What follows is a short game of Bush Pilot Trivia — the same Spirit Made Smaller game Graywood and his son, Bobby, played whenever they were flying in their airplane, Seneca.  Imagine this Q & A taking place between father and son as they approached the Seven Sisters to land Seneca on its tarn.

How and why Graywood created the game is described in Spirit Made Smaller.


(One Point)      What does “Denali” mean in the Athabascan language?

A. The High One     B. The Cloud Catcher     C. The Great One     D. Both A. & C.

(Two Points)    What daring feat was performed by the Black Wolf Squadron in 1920?

(Three Points)  Who holds the record for flying an airplane on the coldest day recorded in the most northern “city” in North America?


Answers: 1 pt. (D.); 2 pt. (The Army Air Corps flew four d’Havilland DH-4bs from New York to Nome to demonstrate how aviation could link the eastern seaboard to Siberia via Alaska.); 3 pt. (Noel Wien, Feb 1932, -65 F, McGrath, AK).



(One Point)     Who performed in a flying circus as a barnstormer in the lower 48 before becoming an Alaskan bush pilot and ultimately President of Cordova Airlines?

A. Merle “Mudhole” Smith     B. Stephen E. Mills     C. Charlie Rutton     D. Carl Ben Eielson

(Two Points)    Who was the first to fly across the Arctic Ocean from Point Barrow, Alaska to Spitsbergen, Norway?

A. Matthew Vail     B. Carl Ben Eielson     C. Noel Wien     D. Dixon Warren Ervin

(Three Points)  What year did the first Alaska-Norway flight occur?

A. 1926     B. 1928     C. 1931     D. 1933


Answers: 1 pt. (A.); 2 pt. (B.); 3 pt. (B.).



(One Point)     Large balloon-like landing tires are called what?

A. Cushion Tires     B. Bollo Tires     C. Compression Tires     D. Tundra Tires

(Two Points)    Who was the first pilot to fly across the Bering Strait?

A. Shelton Simmons     B. Jack Waterworth     C. Noel Wien     D. Dixon Warren Ervin

(Three Points)  At all costs, why must any single-engine plane avoid a tip up into a sand bar or snow bank?


Answers: 1 pt. (D.); 2 pt. (C.); 3 pt. (It could render the propeller useless).



(One Point)     The most important action about flying is what?

A. Do not directly fly into the sun     B. The take off     C. The landing     D. The GPS connection

(Two Points)    Name the bush pilot who flew Doctor Sutherland and vaccine from village to village to quell a 1928 smallpox outbreak in Alaska?

A. Bob Ellis     B. Noel Wien     C. Hubert Wilkins     D. Robert C. Reeve

(Three Points)  Before starting the airplane’s engine on a very cold Alaskan morning, what do you do first?


Answers: 1 pt. (C.); 2 pt. (B.); 3 pt. (Warm up the engine before take off by draping a canvas tarp over the aircraft’s nose and engine to retain the heat in the engine oil that’s been pre-heated in a plumbers pot or an equivalent container.).




3—9   points:   NEED TO STUDY HARDER.

10–14  points:   GOOD EFFORT.


20–23 points:   FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR.

24    points:   BUSH PILOT!



I have been in northern Europe for the past three weeks.  For over half that time I cruised Norway’s fjords and inlets — I could not help but compare them to those which grace Alaska’s southeastern panhandle.  A very simple description would be this: numerous waterfalls descend into Norwegian fjords while tidewater glaciers calve into the Alaskan ones.  As a rule of thumb, a Norwegian fjord is as deep as the surrounding mountains are high.  Not so for many Alaskan inlets where their glacial slabs of ice crash into the sea … with awesome sounds!

Along several Norwegian fjords at water level are many salmon and rainbow trout fish farms.  Often, small pastoral farms terrace up the mountain sides with apple and pear orchards displayed in neat rows wherever more level patches of ground exist.

Alaskan fjords with their tidewater glaciers lack any significant, permanent human presence because of the massive flowing ice hazards.  In fact, only certain sized ships are allowed into many inlets: for example, only two cruise lines have permission to sail Glacier Bay.

Glaciers play a pivoted role in Spirit Made Smaller.  For more background on tidewater glaciers and how to land a small airplane on them, please take a pass through the relevant chapters in Spirit Made Smaller.

I also spent five days in Amsterdam to research the settings for the middle third of my next novel.  I located the ideal house on Prinsengracht (‘gracht’ means canal in Dutch) in which I hope to tell how a Rembrandt etching was hidden and then rediscovered.  I recommend anyone who visits Amsterdam to view the exhibits at the Rembrandt House Museum on Jodenbreestraat.  I was fortunate to observe how an etching was made and how a picture was printed from it employing seventeenth century methods.

The Pacific Northwest Writers Association is holding its annual conference at the SEATAC Hilton Conference Center on July 17-20, 2014.  I am one of the selected authors who will autograph copies of their books at the Friday evening, July 18th, sponsored book signing event.  Hope to see you there!


