Great Men

Ok…I find that I often resort to Hyperbole. Like my brother-in-law Jim M. stated in one of his columns, the word hero is overused. So I think,  is the term “Great Man.” But recently two men have passed who I think qualify…it is the end of an era with them gone. I would compare it to the day Adams and Jefferson died…or similar. Two great men, and I guarantee you’ve never heard of them, so an attempt to educate…

      Jay Hammond and Walter “Wally” Hickel. Two mavericks before it was cute, two self-made men who owe nothing to no-one except for ambition and ability. Both defined the era of Alaska statehood more than any other.  Hammond, a marine corps fighter pilot in world war II,  provided Alaskans w/the framework for the permanent fund. He believed in simple common sense, and you’ll never meet a humbler appearing ex-two time governor than this man. He, like Sarah Palin, married an Alaskan native and created a Lake Clark spread for his family that might rival  the days of  “Big Valley” or “Bonanza”…Alaska style.

     From the appearance of his hotel, the opulent grand dame of Alaska the  “Captain Cook“,  you’d think Hickel the opposite. The man who has a 10,000 bottle of wine cellar at the Crow’s Nest and has written several books barely had an education. Legend has it he arrived in state with thirty-seven cents but  a boat-load of confidence. To go from that to founding the “Institute of the North“, where world leaders traipsed into his presence long after he was out of the executive office to discuss the future of countries above the 57th parallell…Amazing.

     I won’t go into too much detail. You can hit the links and explore their biographies. Just remember as you look at the current crop of politicians hoping to get elected and then immediately kowtow to every interest that will further their selves…remember two humble men in a far off corner of our empire. Two guys who could have been prototypes for John Galt, but with the empathy and compassion that is necessary to  lead.

Les Vignes de Bila-Haut

Ok, i told my bro-in-law I’d get writing again, and what a nice topic this is: a Cotes du Roussillon Villages wine…I saw it at the Wine Discount Center on Elston, actually got an email from them here. This is, as the write-up mentions, a Top 100 wine this year…for $11.99!

     I decanted the bottle yesterday.  Like many French wines, it is a blend: Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan, the last being an old vine deignee. The first sip while eating a little ham and brie? A little too muscular, slight pepper, and even medicinal. extreme dark, obscuring coloration, heavy on the palate w/slight tannins.

     Doesn’t sound like I would like it, eh? Well i gave it an hour, and then tried it with beef, a better pairing as the first coupling was one of opportunity, while the second was by design. Mmmm. A convergence. The wine had relaxed, was much lighter on the palate (which is what I am looking for these days) while the pepper from the syrah was much more forward but in complete, absolute harmony with the other elements. This is a mouth filler without overstaying its welcome. Long finish… but round. Little tannins to speak of.

     Ok, you say that was by design, an intended result by the addition of the beef dish? No. I corked it overnight. Today around one I had lunch, and there was not a hint of difference after a day. Longevity- we like that in a wine. And according to the Spectator, this is just the beginning of Bila-Haut’s run. Drinkable 2010-2017. This, at this price? Get it by the case.

     Condolences to the families of the Massey Mine explosion in West Virginia.  I wonder what people think about the idea of federalizing or state owning of mines and minerals? It would be interesting if miners were treated like soldiers: 30 days off, free health care, and a pension after 20 years. What if all people in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky profited from the minerals under their land? I keep wondering why in this modern age a few massive international or national companies are allowed to continue garnering huge wealth for a few while the brave souls who provide it get…dust…and explosions…and preachers who assure them their reward will be in heaven.Two Alaskan governors helped make Alaskans owners of their own state, and every year every single citizen gets a dividend check.  Jay Hammond, probably the most decent man to govern any state anywhere, put the idea in motion. Another two-time common sense governor, Wally Hickel, continues to champion the idea in his books. Some years its been as high as $3000 a person, kids included. Why don’t other states go this route? I feel for the people of Appalachia. Capitalism works, but only when the wealth is shared. Otherwise it becomes fascism.

Drugs and Freedom, and the Iditarod

     Lance Mackey is hours away from winning his fourth straight Iditarod. Never been done before. Some are holding their breath in anticipation. Not for the historic crossing of the finish line in Nome, but for the drug test afterward. Mackey holds a medical marijuana usage card, and for the first time the Iditarod is going to test mushers for alcohol and marijuana. 

    Should they test these guys?  All people worldwide have their vices, all athletics have their magic potions to enhance performance, from HGH to steroids. Our pilots and soldiers, especially special ops guys, use amphetamines.  The first question any Alaskan should ask is: how could pot or a jigger of whiskey give Mackey a win?

     Alaskans are fortunate that geography and a vast mineral inheritance allow them to do things a little different from the lower 48.  As you dash frantic but restrained into Kaladi Brothers or Cafe del Mundo to get your morning fix, as you collapse into a chair at the Bear’s Tooth or Darwin’s to take the edge off the day, even as you appreciate that first taste of a good, round, big red to compliment your meal- try to think like an Alaskan. Do we need outdated thinking, often promulgated by people who benefit from these laws and strictures, to rule your brief spot on this earth?

Iditarod 2010- Alaska Girls Kick Ass!

     The Iditarod truly is amazing. To line up on fourth avenue in Anchorage for the symbolic start, to watch the stoic mushers and eager dogs head out into the midwinter Alaska dark and cold…everyone should experience it once. Eleven hundred miles through unforgiving weather and terrain featured in movies and stories like Krakauer’s “Into the Wild“, or even London’s “Call of the Wild.” This is geography that is…well…wild. It kills.  Sometimes  a dog that dies. Even though every single observer will tell you that the dogs live to run, this has cost the sport in the lower forty-eight, both in viewers and sponsorships. So much so that one four-time winner, Jeff King, put up fifty-thousand of his own money as part of the purse. How many other sports do you see such selflessness just for love of the competition?

     But it’s far ahead of any other world sporting event in one other significant, dramatic aspect: It’s the only major race that has always featured men and women in the same race, mano a mano, may the best sex win. And women often do. There are the pioneers like Libby Riddles, and the triumph and tragedy of multiple winner Susan Butcher. This year though features someone, a woman, who just might get the race the attention it deserves.

     Her name? Zoya DeNure…a former international runway model from Wisconsin who saw a sled dog demonstration, fell in love, and settled in the small town of Paxson, Alaska to follow a dream. Like most mushers, Zoya raises her own dogs with her husband, John Schandelmeier. Currently she is in the top three going into Willow. Would it be fair for the beautiful thirty-three year old to get attention for the race because of her looks? Probably not…but if she can stay in the top three, Make it a race to Nome, possibly win by pure grit, maybe some of the big sponsors will reappear or hitch up for the first time.

     It’s ironic: television shows “Outside” always feature Alaskan bachelors as quirky, ideal mates. Maybe with a Zoya win, the rest of the lower forty-eight will discover a huge secret, let out only sometimes, but which you’ll often see on bumper stickers and t-shirts from Juneau to Fairbanks…Alaska Girls Kick Ass!