Ice Carving with the Best In the World: Fairbanks, Ak. 2016

The tools of the trade. Each competitor at the BP 2016 World Ice Carving Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska carried a wide variety of tools ranging from chisels to chainsaws.

On Wednesday, I took you for a ride on the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We were on our way to attend the 2016 World Ice Carving Championships.

We were lucky to arrive in Fairbanks to see the carvers at work and then see their finished works of art. They were impressive, to say the least.

The Thailand Team puts the finishing touches on their sculpture for the night’s competition.
And here is the finished sculpture.
The round ball seemed almost magical to me, like I should be able to look into it and see the future. Note the thin, wire-like tool the artist on the left is using to add texture.
This acrobat was lifting her leg high.
As I recall, she won the competition.
This piece was interesting…
It turned out to be a self-playing base fiddle!
I thought the young girl running with a dandelion head was fun. Did you blow on these as a kid to watch the seeds go flying off?
She loves me, she loves me not. Note the question mark held by ice tongs in the center of the heart.
Hold that tiger! Lots of teeth and claws.
Speaking of teeth, the tiger wasn’t alone.
Woof, woof.
This was one of my favorites because of the detail.
An unfortunate jellyfish has become dinner.
Here’s a figure you don’t want to run into at night. Or during the day.
Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Maybe.
So, is it a cat? And what is with the chain?
This woman is riding a bucking ostrich. Yeehaw!
My heart goes where the wild goose goes. Indeed.
In addition to the sculptures included in the ice carving contest, the park featured a number of other figures such as the helicopter I showed you on Wednesday and this giant whale.
I also found this sea serpent rather impressive.
I’ll close today with my new log cabin. It’s a bit cold inside. But don’t you think my all black outfit contrasts nicely with the ice? That’s me, a true paragon of fashion. (grin)

NEXT POST: On Monday I will have Georgia on my mind again as I return to O’Keeffe’s home in New Mexico and finish up the series I started before Peggy and I took off across the country on Amtrak.

The Spectacular 2016 World Ice Art Championships … The Alaska Series

2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

Title: Concentration. This ice sculpture won first prize for realistic portrayal at the 2016 World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks, Alaska.

I’ve been teasing you this past week with re-blogs from a trip Peggy and I made to Alaska three years ago. Today marks the start of a short series on the trip we just completed. Welcome aboard!

We joined our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and three of our grandkids: 7-year old Connor, 5-year old Chris, and 3-year old Cooper. (That was a trip within itself— grin.) Tony flies helicopter rescue missions for the Coast Guard out of Kodiak, Alaska. If you ever watched the Weather Channel series, Coast Guard Alaska, you have an idea of the type of work he does.

2 Tony and family

Our son Tony, his wife Cammie, and our grandchildren Cris, Connor, and Cooper (left to right). We are on the Alaska Railroad here. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We began our adventure at the Anchorage Fur Rendezvous where the sled dog races caught my attention. I have never seen dogs so eager to run. Even my old Basset Hound Socrates woofing in slow pursuit of a fast rabbit failed to show such enthusiasm. (I used to tell Soc that the only chance he had of catching a rabbit was if it were rolling around on the ground laughing so hard it couldn’t get up.)

3 Luke Skywalker

I am going to do a post on sled dogs but I thought I would start today by introducing you to Luke Skywalker, a sled dog we met at Chena Hot Springs outside of Fairbanks. Jabba the Hut was located in the next doghouse.

We also watched firemen, college students and a group of Mormons get in the spirit of racing— but instead of hauling sleds, they were hauling outhouses. And yes, someone had to sit on the pot. An Alaskan style parade we viewed had so many princesses that the announcer joked that anyone with a tiara could join. Peggy and Cammie practiced their princess waves.

Practicing princess waves at the 2016 Fur Rendezvous

Cammie and Peggy practice their princess waves. All they were missing were tiaras. A grumpy Alaskan apparently wasn’t amused.

Our 12-hour trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks on the Alaska Railroad was a highlight. We had a beautiful day with views of Mt. Denali, moose, and a pair of wolves. The route has to be one of the most scenic train trips in the world and the engineer stopped frequently to allow passengers an opportunity to enjoy the view. (Thus the 12 hours.)

Alaska Railroad on the way to Fairbanks.

Our trip by train took us from Anchorage to Fairbanks through very scenic country. The journey will have its own post.

