“There’s something about Haines that encourages people to pursue their passion.”

…oh yeah, the Hammer Museum. Yes, really, it’s in Irene’s brother Ronnie’s old house on Main Street, housing a collection of 1,200 hammers. For $ 2 admission, Carol Pahl will introduce you to every single one. There are wagon pin hammers that did double duty as hitching pins. There are bill poster hammers with magnetic claws. There’s an unwieldy triple claw hammer complete with patent document extolling its “distinguished appearance,” evidently made just for pretty. There are tack hammers and paving hammers and a whale blubber hammer and a Waterford crystal hammer and sugar and salt hammers and gavels and fur stamps and bookbinder’s hammers and cobbler’s hammers and my personal favorite, little wooden drink hammers the flappers of the Roaring Twenties would use to tap the table to applaud shows, including one from the Cotton Club in Harlem. The Hammer Museum got a kind of seal of approval from the local spirits when Dave was digging out a new foundation and excavated an 800-year old Tlingit war club. It’s there, too, right across from a wall of hammers hung next to copies of their patents.

Dana Stabenow. Alaska Traveler (Kindle Locations 2620-2628). Gere Donovan Press.

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Free-range Camels on the Silk Road

I went to China in 2005 to research Silk and Song, specifically to western China or the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. It’s a very large place, Xinjiang, and we would frequently be tarryhooting off in the middle of nowhere, with no facilities.

One day, I think it was outside Kuche, or maybe Kashgar, we called for a pitstop. Our driver pulled over at the side of this dry riverbed and we all got out and looked for a convenient boulder.

There is not a lot of wildlife in China, mainly I think because they’ve eaten it all. (That’s what seemed most glaring by it’s absence, wildlife. And small planes.)

So I’d given up expecting to encounter any wildlife. But that day, I was crouched behind a boulder on the edge of this dry river bed, trying not to pee on my pants, when movement caught the corner of my eye. I looked up, and this herd of camels strolled by.

free-range camels

As it happens, camels are pretty much responsible for central Asian trade routes developed in 8th century B.C. The wheel had been long in evidence by then, of course, but there were no roads to support wheeled vehicles. Behold the camel, specifically the Bactrian or two-humped camel. Its thick coat insulated it from extreme temperatures, it could go forever on a pint of water, and it was sure-footed on unmaintained trails in mountain and desert.

It could also haul a hell of a load. A single Bactrian camel, according to S. Frederick Starr in Lost Enlightenment, can carry up to 500 pounds. A caravan of a thousand camels, not an extraordinary size (read Mark Kurlansky’s Salt for the story about the salt caravans of 40,000 camels each that used to regularly cross northern Africa), could carry about 500,000 pounds of trade goods.

By comparison, a freight container, the rectangular metal boxes piled on ships I see daily passing by on Cook Inlet on their way to take the milk to Anchorage, can each carry 50,000 pounds.

Camels spit pretty good, too. I would back any day a Bactrian camel’s spitting distance against a bald eagle’s projectile pooping capabilities.

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  • The Silk and Song slideshow is here, and I’m going through it a slide or two at a time, with commentary, most Tuesdays here.
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    “The pickle today might have been a miscalculation…”

    The Lost Art of MixingThe Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

    There are no villains here, just people, living their lives, making the mistakes we all make, and looking for love. All the action centers around Lillian’s restaurant, her sous-chef Chloe and dishwasher Finnegan, Lillian’s bereaved lover Tom, Lillian’s stuck-in-a-hopeless marriage accountant Al, Al’s angry wife Louise, and Chloe’s Alzheimer’s affected roommate Isabelle.

    All Finnegan knew, and all he wanted to know, was that he was loved without question.

    But no one here is, or not at first. Lillian and Isabelle and Chloe and Al are all children of divorce, Finnegan’s parents put him second fiddle to Mount Everest, and Louise is a thin stick of ironed-hair dynamite who keeps prodding Al to light her fuse. But Lillian always has her kitchen and the art and wonder and comfort of food.

    [Lillian]…tried to fit the lunches to the financial season–more calming scents during tax preparation months, a little more exciting in the summer, when most clients were off on vacation, spending the money Al helped them save the rest of the year. The pickle today might have been a miscalculation, she thought a bit too much picnic atmosphere just when people should be working hard to meet that April deadline.

    In the end, everyone gets what they want, with caveats, of course, because isn’t that how life is? A nice read.

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