When I first arrived in Fairbanks in the early 1980s, I had a small dry cabin off Noyes Slough. One summer night, having trouble sleeping, I went onto the porch overlooking the water. It was peaceful and soothing until I heard something shifting in the heavy brush below. I looked down and into the eye of the terrier sized animal. I’d never encountered a beaver before and I thought it was some strange mutant rat. Apparently, it was as dismayed and startled as I because it quickly turned and returned the slough with a tail slap. That’s when I realized what I’d witnessed.
My first guest on the show today is far more experienced and knowledgeable about Alaska’s flora and fauna, but I think he might agree the beaver is a startling critter. Ken Tape is a research ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He and his team recently presented findings that raised a few eyebrows. It also landed him in the New York Times. It turns out beavers are rebounding from past trapping and making their way out on to Alaska’s northern tundra and transforming the landscape. As Tape explained to me it’s part of a sequence of changes he and other researchers tie to climate change.
Also on the show: about seven years ago I went through something of a mid-life crisis. Instead of a Maserati I ended up buying a pair of Nordic skis and started lessons. From that happy move a chain of events led me to Fred Raymond and his small ski and bike store, Raven Cross Country. For many athletes in the interior, what Fred’s shop lacked in cubic feet, was more than compensated by his craftsmanship, knowledge and friendly personality. He never tried to press you in a sale and he was always ready to answer questions. When you got a bike back from repair or a pair of skis from waxing, you knew they were done right.
Over the years I would often use the pretext of a question to just spend some companionable time in his store. I wasn’t alone. I would often find several people ahead of me, talking about an upcoming race or discussing trail conditions.
After 15 years, Fred closed Raven Cross Country just before Christmas. He is now retired. Before the closing, I sat down with him to talk about his background, how he came to be a shop owner and what brought him to Alaska. I began by asking him if he had always been handy with tools.
And the beaver has made its mark on the literary landscape. Chris Lott shares his finding on this week’s katexic clipppings.
You can listen here.