Merry Christmas!… and a happy New Year. It is Amazing that in 5 more days 2014 will be here, and we once again will mis-write the date on our checks as many times as it takes to break a habit – a debatable number.
I’ve had a busy last few weeks of the semester and am looking into the next one. With graduate level statistics and thesis development on the docket, it will be busy for sure.
Being home for Christmas and the Holidays has been a real treat, and this more even more than others, I’ve really felt blessed to be home and back in the tradition of Christmas. The house where I grew up is adorned with lights over the doors and windows and stockings on the Chimney. Every year after Thanksgiving my brother and I would haul box after box of Christmas decorations from the basement and place them up around the house. Two balsam fir Christmas trees, often harvested from the woods around Grand Rapids, Minnesota were put up. One of them ‘belonged’ to my brother and I; it was garnished with lights and personal ornaments collected through the years. The other tree was for my parents.
One of the decorations put up in the house is the ceramic village pieces which my mom hand-painted through the years. The pieces are set up as a village lit by LED lights and represent a quiet town or village. These pieces drew me, and for some reason I have never looked at them as closely as I did this year. The detail put into them upon close inspection brought them to life. The small eyes of carolers have pupils, the tiny window displays of toys are colorful and distinct, and each house is painted uniquely and ornately. I want to do some photography of this Christmas Village and thought the results were just fun to look at and full of life!
After taking pictures of the village I couldn’t help but feel more connected to it. Taking pictures up and down the alleyways gave it life meaning. I have been looking at this village for more than 15 years without ever appreciating the Christmas tradition of it. Here’s a look at Christmas town from a distance, I hope I’ve given you some appreciation of it through these close-up shots of life in Christmas town.
Of course Christmas Tradition is also about a Christmas tree and family. Below is the tree this year and a group shot of my immediate family. If you have Christmas traditions and stories I’d love for you to post them below. This is the best time of year!
It’s been a few, busy weeks since I’ve written updated you guys. Life here is good. You might notice a few different things in the blog… Colors of the home page and the ability to embed video straight to my page! On top of that my own domain name: www.ianajohnson.com will get you where you guys need to go!
Today was the “forest festival” here at UAF. The forestry department arranged a set of events in tribute to the forestry practices of the past. I have called it “jackpine savagery” as that’s how events like these were described in my household growing up. This year was the 16th year running for this event, and they had 94 participants! I’ve got to say, the day was just about perfect. I was able to join up with an awesome group of people when I got there; they made it as good as it was. So, many thanks to Amanda, Nikki, Daisy, Mike, and Heike. You guys Rock!! One advantage I had coming into this festival is I have a pretty strong background in many of the woodsy crafts of the Festival and could contribute to the team well. I think some of you may know that already. Eagle Scout training and spirit came out in force today.
So, without further ado let’s break it down and look at the highlights!! 🙂
This event was pretty straight forward. Grab an axe, take aim, and let it go! However, don’t throw too hard! I saw several sail over top of the target and do some lawn mowing on the other side. The rules of this game were three practice throws and three real throws. Your score was cumulative, with the bulls-eye being worth 5 points. Fortunately we had a axe-throwing-stud on our team, Mike was a ringer with 2 bulls-eyes and 13 points total. That’s some GREAT Throwing!!
This sport was actually easier than it looks. The axes flew perfectly and the dull thud each time they sank in was satisfying. Easily my favorite sport of the day!
Ever heard that cross cutting can be difficult? It can be! There’s certain things you don’t want to do in cross cutting. They are: Push, lift, push down hard, pull sideways, torque and angle. The cross-cut is a tremendously efficient saw when you use it correctly. The winning team cut through this spruce log in 19 seconds! That is almost ‘chain saw fast’. It was pretty incredible to watch. One thing that every team did was flip the saw upside down and practice their stroke. In hindsight I equate this to practice swings with a bat, they don’t help one bit!
So, I would like to present this video as things NOT to do while cross-cutting. Although our time was not too shabby (44 seconds) there are quite a few things to note. Do you see me pushing? Do you see Mike pushing? Angling? Bending? Torquing! Unfortunately we didn’t get into much of a rhythm here, but practice makes perfect!
I grew up using a bow saw to cut Christmas trees and clear wood for deer stands. However, on the note of harvesting Christmas trees a 12 Gauge will take down an 8 foot Balsam Fir in three shots at close range – True Story. But, back to the topic at hand. I was feeling pretty confident when I stepped up to the bow saw stand. As I set myself up with a wide stance the judge was giving me a few tips. Tip # 1 : Go slow on the first few strokes to set a groove. Tip # 2: The same. It’s that important, and I wished I had listened better or at least set aside my competitiveness enough to do what he said. At the first quick pull the saw hopped the groove I was trying to create. Reset. Another quick pull hopped it from the groove again. However, once I was into the 4×4 a 1/4″ I made steady progress and was through the log in 11 seconds. A far cry from the 6 seconds of the winner!
