Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Rebuilding a Monument to Hikers

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Above, Pacific Crest Trail volunteer Mike Lewis of Anza, California, stands in the barn where he sharpens one of the tools of his trade. He built the marker for the southern terminus of the PCT, which is on the California-Mexico border. Below, Mike, seated, poses with the crew that installed the new marker in 2016.

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is a bucket-list activity for long-distance hikers.

Since January 2016, visitors to the southern terminus of the PCT have been greeted by a new monument marking the trailhead. Pacific Crest Trail Association volunteer Mike Lewis of Anza, California, built the marker in his garage. He modeled it after the original monument installed in 1988.

The long and scenic path stretches 2,650 miles, from the U.S. border with Mexico to the U.S. border with Canada. It is a grueling adventure along the Sierra-Nevada and Cascade Mountain ranges.

The monument project began in mid-2015 when PCTA Southern California Regional Representative Anitra Kass asked Mike if he could get the job done by the first of the year. After more than 25 years of exposure to the harsh Southern California climate, the original marker—made of five 12-by-12 fir timbers—was falling apart.

A carpenter by trade, Mike had the skills, tools and patience to handle the task.

“I like doing that kind of stuff,” Mike says. “I love working on the trail. I like doing things that are out of the ordinary.”

Mike found detailed drawings of the original design in a museum and used them to recreate the same look. He made several trips to the marker—a 200-mile round trip from his home.

“I wanted to duplicate the original design,” says Mike. “I hand-built a jig for doing the lettering.”

That attention to detail continued with the marker placement. Most hikers begin their trek early in the morning, so Mike adjusted the angle of the marker so hikers posing for photos would have the best possible light and background.

Now that the project is done, there is talk of Mike building a new marker for the northern terminus. But he hopes he never has to replace the southern monument again.

“I have started a yearly maintenance program,” he says. “I’ve decided once a year I’m gonna go down there, fill the cracks and re-stain the top. The problem is the tops take a lot of abuse. People stand on them, sit on them, get their pictures taken.”

This isn’t Mike’s first volunteer project for PCTA. For the past 10 years, he has been a regular on the trail, much of the time hauling equipment to work sites with his pack mules through his work with the Trail Gorillas. Those days are sometimes 16 hours long.

To honor Mike for his work on the monument and the trail, PCTA awarded him the Alice Krueper Award in 2015.

Take the Bite Out of Summer

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Biting black flies are an especially persistent nuisance outdoors, particularly near bodies of water. Fortunately, many of the things that repel or protect against mosquitoes are also effective deterrents for black flies: light-colored clothes, long sleeves, citronella oil, lemon eucalyptus oil and minty scents.
© iStock/walterbilotta

Local fishing guru, Pop, taught kids more than how to fish. He taught them a lot about bugs, too.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he told a girl complaining about mosquitoes one day. The other kids shut up immediately; they thought Pop was mad. It wasn’t until later they found out he was really teaching a lesson.

Mosquitoes find human targets by zeroing in on the carbon dioxide they expel. By minimizing talking, you make it harder for them to find you.

Pop’s broader lesson was to learn more about pests and use the knowledge to fight back against them.

Start by reducing the area of skin exposed to mosquitoes and other biting bugs. Wear long sleeves and long pants in heavily infested areas. Select light-colored clothing. Dark clothes actually attract bugs.

Go on offense with bug repellent. Products with DEET are the most effective. Use them sparingly and always follow instructions on the container.

However, many people prefer natural repellents. Citronella oil and lemon eucalyptus oil are top choices. They repel mosquitoes, black flies and ticks. But they are only two of the many scents that bug bugs.

I remember Pop used to chew peppermint gum and shower beforehand using lavender-smelling soap. He claimed both scents repelled mosquitoes. I don’t know about that, but one thing’s for sure: Pop was the sweetest-smelling old gent on the river.

Three Quick and Easy Fishing Tackle Hacks

  • Get hooked on neat. Keep hooks organized by threading them onto large safety pins.
  • Prune your line. The last several feet of line on your reel takes a lot of abuse. Cut it off after each outing to eliminate nicks and potential weak spots caused by wear and tear.
  • Dry up. Keep a small packet or two of silica gel or some other desiccant in your tacklebox. It will eliminate moisture that can wreak havoc on your gear over time.