Equally impressive, but in a different way, were the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

I am going to start with the ice carving competition simply because it was so spectacular. We really had no idea what to expect. There are both single block and multi block contests. What we saw was the single block contest with the blocks cut out of a local lake. Each block measured 3 by 8 by 5 feet and weighed approximately five tons. Teams of two people were given 60 hours to complete their masterpieces. A variety of tools were used in the process ranging from specialized chain saws to chisels. Most sculptures started with several parts (legs for example), all of which were ‘glued’ together using an icy slush. It isn’t unusual for an art piece to fall apart. Imagine that after 60 hours of work! I heard one artist comment to another, “You owe me a dollar. It’s still standing.”

2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

A pair of very cold legs wait to be attached to an equally icy body of a naked woman riding an ostrich. Sketches on the upper left provide the artists with directions for their sculpture.

We made two trips out to the Fairbank’s Ice Park. (There is a lot going on there besides the contest. A dozen or so ice slides kept the boys and Peggy busy. Even Grandpa was brow-beaten into two bumpy rides, one on his butt and one on his belly.) On our first trip to the park, we watched the competitors as they scrambled to complete their work. That night we returned to view the finished works of art when the actual judging was taking place. While the sculptures are normally lit up by colored lights, only white light is allowed during judging. As I made my way through the exhibition, I could understand why. Given the number of truly impressive ice sculptures, I am going to do two or three posts on the competition. Let me know your favorites.

The sculpture, Concentration, at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

We were able to visit the park while the artists were finishing up their work. This photo of “Concentration” provides a perspective on the size of the sculptures.

A full view of the sculpture Concentration at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

A full view of “Concentration” at night on the night of the judging.

A close up of the sculpture "Concentration" at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

And a closeup to provide an idea about the detail the artists work into their pieces— right down to the dimple on the knee.

The sculpture "

I thought this sculpture titled “A Beautiful Noise” was fun during the day.

2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

Here it is at night.

"Still I Rise" sculpture at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

“Still I Rise” has his feet worked on. Hands and chains have yet to be added. I thought the green against the pure white provided a great contrast.

Night photo of sculpture "Still I Rise" at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

Chains broken, “Still I Rise” is freed to soar off into the heavens.

The "Jellyfish Hunter" is carved at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

The “Jellyfish Hunter” receives its final touches before judging. Note the size of the scaffolding.

The "Jellyfish Hunter" lit up at night at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

Lit up at night, the “Jellyfish Hunter” has caught its jellyfish.

A close up of the Jelly Fish Hunter at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

A close up of the Jellyfish Hunter— a magnificent creature indeed.

The "Stuck Up" sculpture at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

“Stuck up,” a fun title for a fun sculpture captured here during the day lit up by the sun.

The sculpture "Stuck Up" by night at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

“Stuck Up” by night.

The "North Wind and Sun" sculpture at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

“The North Wind and Sun” almost silver reflecting the cold north sun. Temperatures were in the teens, however, balmy for Fairbanks in the winter. (I’ve been there at -35 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Occasionally the thermometer reaches a minus 50.)

"The North Wind and Sun" sculpture at the 2016 Word Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks.

A final view of the North Wind for this post.  My next blog will include many more of these beautiful ice sculptures.

 

Escape from Alaska… Part I

I was drawn to Alaska by its incredible wilderness. Lisa Murkowski, one of Alaska's Senators, recently introduced legislation to sell off all of America's public lands including national forests, wilderness areas, national historic sites and national seashores (everything except National Parks) to private developer so they can make money off of the lands.

The Wrangell-St. Elias Mountains. I was drawn to Alaska by its incredible wilderness. It may not be there for our children. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) recently introduced a non-binding budget amendment to the US Senate that would allow states to sell off all of America’s public lands including national forests, wilderness areas, national historic sites, etc. (everything except National Parks) to private interests so they could turn our national heritage into profit.

The story of my involvement with California’s Proposition 99 tobacco tax campaign began on my 43rd birthday when I escaped from Alaska— and escape is the appropriate term.

My three years in Alaska had been a great adventure. I had explored the state’s magnificent wilderness areas and accomplished a fair amount in my role as Executive Director of the Alaska Lung Association. The organization had a great board and staff. We had taken a sleepy organization and turned it into a powerhouse on air quality and tobacco issues. I had led backpack, bike, and cross-country ski trek fundraisers, substantially increasing the organization’s income, not to mention giving myself an excuse to play in the woods. (As if I needed an excuse.)

