How I Research My Books

Why do we read, blog, and tweet?

We hunger for connection and meaning. We crave to make sense of the world — past, present, and future. We choose to research the meaning and meaninglessness of modern existence…explore the dilemmas of our world and our place within it. Although ever-changing, our collective knowledge and the languages we use to express the universe and humanity’s position within it shall always limit our comprehension because death comes to us all. Ultimately each of us, like Socrates and the Buddha, is a “non-knower” who suffers poverty, failure, exile, and loss. But we still search for understanding and search yet again…

Storytelling helps us out. Speculative fiction speaks to the anxieties percolating in its age. Indeed, storytellers who have researched their novels extremely well do restore some order to the world. They offer up material worthy of their potential readers’ time and money.

Whether through fiction, science, or other non-fiction endeavors, the first rule to follow whenever undertaking research is to acknowledge one’s inherent biases and their limiting influences upon one’s imagination and subsequent selection of the background facts that shall anchor the manuscript’s core themes.

Before I started my novel, Spirit Made Smaller, I had to recognize that I, as a human being, held four basic inclinations, or biases, which constricted my ideas:

First, I tend to anthropomorphize all animals, forces, and machines. Placing human characteristics into non-human entities can turn away from truer comprehensions of actual creatures, conditions, or situations. Of course, the opposite in bestowing human attributes upon other species or natural forces such as thunder and hurricanes does help to shape those entities and create a sense of psychological satisfaction or releif, however mythical. Even more so, all the fine poetry, literature, and cinematic films predicated upon variations of artificial intelligence and diverse science fictions/fantasy projections of the human psyche would not have been created had not those intrepid authors and screenwriters employed this bias. Yet to this day, if ever, science or metaphysics cannot explain how and why consciousness exists. If we cannot understand our own conscious state, how then may we ever hope to eventually chip it into a computer?

Second, I am inclined to look skyward for potential natural explanations instead of under my feet. Every day I view the sun, moon, and stars. Thus, I prefer to search for meaning in the heavens rather than out of the center of the Earth despite the occasional earthquake. Yet when I forced myself to think about all the heat generated within the Earth’s core and how it escaped through shifting tectonic plates on the planet’s crust, it was only then that I effectively molded one of my secondary characters in my recently released novel, Spirit Made Smaller.

Third, because I grew up in western Montana, I was biased toward accepting events happening on land being more significant to our world than those ever changing conditions that manifest throughout the world’s oceans. Since the Earth’s surface is 79% ocean compared to 21% land, it made sense to me to study the science of oceanography as critical background for my last book as well as for the current novel I am writing. From an introductory course, I learned that the entire ocean floor turns over every 190 million years — this has happened at least twenty times since our planet was formed. Yet there are some surface land features which have lethargically existed for longer than three billion years. Obviously, the primary geological activity on our planet, overall, is in the oceans and not on the continents. Thus, any theory regarding overall planetary surface and atmospheric conditions must account for the oceans being the major component, or it is worthless.

Last, I have known only carbon-based life forms — perhaps this is the most fundamental bias we all possess. Asking the following question terminated one of my bouts with writer’s block: “Do non-carbon based, sentient life forms exist in our galaxy?” Oh, the research I’ve done trying to answer that one…! And I’m doubly thankful for my college degree in chemistry.

When I remind myself about my core biases, my research becomes less inclined to employ confirmation bias — where I only select a few pieces of information and leap to some faraway disaster, conspiracy theory, or Armageddon. The philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, pointed out that individuals often simply ignore facts that don’t fit their existing paradigms — yet the intellectually courageous person is willing to look at things that are surprisingly hard to look at. Such a reasonable framework, thus, guides the background research that buttresses my characters and plots into broader landscapes about ascents and setbacks, forgiveness and redemption, and the back-and-forth, easy movements from the close-ups to the horizons.

Yet biases, indeed, are fundamental to conflict…and conflict creation and resolution are the DNA double helixes of writing fiction. Biases do have their critical places in creating a novel. I try to be aware of my core biases and realize that there is a place to employ them and to reject them. As an editor once told me, “The wise writer knows when to anthropomorphize an object, force, or species and when not to.” I agree.