Outdoor App of the Month—Leafsnap
Ever come across a tree and wonder what species it is?

Leafsnap knows. The beauty of the Leafsnap tree identification app is its ability to identify trees by visual recognition. Users photograph tree leaves and Leafsnap matches the image to thou-sands of high-resolution images in its vast database.

This free app is currently available only for Apple devices, but an Android version is scheduled to be released soon.

What Makes July Special?
July is National Picnic Month.
July 3: Stay Out of the Sun Day.
July 20: Ugly Truck Day.
July 22: Hammock Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to gro.etilarurnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

The Show Behind the Curtain

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Fireworks are engineered to explode in various stages and patterns.An example of a  chrysanthemum.
Photo courtesy of Milan Prokes, Universal Publishing LLC

Fourth of July fireworks pyrotechnicians get their satisfaction from crowds’ oohs and aahs

Contrary to popular belief, pyrotechnicians do not always have the best seats for a fireworks show.

“You don’t even have time to look up,” says Linda Bingaman, who for years helped shoot shows manually as assistant fire chief in Carlin, Nevada. “It’s hectic and physically demanding.”

During the show, six firefighters work as an efficient team.

“Two of us fire the shells, then three reload behind us, and one person is a spotter to make sure each shell goes off,” she says. “Sometimes, one gets hung up.”

Pyrotechnicians learn to expect the unexpected.

In Rupert, Idaho, fire chief Roger Davis became a burning man one year when an ember fell on his back, setting him alight.

“A guy kept slapping me on the back,” recalls Roger. “I yelled and asked why he kept doing that. It melted part of the silver reflective stripe. It’s a dirty, hot job, so we wear our oldest turnout gear.”

Instead of shooting a show manually, West Wendover Fire Department in Nevada sets off an electronic show.

For three weeks, employees meticulously wire and check circuits for 1,100 fireworks, knowing their labor of love will go up in smoke and a kaleidoscope of colors in about 20 minutes.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it when you hear the applause and people cheering,” says Gary Corona, captain of the West Wendover Fire Department.
Roger says when the show ends, he hopes the crowd is satisfied.

“We want people to leave feeling like they haven’t seen anything like that before,” says Roger. “We want them to wonder what we’ll throw next year.”

Chasing the Thrill

Sunday, June 25th, 2017

Biff Hutchison, 23, a professional extreme pogo stick rider from Burley, Idaho, performs for students at a school in San Diego. A few years ago, Biff—who currently ranks among the best in the world—joined other pogo riders in performing at middle and elementary schools as a way to reach youth. Photo by Ivan Arsenyev

Despite their risks, extreme sports offer a rush that keeps enthusiasts coming back for more

In the 12 years since Biff Hutchison began pushing the limits on a pogo stick, he has broken enough bones to average two every year. He has to pause for a moment just to count them up.

After an inventory that includes fingers, toes, ankles and wrists—and a few bones broken more than once—the total comes to about 26.

It is enough to make anyone wonder why he continues to pogo at all. But Biff says no injury, no matter how severe, has ever made him think twice about his true passion.

“It’s always been, ‘How fast can I get back to doing what I love?’” says Biff, who today is at the top of his game in the extreme pogo arena.

With multiple world records—including highest front flip on a pogo stick, at almost 10 feet, and highest overall jump—the 23-year-old from Burley, Idaho, ranks among the best in the world.

Roger Meader, general manager/CEO of Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative in Oregon, is well acquainted with the risk of intense sports. It is a danger he faces every time his feet leave the ground for a flight underneath the massive, bowed wings of his paraglider.

For the past 16 years, Roger has braved harsh winds at heights reaching 13,600 feet.
Roger and everyone he knows who paraglides has been hurt at least once. Years ago, the 62-year-old even lost a close friend to the sport.

“There’s a level of risk, no doubt about it,” says Roger who, unlike Biff, is not well known in his chosen sport.

For him, paragliding is a weekend hobby.

But status does not always matter in the pursuit of extreme sports. In this world where danger stays close, fears are overcome and pain is pushed aside, it is all about the rush.

