The Edrie

On the 25th of February, 1988, the 40’ fishing vessel Edrie sank in the waters outside of Sitka, Alaska. My father was aboard.


Courtesy of http://www.besthistoricfishing.net/

Courtesy of http://www.besthistoricfishing.net/


61 years earlier the Edrie’s keel was laid in Wrangell, Alaska. It was 1927, and it was a much different world than today. Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Communist Party, Calvin Coolidge was the president of the United States. Prohibition went into effect and Henry Ford introduced his Model A. It was only 24 years after the Wright brothers first flew, and Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo trans-Atlantic flight. In a time when telegraphs were the norm, the first trans-Atlantic phone call was made. In Alaska, Benny Benson was designing what would become Alaska’s state flag, while Ketchikan, with a population of over 6,000 residents was Alaska’s largest city.


The Edrie was large for a troller at the time, but she was a very comely boat, if a little broad at the stern. Her lines gave a hint to a seaworthy nature, a trait that would be put to some incredible tests over the next 61 years that she fished Alaska’s Inside Passage.  At least twice in her fishing career she was grounded during storms.  Howard Ulrich, one of her owners, accidentally grounded her in a storm with 70 mph winds.


Lituya bay By D.J. Miller, United States Geological Survey - USGS via [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4390967

Lituya bay
By D.J. Miller, United States Geological Survey

Her most famous test came in 1958 in Lituya Bay. Southeast Alaska hosts thousands of coves and bays that can provide shelter from storms, but north of Glacier Bay this dramatically changes, and for a hundred miles of coast it’s the only safe anchorage, called “a dream-like oasis on a brutal coastline” by one fisherman. Safe is a relative word though, as Lituya Bay has its own inherent dangers.  Although the bay is 9 miles long and very wide and very deep, its entrance is narrow and shallow. Each tide change funnels millions of gallons of water through the bay entrance. An early encounter with the bay by the Lapérouse expedition in 1768 saw the loss of 21 crewmembers to these tides. Less obvious, but known to the Tlingit who’ve lived on this coast for thousands of years, and to scientists that have studied the bay, there is a long history of tsunamis here.


A Tlingit pipe depicting tsunamis in Lituya Bay

A Tlingit pipe depicting tsunamis in Lituya Bay


I can picture Howard Ulrich Sr. and his 9 year old boy Sonny pulling into the bay on a July evening in 1958 and joining the two other fishing boats already there. The Edrie must have left a whisper of a wake as she chugged to the spot Howard chose to anchor. Anyone who’s been on a small boat that’s made a long run knows that special moment, hearing the anchor chain run out, smelling the rich pungent smell of the beach. The engine is killed, and the magical silence that settles into you, displacing the throb and noise of the motor. Now perhaps Howard and his 9 year old Sonny heard a Raven calling to his brothers and sisters in the forest. The bay gently laps at the Edrie as she settles into her anchor.


Sometime that evening, a large earthquake shook the bay, unleashing a monstrously huge landslide at the head of the bay.  Fifty millions tons of dirt and rock crashed into the bay. Almost instantly it splashed over 1700 feet up the mountain across from the slide, scouring the forest and soil off, leaving nothing but exposed rock.


By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey - [1], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18201150

By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey

The water washed back down and formed a tsunami well over 100’ tall, which raced down the bay, now heading for the three boats anchored there that night. Howard and his 9 year old son saw the wall of water advancing. Howard managed to get his engine started, but couldn’t get his anchor to release from the bottom of the bay. He let out all of his anchor chain, and a steep walled wave, still over 100 feet high, lifted the Edrie, easily snapping the anchor chain. In an act of luck, seamanship, and in a testament to the Edrie’s design and construction, the Edrie was able to power back to the center of the bay amidst a chaos of uprooted trees and wild choppy waves. The two other boats were washed over the sand bar. One boat sank after the husband and wife crew transferred to their skiff. The other boat and crew were lost without a trace. The BBC has done an interesting video on this event.


By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey

By Millar D.J., United States Geological Survey


After the 1958 wave, I lose sight of the Edrie for more almost three decades, but I am able to see through research that Howard Ulrich Sr. ended up working for the US Forest Service for almost 20 years as a skipper for of a Ranger boat, an intersection with my family, as my dad also was a Ranger boat skipper. I also was a classmate of Kurt Ulrich, one of Howard’s sons. 56 years after surviving the Lituya Bay tsunami he passed away at the age of 88.  Howard’s life was certainly more than a brush with a monster wave. Respect to this man and what he did with his life.