In the novel, Spirit Made Smaller, most of the settings occur in Anchorage, Alaska.  I’ve selected a handful of facts for readers who may wish to know more regarding this city and its environment.

Anchorage sits along the coast of Cook Inlet at the base of the Chugach Mountains.  It is as far north as Helsinki, Finland and as far west as Honolulu, Hawaii.  In 1778, while searching for the elusive Northwest Passage, Captain James Cook explored the waterway that downtown Anchorage now borders — the Cook Inlet.  When his ships had reached another dead end at the southern arm of this channel, he named it “Turnagain” because the vessels had to “turn” around “again.”

Mudflaps encompass the tidelands beneath Turnagain Arm.  At low tide, the inlet is nearly void of water, and the mudscape appears serene and solid … BUT IT’S NOT!  THESE MUDFLATS BEHAVE LIKE QUICKSAND!  Intrepid mudflat walkers have perished when trapped, unable to free their legs — tragically drowned by the incoming tide.  (Note to crime writers: consider a mudflap drowning as a novel means behind a murder.)

Nearly 300,000 people live within the city limits, and close to a hundred languages are spoken in the Anchorage School District.  There are 19 hours, 21 minutes of daylight in summer; yet only five hours, 28 minutes in winter.  The average July temperature is 58.4F; in January, 14.9F.  Average snowfall is 69 inches.

Anchorage has more than 120 miles of paved bike and multi-use trails and 85 miles of summer non-paved hiking paths.  In winter, residents enjoy more than 130 miles of plowed walkways and over 100 miles of groomed trails — 24 miles that are lighted.  Anchorage’s Kincaid Park is certified for international Nordic ski competitions.

Besides Anchorage being the starting point for the annual Iditarod dogsled race every March, another main winter attraction is viewing the Aurora Borealis from September to mid-April.  The best conditions are clear, moonless nights away from city lights when high magnetic activity is forecast.  Auroras result when charged particles from the sun stream into the earth’s upper atmosphere.  The earth’s magnetic field channels this “solar wind” toward the poles where they strike molecules of atmospheric gas and make them glow, producing the aurora.  The color of auroras depends on which gas molecules are being excited and varies by altitude: ionized nitrogen at 250 miles above the earth = violet; juiced up oxygen atoms at 185 miles = red; charged nitrogen and oxygen at 65 miles = red and green.

Berry picking has always been a summertime attraction around Anchorage.  In “Spirit Made Smaller,” the main character, Gharrett Graywood, and his son, Bobby, often went to Hatcher Pass, a large blueberry picking spot north of the city.  They’d drive 43 miles north on the Glenn Highway and turn west onto Palmer-Fishhook Road.  They entered prime blueberry picking country once this road to Hatcher Pass elevated above the tree line.

Closer to home, Graywood and Bobby also gathered wild berries at Prospect Heights, Chugach State Park.  The park’s entrance can be reached by taking Upper O’Malley Road to Prospect Drive.  In the wooded areas along the trails they’d first discover lowbush and highbush cranberries, trailing raspberries, and currants.  As they proceeded toward Wolverine Peak, they’d find ample blueberries hugging the alpine slopes.

The find more locations and events around Anchorage, please visit those described in “Spirit Made Smaller.”


A solid interpretation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics explains that two adjacent systems in contact with each other tend to equalize their temperatures, pressures, and densities.  For example, when a hot piece of metal is lowered into a tank of cool water, the metal cools and the water warms until each is at the same temperature.  Heat does not transfer spontaneously from a cool body to a hotter body.

Closer to the center of our planet, the temperature of the earth’s iron-nickel core is equivalent to that on the surface of our sun.  This heat is generated by radioactive and gravitational forces, and it thermodynamically diffuses via convection currents toward and through the earth’s crust: the hotter, liquid rock of the upper mantle flows below rigid tectonic plates, releasing heat as it rises and falling as it cools; magma plumes rising from the mantle also feed volcanoes as well.

The earth is a water planet; 71% of its surface is covered by ocean.  For nearly all the 4.5-billion-year history of the planet, the ocean itself has also been around.  Plate tectonics–the motion and evolution of earth’s outer layers–would not exist if it were not for the convection currents within the mantle and the ocean and on the surface of the planet.  Plate tectonics are driven by the convective heat loads released from the core of the earth.  This core heat is ultimately the cause behind earthquakes and continental drift.

Outer space is the greatest heat sink, not the ocean.  Yet the ocean processes the huge quantities of heat generated from the planet’s core and the energy also received from the sun which, when combined, are then radiated into the universe while the earth turns.  Ultimately, the ocean controls the climate via the distribution of heat energy on the earth’s surface.  As the overall heat content of the ocean changes, warmer or cooler, the surface climate consequently shall so vary as well.

There are only two major sources of heat that the ocean dissipates: solar energy partially absorbed through the atmosphere and the energy liberated from the planet’s interior which flows through the mantle into the earth’s crust and beyond.  Significant incoming solar radiation is estimated to be reflected back into space by the planet’s upper atmosphere, yet core heat exiting from the earth’s center into outer space is rarely considered being of merit by mankind unless you employ a geothermal source to warm your home as is often done in Iceland.  Why?  Are our brains so biased upward toward the sun and away from the center of our planet … away from its smaller version of the sun right below us cooking our collective feet?

