Cold War in a Cold Place

Carl Benson testing the wind.

Last Summer, during COVID lock-down, I recorded a series of conversations between University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute scientists Matthew Sturm and Carl Benson. Both men have made important contributions to our understanding of snow in high latitudes. Matthew was Carl’s grad student and over the years he heard about a long line of important researchers Carl met or worked with. In an effort to get some of these stories down, I recorded their chats, at first by phone and later on Zoom. This is the second recording in the series. 

Also, writer and reviewer Frank Soos is in with a look at two recent collection of essays.

War Classics

A. P. McDonald

A. P. McDonald is a Vietnam War Marine Corps veteran. He is also the owner of Parks Highway Service and Towing. I met him a year ago along with other participants and organizers of Epic Warrior Training. The program aims to help vets and active service members deal with the emotional burdens of war through literature, particularly the classics.

Also on the show, author and reviewer Frank Soos discusses poet Ben Lerner’s recent novel The Topeka School.

Extreme Researchers: Carl Benson and Matthew Sturm

It’s fair to call University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysicist Carl Benson one of the school’s superstars. A veteran of World War II, he joined the university in 1960. His former student and now colleague and friend Matthew Sturm and I decided to capture some of Carl’s memories this past summer. Over five conversations, at first by phone and then Zoom, what emerged was an arresting portrait, not just of one researcher but of how science in the North has changed. This is the first in a periodic series of shows based on those conversations.

I also want to mention that Matthew has a new book out from UA Press – A Field Guide to Snow. I plan to talk separately with Matthew about it in the near future.

Finally, Chris Lott in Katexic Clippings explores the claim that Eskimos have fifty words for snow.

Pandemic Politics

Months of congressional wrangling over a followup economic stimulus package seems to have ended with President Trump’s signature on the bill. But questions remain how effectively it will stimulate the economy and what it means for Alaskans. In with analysis are UAF Political Scientist Alexander Hirsch and University of Alaska Press Director Nate Bauer.

Building a Legacy, Losing Ice

Photo: UAF Courtesy of Dave Klein

In November, Alaska lost a widely respected researcher. Dave Klein was a game biologist who began his work when Alaska was a territory. He was also a seminal professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, mentoring and minting scores of graduate students into scientific colleagues. Oral historian and author Karen Brewster collaborated with Dave on The Making of An Ecologist from University of Alaska Press. I talk with her about Klein, her other works, and the importance of oral history.

Also, I welcome back glaciologist and physicist Martin Truffer with the UAF Geophysical Institute to discuss the importance of research in Antarctica and concerns about one particular ice field.

Fare Forward, Voyager

The Cole Brothers: Dermot, Pat and Terrence

I learned this afternoon that Terrence Cole passed away earlier today. He was a friend and mentor for me and for many. Lively and curious as a researcher, professor and fundamentally as a human being, Terrence was also the wonderfully chaotic presence on KUAC’s Any Old Time shows when he and his twin Dermot along with family and friends would spin tunes, jokes and yarns in equal measure. That vivacity of spirit wasn’t dimmed when he learned he had inoperable cancer. When I heard he had entered hospice, I put together this tribute from an interview I had with him and Dermot two years ago.

Finally, in his unflinching acceptance of both life and his terminal condition he brought to mind these lines from T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Dry Salvages.”

At the moment which is not of action or inaction
You can receive this: “on whatever sphere of being
The mind of a man may be intent
At the time of death”—that is the one action
(And the time of death is every moment)
Which shall fructify in the lives of others:
And do not think of the fruit of action.
Fare forward.
                      O voyagers, O seamen,
You who came to port, and you whose bodies
Will suffer the trial and judgement of the sea,
Or whatever event, this is your real destination.’
So Krishna, as when he admonished Arjuna
On the field of battle.
                                  Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

Pandemic Politics

How do we know what’s true? It’s an age-old question that is relevant today, whether discussing election results  or vaccine efficacy. In with analysis are Nate Bauer who directs the UA Press and UAF political scientist Alexander Hirsch.

Celebrating Legacies

Scott Kiefer & Sherry Simpson

Last month brought hard news. First, one of my favorite authors died unexpectedly from a brain tumor. Sherry Simpson was funny, genuine and penned thoughtful and elegantly wrought works about Alaska. She was 60 years old. Sherry’s friend and colleague Frank Soos talks about her life and work.

Days after learning about her death, I heard about another passing. Although Will Harrison wasn’t a friend, I had the good fortune of talking with him three years ago. There aren’t many nuclear physicists who switch careers to study glaciers. We hear from Will and from a former graduate student who continues glacier research at UAF’s Geophysical Institute, Martin Truffer.