One of the most grueling sports was the log rolling competition. I can’t guess at the weight of the large, green pine log that lay on the ground. Just know that it was heavy and resisted motion like a shit-su being pulled on a leash towards a bath-tub. The goal of the log roll was to move the log to one end using a long, pointed tool called a peavey and bump BOTH ENDS into the sticks and the end, then switch sides and roll it back to the starting line and bump BOTH END sticks on the other side. This requires a bit of coordination from the team because where you push in the log will determine where it rolls. My teamate Mike and navigated this sport pretty well and put down a 25.5 second performance which gave us a third overall on the day. My only placing! Below here are a couple of my teamates trying their luck on the log pushing.
So it’s all fine and dandy if your log hits the stakes squarely, but what if it doesn’t? This was the case in my first run with team mate Amanda. I got a very abrupt crash course in how to pick a log so that it can be spun with the peavey. You’ll see that once it hits on the first end I nimbly hop the log and start shoving down to the other end. We were setting record time and missed the starting stake on the left side by just a half inch! That means we weren’t done and had to correct the log. From there we had to push the log backwards, pick one end, peavey the other and then re-roll. To finish it off we had to bump the other end of the log.Have a watch!
Perhaps the most straight forward game of the day was the pulp toss. The goal of the game was to hurl your log and have it land between the two stakes set up. You worked as an rotating team of 4 with a goal of making 16 points. We did pretty well at this, and it was definitely my best game!
Yet another event that I was feeling pretty good about, and Mike I were up for the challenge. So, what are the rules? They are you get 3 matches, 1 log, 1 chopping block, 1 axe, and a coffee can with ~1 liter of water in it and dish soap… I might debate whether all cans were equal, but that’s neither here nor there :P. You had to build a fire and get the coffee can on it. The coffee can would flow over edges like a Volcano (due to the soap) when it boiled and time would stop. Each team was given a time. Mike and I managed to do it in 15 minutes and were first in our round. However, we didn’t place as the best time was 10:30! I’m bewildered how they managed to do it that quickly. I thought our performance was seamless. However, it was not without consequences. By the end of 15 minutes my symptoms were:
Tingling cheeks from lack of oxygen
Tingling fingers from lack of oxygen
Tingling EYELIDS from lack of oxygen
I had burned all the hair off right arm from the forearm to the wrist
A small burn on my lip where an ember had jumped out
Let it not be said that I didn’t give it my all for this one!! I think the begginning was the most fun as everyone frantically ripped into their logs with the axe doing their best to get a fire going. As soon as the judge says go they’re off! In some ways it’s like Mad Max in Thunderdome as the competitors were surrounded by spectators who definitely could have been collateral if a stray axe flew by. However, everyone was super responsible, that wasn’t going to happen.
Once everyone was underway there were many strategies to get that volc,ano to erupt the fastest. Doubling blowing by teamates, getting on the ground, stacking wood like a chimney and putting a log over it as a lid. However, in my opinion the winning strategy included getting as much of the can over the fire as possible and blowing enough without burning your wood out from under the can. Have a watch at this pretty entertaining video and with the winner to boot!
Mike and I defintely did pretty well. I was impressed with our concise piles of wood and perfect V-shaped coffee cup stand.
Probably the most anticipated event of the day was the birling competition. Unfamiliar with birlling? Britannica defines it as “[Credit: John Wetrosky]outdoor sport of the North American lumberjack. Its origin can be traced to the spring log drives of eastern Canada and the New England states, particularly the state of Maine, during the early lumbering era in the 19th century, from which it moved westward to the Great Lakes region and then to the Pacific Northwest.” The sport involves a floating log and two participants. Who can stay on the longest? Well. the Winner can!!
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I mounted the Birling log. First off, remember it’s October in Alaska. That means the water isn’t warm. IN FACT, a nice ice skim was built up around the edges of Lake Bellaine when we arrived. However, that didn’t stop me from taking on competitor Ben in a log rolling extraordinaire. Our first bout ended up being a ‘tie’ when we fell into the water at the same time. I wasn’t as well balanced on the second attempt and went down quickly. Oh well, just more time to be warm! You can see the photo of us mounted on the log and then we were off like a couple of whirling dervishes! However, Ben ended up victorious!
The birling was done on a bracketed basis. This meant that it just kept getting better and better as the winners weaned themselves away from the losers. I thought I would include these two videos here of the women’s and men’s final to show some really good birling! Note how they control the log and can actually reverse the direction of it! Much more sophisticated than my lightening quick feet trying to keep up with the momentum of the log.
So, that was pretty much it! The last thing to do was haul that dang birling log back up the hill and trailer it. Rather than just take pictures I decided to throw my back into it this time.
Once again, it was a great day and I’d like to thank everyone who put together. Thanks for reading everyone! I’m very excited about this new blog format and being able to put videos straight into the page. I’m sure there will be more of that in the future! More soon from up north in AK!