But I am not cut out for the Executive Director business— or any other long-term, high stress job, for that matter. I only know one speed: fast forward. In time, the job starts to feel like I am locked in a steel cage, which just happens to be dangling from a frayed rope, hanging over a dark abyss. If that sounds to you like an imaginative description of depression, you are right. It is something of a curse on my mother’s side of the family, or to be more scientific, call it a genetic disposition.

Unfortunately, I am a slow learner. I had been executive director of several environmental and health nonprofits, done my job, and moved on. It seemed like a natural fit; so I persisted. But each time, it was like I was flirting with the dark side of my mind. I had learned I made a better ‘consultant,’ where I created the jobs I would work on. For example, I developed the wilderness trek program as a fundraiser and then became the American Lung Association’s national trek consultant. The consulting work was intense, but it had a definite beginning and a definite end. Afterwards, I would go play.

Alaska had sounded really good, however. And it was. There was all of that great outdoors (over 50% of America’s wilderness area), important issues to address on the environmental and tobacco front, and a relationship in Sacramento that needed a serious time-out. So I had taken the bait when Alaska had called— hook, line and sinker.

"It's time to pack your bags, Curt." (Peggy and I took the photos of Alaska and the Alaska Highway two years ago when we visited the state.)

“It’s time to pack your bags, Curt.” Alaskan Brown Bear. (Peggy and I took the photos of Alaska and the Alaska Highway found on today and next week’s post two years ago when we visited the state.)

By the end of the first year, I was climbing the walls. It was time to leave. Except I had made a commitment to myself, and to the organization that I would stay for three years. I struggled my way through the second year, barely keeping my head above the water. But we accomplished some good things— like forcing Tesoro to clean up the air pollution from its oil refinery, creating one of the first state-wide non-smoking laws in the nation, leading an effort to double the state tobacco tax with money going toward prevention, and bringing automobile inspection and maintenance to Alaska. But I was coming to the end of my tether. It was a short rope.

The stress at the back of my head was palpable. Even now, as I write about the experience, I can feel it gathering. It influenced my decision-making. Instead of coasting and turning more work over to my staff, I jumped feet first into the fire. It wasn’t necessary; my board and staff were good folks. They would have been eager to help. But asking for help assumes a rational mind. Mine wasn’t. I started making mistakes— and I started increasing my nightly consumption of alcohol, from two, to four, to six cans of beer. Alcohol was singing its seductive song.

Had I learned to be laid back like this moose, there never would have been a problem.

Had I learned to be laid back like this moose, there never would have been a problem.

Over Christmas, I took a break by myself and drove down to Homer on the Kenai Peninsula. There’s a motel that sits out at the end of the Homer Spit providing panoramic views of Kachemak Bay. I got a room and spent hours staring out at the water and distant mountains. And I made a decision. I would return to Anchorage and give a three-month notice that I was leaving. When the time was up, I would disappear into the woods for several months of backpacking. I would take the wilderness cure.

I spent my last day packing the things I wanted to take: a few books and camping gear. I would leave Alaska like I had arrived, with what I could fit in the back of my pickup. I spent the night at a friend’s home, but she wasn’t there. She had disappeared into the lower 48 states so she wouldn’t see me drive away. I had passed on her offer to get married, stay home, write, and raise kids. Her two dogs and cat kept me company.

The views along the highway between anchorage and the lower 48 states are incredible— not that I paid much attention is my mad dash for the border.

The views along the highway between Anchorage and the lower 48 states are incredible— not that I paid much attention in my mad dash for the border. This is the Matanuska Glacier.

These mountains were near the Matanuska Glacier, easy driving distance from Anchorage.

These mountains were near the Matanuska Glacier, easy driving distance from Anchorage. 30 minutes from my house, I could be hiking in similar terrain.

Another view of the Wrangell-St.Elias Mountains that I would have passed.

Another view of the Wrangell-St.Elias Mountains shown in the top photo.

I flew down the Alaska Highway the next morning, exhausting myself, searching for green grass and flowers. I almost made the Canadian border the first night. Too tired to move on, I pulled into a closed truck inspection point and crawled into the back of my pickup.