From casual hobbyists to dedicated professionals, participants share a common belief: The risk is worth the adrenaline and excitement that comes with testing physical boundaries.


Origins Rooted in Necessity
Activities that set the stage for today’s extreme sports world date back as far as 20,000 years, according to Ohio-based author Kelly Boyer Sagert.

In her book, “The Encyclopedia of Extreme Sports,” published in 2009, Kelly features a timeline of extreme sports precursors and milestones across the world that begins at 18,000 B.C., when people began crafting boomerangs.

Among more than 100 major events and markers in her timeline are the first known use of a parachute by one of ancient China’s legendary leaders, Emperor Shun, who died in 2185 B.C.; the acts of lava sledding in Hawaii and sandboarding in Egypt, both around 2,000 B.C.; the popularization of dragon boat racing in China more than 2,000 years ago; and the first uses of kite-powered canoes by Indonesian and Polynesian fishermen in the 12th century.

Many of the early-origin practices that launched what the world recognizes today as extreme sports emerged to fulfill basic survival needs, Kelly says.

Boomerangs were most likely used for hunting, while kite-powered canoes—and ice skating and cross-country skiing—allowed people to travel faster from one place to another, Kelly explains.
Eventually, activities such as throwing boomerangs and paddling kite-powered canoes either lost their necessity or became obsolete with new technology and advancements.

Then, the old way of doing things became fun.

She cites mountain climbing as an example.

For all of humanity, people who lived in mountainous regions or who needed to pass through such places climbed because they had to.

Fast forward to 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary—a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist—became the first climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Around the same time, flying by plane had become rather commonplace.

“All of a sudden now, it’s not like something everybody did, and he didn’t have to do it,” Kelly says. “And it’s a little crazy to do it when you don’t have to. But that adds that kind of thrill.

“Most of us don’t want to do things we have to do. We want to do things we want to do.”


The Mind of a Risk Taker
What is different about those who seek thrill and enjoyment in doing what many consider terrifying and life-threatening? It is a question best answered by the field of psychology.

A moment trapped alone with a powerful and angry monster of an animal does not match anyone’s idea of a good time—unless you are Derek Kolbaba.

Derek’s description of riding a bull sounds like the stuff of most people’s worst nightmares.

But it is what he lives for.

“You’re kind of dancing with an 1,800-pound animal,” says the 21-year-old professional bull rider from Walla Walla, Washington. “There are no timeouts, and there is no stopping the bull.”

In professional bull riding, injury is not a matter of if, but when. Derek has broken his jaw—which has a couple of plates and screws in it—and his leg, which was put back together with four or five surgeries. He also has suffered multiple pulled groins.

Derek is still quick to call himself lucky.

But not once has he let an injury—or the fear of one—faze him.

He says it is “part of loving what you do.”

The intense rush of each ride atop a bull’s back is a large part of that.

“Your adrenaline’s going through the roof, your heart’s pumping,” Derek says. “There’s no other feeling like it in the world.”

Anita Cservenka, assistant professor with the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University, has a bit of experience with the type of feeling Derek describes.

She has researched risk-taking and reward-seeking behaviors—particularly in adolescents—and says there are not only stark differences between extreme sports enthusiasts and other people, but differences clearly evident from a young age.

Anita proposes that people drawn to extreme sports likely have a different underlying neural structure, function or neurochemical transmission related to their motivation for rewarding feelings, resulting in a greater attraction to new or thrilling experiences.

These types of people also may have underactive neural responses to fearful situations, perhaps resulting from the part of the brain responsible for processing fear: the amygdala.

“Differences in the development of this brain region over the course of childhood or adolescence could be related to reduced fear response in individuals who become interested in extreme sports,” Anita says.

This means adults who take part in an extreme sport likely have a history with risky behavior.

The claim holds true for Biff, Roger and Derek. Biff did BMX and rock climbing before picking up pogo, Roger raced motorcycles as a kid and quickly gravitated toward fast cars, and Derek started riding bulls in early childhood, along with dirt bikes and snowmobiles.

The three are what some would call adrenaline junkies.