In 1984, 26 years after the Lituya Bay wave, the Edrie was owned by Thomas C. Will, who had a troubling break with reality. He became paranoid, believing that law enforcement was looking for him, intending to kill him. He slipped away from a small town’s harbor and anchored the Edrie in remote bay. Heavily armed, he swam 75 yards from the Edrie to the boat of a friend, and once aboard, he told his friend that he was a Navy SEAL. To anyone who’s been swimming in Alaska understands the extreme nature of this swim.  One icy swim wasn’t enough; he swam to a second boat and woke up another friend (that must have been a rude awakening), only to return to the Edrie in the morning where he pulled the anchor and headed out.


Wearing only boots and cut-offs, Will left the Edrie adrift and took as skiff ashore near the village of Hoonah. This could have been the end of the Edrie, but she was found adrift and was towed to the Hoonah boat harbor. Somehow Will found her and tried to get her engine started, but wasn’t able to get it started. Still aboard, he shot at someone on the dock passing by. Fortunately he missed, but later ended up in a gun fight with the Hoonah police department. Will was shot 5 times in the shootout, only to sue the City of Hoonah, three of their police officers, and an Alaska State Trooper later, winning over $2million in the suit.


This was certainly a bizarre chapter in the history of the Edrie, and it certainly could have led to her demise. Luck smiled on her again, only to turn his back on her four short years later. My dad, Robert Kinville, had been working at the pulp mill in Sitka as a tug boat captain, but due a mill shutdown, wasn’t working. A friend of his had been working as a deckhand on the Edrie, but needed someone to take his place for a rock fish opening, and my dad accepted the job.


The Edrie was geared for longlining. Long rolls of groundlines lay in tubs, with hundreds of circle hooks, attached by gangions (lengths of tough nylon cord), ringing the tubs. Each tub of gear is known as a skate. Anchors for the ends of the skate and buoys to mark the gear’s position crowded the Edrie’s deck as the boat’s owner and skipper, Jim Phillips and my dad left the dock in Sitka headed for Cape Edgecombe. From the fishing grounds, a look west would show nothing but the curve of the horizon, open Pacific Ocean stretching for thousands of miles. It was a bit stormy that day, with winds gusting to 35mph and a swell running.


Once on the fishing grounds, something gave in the stalwart Edrie. Perhaps a plank sprung from a rib? No one will know, but a faulty bilge alarm delayed the initial notice of the dire situation. My dad manned the bilge pump, but due to damage to the pump’s bellows, it only was operating at a fraction of its potential. A mayday was sent, and the nearby Coast Guard Air Station dispatched a helicopter, and a nearby fishing boat responded as a good Samaritan, as the crew aboard the Edrie donned survival suits.


The helicopter lowered a gas operated pump, but Jim and my dad were unable to get it to run. The helicopter lowered a second pump, but before they could try to start it Jim told my dad “It’s too late, we’re going to have to abandon the boat!”, and rolled over the side of the boat. While Jim made his way to the waiting fishing boat my dad tried to abandon the Edrie, only to find that two of the circle hooks from a skate had punctured his survival suit, tying him to the sinking boat.


My dad was able to free himself from one of the hooks, but one hook, caught in then leg of the survival suit was now being pulled taut, and the material of the suit was too tough to rip the hook free. As the stern sank, waves began to roll over his head. In the trough of a wave the deckhand of the other boat called to my dad “Get away from the boat!” My dad called back “I can’t! I need a knife!”


Wave after wave rolled over him as the Edrie sank, only briefly allowing him a life giving breaths, and the intervals were getting smaller the deeper he was pulled. As he was saying what he thought was his final prayer, an act of luck, seamanship and heroism was happening. The skipper of the other boat, tossing about in the large swell, swung his stern over the sunken stern of the Edrie, disregarding all of the lines and debris in the water, and the deckhand reached far over the side of his boat…and placed a knife in my fathers hand. With the slash of a knife, he was finally free of the Edrie and was able to make his way aboard the rescuers boat.

The last sight of the Edrie that my dad saw was a bit of the bow stem, and finally, after 61 years of service, the Edrie slipped below the surface of the ocean.


Perspective in Growth

Classic Tlingit design adapted from a bentwood box

Classic Tlingit design adapted from a bentwood box

I once heard a man say that he had tried to “find himself”, but despite great effort he had had found the task daunting. In an epiphany, he realized that he had been searching for a stationary being, but he saw now that his “self” was dynamic, ever changing. He was the sum of each decision that he had made to that point.

We invent ourselves by the choices we make.

I am in a period of intense personal growth, sparked by the many decisions of my life, and most recently, a decision to devote myself to developing my art. I have long loved the Tlingit art that surrounded me growing up in Sitka, Alaska, felt pulled to it, but turned away from it’s call.