Once I had arranged my sleeping bag on top of my few possessions, I broke out some liquid refreshment to scare off the banshees that were nipping at my heels. My truck was packed with more guilt than goods, a lot more. Some old friends from California— Tom Lovering, Jean Snuggs and a new friend of Tom’s, an irrepressible minister by the name of Jeanie Shaw, had put together a South of the Border Care Package to ease my way toward California. It consisted of several ripe avocados, salsa, chips and a gallon of pre-made margaritas, heavy on the tequila. I held a little party with my staff before leaving. We did serious damage to the guacamole but hardly touched the margaritas.

I knocked off a water-sized glass of the latter. It put me well on the way to oblivion but it wasn’t enough to let me sleep through the horrendous racket of someone trying to break into my camper shell. I sat up with a start and yelled, banging my head against the top. A flashlight with enough candlepower to light up Las Vegas was shining directly into my eyes.

The Troopers flash light had about the same intensity as the sun on this lake that is located close to the Alaska-Canada Border.

The flashlight had about the same intensity as the sun on this lake that is located close to the Alaska-Canada Border.

“You in the truck, what are you doing here?” It was the voice of Authority. An Alaskan State Trooper had been banging on my camper shell with his baton. I thought it was quite obvious what I was doing but wisely decided to refrain from the obscene comment that was perched on the tip of my tongue. I chose a mildly sarcastic response.

“Uh, sleeping?” I hazarded a guess.

“You are not supposed to sleep here,” the disembodied voice behind the flashlight responded. “Why didn’t you go to a motel?” I was obviously a suspicious character, having chosen not to support the Alaskan economy. I was also being interrogated with the bright light of the law shining in my eyes. It was time to think fast.

“I fell asleep behind the wheel,” I exaggerated slightly. “I was afraid I might do serious damage to myself or someone else on the highway.”

That put a serious crimp in his nightstick. I could tell he was pondering my answer by the slowness of his response. He was torn between his job to roust out suspected vagrants and his responsibility to save lives. His good sense won.

“Go back to sleep,” the voice said. It was a lot easier for him to say than it was for me to do.

NEXT FRIDAY’s ESSAY: I reject an offer to run off to Mexico and open an orphanage for homeless children, decide what I should do with a gallon bag of pot I was given as a going away present, and finish my journey to Sacramento— where I am immediately asked to put together a statewide campaign to increase California’s tobacco tax. Instead, I go backpacking.

Responsible for 4 Million Square Miles… The Coast Guard on Kodiak Island

 

H-60 ready to fly at Coast Guard Station in Kodiak, Alaska.

An H-60 helicopter located on the Coast Guard Station on Kodiak Island is fueled up and ready to fly on a moment’s notice.

An H-60 Helicopter sits in front of the large helicopter repair and maintenance hangar at the Coast Guard station on Kodiak Island. It’s on ready alert, fueled up and prepared to take off at a moment’s notice. Whether it’s a fishing boat in distress, a lost hiker, a wandering oil rig, or a remote village medical emergency, the pilots, cutter crews, maintenance crews, and rescue specialists of the Coast Guard are available around the clock to perform their errands of mercy.

Another view of the flight ready H-60.

Another view of the flight ready H-60.

They also monitor commercial fishing, keep an eye out for environmental disasters such as oil spills, and perform routine maintenance on buoys and other marine navigational aids. It’s a big job, especially when you consider that the Kodiak station is responsible for some four million square miles.

It is also a challenging and dangerous job. If you have watched the Weather Channel series, Coast Guard Alaska, you are aware that Alaska has some of the most severe weather in the world and that the Coast Guard teams are expected to perform their rescue efforts in almost all weather conditions. Think of trying to rescue someone off of a moving boat in high waves with low visibility, high winds, extreme cold and driving rain.

Artistic rendition of H-60 rescue effort at sea.

I found this artistic rendition of an H-60 rescue effort on an information board at the Kodiak Harbor. The pilot is required to hold his helicopter in place under severe conditions while the rescue crew performs its exacting, dangerous job.

When we arrived in Kodiak, our son Tony had just completed his first year of a three-year assignment in Alaska as a Coast Guard pilot for the long-range H-60 helicopters. With three tours in Iraq as a Marine Helicopter pilot and several years of flying H-60s out of San Diego for the Coast Guard, he came to Alaska well qualified for his duties in Kodiak and at remote locations such as the island of St. Paul north of the Aleutian Archipelago.

