to stand right on the edge of the course near a corner with plenty of space to take photos and catch the candy filled dog booties.
The race is coming to a close with three top contenders battling it out. Lance Mackey is in front with Jeff King and Hans Gatt closing in from third position. If you want to follow closer, check out the following site, http://www.iditarod.com/ to read all the stories. Now in honor of celebrating the winter season with your dog, I'm going to go skiing with Katja. See ya!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Those Crazy Kussaqs

Winter in the bush of Alaska can be a blessing and a curse depending on the weather and where you live in the bush. Coastal regions tend to get more wind and sometimes more snow, but definitely more wind. For that reason, I'm thankful that I moved farther inland from the coast. Eek is inland about 12 miles from the coast and settled in nicely amongst flat interior tundra landscape, about 45 miles west of the Kilbuck Mountains. The Eek river is a vital asset to the people here. During the winter time, it provides a necessary highway to hunting and ice fishing grounds. The cold winter season allows people to travel to other villages via snow machine over the bumpy frozen tundra. In the case of Eek, many people travel to Bethel and Quinhagak throughout the season.
Those of you that know me at all, know that I need time to play outside. Especially after teaching 4 grades in all subjects for 8 - 10 hours a day. I've found Eek to be a very nice playground for my recreational pursuits. Aside from fishing throughout the fall, I've been biking, x-c skiing, and sometimes skijoring with Katja. The trail system around Eek is well used and there are a couple of options for directions to go. I've been biking farther away from the village than I travel on my skis. I purchased a pair of "skate skis" this year and they have allowed me to ski much longer than I normally do. So when the snow gets too deep for biking, I break out the skis and Katja and I skijor on the river and trails around the village.
This year, the weather has been rather mild as far as temperatures and the amount of snow that we have experienced here in Eek. The warm temperatures melt the snow, turning the trails into ice roads when it freezes again. With studded ice tires on my bike, I can cover ground pretty quickly. Yesterday, I rode up to a nearby fish camp 6 miles up river away from the village. It was about a 12 mile round trip, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when you are traveling over snow and ice, it is quite a workout for me and Katja both.
When ever I run into natives, especially my students away from the village out on the tundra, I am greeted with the same concerns that sound like this. "What are you doing out here?" or "You rode out here on your bike?" and sometimes, "Don't get lost!"
Fortunately, there are many trail markers out on the tundra. The lakes are sometimes as much as a mile across and have small trees planted in the ice to guide travelers across safely. Out on the tundra, there are many types of markers, such as poles, old oil drums, etc. Obviously I haven't gotten lost yet nor have I gotten frost bite. So get out there, get your fix, and thanks for reading my blog.