A good friend challenged me with a commission for a bentwood box, a style of box important to the Tlingit for thousands of years, and a project that I longed to try, but shied away from. I turned my focus to this difficult task, made more difficult by the fact that I have no master to apprentice to, only able to learn from pictures and the stern taskmaster of trial and error. after hundreds of hours and 7 failed attempts I had created a beautiful box; a length of red cedar with three kerfs cut, steamed, bent and joined, with a carefully fitted top and bottom.

One of three bends

One of three bends

Two sides of my Killerwhale bentwood box

Two sides of my Killerwhale bentwood box

Creating this box unlocked a deep desire to create art, and my wonderful wife gave me support when I told her that I wanted to pursue my art full-time. Yolande Fejes, co-owner of the Alaska House looked at my box, and for the first time, I received informed criticism on this project. To me, this input is highly valued. She suggested that I apply my art to pendants. I have completed 4 pendants to date, and they have been extremely well received. I’ve shared my work on social media, and have been contacted by the owner of another art gallery…things are moving fast.

My work on display at the gallery

My work on at the gallery

This newly created art is receiving accolades, and must the face that I am now, officially, an artist, as opposed to “someone who likes to draw, paint and carve”.  I appreciate the approval, but I am actually humbled, because the more I accomplish, the more I learn, the more I write, the more I spiritually and intellectually I grow…my perspective changes, and from a slightly higher vista I have a new appreciation for the masters who proceeded me. Words from fine authors, the Whale House carvings by Kadjisdu.áxch, the spirit and strength of my father. I see higher levels to achieve, an new appreciation of what is good and fine.

The painting I’m doing is so demanding, so exacting, that it consumes me while I’m engaged in it, and it turns out that this is a form of meditation for me, holding me in the moment so thoroughly that I am able to relax my frenzied mind, and in it’s place I find a form of spiritual tranquility.

A Tlingit Raven

A Tlingit Raven

I am so encouraged by the response my first attempts at art in this period of my life have received, and by the fact that it touches certain people. I’m amazed at what my mind, eyes and hands are able to create, but I know that I am at least 10 years from any level of mastery, and that I will continue to grow as long as I am alive. I hope to forever remain a moving target, inventing myself one moment at a time, decision by decision, act by act.

My 3rd mask, coming to life

My 3rd mask, coming to life

The 3rd mask, complete

The 3rd mask, complete




A Foot in Two Worlds

Sitka in 1904, each house a clan house, center of power and wealth.

Sitka in 1904, each house a clan house, center of power and wealth.

I am a shareholder in Shee Atiká Incorporated, a regional corporation established under the Alaska Native Lands Claim Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971.

Sitka has been a part of the Tlingit homeland for thousands of years. Before the first recorded contact with Russian explorers, or “pre-contact,” the Tlingit based their society around a moity, clan and house system. Under this system the Tlingit flourished, becoming a powerful and vibrant society.

While the Native nations of the lower 48 were often forced off of their land under treaties, the United States government made no such treaties with the Native people of Alaska, excluding a single reservation on Prince of Whales Island.

ANCSA supposedly addressed this issue. Rather than approach it as a “government-to-government” issue, the act set up regional corporations. Perhaps it is cynical, but I believe that this was done to uncouple the source of power, the wealth of land ownership, from the traditional and powerful leaders of the Native people. As it disempowers the effective system that held US interests at bay for so long, it created a structure that seamlessly interfaces with powerful corporate interests in the nation.

There is a sad irony that this occurred in Sitka, the birthplace of the incomparable Alaska Native Brotherhood, established in 1912 (8 years after the photo above was taken), and shortly thereafter, the Alaska Native Sisterhood. Peter Metcalfe discusses how this organization changed the face of Alaska’s treatment of all of its Native people in his excellent book, A Dangerous Idea. ANB Grand Camp #1 sits on Front Street, almost certainly where Tlingit canoes were once beached when Sitka was among the most powerful villages in SE Alaska.

ANB Grand Camp No. 1, Sitka, Alaska, courtesy of Wikipedia

ANB Grand Camp No. 1, Sitka, Alaska, courtesy of Wikipedia

The Tlingit people struggle to maintain a balance between preserving our culture and being successful and effective in a massively predominant Western culture. We see leadership problems with Shee Atiká, but we are trapped by our cultural concepts of respect; we are taught to respect authority, and we are taught to respect our elders. Certainly the executives and board members are in positions of authority, and for many of us, these people are our elders. This is another example of where Western and Tlingit culture fail to mesh. It is also the nature of living in, or coming from, small towns that it is not possible to be act without the knowledge that our ties to other community members will cause ripples and unintended consequences. This is even truer within the Tlingit community, with another complex layer of family and social ties at play.