In addition to their regular assignment to Kodiak, Coast Guard H-60 pilots are also assigned to remote areas for one to three week tours. In this photo, Tony flies his H-60 over the remote island of St. Paul north of the Aleutian Island chain halfway between Alaska and Siberia.

In addition to their regular assignment to Kodiak, Coast Guard H-60 pilots are also assigned to remote areas for one to three-week tours. In this photo, Tony flies his H-60 over the remote island of St. Paul north of the Aleutian Island chain halfway between Alaska and Siberia.

In addition to touring us around the island and taking us fishing, Tony gave us a tour of the base and the helicopter maintenance facility. Cammie and the boys came with us.

The Coast Guard Air Station on Kodiak rightly features a Kodiak Bear on its logo.

The Coast Guard Air Station on Kodiak prominently features a Kodiak Bear on its logo.

The Coast Guard's helicopter hangar/maintenance facility on Kodiak Island.

The Coast Guard’s helicopter hangar/maintenance facility on Kodiak Island. We took this photo from the water when we were on our way halibut fishing.

A front view of one of the Coast Guard's H-60s in the Hangar on Kodiak Island. Tony sits on the left in the picture while our grandson Connor sits on the right.

A front view of one of the Coast Guard’s H-60s in the Hangar on Kodiak Island. Tony sits on the left in the picture while our grandson Connor sits on the right in Peggy’s lap. 

Our youngest grandson Chris gets to try out his dad's seat for size while Peggy looks on.

Our youngest grandson Chris gets to try out his dad’s seat for size in the H-60 while Peggy looks on.

The HH-65, a smaller short-range helicopter is designed to fly off of Coast Guard Cutters and accompanies them on their deployments.

The HH-65, a smaller short-range helicopter, is designed to fly off of Coast Guard Cutters and accompanies them on their deployments.

The fixed-wing C-130 also flies out of the Kodiak Air Station.

The fixed-wing C-130 also flies out of the Kodiak Air Station.

The H-60 shown above is featured here in its natural setting with the mountains of Kodiak Island forming the background.

A final view of the flight-ready H-60 is featured here with the mountains of Kodiak Island in the background.

NEXT BLOG: Some of my favorite Kodiak photographs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just for the Halibut… Gone Fishing in Kodiak

Boat wake in Chiniak Bay, Kodiak.

Leaving worries, Kodiak and a wake behind, we head out into Chiniak Bay for a day of halibut fishing.

Kodiak is about fishing. The Port of Kodiak is one the top three commercial fishing centers in the United States and the largest in Alaska. Sport fishing is also big. People come from around the world to try their luck. The odds are if you are in Kodiak for any amount of time, you’ll get hooked.

Kodiak, Alaska fishing harbor.

Kodiak Harbor is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in the United States.

Peggy poses with out youngest grandson, Cooper in front of the Harbor Masters office in Kodiak. The large fish is a sculpture made from trash collected from the ocean. Hopefully Cooper will grow up in a world with less trash.

Peggy poses with our youngest grandson, Cooper, in front of the Harbor Master’s office in Kodiak. The large fish is a sculpture made from trash collected from the ocean. Hopefully Cooper will grow up in a world with less trash.

Our son Tony caught the fishing bug. He grumbled when he left San Diego that all of his Coast Guard friends in Kodiak had become fishermen. He didn’t like to fish. Now, according to his wife, Cammie, he’s just like all of the other guys on the island. “Gee, honey, would you like to go for a nice romantic walk or go fishing?” Guess what…

But Cammie is right there with him. She can walk out into the water in her hip waders and cast her line for salmon with the best of the guys.

Cammie demonstrates her salmon fishing skills.

Cammie demonstrates her salmon fishing skills.

Peggy and I certainly don’t qualify as fishermen. I had fished in my twenties for several years but that was a while ago. We won’t talk about how long. As for Peggy, she had fished off a dock in Lake Erie with a bobber as a child… twice. But the temptation to go fishing was too great. Off we went to buy our out-of-state fishing licenses. We were about to get our feet wet.

Our first adventure was to try our luck with halibut. Guess who caught the only one? It wasn’t Tony, Cammie or me.