While these theories offer insight, they alone do not paint a complete picture.

Anita says thrill-seeking ultimately takes shape in much the same way as other behavioral characteristics, starting with a genetic basis and changing along with hormones, environment, peer pressure and any number of other social factors.

It is the result of a combination of many influences from all aspects of person’s life.

But strip away the intricate principles of psychology and a simple, shared truth emerges among the many extreme sports communities that is common in most people everywhere: It feels good to reach new achievements—to accomplish new feats that are hard-earned.


The Excitement of Progression
For Tyler Aklestad, February 27, 2016, was 12 years in the making. Around noon that day, he and his teammate, Tyson Johnson, finished first in the Iron Dog—the world’s longest and most grueling snowmobile race.

Each year, the event puts dozens of two-man teams up against a fierce challenge: 2,031 miles across the unforgiving terrain of Alaska in temperatures well below freezing.

The pair finished in 35 hours, 35 minutes—the fastest time in the race’s 34-year history.

Tyler, who lives in Palmer, Alaska, grew up on a snowmobile. Tearing through the backcountry, snowmobiling was not only fun and exhilarating, but a way of life and a means to get around in places standard vehicles could not go.

The 31-year-old has raced since he was 16, and has competed in the Iron Dog every year since he was 18.

“Just finishing the race in its own was always a huge achievement,” says Tyler.

He took a terrifying fall through the ice with his snowmobile while crossing a frozen bay during an Iron Dog race a few years ago. If anything, the mishap only pushed him to work harder.

“Some people may see that as a failure to fall in the water and then be done with it,” Tyler says, who describes his Iron Dog win as the pinnacle of his professional achievement. “I always have chocked it up to what I can do better next time. It’s always striving to do it again—do it better.”

Doing it better. Winning. Landing a new trick. Reaching a new height.

The power of achievement resonates in the world of extreme and adventure sports.

It is what Biff says drives him to get back on his pogo stick each day, in spite of any pain or failures.

“At the end of the day, it’s seeing how far you can push yourself—what you can kind of block out fear-wise, what you can commit to doing,” he says.

“I think what keeps pushing people—at least for me—is seeing how far I can take it and what I can do, and what we can create with a pogo stick. That’s kind of what keeps drawing me back.”

Share your extreme sport experience on Facebook @Ruralite and Twitter @RuraliteMag.

Four Tips for Fishing With Kids

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Most of us remember our first fishing trip. Your kids will, too. Any day is a good day to fish, but If you need an excuse, the first week of June is Fishing Week, and June 18 is Go Fishing Day. Sounds like two great opportunities to make memories.
© iStock/BraunS

Fishing with kids is different than fishing solo or with other adults. It is both wonderful and challenging at the same time. The key to making a fishing trip with kids successful is to understand their needs and concerns.

Here are four things to consider if you plan to fish with kids, especially those who have never fished before:

  • It’s all about the fish. When kids go fishing, they expect to catch fish—lots of them. There’s no such thing as “the fish aren’t biting’.” To improve the odds, go to a proven honey hole or a spot recently stocked with fish.
  • Make things interesting. Kids get bored easily, so keep them engaged. One way to do that is to tell stories, maybe about fishing when you were a kid or about the ones that got away. Another way to keep kids’ focus is to teach them basic skills, such as baiting a hook, tying a proper knot or casting a line.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t make fishing more complicated than it has to be. For example, bait cast and spinning reels can be a challenge for kids to use, so leave them at home. Stick to spincast reels. Not only are they easier to use, they are relatively inexpensive to replace if they accidently end up in the drink.
  • Minimize discomfort. If you can keep kids warm, dry and fed, you improve the odds for a memorable outing. Bring along plenty of drinks and snacks. If there’s a chance of rain, pack raingear. A chilly morning? Bring a jacket, hat and gloves. Keep outings short, too. That’s especially true with first-timers. Kids can be impatient and get bored easily, especially if fish aren’t biting. Take your cues from the fish—and the kids.

In Pursuit of Prime Seafood
Red snapper is one of the tastiest fish in the Gulf, and the timing to catch your next meal couldn’t be better.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced the Gulf recreational red snapper season is as follows:

Open daily, starting the Saturday before Memorial Day, May 27, through Sunday after Independence Day, July 9.

Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, plus Labor Day, Monday, September 4.

Outdoor App of the Month—First Aid
Accidents and injuries happen. The chances increase outdoors, where bumps, bruises, cuts and blisters are often part of the experience. That’s when it’s beneficial to have first aid information at your findertips.

There’s an app for that.

It is called First Aid, created by American Red Cross. It is available for Apple and Android phones. Best of all, it’s free—and ad-free.

June Mentionables
The first week of June is Fishing Week.
June 3: National Trails Day.
June 18: Go Fishing Day.
June 18: International Picnic Day.
June 24: Swim a Lap Day.
June 25: National Catfish Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to moc.stnerrucadirolfnull@ofni.

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Confidence Course

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Jennifer Harvey of Sandpoint, Idaho, appears to enjoy the confidence-building trail rides she offers as much as her young clients do.
Photo courtesy of Adventure Pony Rides

On a well-trodden, wooded trail, Jennifer Harvey leads a child on her first horseback ride. The pony, Comet, is well versed in giving children an unforgettable experience, and gently clops along while listening to Jennifer’s every cue.

“The only crying children on my ponies are the ones who don’t want to get off,” says Jennifer, who has given riding lessons for 30 years.

Located outside Sandpoint, Idaho, Adventure Pony Rides gives children and adults a real trail ride experience on a variety of well-groomed trails with scenic views of the area.

“My pony experiences encourage self-confidence and build self-esteem,” Jennifer explains. She says it is a unique, enjoyable and safe adventure.

Jennifer hand walks or trots riders through the woods, up and down hills, over logs and under branches while giving instruction and obstacles to help new riders develop their confidence.

Parents are encouraged to video and photograph their children throughout the ride.

Aside from pony rides, families can get a taste of life on the farm by hunting for chicken eggs, and playing with rabbits and dogs. Jennifer hosts camping and parties at her property, and pony parties at nearby homes and businesses.

“This experience is something that is fun and family-oriented,” Jennifer says. “It is cool to offer a service that people really like.”

For more information, visit

Seeing the Light: Treasures Around the House

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Gus sits in a shaft of morning light, providing a beautiful, natural portrait of a time, pet and place.
Photos by David LaBelle

Many people love traveling and foolishly believe anywhere other than where they currently are will produce better pictures than those from home. We become so enamored with far-away places we can miss the beauty right under our noses.

We have heard someone say after viewing breathtaking travel pictures, “If I could travel halfway across the world, I could take stunning pictures, too.”

Unfortunately, it is not so easy.

Wherever you are, you still have to take yourself, your eyes, your vision, your curiosity (or lack thereof) and your attitude.

Good, watchful, sensitive photographers make great pictures everywhere, not just in exotic places.

While it is easier to interest ourselves and others with pictures of famous or glamorous places, great storytelling images can be found anywhere there is light—even in our homes.

I cannot tell you how many times I have been sitting and watched either early morning or late afternoon light crawl across a room or window sill, temporarily revealing a piece of a world I otherwise would have missed.

With every moving, magical inch of light, a new, beautiful, often surprising composition is revealed. It’s all new!

Because the angle—even the intensity—of the sun’s light changes during the time of day and season, we never see exactly the same picture. In other words, there is something new under the sun—the scenes offered that change by the minutes, hours, days and seasons.

If you have time on your hands, choose one interesting scene—a composition in your house or yard that receives different amounts or strengths and direction of light at different times of day. Watch how the light changes, and make a series of pictures documenting this incredible taken-for-granted light and life of a day.

A cross perched in the corner of a window sill, a shadow moving slowly across a room, open shutters—these common scenes become temporarily alive with a passing kiss of sunlight.

Another challenge is to see the picture and record it without moving any piece of it. You move, change angles or lenses if need be, but do not touch the components of the compositional scene—not even to move a curtain. Nothing!

This is an invaluable exercise in seeing and composing the natural, the given, the untouched visual gift with your camera.

Too often we get so busy doing—like eating without chewing—that we forget to see and appreciate light, which is the source of our livelihood, our adoration, our avocation and our very existence.