A culture of apathy has become the norm regarding the operation of our corporation. This is a sad comment on a generation which was handed a legacy of dynamic, innovative and strong leadership. If Peter Simpson or William Paul, leaders from the ANB’s crucial 1920’s period were to come back, could we look them in the eye and say “I have taken that which was given to me, and made it better”?

I think our ancestors wouldn’t accept the act of corporate leaders insulating themselves from the wishes of their shareholders through “discretionary voting”. This allows shareholders confused by the proxies that they receive, or simple apathy, to pass control of their votes over to the board of directors. Once elected to the board, the desire to be in good grace with the other board members in order to secure these discretionary votes can derail efforts to change the corporation’s direction.

There are many red-flags in the direction that Shee Atiká leadership has taken our corporation. A group of shareholders has established a Facebook group, and members have cataloged a host of concerns, from small to egregious. The tone is honest and respectful, and very appropriate to who we are as a people.

My sense is that there is a groundswell of concern and empowerment underway. In my opinion it is well warranted and overdue. It is true to the legacy from the Tlingit men and women who bravely stood up and seized power and initiative.

I humbly ask you my fellow Shee Atiká shareholders to look into yourselves and see if you are knowledgeable about the direction of our corporation and some of the valid concerns that are being expressed. If you are like me, you may find that there is room for improvement.

We are not shareholders in the common sense of the word. We are the owners of not just a corporation, we are caretakers of our land and power for the generations to come.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. Gunalchéesh, gunalchéesh!


The Transforming Image


For those who love Northwest Coast native art, the book The Transforming Image is a treasure trove of old art made new. It’s an ambitious (and expensive) book that places contemporary interpretations of NW Coast art into context with the older art’s eras and areas. For artists involved in this art form, its huge collection of detailed photos provide an amazing resource to expand one’s artistic vocabulary.



In the 1800’s a rush was made to North America’s North West coast to collect objects from the various Native nations, as it was believed that these cultures were in the midst of disappearing, and chances to obtain, own, and perhaps study the highly evolved art form would disappear too. Today, many of these items, to include house screens (the interior painted division of traditional long-houses) and bentwood boxes sit on museum shelves, darkened by the patina of age, oils, and wood smoke from long dead fires, their original painted splendor seeming long gone.





Through a happy discovery in Canada, it was found that infrared photography revealed that the grey and weathered collection of NW Coast art still held the intricate and nuanced work of long forgotten masters. Government grants funded the amazing work of recovering this lost visual treasure. These images, in shades of grey and black are stunning, but further grants brought in contemporary Native artists who transferred many of these images to new wood and painted them with traditional colors, and we get to see them as they must have first looked to the artists and owners long ago, far away.


The top two images on the left show how two sides of the box look to the human eye, the two images on the right show what infrared photography reveals.

The top two images on the left show how two sides of the box look to the human eye, the two images on the right show what infrared photography reveals.


A Book is Born

Finally, another grant brought together a collection of these images, old and new, into the beautifully produced 274 page book, which was titled “The Transforming image; Painted Arts of Northwest Coast Firsts Nations” by Bill McLennan and Karen Duffek. It honors the past through the printed word, but it is the hundreds of amazing photos that let long gone artists speak again.




This book discusses this process of recovery, but goes beyond simply presenting the recovered images. Through the medium of these recovered images it illustrates the artistic differences between nations and regions, discuss the 800 plus year development of the art’s formal structure known as formline, and tracks individual unnamed artists work. Finally, it looks at contemporary artists work, and discusses the evolving nature of culture and art.




What it Means to Me

I am an aspiring artist who has been inspired by the Tlingit art that I grew up surrounded with. By the time my need to express myself in this art became too compelling to ignore, I was living in Anchorage, Alaska, far from the Tlingit homeland. There is little NW Coast art in the Matsu valley, and much of it is poorly executed. Reading Bill Holm’s exceptional book “Northwest Coast Indian Art; An Analysis of Form gave me the vocabulary to express what, to that point, had been an instinctual, or subconscious understanding of “right” in regard to a highly structured art form.


Through the decimation from western disease, and the assimilation efforts by the governments of the United States and Canada, links to native cultures were diminished. In the vacuum that was created much of the subsequent art lacked the flow, balance, and the tension and release of older art. For the aspiring artist, finding examples of the early art can be difficult, and often the newer art is no longer moored to the art form’s powerful fundamentals. For those looking to connect with truly authentic art, The Transforming Image, and Bill Holm’s book, provide a direct path to this power.