Coast Guard Kodiak has a dock for small fishing boats on base  and makes rental boats available for Coasties. (Members of the Coast Guard)

Coast Guard Kodiak has a dock for small fishing boats on base and makes rental boats available for Coasties (Members of the Coast Guard).

Our brave crew prepares to head out to sea on our Halibut fishing expedition. Connor, Chris and Tony are in the first row. Peggy and Cammie are in the second row.

Our brave crew prepares to head out to sea on our halibut fishing expedition. Connor, Chris and Tony are in the first row. Peggy and Cammie are in the second row.

Fishing in Kodiak, Alaska.

“Um, Dad, is that dock supposed to be there!?” Before we headed out to into the Bay, we tried our luck at catching herring for bait fish near the Kodiak docks. Three-year-old Chris, sitting in Tony’s lap and pretending to steer, apparently has concerns about where the boat is headed. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Fishing in Chiniak Bay, Kodiak, Alaska.

Having no luck with the Herring, we headed out into Chiniak Bay to fish for halibut.

Having tossed out our anchor, Connor found time to play 'now you see me, now you don't' with me. The reflection was a bonus.

Connor found time to play ‘now you see me, now you don’t’ with me. The reflection was a bonus.

Chris enjoyed some kind of healthy snack, but given the expression of bliss on his face, I'm guessing that chocolate was involved.

Chris enjoyed some kind of healthy snack, but given the expression of bliss on his face, I’m guessing that chocolate was involved. (Photo by Cammie Lumpkin.)

Fishing in Chiniak Bay, Kodiak, Alaska.

Cammie caught the first fish on our trip, a colorful rockfish. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Rockfish caught by Cammie Lumpkin off Kodiak Island.

A close up of the rockfish. “My what big eyes, you have.” Tony unhooked and released Cammie’s catch. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Peggy and I pose for our "official" halibut fishing photo. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Peggy and I pose for our “official” halibut fishing photo. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Fishing in Chiniak Bay off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska.

A second “official” photo.  I was leaning out to be in the picture. Had a large halibut chosen that moment to strike, I may have gone swimming. (Photo by Tony Lumpkin.)

Halibut fishing off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska.

Peggy caught our first, and only halibut, a 15 pounder– and had a smile to prove it.

Fishing for halibut in Chiniak Bay, Alaska.

Here, the boys take a close look at the halibut. Connor appears quite curious about the fish’s strange eye arrangement while Chris keeps his distance.

Tony has become quite expert at filleting fish. Here, he takes on the halibut. Halibut has always been my favorite fish. Nothing can beat one fresh off the boat.

Tony has become quite expert at filleting fish. Here, he takes on the halibut. Halibut has always been my favorite fish for eating and nothing can beat one fresh off the boat.

A note on photo credits: I always try to give credit to the person who took the photo. Where no name is mentioned, I took the picture. Peggy and I were passing our cameras around this time between ourselves, Tony and Cammie. I could have missed something.

NEXT BLOG: Having landed a halibut, we join the Kodiak Bears in fishing for salmon.

An Old Dog Learns New Tricks in Alaska: California’s Proposition 99

Alaska's strong anti-tobacco legislation in the early 80s would help inspire California's Proposition 99 in the late 80s.

The Alaska Lung Association Board recruited me to serve as its Executive Director in 1983. By then I had learned I don’t do boss well. Wisdom would have been ‘just say no,’ but I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted to go play in the woods.

I soon found I was up to my lungs in tobacco politics.

The organization was involved in a major legislative battle to pass a statewide smoke-free law. In addition to requiring restaurants to set aside smoke-free areas and public meetings to be smoke-free, it eliminated smoking in public and private workplaces.

The fight for non-smoker’s rights ‘had come a long ways, baby,’ to quote an old cigarette ad,  but it hadn’t come that far. If we succeeded, Alaska would have the strongest statewide law in the nation.

Heart, Lung and Cancer had taken on an Alaskan size challenge. The incidence of tobacco use in the state was high and Alaska was a do-your-own-thing kind of place. Individual freedom was stitched into the state’s psyche with steel thread.

Telling Alaskans when and where they could smoke might get us shot.

I knew that a majority of the Association’s resources and every skill I had picked up in community organizing and lobbying would be called upon. I also knew we couldn’t succeed by ourselves. We set out to expand our small coalition of Heart, Lung and Cancer, develop a hard-hitting case statement, initiate a media campaign, and triple our lobbying efforts.