Great Growth Potential for Selling Obamacare Supplemental Insurance

The Affordable Care Act with all its Federal and various State exchanges now available for purchasing mandated health insurance has produced the unintended consequence of priming the supplemental health insurance market for all those individuals not yet old enought to apply for Medicare. In order to control annual insurance premiums, and at the same time limit future cost liabilities, the Obamacare Bronze, Silver, and Gold plans stipulate substantial deductibles and co-payments as a condition to obtaining health insurance coverage. Upon paying the premium for even a Bronze-level coverage plan, for example, the beneficiary is forced to pony-up for onerous, out-of-pocket costs in excess of $5,000 per year in order to meet that plan’s delineated deductible and co-pays. In essence, the beneficiary has simply bought expensive “catastrophic health care insurance,” and nothing more. He or she first must annually pay several thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses to see a doctor before the insurance coverage kicks in.

Government manipulation of our health insurance financial risks is not new. In 1964 when Medicare was legislated to provide health access for those aged 65 years and above, it had its own deductibles and co-pays as well…and still does. For example, Medicare Part B will cover only 80% of negotiated costs for provider services. To fill that remaining 20% gap, the AARP and other organizations sponsor multiple, supplemental health insurance plans for seniors in order to cover some to all of the remaining annual costs for this portion of medical care.

Bottomline, cost containments shaped by Medicare have been the overall model for Obamacare. First, Americans under age 65 years must either purchase an approved ACA plan directly, or through their employers, or prove that the total premium expense is too financially onerous. Those who have chosen to enroll in an ACA plan must then also possess sufficient means to cover the plan’s deductibles and other costs, such as copayments and taxes. Similar to what had happened after Medicare went into effect, a robust market for supplemental Obamacare plans is expected to surface and mitigate all of those out-of-pocket, mandated ACA expenses. It has been estimated that the supplemental health insurance marketplace will increase over 1,000% within the next eight years because of Obamacare. Those entrepreneurs who wish to become part of this expanding business should now consider getting in on its ground floor.

For another viewpoint on universal health care delivery and insurance coverage, please visit, Spirit Made Smaller. The Alpha-Omega program detailed in the novel’s chapter twelve may be interesting for our politicians to consider.

Antarctica’s Ice Has Documented the Relationship between Global Temperature, Carbon Dioxide and Methane

In geologic time, our planet currently is in the Holocene Interglacial period which began approximately 10,000 years ago. The preceding interglacial period, frequently called the Eemian Interglacial, had lasted from roughly 130,000 to 107,000 years ago.
For the past 400,000 years, Antarctic ice has preserved a record of the variations in temperature, methane, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations present on earth. Please see the references listed below.
Scientists have studied the gases trapped in air bubbles within the ice cores extracted from the Antarctic ice sheet and have compared their concentrations over those 400,000 years represented within the samples. When narrowed down to just the comparison of the Eemian and Holocene epochs, both interglacial periods were relatively short in duration and were initiated by natural cycles of global warming.
The Eemian strongly resembled our present Holocene’s climate, except that sea levels were roughly four to six meters higher at the peak of the Eemian warmth compared to our current sea heights. Based upon exposed coral reefs in disparate locations around the globe and terrestrial pollen core records, the Eemian was slightly warmer everywhere than our present late-Holocene environment.

How did changes in temperature and the atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations measure out when they were studied across the 400,000-year record represented in the Antarctic ice cores? THEY MATCHED ALMOST PERFECTLY!
Levels of carbon dioxide (parts per million) and methane (parts per billion) followed every rise and fall of the changing temperatures throughout the past 400,000 years. Peaks for the three parameters simultaneously occurred at approximately 324,000 years ago, repeated at 236,000, then again at 126,000 years ago (Eemian), and recently now. Troughs for all three happened approximately at 330,000, at 265,000, at 135,000, and lastly at 21,000 years ago.

What are the factors that have caused these natural cycles for very prolonged ice ages interrupted by short periods of natural global warming? Are there processes existing beyond our planet’s orbital variations, and do they operate within our real world such that we have not yet been smart enough to include them in our climate change models? Any reasonable theory on climate change must account for the three peaks of global warming and the four prolonged troughs of global cooling delineated above prior to the Holocene epoch.