We don’t need to spend dollars (or euros) to travel to far-away places to make interesting and meaningful pictures. We just have to slow down and discover the world we are blessed with and bathed in.

Photography is not about gear or travel. It is about appreciating, seeing and challenging oneself to make a picture that somehow captures and communicates to others what you saw and felt.

Challenge yourself to see your home before you try to see the world.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer who grew up in rural California. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and taught at three universities. For more information, visit

Growing Greens In the Arctic

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Joe Carr of Kotzebue, Alaska, is the only professional farmer north of the Arctic Circle. That will likely change when containerized hydroponics farms, such as this one designed by Vertical Harvest, become more prevalent.

Walking from the snowbound streets of Kotzebue, Alaska, into the Arctic Greens container is like being suddenly transported to the Amazon jungle.

Even when it is pitch black and below zero outside, the “sun” still rises, thanks to rows of high-­tech LED lights. Heaters keep temperatures a balmy 65 to 80 F. Rows of big, green plants line shelves the length of the container, leaves crowding the narrow walkway down the center.

This is where Joe Carr, the only professional farmer north of the Arctic Circle, comes to work.

The first thing he does after removing his jacket is check the computers that were programmed by Vertical Harvest—the company that designed the containerized farm. They control every aspect of this miniature ecosystem and keep it optimized for edible plant growth.

The Arctic Greens farm in Kotzebue is the Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corp.’s first step in an ambitious plan to provide locally grown produce to AC Stores throughout the Arctic. For now, the farm’s produce is sold exclusively in the Kotezebue AC Store.
If it works, more containerized farms will follow.

“The project has been extremely successful,” Joe says. “We harvest 450 plants every week, and they’ve been very popular in town. Before Arctic Greens, fresh vegetables and herbs were not good quality because they have to be shipped in, or they’re expensive—or both.”

Joe is an unlikely person to possess the job title “Arctic farmer.” The Pennsylvania native had been working as a mechanic in Philadelphia when he struck up a friendship with Dood Lincoln over the internet. Dood’s work took her to Philly several times, which allowed the couple to meet—and fall in love.
Marriage and a move to Kotzebue followed.

After training from Vertical Harvest and KIC, Joe is now a hydroponic­farming expert, tending to the plants from seed to when they are fully mature and ready to eat. He is also the company’s delivery guy, cutting and bundling the plants, then driving them to the AC Store in his wife’s car.

“KIC is working on getting a delivery van,” Joe says with a laugh. “Especially during the winter, we need something that will ensure the plants stay warm. But it’s only about a block from the container to the AC Store, so I get it there in just a couple minutes.”

After nine months in operation, the farm is successfully producing a variety of herbs and vegetables, including butter­leaf lettuce, romaine, red­ leaf lettuce, red and green mustard, basil, cilantro, chives, parsley and mint. The most popular item is green ­leaf lettuce.

In addition, Arctic Greens is trying to grow other produce such as kale, but has not yet arrived at the best balance to grow it in regular quantities.

The response in Kotzebue to regularly having fresh produce has been overwhelmingly positive.

“My wife, the first time she purchased some at the AC Store, she’d never gotten fresh greens before,” Joe says, “and Arctic Greens crops are grown right here in Kotzebue, which has never happened before. It was kind of a milestone for her. Everything’s good about it.”

The biggest challenge is power. With its artificial lighting eight hours every day and around­-the­-clock heating, the hydroponic system devours a lot of electricity, which is expensive in Kotzebue, as it is in any rural Alaska community.

This affects the price of the end product on store shelves, so KIC is investigating the potential for solar or another alternative energy source, which hopefully will lower prices for customers.

The two main reasons KIC started Arctic Greens were to provide fresh produce to rural communities at affordable prices, and to find solutions—such as alternative energy—that are just as innovative as the original concept.

“If you told me when I was living in Philadelphia that a small community way up in the Arctic would be able to regularly provide its people with fresh vegetables and herbs grown right there, I never would have believed it,” Joe says. “KIC is really doing a great thing for local people with Arctic Greens.”

Arctic Greens hopes to double down on its benefits to shareholders by expanding to other communities and increasing revenues.