One lobbying technique was particularly effective. Alaska’s small population meant the Doctors on our Board and in the Thoracic Society knew every doctor in the state. They committed to contacting the physicians of the individual legislators and having them make personal calls urging support.

When doctors are committed to prevention, they can be a powerful force for public health.

I found myself spending a lot of time in Juneau, the State Capitol, and on the phone talking to Legislators. One call to a rather crusty Senator from the bush was particularly amusing.

“If you had called six months ago I would have told you to go to hell Curt,” he informed me. “But I had a heart attack and my Doctor made me quit smoking. If I can’t smoke, I don’t see why anyone else should be able to either.” It reminded me of my early involvement with GASP in Sacramento.

I laughingly thanked him for his support and was about to hang up when he told me he had another story to share.

“About a month after I quit smoking I noticed my urine really smelled bad. It worried me so I decided to call my doctor. ‘Doc,’ I said, ‘since I’ve stopped smoking my urine has started to stink something terrible.’”

“Do you know what he said to me?” the Senator asked, letting the tension build. I confessed I didn’t have a clue.

“The Doc said, ‘Senator, your urine has always smelled terrible. You couldn’t smell it because you smoked.’”

Working in Alaska did have a particular flair.

After several months of intense effort the bill was ready for floor consideration. I tallied up our committed votes and knew we could win. There was one final hurdle; the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee was holding the bill hostage. She would only let it out of the committee if we agreed to remove the private workplace.

It was one of those damned if you do damned if you don’t type decisions and the clock was ticking. If I said no the bill would die for the year. We could come back but we would have to start all over. If I said yes our legislation was substantially weakened. I made a command decision and said yes.

Legislation is almost always a matter of compromise and we would still have one of the strongest statewide laws in the nation. I also believed that time was on our side. Once Alaskans became used to breathing smoke-free air they would demand more.

The bill made it out of committee that morning and through the Legislature that afternoon. We were in business, almost.

Legislation is a two-part process, passage and implementation. If the agency charged with implementation doesn’t like the law or has other priorities, your victory can be rather shallow. Fortunately, the Department of Natural Resources had been assigned the responsibility. The staff was on our side but very, very busy.

I offered to save them some work and draft the implementation guidelines for consideration by their legal counsel. Surprisingly, they agreed. It was like turning the fox loose in the henhouse.

Needless to say, the Department came up with very strong and clear guidelines. Some of the weaker sections of the law had even been strengthened.

A few months later I was out in Nome on Lung business and needed lunch. Nome is where the Iditarod sled dog race ends and is about as close to the end of the earth as one can go. I walked into a very rustic restaurant. “Smoking or nonsmoking?” the waiter asked. Several nonsmoking signs were dutifully posted.

Maybe, in the overall scheme of things, the fact that a small restaurant in remote Alaska had a nonsmoking section in 1984 was not of great significance, but it meant a lot to me… and it spoke strongly of the future of the non-smokers’ rights movement

A primary reason for our success had been the strong coalition we had put together. It seemed a shame to let it disband. I suggested we take on another challenge, doubling the tax on cigarettes from $.08 to $.16 and using a portion of the funds to support anti-tobacco and other health education efforts.

The Healthy Alaska Coalition, fresh off of its victory, eagerly agreed. So did the Lung Board. Our challenge this time was that Alaska hadn’t passed any new taxes in years. Quite the opposite, the State gave money back to its residents each year from oil revenues.

As it turned out, passing the tax was relatively easy in comparison to our smoke-free legislation. Again, the Coalition deserved much of the credit. We were even able to add strong Native American backing since their leadership felt the health promotion opportunities provided through the revenues would be valuable.

Another reason for our success on both bills was a lack of opposition from the tobacco industry. Perhaps Alaska was too far off and had too small a population to be of much concern. As far as I know, only one legal firm received a small retainer to represent tobacco industry interests.

Two years later when I was working to push similar tax legislation through the California Legislature, the tobacco lobbyists outnumbered the Legislators, or at least they seemed to. But that’s a story for another blog.

My Alaska experience had reconfirmed my belief in the power of the non-smokers’ rights movement. And, of equal importance, it had introduced the germ of a new idea: using tobacco tax dollars to fund anti-tobacco programs. I was an old dog who had learned new tricks.

I was prepared to participate in creating California’s Proposition 99… but didn’t know it.