In Conclusion

If you love NW Coast art, I highly recommend this book. If you are looking to express yourself as an artist and practice NW Coast art, I suggest reading Bill Holm’s book first, and then lay your hands on The Transforming Image.



Now a word from my daughter

We started foster care for my daughter Jessica when she was three years old. She had seen some horrible abuse from her birth family, and came to us with many of the issues common to people who’ve been treated that way from an early age. We fell in love with her, and decided that we would be her forever home. We fought to adopt her for years, with the adoption finally being finalized when she was eight. It has the ring of a sappy holiday special, but there were huge ups and downs in parenting her. Most days didn’t look anything like a TV special.

Later in life she fought her demons of addiction, almost an echo of my own battles. It is a relief beyond words that she has found a way to maintain a clean and sober lifestyle. She has found friends and a community that support her, and she has blossomed in a most beautiful way.

I was there when her beautiful son Joseph was born, and it was clear that this was a turning point in her life. She has written about her experience, and I thought that I would share it here on my blog.


As I sit here, washing dishes that fell behind while Joseph was sick, I see toys scattered around, books we have read over and over- precious belongings that have caught my toes many a time. I reflect on what my life has become.

My house is a cluttered disaster of toys, unpacked things, and remnants of a beautiful life that I get to be a part of today. A year ago… I never knew my life would be so blessed. I was going through pregnancy, knowing I would be a single mother. Anxiously awaiting the beautiful baby I knew would change my life forever.

Change can be scary for a person like myself. This change, however, was a long awaited dream. It has been my life’s desire to be a mother. My mother gave me the best chance in the world, when, from birth, my chance was less than most.

I look upon the scattered toys, as I move from the dishes to the beautiful, playful, learning mess that becomes once my beautiful baby boy comes home and gets his time with Mommy (Me!! How blessed I am to be his Mommy!), and all I can do is smile. Every book, every toy, is a memory of the life I get to build with him. As I put things away, to be ready for the new mess that will ensue tomorrow, I see his smiling face in my head. His little cheesin’ grin- his happiness. He is the most beautiful, blessed, amazing miracle of life that I have ever been given a chance to be a part of.

Once upon a time, I was granted forgiveness by someone I never thought would do that. It is a forgiveness I never thought possible. It was that forgiveness that gave me the strength to forgive myself. I still miss that person’s smile, laugh, and how much my son adored them.

Now, at this very moment in time, I sit beside my son, Joseph, and I can’t help but think, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I remember my life as a childless person, and then my life’s true purpose called upon me. Once again… I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being a Mommy- THAT is my true life’s purpose. “To give back what was so freely given to me” is what many I know say.

My parents gave me a chance at life, a chance at happiness, a chance at fulfillment. That is what I hope to give to my son. I love him more than the infinity of stars in the universe. I just whispered him his “Goodnight, Sleep Tights” for the third time tonight, and I know that he will sleep tight. Why? Because I know, in my heart of hearts, that he knows he is loved. I know he is well taken care of. I know that he is happy. I know that I am his Mommy, and nobody can take that from him. Joseph Charles… I love you with all my heart and soul. All ways and always. Gosh… I am so blessed to be a part of his life… I am blessed to finally be a Mommy. I am grateful that my HP saw fit for me to be given the opportunity to be a part of the miracle of life- the miracle of true love!

And now…. I better get to bed! Being a single Mom is no joke, and I gotta be up and at ’em tomorrow to continue to provide for my lil’ miracle baby!


In the Middle of the Night

It was around 2:45 in the morning, and I was holding my sleeping 14 month old foster son in my arms. The house was still, and of the nine people within its wall, I was the only one awake. The fever in the sweet boy I held had broken, and he was resting peacefully.

I looked out the windows and marveled at the amount of light still present, nearly enough to read by, and the trees outside were fully visible. Song birds continued to sing the night through. A mere few months ago it would have been profoundly dark outside by five or six pm, and if a bird was to be heard, it would certainly be an owl.

If there is sweeter experience than holding a sleeping child, I don’t know what it is. My first child just turned 29, but I can still almost feel him in my arms. Over the years, and through the many seasons, there have been other children, other nights. It felt as if all those times weren’t long ago, far away, but more as if they were closer than the thickness of a gossamer curtain.

It is commonly believed that being a parent involves sacrifice, but I see it as an exchange. I give up some of my “self”, and I get to participate in the start of a new and profound being. I become tied to the cycles of life in an intimate way, and the exchange is more than fair. The loss of self and the discipline of parenting are not to be taken lightly, but there I sat, a beautiful boy in my arms, and I am the world to him. I am complete.



