Viral Mysteries

MBL headshot 2018 JR-18-5865-5

Mary Beth Leigh Photo by JR Ancheta

I continue my series Northern Soundbites with a discussion about viruses with microbiologist Professor Mary Beth Leigh. There is a bevy of fine reports about COVID-19, locally on KUAC-FM, Alaska Public Media, and NPR. But I’ve been interested in the natural history of viruses, what do we know about their origins, evolutionary success and “life” cycle, even though, as you’ll hear, viruses aren’t strictly alive.


Recommended Reading

Frank Portrait

Frank Soos ©Kesler Woodward

In these interesting times, Northern Soundings is trying for flexibility. I’m practicing good social distancing and interviewing guests remotely from home. Unfortunately, the audio quality isn’t the best. So, I’m offering shorter pieces that won’t tax the ear but still get Alaska voices before the public. I call this new venture Northern Soundbites. Author and reviewer Frank Soos was my first Northern Soundings guest and I’m pleased to offer his review of Boccaccio’s Decameron as the first installment of Northern Soundbites.

Stay safe and care for others!

Robert Hannon

Politics in Uncertain Times


Segments for this show were recorded before events surrounding the viral pandemic COVID-19 radically transformed the social landscape across the globe. Consequently, some of the discussion points in the political segment are out of date. The Alaska Democratic Party primary is now being conducted by mail. Voters have until April 10 to postmark their ballots.

Another alteration is restricted access to the KUAC-FM studio where Alexander Hirsch, Nate Bauer and I record our segments. I’m striving to overcome some of the technical hurdles presented by recording interviews remotely from home. Luckily, I have a handful of recorded discussions in the can, and I’m confident Northern Soundings will continue through these difficult times.

Also on the show, University of Alaska Fairbanks Geography professor Cary de Wit examines the troubled history between Iran and the U.S.

And Chris Lott is in with another Katexic Clippings.


Intro and outro music form No Finer Place

Additional music by Juke

Skiing Old School

Monty Rogers

Archeologist Monty Rogers

Recently, the Alaska Anthropological Association held its annual meeting in Fairbanks. One of the talks offered, co-sponsored with the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks, examined the archaeology of skiing. That caught my eye because I help with the ski club’s Sonot Kkaazoot where you can find traditionalists skiing in knickers. But as archeologist Monty Rogers of Culture Alaska explained in his talk, in Central Asia’s Altai Mountains, the locals practice a form of skiing stretching back thousands of years.

Also on the show: Acclaimed painter and art historian Kesler Woodward discusses Sydney Laurence forgeries.

Award-winning author and reviewer Frank Soos looks at two works by Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk.

And Chris Lott is in with Katexic Clippings.



Theme from Julie Rafferty’s No Finer Place.

Additional music by Juke Deck

Through Their Eyes

Sarah Manriquez Portrait

Sarah Manriquez

The Fairbanks Arts Association is accustomed to displaying images by local photographers. But the current display at the traveling Bear Gallery is unique for several reasons. The photographers are homeless,  and their work was nurtured by the passion of a University of Alaska Fairbanks student. I recently sat down with Sarah Manriquez to learn about the Through Our Eyes Project and what drove her to help the marginalized find a means of expression.

A portion of the Through Our Eyes Project in Fairbanks moves next month to Stone Soup Cafe. I spoke with its Executive Director Hannah Hill about the growing demand to feed the needy.

And we visit again with the Northern Sounding’s two political mavens, Political Science Professor Alexander Hirsch and UA Press Director Nate Bauer. They analyze the developing presidential primary season from an Alaskan perspective. Nate talks about the UA Press Book Club which is currently hosting weekly discussions about our nation’s history.


Music by Julie Rafferty and

Balm of Hurt Minds

Dr. Clay Triplehorn

Dr. Clay Triplehorn

“Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.”

So says Macbeth having just murdered his king. But it turns out modern research backs up his assessment.  Dr. Clay Triplehorn is my guest this week. He is a family medicine physician who specializes in sleep.

Also on the show, Alaska Science Forum columnist Ned Rozell explains the inspiration for his examination of the physics of forty below. The column is read by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Theatre and Film Arts majors Jared Olin and Mary Conlin.

And Chris Lott crowns the show with a look at the word corona.



Music by Jukedeck

Primaries, Polls, and Plebiscites


This week, University of Alaska Fairbanks Political Science professor Alexander Hirsch and UA Press’ Nate Bauer discuss polls and peering ahead politically. Nate is also leading a UA Press Book Club discussion on American History this semester.

And the recall of Governor Dunleavy is just one example of a referendum. Political Geographer and podcaster Elizabeth Alexander talks about referendums’ wide range of uses.

And Katexic Clippings’ Chris Lott says there isn’t much that’s soothing about calamities.



music by jukedeck

Hearts, Stones, Microbes

Rock Garden

Steve Parker’s Rock Garden

Few would deny we seem to live in a very contentious political period. This can make the average person, angry, pensive and distressed. Which is why I invited Jungian psychologist Steve Parker to discuss the psychology of our times. Parker has been a practicing therapist in Fairbanks for decades. As you’ll hear, he also works with stone and blogs.

Earlier this month, years of legal wrangling about sulfolane contamination coming from the North Pole oil refinery resulted in a multimillion-dollar judgment against former owner Williams Alaska Petroleum. A superior court judge ordered Williams to pay over 20 million dollars. What many may not know is that research led by University of Alaska Fairbanks microbiologist Mary Beth Leigh played a role in the trial. Leigh and her team looked at possible bioremediation of a miles-long plume of sulfolane that has contaminated groundwater in parts of North Pole. I talked with Leigh about her research and what it was like to testify at the trial.

And Frank Soos is in with a review of Janet Malcolm’s latest book of essays.


Music by Jukedeck


Global Reports


Freelance journalist Lois Parshley joins me this episode. She has reported from every continent on the globe. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic and a host of other periodicals. She’s received fellowships and awards from such institutions as the Knight Wallace Journalism Fellowship, the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and the United Nations Foundation. She’s currently serving as the Snedden Chair of Journalism at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and will be teaching a course this spring targeting scientists, mathematicians, and engineers on communicating their work to the general public.

Also on the show, UAF Geography professor Cary de Wit puts the issues swirling around Ukraine in context.


Loss and Gain


For this New Year’s Eve edition of Northern Soundings, I’m pleased to celebrate with a conversation between my friend and long-time colleague Susan McInnis and the late Richard Nelson. Nelson was a gifted naturalist, anthropologist, and broadcaster. Many know him from his radio series Encounters. But Susan’s discussion was prompted, almost 30 years ago, by the publication of Nelson’s lyrical book The Island Within. Nelson’s connection with KUAC dates back to the 1980s when another of his works Make Prayers to the Raven was made into an award-winning television series. Nelson passed away in November and his distinctive gifts as an engaged and enthusiastic observer of the world and its communities will be missed.

One last note: Long before Northern Soundings, Susan McInnis demonstrated the power of thoughtful conversation at KUAC with her program Sunday at Noon. Working on this show and hearing her again was a joy. I thank her for offering this episode to share.