Monday, January 30, 2012

Fairbanks life--moose in my back yard

The moose are back. Every year towards the end of winter, as the snow piles up in the hills and food sources diminish, many moose move down into the valleys and flatlands.  Some migrate into populated areas. Most are no problem but you always have to be cautious. A couple of days ago there was an advisory out for an aggressive moose near the dorms on the University of Alaska campus.

We have a large back-yard garden every summer, and a corresponding compost pile. Pretty much every year we also get moose in our back yard, pawing through the compost pile looking for browse, and chewing on our birch trees. Sometimes they even bed down for the night,

You will notice that there is a fence around our back yard. This means nothing to a moose! One year there was a moose calf in our driveway and the mother was in the neighbor’s yard (on the other side of a 4' fence). I thought I was safe going outside to take photos of the calf, but before I realized what had happened, the mother moose jumped the fence and I was face to face with her. Time for a hasty retreat—don’t mess with a mother moose!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Out my back door at 40 degrees below zero

At 1:00 pm today it was -40°  (doesn't matter whether I say Fahrenheit or Celsius, they're both the same at 40 below). We had heavy ice fog, and the sun barely cleared the buildings behind my house. Moodily beautiful but frigidly cold!

Attitude, attitude--everything is attitude! Life is good as long as the furnace works. Its not even too bad going outside if you are dressed properly.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Meandering mining camp? Where is Meehan, Alaska?

The Eagan cabin at Meehan, Alaska—all that's left of the mining camp

Where, oh, where, oh, where is Meehan? That’s what you might wonder looking at different U.S. Geological Survey maps of Fairbanks Creek.  Meehan, active during the early 1900s, was a mining community about 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Early maps show it upstream from the confluence of Alder and Fairbanks Creeks, but later maps show it about a mile or so downstream.

In an article in "Alaska Sportsman Magazine" titled “The Silent Creek,” Isabel Eagan Richards (who grew up at Meehan) writes the town was on the north bank of Fairbanks Creek at Discovery claim (the first mining claim staked on a creek). That would place the town where older maps show
it—west of Alder Creek. 

Later maps may be in error because Alder Creek moved. The “Dictionary of Alaska Place Names” indicates that Alder Creek’s channel was altered by mining, and its outlet at Fairbanks Creek moved about one-half mile to the west. It may be that some mapmaker, confused by the surveyor’s notes, moved the town to the east rather than move the creek to the west.

The town was established in about 1905, after the Meehan brothers (Matt, Pat and Tom) staked the Discovery claim (and most other claims along Fairbanks Creek.) The town was the center of social life on Fairbanks Creek during the early 1900s and had a post office, several stores and roadhouses, two dance halls, a restaurant, four saloons and a school. In 1907 it had 300 residents, with maybe another thousand living in the surrounding area.

Isabel Richards’ father, Dan Eagan Sr., walked the 380-mile Valdez-Fairbanks Trail in 1908 and ended up working as a bookkeeper for a Meehan merchant. By 1913 Dan was doing well enough that he and his partner, George Griffin, bought the store, renaming it Eagan and Griffin General Merchandise. That same year, Dan brought his childhood sweetheart, Isabelle, to Alaska, married her, and they set up housekeeping on Fairbanks Creek. The Eagans raised seven children there.

Eagan and Griffin General Merchandise sold a little bit of everything and was a social center for the area. (It was also the post office.) At the center of its large main room was a big barrel stove surrounded by chairs. 

The store also acted as agent for the two banks in Fairbanks: Washington-Alaska Bank and First National Bank. At the back of the store was a small room with a barred window, a counter with a large gold scale and large safe. It was there that miners brought their gold dust to be weighed and traded for currency. Isabel estimated that her father weighed out over $10 million in gold dust at the store.

By the 1930s mining activities at Meehan had ebbed. In 1937 there were only a handful of residents, and in 1942 the post office closed. The store closed and was torn down, and the Eagan clan moved into Fairbanks, leaving the empty family home to decay.

Today all that remains at Meehan is part of Dan and Isabelle Eagan’s home. Their home, which stood next to the store, originally was a large two-story log and frame house. The main part of the home has collapsed and disappeared, and all that remains is what used to be the family kitchen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rock art and cracked pots (or is that crackpots?)

In one of my meanders around Alaska I picked up a stone. Its not a big stone--only 3 ½” x 1 ½” x ¼”.  I was mainly interested in the patterns the white seams in the stone made.

Imagine my surprise when I turned it over and found a bas-relief bust of a Norseman! Proof positive that Vikings were the first to navigate the Northwest Passage! Its obviously a valuable artifact and I'm thinking of calling the Smithsonian--or maybe Ebay. Anybody got a bid?


To the right is another carving of a Viking, this one an 11th-century carving in elk horn found in an excavation in Sigtuna, Sweden. It is now in the National Historical Museum in Stockholm. Obviously the stone figure is a bit worn from rolling around for hundreds of years, but isn't the resemblance uncanny?