Then again, that would mean Joe might lose his title as the only professional Arctic farmer. Joe doesn’t mind. He hopes KIC has dozens of Arctic farmers someday.

For more information about Arctic Greens or hydroponic gardening in the Arctic, visit or

Surviving Natural Disaster

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

An engine crew takes the night shift to battle the Ponderosa Fire in northeastern California in August 2012. The lightning-sparked wildfire burned more than 27,000 acres, destroying 52 homes and 81 outbuildings.
Photo by CAL FIRE

From tornadoes and wildfires to earthquakes and floods, learn what you need to do to protect yourself and your family from harm

On a stormy morning in October 2016, trained meteorologist Gordon McCraw was surprised to get a call about a water spout rolling ashore in Manzanita, Oregon.

Gordon, emergency management director for the Tillamook County Sheriff’s Office, says it was largely luck no one was injured when the water spout morphed into an EF2 tornado, with winds of 113 to 157 mph that damaged 128 structures across a three-quarter-mile path.
But luck does not always smile so kindly when disaster strikes, and it certainly is no substitute for being prepared. Preparation starts long before disaster strikes.

The first step is knowing the risks in your location. Is it prone to flooding or wildfires or, as is the case in the Pacific Northwest, vulnerable to earthquakes? Once you know the likely risks, devising a survival plan is fairly simple, generally calling for items most people already have on hand.

It is all about thinking ahead.

“I read that in an emergency situation, your cognitive skills are 80 percent diminished,” says Gordon. “The reality is that if you wait until the disaster to come up with your plan, you are already too late. You are going to be too stressed out and in shock over whatever the situation is to effectively do the things you need to do to keep your family safe.”

Althea Rizzo, geologic hazards program coordinator with Oregon Emergency Management, estimates only about 25 percent of the population is prepared in any substantial way.

“The issue is it’s not hard to be prepared,” she says.

Talk About Your Plans
An important part of an emergency preparedness plan is knowing where you will meet up with loved ones in the event you become separated or are apart when disaster strikes, and having a plan for where you will stay if you need to be away from home for a longer time, says Monique Dugaw, spokeswoman for the Red Cross office in Portland, Oregon.

“Having those conversations can be difficult because you are talking about something scary and unknown, but they are important in the event that situation occurs,” Monique says.

Critical to being prepared is assembling an emergency preparedness kit (see sidebar) with food, water, medicine, a first aid kit, flashlights and other necessary supplies. Be sure important documents such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, property deeds, mortgage information and car titles are in a safe and accessible place.

Without those documents, it may be more difficult to get assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Keep a hard copy list of contact information, as well as cash in small denominations in case credit cards will not work.

“Plan ahead, and make sure we are prepared for not having technology at our fingertips,” Monique says.

Withstand Shaking
There are steps you can take to make your home safer from a disaster.

For areas where earthquakes are a risk, secure bookshelves and other heavy items by strapping or bolting them to floors or walls to keep them from falling on and striking people.

Taking that same step with the water heater will not only reduce the risk of fire in the case of a gas-fueled heater, but secured, it can provide a source of water after disaster strikes.

“If you lose your china, glasses, cookware—that’s not a big deal,” says Natalia Ruppert, seismologist with the Alaska Earthquake Center, “but if a water heater or boiler tips over it will be pretty impactful.”

Consider hiring an engineer to retrofit your home so it can better withstand a strong shaking. During an earthquake, Natalia advises taking shelter under a sturdy object such as a table. Once the shaking stops, it is OK to go outside, but individuals in multilevel buildings must take the stairs, not an elevator. Once outside, particularly in a city, beware of falling objects.

“Try to find out how strong the earthquake was,” Natalia says. “If it was really strong—a magnitude 7 or stronger—people should be aware of aftershocks after the main event.

“If they find out how strong it was, they can decide when it is safe to go back to the house. If it is not significant or it was centered far way, they don’t have to wait too long to go back into the building.”

Advice for Wildfires
In California, where wildland fires pose a significant risk, CAL FIRE promotes the “ready, set, go” plan.
Ready means taking care of your defensible space, says Scott McLean, CAL FIRE information officer.