Here are some questions to consider regarding climate change:
— Do atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane concentrations increase predominately as a response to rising global temperatures?
— If airborne carbon dioxide and methane actually cause global temperatures to increase, then what were the natural processes that created the increases in carbon dioxide and methane which initiated the Eemian and Holocene Interglacial epochs? Do these natural processes continue today to influence our climate? What extracted sufficient carbon dioxide and methane out of the Eemian epoch to bring on our planet’s last Ice Age? Are these processes known and accounted for in our latest computer modeling for current climate changes?
— Where does the heat generated within the earth’s core go? Does it escape uniformly or in cycles from our planet’s interior through the crust’s oceans?

For more information and speculation about natural theories on climate change, please visit Spirit Made Smaller and also the author’s blog, “How Much Climate Change Comes from the Earth’s Core,” dated June 11, 2014.

References:
1. Blunier et al., 1997: Timing of the Antarctic Cold Reversal and the atmospheric CO2 increase with respect to the Younger Dryas event. Geophys. Res. Let., 24(21), 2683-2686.
2. Fischer et al., 1999: Ice core records of atmospheric CO2 around the three glacial terminations. Science, 283, 1712-1714.
3. Petit et al., 1999: Climate and Atmospheric History of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok Ice Core, Antarctica. Nature, 399, 429-436.

Cashel Goodlette Accompanies Author on Book Tour

Dr. Cashel Goodlette, PhD Oceanography, has agreed to accompany Phillip Douglas, the author of Spirit Made Smaller, on several book promotion tours over the next several months to Montana, Alaska, and around the Seattle, Washington/Puget Sound area. When not assessing the Bering Sea for the US National Geological Survey whenever aboard the NOAA maritime vessel, Miller Freeman R-223, Dr. Goodlette is an academic professor in Anchorage, Alaska. Several of his research endeavors that separate out the scientific truths from the pseudoscientific claims proffered on climate change have been carefully incorporated by Phillip Douglas into Spirit Made Smaller.

Upcoming book signing events are:
— Saturday, September 6, 2014, from noon to 3 PM, at the Barnes&Noble on 31325 Pacific
Highway S., Federal Way, WA 98003;
— Friday, September 26, 2014, from 8:30 PM to 10:00 PM, at the Pacific Northwest
Booksellers Association Tradeshow in the Hotel Murano on 1320 Broadway Plaza,
Tacoma, WA (This is a restricted event.);
— Saturday, October 4, 2014 from 10:30 AM to noon, at Fact & Fiction Books For All Ages,
on 227 N. Higgins, Missoula, MT 59802;
— Tuesday, October 14, 2014, time TBD, at the Barnes&Noble in Fairbanks, AK.
— Other locations and times for book signing/reading events are being negotiated at this
time. Once they become known, they will be posted on this website.

For more on how to determine true science from pseudoscience or for information regarding the unintentional consequences that can result from the medical-industrial-complex whenever it is mitigated by grand-scale profit motives, please visit Spirit Made Smaller.

Earth Is The Water Planet — Name Change, Anyone?

Water, not land, is the overwhelming feature of our world. 70.9% of the earth’s surface is covered by water; nearly all of it is salty and only 3% is fresh water. Of all this water, humans can directly use just 0.3%, and most goes into large scale operations such as irrigation and electric power generation.

At home, the average US citizen consumes almost 100 gallons of water each day — toilet flushing is the largest single use. In contrast, half of India’s population — 620 million individuals — has no access to a working toilet or latrine. They defecate outside in the streets or countryside.

Water exists in three forms: solid, liquid, and gas. Glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are reported to hold over half of the earth’s fresh water. The oceans are almost as old as the planet itself and have stayed the same in terms of volume and chemistry for the past 600 million years despite their containers, the ocean basins, being altered due to shifting tectonic plates — otherwise known as continental drift. And our atmosphere contains more water as gaseous vapor — humidity and clouds — than all the rivers on earth combined.

Carbon-based life requires liquid water to exist.