Not Knowing

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard this, but I’ve been accused in the past of being a “know-it-all”. While it seems that my love of learning has filled my mind with fact after fact, my spiritual and philosophical growth has lead me to realize how little that I actually do know.


Based on this understanding, most of my conclusions are simply page markers. Mentally, my inner dialog goes something like “Based on what I currently know, this is my current, temporary understanding.” Hardly anything is fixed with surety, and to be honest, this ever shifting view of the world sometimes becomes wearying.


Not often, but on occasion, I look at someone who goes through life secure in their conclusions and understandings and wish that I too could see the world the same way, never having to actively seek to maintain my balance.


The appeal is short-lived, because this thought almost always is followed by the recognition that I am a product of my decisions, and I have actively sought out the path that I’m on. On a bad day, these thoughts will form a running loop and bother me for some small time. Fortunately, days like these are rare.


My sense is that many who have mapped the world to their content, and have firm and fixed opinions and understandings of matters large and small. My concern is that if I become too comfortable in my assumptions I will become mentally brittle, resisting new interpretations and new information that challenges my assumptions. It isn’t possible to avoid some level of fixation and the formation of bias, but I hope to at least recognize it when it occurs.


From my perspective, facts and trivia are small pieces of a larger whole. They help build a picture of the world, but they don’t constitute a universal understanding of what they represent. The more I learn, the more humble I become, for every summit reveals new realms of things to learn. Rather than feeling lost by this understanding, I’m exhilarated. My love of learning appears to have the stamina to last as long as I do. Quite simply, what I am coming to understand is myself.


Humanism as a Religion

One of the most significant insights that I’ve had is an understanding that Humanism is a religion. It is with this understanding that I am able to see many seemingly diverse trends coalesce into a logical narrative.

Humanism is a force that has done much to shape the world that we live in, dominating the means of expression and education in the Western world. If Humanism is a religion, then Atheism, Feminism, Environmentalism, Socialism, Marxism and the Progressive movement are denominations of the Mother Religion, perhaps the dominant religion of the entire world.


I will be painting with a broad brush, and it is with the knowledge that not every person driven by an “Ism” is a Humanist. I ask for your understanding that simple narratives help distil a complex world into a form that can be used as a start for further thought and discussion.

My path

From a young age my dad had instilled in me a love of learning and open-minded inquiry. Healthy skepticism was encouraged, and I was taught not to accept anything presented as fact without the application of critical thought. This laid the mental groundwork that led me to a loss of faith when I was 14. My manner of thought came into conflict with what I was being taught in the church. It also didn’t gel with my own observations and study, but critically, at an intuitive level I felt that something wasn’t right.

Not long after this break with religion I came to notice that at its extreme, Environmentalism contained many of the same broad themes of Christianity; an early period of paradise, the loss of paradise through man’s sins. Following the loss of paradise comes the acknowledgement of man’s base nature, the acceptance of personal sin, and finally, the return to paradise.

It struck as significant that many leading environmentalists are atheists, and that the reverence afforded “Mother Earth” or “Gaia” seemed to be a substitute for the older religion’s God or gods.

As time goes by

It was the Environmentalist’s desire to remake the world to fit an ideal that lead my thinking, and I realized that certain other forms of activism, expression and phrases were aligned with Environmentalism. I could sense the gravitational nature that exists between Environmentalism, Socialism, Feminism, Communism and Marxism…a dogma was emerging. Only after a great deal of thought and research was I able to put a name to it. The thread that ties these philosophies together is Humanism.

Humanism can be defined as an existential belief system. At its core, there is a belief that it is morally incumbent for humanists to influence culture in a way consistent with the Humanist ideal of reason based on scientific knowledge.

The genesis of Humanism

Historically Humanism has been embraced by many who have possessed fierce intellect, and its roots lie deep with these great minds. These ideas and ideals coalesced in the first Humanist Manifesto, published in 1933. This seminal document proclaims, in part, the following;

Religions have always been means for realizing the highest values of life (my emphasis). Their end has been accomplished through the interpretation of the total environing situation (theology or world view), the sense of values resulting therefrom (goal or ideal), and the technique (cult), established for realizing the satisfactory life. A change in any of these factors results in alteration of the outward forms of religion. This fact explains the changefulness of religions through the centuries. But through all changes religion itself remains constant in its quest for abiding values, an inseparable feature of human life.

Today man’s larger understanding of the universe, his scientific achievements, and deeper appreciation of brotherhood, have created a situation which requires a new statement of the means and purposes of religion. Such a vital, fearless, and frank religion capable of furnishing adequate social goals and personal satisfactions may appear to many people as a complete break with the past. While this age does owe a vast debt to the traditional religions, it is none the less obvious that any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present. It is a responsibility which rests upon this generation.”

