Thanksgiving in Alaska certainly was a departure from last year. It was a quiet day in which we slept late, then had a Mongolian family over for dinner. I figured they had nowhere else to go and I wanted to show them what an American Thanksgiving is like. The father is on some kind of government-funded scholarship for a mining degree, as there are a lot of metals in Mongolia. The effort fell flat. Some of the food they clearly didn’t like. The language barrier was likewise frustrating. One thing we did manage to communicate about was Mongolian cashmere, which they said is far superior to what is sold in China. Now China markets its cashmere as from “inner Mongolia” which of course is not the Mongolia the country at all and my guests said the Chinese mix their cashmere with 20% polyester. . Apparently, cashmere is the warmest thing you can wear in the winter.
Last Saturday, I was an exhibitor in one of five zillion local winter bazaars that start in early November and go every weekend. If you want good made-in-Alaska stuff, these are the places to visit. I splurged on some seal otter ear muffs at one as furry earmuffs are nearly impossible to find in the lower 48. Knit headbands, yes. Earmuffs? No. The woman selling them was called Umara and she was a Native seamstress living to the southwest of us in Slana (on the way to Valdez) and she promised they’d be warm. Well, they sure are! As for my books, I had shipped them up here for my Snedden lecture, then figured I might as well as try to sell them rather than ship them back. I made about $122 from it but…with what I had to spend for the vendor’s fee and babysitting, I netted about $27! But I had fun exhibiting, though. I’ve learned some tips. First you have to engage people. As people sidle by my booth, I point to Knights, Maidens and Dragons (my kid’s book) and say, “That’s for kids over 8!
Do your kids read??” Then I guide them to a newspaper article about my book. I had boxes of free CDs (from a college radio station that basically leaves them on the floor of one of the admin buildings) and a bunch of free candy. As people munch on the candy, I talk about my “Quitting Church” book (“It’s not Quilting Church?” a woman asked me) and I got into a bunch of theological discussions on why people quit church. You truly have to be nice to everybody because sometimes people dressed in the sloppiest clothes were the ones who purchased my books. Or people who didn’t look like they’d be interested in what I do ended up being really fun to talk with. Good bets are always grandparents who need to buy a bunch of gifts for grand kids (and Knights, Maidens and Dragons of course is super-light to mail). The one downer is that a few things I’d brought along to sell that would have brought in $30/each (and would have paid me back faster for my expenses) did not sell. Except for a couple who bought 2 books, I sold nothing over $20. So you really have to hustle to sell multiple small things to bring in any meaningful money. Believe it or not, I’m going to try one more bazaar this coming Saturday.
Sunday night, had for dinner a couple from Yellowknife which, if you dig out your Canada map, is in the Northwest Territories. Which is basically the whole northern part of Canada. He was a magazine editor; she researches bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea. The latter is that huge body of water on Canada’s northern coast aka (to those living much further south) as the Arctic Ocean. They’re both in Fairbanks camping out in housing similar to mine to finish master’s degrees. I asked them what they were doing for Thanksgiving and they said they would be cross-country skiing 7 miles into the wilderness to stay at a cabin. I just gaped. I can’t imagine skiing 7 miles, much less packing in food, etc. to stay in a cabin God-knows-where. After we talked, I went to the gorgeous map store that’s in the UAF geophysics building and bought a circumpolar map that has the North Pole in the middle and with which you can see the enormous parts of Canada, Greenland, Russia and Norway that are at 80 degrees N latitude. It’s on the wall of my living room now and we love to stare at it. Oddly, the map store does not have very good Internet links, making it tough to order from them online; a fact that the man who runs the store is aware of but apparently there is little he can do about it. I’ve run into several things like this at UAF that are beyond cool, but the university doesn’t publicize them well at all. I found some links here and here as well as an intriguing WaPo piece about mapping elsewhere in Alaska and how the lives of pilots depend on good maps. One of the state senators, Ted Stevens, saw his wife die in one small plane crash and he died in another.
After a dearth of snow for much of the fall, the white stuff is falling in earnest now. Which is why the little one and I have had to invest in better winter wear, such as the boots shown here. The boots we brought up from the south had no traction and we were both sliding everywhere. The winter wear here is truly the real thing: Furs, cashmere and wool neck warmers. The enhanced wardrobe has also helped Veeka with her cross-country ski lessons, which are doing better now that she’s actually warm. This morning, I walked her to the bus stop through swirling flakes in the dark (the sun doesn’t rise until almost 10) and it seemed like a scene out of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: A dark sky with falling snow and a street lantern lighting the way. We expected to see Mr. Tumnus come marching along with his packages any minute.