“We’re not looking for moonscape, but we’re looking for a 3-foot area away from any habitable structure with fire-resistant plants that are thinned,” he says. “Thirty to 100 feet away, it’s not as severe. You’ll have more brush and trees, but they should be all limbed up. The whole idea is it slows down the fire so firefighters can get in there and manage the situation.”

Being set is having an evacuation plan, being sure pets have access to the vehicle, and having a full tank of gas and ample supplies, including personal hygiene items, a couple of changes of clothing, water, food, a cellphone and charger, and an emergency kit.

“Go is simply leave,” says Scott. “In the state of California, we have evacuation orders and warnings. Warnings are to let you know to be prepared. Gather your pets, your kit, have the car pointed in the right direction. When the order comes into play, it is time to leave.”

One lesson some members of Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative learned the hard way two years ago when wildfires struck was to keep a generator on hand. When fire threatened lines, crews had no choice but to de-energize the lines to keep firefighters safe. That meant sprinklers used to protect homes did not work. Some families lost their homes.

“If they had generators, when we de-energized the lines they could have fired up generators and sprinklers would have worked,” says Ned Ratterman, director of engineering and operations for OTEC.

In any natural disaster, odds are good power will be lost and lines will go down, posing additional risks. Always treat a downed line as live and potentially deadly.

“Some of the lines are as small as a No. 2 pencil, carrying in excess of 20,000 volts,” says Ned, “so keep your eyes open. But also be aware of a phenomenon known as ‘step potential.’ The electricity will go from that wire into the ground. It will energize the earth itself. If you get too close, it can go through you. It can be lethal. You don’t have to make contact with the line. It can be conducted through the ground and then through your body.”

Keep Safety in Mind
Natural disasters of all types can strike almost anywhere—even in places where they previously are unheard of, like tornadoes in Manzanita, Oregon.

Last fall when the tornado churned through town, many people were so surprised and curious they actually put themselves directly in harm’s way.

“Being such an unusual event, many people went to the window and watched it go by, which was very unsafe,” Gordon says. “We were walking through with the weather service people and there was a mature couple who said they went upstairs and watched from the window and there was a large amount of debris and it made their ears pop and it made a sound like a train.

“We were very fortunate that it was early in the morning, the businesses were still closed and it happened to be an in-service day for the schools, so the children who would have been in the very path of the tornado were still at home.”

Pack an Emergency Kit

Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Personal and household emergency kits should contain supplies sufficient to last at least three to five days.

One of the most important aspects of disaster preparedness is an emergency kit. The Red Cross recommends having kits in the three places you most likely will be when disaster strikes: home, work and your car.

The kit should include 1 gallon of water per person per day for a minimum of three days or, if planning for a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, two weeks.

“When we are talking about food for a preparedness kit, we’re talking items that don’t need to be refrigerated or cooked, such as peanut butter, energy bars, and canned fruits or vegetables,” says Monique Dugaw, spokeswoman for the Red Cross in Portland. “Don’t forget a can opener.”

A first aid kit is important.

“Depending on the type of disaster, you may not be able to get to medical care quickly,” Monique says. “We want people to be prepared to treat minor injuries themselves. A scrape left untreated could turn into an infection and a potentially much more serious condition than if treated.”

Other supplies include a battery-operated flashlight, a radio with extra batteries so people can get information from official sources rather than rumors, and any medication needed by family members.

Food, water and medications for pets also should be included.

Additional things to consider are a whistle, surgical masks, matches, work gloves, plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors, household liquid bleach and entertainment items.

The Red Cross recommends keeping the emergency preparedness kit on the main level of the home so it can be grabbed quickly.

Keep camping supplies in a similar location, including a sleeping bag, tent and cooler. Some people opt to keep a kit outside of their home, such as in a storage unit.

How do you know when to stay or go?

“A general rule of thumb is to pay attention to what emergency officials are telling you,” says Monique. “If you are asked to evacuate, definitely do so. That’s another reason to have good access to a battery-operated radio so you can hear if there are evacuation orders.”

Download the free Red Cross app that provides information on weather alerts, local hazards and other resources, such as pet preparedness, first aid preparedness and tips.