Mid-ocean ridges and smaller rises between the tectonic plates connect all the oceans–60,000 km of geologic DNA smokestakes and seams churning and belching heat, carbon dioxide, methane, and other chemical compounds.  The earth’s seafloor is in flux, constantly being remade: all the ocean floor being created must have an equal amount of ocean floor destruction–recycled back into the earth’s mantle.  In fact, ocean basins have completely recycled over 20 times throughout earth’s existence with resultant topographic and bathymetric variations–e.g., 125,000 years ago the sea water elevation was 4-6 meters higher than today.

So what does our sea bottom look like?  No one really knows in detail.  The moon is better mapped than our ocean’s deep sea floor.  Light and radar cannot penetrate the water, yet the underwater speed of sound is a constant at 1,500 meters/second.  Echo-sounding using multi-beam bathymetry is the best method, but it’s very labor intensive … and only 10% of the ocean floor has been mapped so far by this gold standard technology.  So … how many active seabed volcanoes remain undetected? Nearly all the planet’s volcanoes are on the seafloor, and how many are actively spewing heat, carbon dioxide, and sulfur?  Furthermore, how much ocean acidification comes from the mid-ocean ridges and seabed volcanic eruptions … a little, some, or nearly all?

We do know these ocean volcanoes (also called black smokers) and the heat released by the mid-ocean ridges are the basaltic backbones for unique ecosystems that are based on chemical reactions resulting from the energy, CO2, and methane coming out of the earth.  These hydrothermal vent systems have temperatures as high as 300-450 degrees , and they support the chemosynthesis which uses chemical energy to make the carbohydrates necessary to create life without photosynthesis.  Chemosynthetic organisms feast upon hydrocarbons seeping out of the ocean floor … e.g., rift tubeworms can become three meters in length!

Cashel Goodlette, a character in the newly released novel, Spirit Made Smaller, would argue: “Next to the speed of light being constant throughout the universe, the Second Law of Thermodynamics holds the supreme position among the laws of Nature.  If your theory is found to be against the Second Law of Thermodynamics, I can give you no hope and nothing else but to collapse with it into pseudoscience and its humiliation.”  For more background and details on Goodlette’s revolutionary theories regarding climate change, check out Chapters Four and Five in Spirit Made Smaller.

No one knows how much climate change is due to the heat released from the earth’s core into the ocean and then into outer space.  Could a 1.0% increase in the energy from the planet’s center create a 1.0 degree C increase in our global surface temperatures?  Until planetary core heat releases are accurately determined and accounted for, any computer model on climate change based predominently, or worse, exclusively on solar and atmospheric measurements is useless and collapses into humiliation.

Veteran’s Administration Medical Care — ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

Military veterans have placed their lives in peril for our country, yet their access to VA medical facilities is, in essence, rationed by wait times, geographic location, and gender.

Military veterans can relocate freely from state to state.  Many do so and often migrate to areas with warmer climates such as Arizona and Florida.  Consequently, the demographics of the veteran population that a VA facility supports shall vary over time and location.  It is imperative that each VA hospital know the updated eligible numbers, age distributions, disability levels, and gender proportions of the veterans within its support area that it can expect to serve and, therefore, modify and build the outpatient and inpatient treatments needed in support of our veterans’ health.  Often that support mission extends across an entire state because many veterans reside hundreds of miles from a VA facility, especially those living in rural areas.

Two changes in VA medical benefit availability, one starting several decades ago and the other recent, have compounded the access debacle within the VA: the increase in the number of female veterans and the advent of Obamacare.  Women requiring acute and long term care are relatively new to the VA system.  It takes years to mold all the effective medical managements for the unique disease conditions they experience over time — not all VA facilities are equal to the task in doing so.

The recent requirement for every American to have health care insurance has also strained VA access.  Many veterans have shifted away from the federal and state run health exchanges, and instead, they have listed the VA as their sole medical provider in order to meet the Obamacare mandate to have health insurance.

The bottom line is this: A top down, one size fits all approach to VA medical care across the country will not work.  The varying demands for care and the available resources are too often mismatched and constantly changing state by state, area by area.  Thus, some VA medical support must be farmed out to the local civilian medical organizations where the veteran lives because the geographic maldistribution of VA resources will continue to occur … eg., there are no VA hospitals to speak of in rural areas where significant numbers of veterans reside.

One potential solution could employ Obamacare as an answer to the dismal access problem that our veterans suffer — each veteran is given the choice to enroll into a Gold or Platinum ACA exchange plan with the VA paying the entire annual premium.

For another view toward comprehending health care systems and how medical care is rationed by cost, quality and access, please see the appropriate chapters in the newly released novel, Spirit Made Smaller, by Phillip Douglas.

About the Author

Phillip F. Douglas is a retired military physician who has served throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. A Montana native, he presently divides his time as a public health consultant and studies private forest environmental management and Hawaiian culture.