Humanism as a religion

My understanding that Humanism is a religion was initially based on intuition; “If it walks like a duck…”, but further study confirmed my initial gut feeling. The Humanist worldview is a total in its nature, and it gives meaning, purpose and direction to its member’s lives. They are morally compelled to act according to its dictates. Humanists see themselves as “enlightened”, with a shared faith in the potentiality of man.

As you can see, I’ve highlighted the first sentence of the Humanist Manifesto. It’s significant, because almost immediately following it being published, Humanists began to backpedal, attempting to deny that their worldview was a religion. I surmise that it was realized by Humanist advocates that the precept of “separation of church and state” would work as a two edged sword, limiting the influence of not only the theistic religions, but the Humanist religion as well. A great deal of emphasis was given in pointing out internal divisions within the ranks of Humanists, showing that certain Humanists embraced overtly religious aspect of Humanism, to include the establishment of churches and the gathering of congregations, while other Humanists eschewed such outward trappings of religion.

I suggest that even those who chose not to practice Humanism in an overtly religious manner can be seen as fundamentally religious based on the idea encapsulated in the highlighted sentence and the devotion of their lives to a higher common purpose.

John Dewey, one of the modern world’s most influential educators and humanists, wrote in his 1934 book A Common Faith, that the word “religion” comes from a root that means to bound, or tied by vows to a particular way of life. Certainly this would encompass the Humanist living his life according to Humanist ideals.

Other Humanists have pointed out the lack of any form of deity, and this deflects the thoughts of the casual member of western culture. What it fails to address is the fact that Buddhism, certainly a prominent religion, also lacks any form of deity. A footnote in the 1961 Supreme Court decision in Torcaso v. Watkins states “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism, and others. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S. App. D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127…” Even more recently, a federal district court in Oregon ruled that Secular Humanism is a religion, and is afforded 1st Amendment protections (American Humanist Association v. United States).

The ranks of Humanists are rather amorphous, lacking the structure and clear delineation of older religions, but it is possible to see some broad trends. The Global Secular Humanist Movement, which has over 307k Facebook followers, describe their group thusly “Commitment to the use of critical reason, factual evidence, and scientific methods of inquiry, rather than faith and mysticism, in seeking solutions to human problems and answers to important human questions”. They go on to define Humanism and its mission “Secular Humanism (n.) : a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values especially a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason, (a) philosophy viewed as a nontheistic religion (my emphasis) antagonistic to traditional religion. The Global Secular Humanist Movement is a social movement that aims to promote public understanding and acknowledgment of the secular humanistic worldview…”

It takes little imagination to see that individuals subscribing to that  world view who are seeking to remake the world according to the group’s ideals are truly members of a new religion.

Humanist Denominations             

If Humanism is a region, then it certainly has some diverse denominations. A few, out of many, of the denominations are highlighted below.

-New Atheism; while being an Atheist merely denotes a decision regarding a belief, New Atheism is a Humanist movement with the goal of countering traditional religion. It is overtly antagonistic to traditional religion. It is somewhat ironic that this simply mirrors the historical animosity commonly found among religions.

-Animal Rights Movement; as early as 1908, Mrs. H. Clay Preston was tying “Humane Education” to Humanistic principles. By 1975, Australian Humanist of the year Peter Singer had written “Animal Liberation” Dr. Nik Taylor said “I believe firmly that in order to secure a better future for all…we need to address broad societal attitudes towards disenfranchised others. This necessitates an analysis of the operations of power, discourse and inclusion in modern society: an analysis which has animals firmly at the centre…”

-Feminism; Feminism is going through throes right now trying to disengage itself from Humanism, it has critical historical ties to Humanism. Betty Friedan, an influential Feminist from the 1960’s was a signatory of the 2nd Humanist Manifesto. Gloria Steinem was the 2012 Humanist of the year…the ties go on and on.

-Progressive Movement; this is quite simply the expression of Humanist solutions to what they view as world problems.


From its founding, the United Nations was based on Humanist ideals, with several prominent Humanists serving as founding directors. Our current world and daily lives are impacted by the religion of Humanism, for example, the concept and practice of “politically correct speech” is Humanist in origin. Once one is able to see Humanism for what it is, we see that from earliest education to the highest levels of learning Humanism affects all of us. Certainly, if you look, you can find the Humanist dogma present in our public schools.

I challenge you to not accept my conclusions. Conduct your own research, consider my opinion, and form your own conclusions.