Although our planet and its oceans were formed 4.5 billion years ago, it was not until 3.5 to 2.0 billion years ago that oceanic life forms had developed chlorophyll. From the cyanobacteria and other early photosynthesizers did the processes commence that emitted oxygen into the atmosphere, and around 600 million years ago oxygen concentration finally reached 20%, sufficient to support land-based life. Prior to then, those parts of continents extending above sea level had remained de facto sterile. Thus, marine life had created the atmosphere we know today, and it had set the stage for life’s evolution onto land.

Water is special. Its properties are universal, yet one in particular needs emphasis in light of the current debate about climate change: water possesses the second highest heat retention capacity of any molecule. Only ammonia has a higher ability to hold on to heat. One molecule of water vapor retains 90 times as much heat compared to one molecule of carbon dioxide. Therefore, water vapor is the most potent greenhouse gas in our atmosphere; not methane, not ozone, not CO2 or other molecules.

The trinity of water forms — ice, liquid, and vapor — has fundamentally shaped all physical and organic existences on our globe as well as the evolution of carbon-based life. Our planet Earth orbits our sun between the planets Venus and Mars. Humans christened the planets…perhaps we now know enough about our origins so that we should rename our unique sphere…the Planet Water. Our existence utterly would not have happened without water.

For those who might be interested, within the novel, Spirit Made Smaller, there is much more about alternate theories on climate change and carbon-based evolution predicated upon DNA’s double helix, and how both combined to shape our very essence.

EBOLA Not Spread By Airborne Droplets — Yet Can Spread By Airplanes

Over a week ago, a traveler infected with Ebola virus boarded an airplane to Lagos, Nigeria, and became ill in flight. He died five days after landing. Could he have infected others on the aircraft and later in Nigeria? That depends …

First some background on Ebola virus:
— It is believed that Ebola exists naturally among certain species of fruit bats. The virus has also been found in wild antelope, porcupines, and primates. In 1989, an outbreak of Ebola occurred among monkeys imported to the United States from the Philippines.
— Five subtypes of Ebola virus are known to exist; four cause disease to humans.
— The incubation period varies between 2-21 days. Most infected patients show symptoms at 8-9 days after direct exposure to contaminated blood, vomit, body wastes, or secretions.
— The initial symptoms are sudden fever, intense weakness, sore throat, and headache. Profuse vomiting and diarrhea follow 1-2 days later.
— Bleeding from the nose and mouth, skin blisters containing blood, and signs of kidney and/or liver failure are dire developments that suggest severe internal bleeding. Patients with such fulminating courses die within 7-10 days.
— Ebola is NOT 100 PERCENT FATAL! Those who survive beyond two weeks have a better prognosis for survival.

The virus is transmitted whenever one has sufficient, unprotected, direct contact with the blood or secretions — saliva, vomit, diarrhea, sweat, tears, semen, any skin opening or healing wound — of an infected person. There are higher concentrations of virus in vomit, blood, and diarrhea compared to saliva, sweat, and tears. Risk of spreading the infection to others during the incubation period is low, yet it increases once symptoms commence and will become highest during the late stages of illness when the victim is vomiting, having diarrhea, or bleeding. Patients who acquire the infection through contaminated syringes and needles almost always die. And transmission even through semen has been reported to have occurred seven weeks after recovery.

In past Ebola epidemics, as well as the current one in Africa, those who have contracted the disease were primarily family members and health care workers caring for infected patients. Also, family members who handle corpses at the time of burial, and those who eat fruit bats or antelope could acquire the infection.

Public health measures such as screening all suspected patients, isolating those afflicted and tracing their contacts, and employing universal barrier precautions and strict equipment decontamination protocols will disrupt the spread of the virus. Authorities must not underestimate the worldwide mobility potential of people incubating the illness in African areas where Ebola outbreaks begin. Disinfection of public areas such as restrooms is imperative. Even sexual intercourse by recovered individuals should be restricted for three months or until semen can be shown to be free of virus.

Unfortunately, at this time a properly vetted vaccine — one proven in clinical trials to make a difference and result in more protective good than harm — is still under development. ZMAPP, a mixture of three antibodies harvested from tobacco plants, has been administered to two American health care workers in the hope it will aid their recovery. No one knows if the amounts of ZMAPP given were the correct dosages — even worse, could it make the recipients feel worse or die faster?

Utmost, the treatment of Ebola patients requires close supervision and intensive care. The challenge is to provide this support while minimizing the risk of infection to other patients and medical personnel. Patients require rapid hospitalization to access the around-the-clock attention that is geared toward preventing trauma to their fragile circulatory systems.

A treatment guideline not often mentioned in Ebola patient management is the enforcement of a restriction on air transportation of patients because of the effects of drastic changes in ambient air pressure on lung water balance when ascending from ground level into the diminished aircraft pressures of approximately 8,000 feet. This complication may have occurred to the passenger who had become symptomatic while on the flight to Lagos, Nigeria, and contributed to his death five days later.

A second management pearl to always keep in mind for Ebola caregivers is that secondary infections, especially malaria, are common and should be sought and aggressively treated.

So … did the ill passenger on the flight to Nigeria spread the infection to others on board or possibly at his destination later? Is Ebola virus in any community just a plane ticket and a toilet seat away?

Whenever humans are involved in potentially lethal situations, mistakes will happen.

For more examples on public health management strategies regarding epidemics such as HIV, SARS, polio, and Hepatitus C, please visit Spirit Made Smaller and look up how the character, Jennelle Daniels, managed those pathogens.

Connect Veterans Health Affairs with the Affordable Care Act

Congress finally got something done! The three-year, $17 Billion fix to the tragic holes in VA medical system should be considered only an initial step on the long journey to evolve the VA’s medical support for the great men and women who have fought America’s battles to defend our country. The most expensive part of this temporary fix is the care provision for certain patients — those who either live more than 40 miles from a veteran’s facility or who face a wait time of more than 30 days for an appointment. This pigeon-holed, private care band-aid will still be coordinated by the Veteran’s Department, most likely as a limited voucher benefit.

In fairness, all injuries and illnesses sustained while serving our country should be fully treated and compensated, just like the illnesses and injuries suffered on the job by any civilian employee through his or her worker’s compensation program.

With the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, we should now look on the VA in a new light and catch it up to speed with the private medical health care system: VA should broaden its intrinsic brick-and-mortar facility approach to veteran’s health care and, in essense, allow each military veteran the option to enroll with an ACA-certified insurance program — and the VA would pay each veteran’s annual premium equivalent to the level of at least a Silver ACA plan. Thus, the VA “vouchers” the entire ACA system at the Silver threshold; the individual veteran has the option to readily seek medical care near home or may still choose to travel to a VA facility for appointments. To encourage each Vet to show his or her “Veteran’s Silver Choice” card at the nearest VA medical facility and not at a private clinic or hospital, the deductable and co-pays for the Silver plan would be waived at the VA facility.

So each VA health facility would become part of every state’s ACA network for those in-state residents who have honorably served our country. If not already done, each VA medical facility would strive for ACA certification and guarantee prompt, accountable care for its covered patients within each state’s approved ACA network. This in-state competition with the other private sector Silver ACA insurance network plans would thoroughly safeguard top quality, timely care. Our Vets would no longer be lost in a bureaucratic dark place.

Improving the access, accountibility, and quality of VA health care will increase the overall medical cost for this deserving population of beneficiaries, because whenever access and/or quality in health care increases, costs go up as well. For a unique perspective on why this dynamic always takes place, please visit the relevant chapters in the newly released novel, Spirit Made Smaller, by Phillip Douglas.

BUSH PILOT TRIVIA GAME

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.

CARD #1

(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).

 

CARD #2

(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.).

 

CARD #3

(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).

 

CARD #4

(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.).

 

SCORE TOTAL

0—2   points:   WHAT WERE YOU SMOKING WHEN YOU PLAYED THIS GAME?

3—9   points:   NEED TO STUDY HARDER.

10–14  points:   GOOD EFFORT.

15–19  points:   YOU MAY APPLY FOR AN AVIATION LICENSE ONCE YOU SOLO.

20–23 points:   FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR.

24    points:   BUSH PILOT!

 

FJORDS — NORWAY AND ALASKA

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!

INTERESTING BITS & PIECES ABOUT ANCHORAGE

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.”