When Winter Comes

One of the things that I look forward to as winter approaches is photographing the northern lights. At this latitude winter solstice only sees about four hours of daylight, with the sun skimming across a few degrees of the horizon before it sets. We might see weeks with the high temperatures of -20°F, with lows of, at most, -40°F. Temperatures of more than -50°F aren’t unheard of. These short photo expeditions have become dear to me, and I’ve tried to capture a sense of it in the following poem;


Of Light and Cold


The cold is profound, ancient, a brother to the moon

In an act of love, the moon gives its light to the winter’s snow

Draped snow accepts the moon’s light and sparkles as jewels

While sharp bitter stars stare down


Cold, cold, cold…

Time is unable to compress, to expand, so it lies content

Another layer draped across the trees, the snow, the mountains

Languid time waits for the call of a solitary owl


Between the cold Earth and the colder stars,

Incredibly close, impossibly far away

The northern lights try to speak to me

In a language I just can’t quite comprehend

















The Accidental Advocate

I have surprised myself. This is an uncommon event for me at this stage in my life, for surly if we know anyone, it is ourselves…or do we?

In this instance, I simply got fed up with what I saw as an incredibly poor attempt to discredit mushers competing in Alaska’s Iditarod and the Alaskan/Canadian dog sled race, the Yukon Quest. Primarily these efforts have been centered on the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC), an organization central to Animal Rights activism efforts to end these races. SDAC is allied with other hard core activist organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Sleddogma.org and Sled Dog Watchdog


My younger undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder has morphed in my adult years into a form of Hyper-Attention ability, and once I decided to try to counter the false claims from Animal Rights Activists (ARA), this focus helped me direct my approach. In the Army Guard I was a logistician, and one of my best tools was Microsoft’s spreadsheet program Excel, and I picked up this tool again. Essentially, I entered each of the over 800 SDAC claims onto a multi-page Excel spreadsheet, allowing me to sort and analyze the hundreds of diverse claims. This took at most a hundred and fifty hours.

Once I was able to classify the claims (quotes from activists, quotes from mushers, quotes from books, references to medical studies, etc.) I began to track down original source material. Columns for “likely true”, “likely false”, “demonstrably false” and “overtly biased” allowed me to identify the most egregious lies and blatant propaganda.

It was this research and organization that led to my first opinion piece on ARAs and the Iditarod, which was published on this blog, the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer, the Iditarod.com website, and Joe Miller’s website. The results were quite satisfying; I riled up the ARA’s, and I found a lot of average Alaskans, mushers, and sled dog enthusiasts from around the world felt the exact same frustration that I felt about the SDAC lies and half-truths.


Courtesy of Louise Cooke

I now seek out ARA comments on Iditarod stories, and if they contain errors, I rebut them. Due to my research I know anti-mushing dogma better than many members of the anti-mushing tribe. I’m likely to have dug into the specifics of any claim they bring to a discussion, and I’m able to engage them in debate without resorting to logical fallacies such as ad hominem (you’re stupid and your mother dresses you funny), appeals to authority (“experts say…” or “science says..”), and straw man arguments. I love language and logic, and am able to respond with fact and reason.

Recently I wrote another article that was self-published on this blog, and a shorter version was published in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer. I was compelled to write this article when I found that the Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC) had excerpted blog comments from a well-regarded and highly competitive kennel and modified it through the deletion of a word, creating a malignant and false impression. Following this story being published, SDAC quietly removed the false claim without acknowledging their attempts at slander or offering apology.

I didn’t approach this debate with the intention of becoming an advocate for distance mushing, but it seems that I have come to this role inadvertently. I do know that there have been well over 3k “shares” via social media of my two stories. They have been read perhaps 10k times, and have prompted a tremendous amount of comments.

It appears that I have given a voice to a large number of people who have reason, knowledge and a passion for distance dog mushing who have long been frustrated by the campaign by ARAs to discredit the sport through half-truths, lies and innuendo. In addition to the comments, I’ve been approached through email and social media by numerous mushers and informed supporters who’ve offered their appreciation, and have provided specific information that helps build a true picture of distance dog mushing and ARA efforts.

Courtesy of Louise Cooke

Courtesy of Louise Cooke

It would seem, based only on a lack of official response, that the Iditarod has a policy, perhaps official, perhaps unofficial, to refrain from engaging ARAs in any manner. This tactic (if it is actually a considered tactic) seems to chafe many lovers of the sport, and in my opinion, cedes the battlefield of public opinion to a handful of committed activists.

When all is said and done, I’m unbelievably honored by their appreciation and by the trust that’s been shown to me. I sense a sea change in the larger debate on distance dog mushing.