A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Monday, December 20, 2021

Intra-familial and extra-familial undertakings since the previous hibernal solstice: a retrospective investigation


A multi-factor analysis was undertaken of the behavior and interactions of seven heterotrophic vertebrates [genus Homo: Jay (J), Nancy (N), Elizabeth (E), Molly (M); genus Canis: Shiloh (S), Eddy (E2) and genus Felis: Sinbad (S2)] during the period between December 22, 2020, and December 21, 2021.  Results indicate that if you’re one of those people who only reads the abstract, that’s entirely normal, and you should enjoy the holiday season just as much as the people who continue all the way to the conclusion and footnotes1. 


This study built upon previous annual research at the same site (Fresco 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020).  Longitudinal studies of this type can provide valuable insights2, and can also justify continuing to maintain a mostly moribund blog site. Experimental hypotheses were designed to test long-standing theories regarding the non-standard life choices of the subjects.


Experimental subjects were observed both while contained within a ~100 square meter chamber (lat/long 64.866011, -147.920129) kept at ~16°C for the duration of the experiment3, and also in a broader sub-Arctic environment4.  External ambient temperatures during the study period ranged from -39°C (Feb 22) to 31°C (July 1). One subject (N) escaped the experimental zone (7/1/21 – 7/10/21) and interacted with maternal, sororal, and unrelated mutualistic conspecifics.

Growth medium was primarily obtained from Fred Meyer and Costco.  Consumption greatly exceeded expected demands, particularly with regard to fructivory (Malus pumila et al.).  This may partially explain unprecedented chondrogenesis at the epiphyseal plates in two of the subjects (E, M). Additional growth medium was obtained via localized seasonal collection of Vaccinium (sp), Fragaria (sp) and Microtus (sp) 5.


Behaviors of all test subjects were semi-autocorrelated based on proximity, genetics6, and scheduling parameters determined by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board7. Heteroscedasticity8 was not assessed. Regression analysis showed a moderate degree of regression, particularly with regard to use of social media, attending Zoom school while wearing Star Trek pajamas, repeated reversion to mix tapes from the early 90’s, and excessive rereading of Harry Potter. 

Despite the paucity of sociocultural growth opportunities as compared to pre-2020 levels, both E and M evidenced remarkable increases in perspicacity.  Examples include ability to prevail in intra-familial debate via searing logic and correct identification of hypocrisy; understanding of the deeply flawed nature of human governance and belief systems; rapidity in understanding new apps; and ability to beat the author at Set. 

Selected behaviors of test subjects are shown in Figure 1.  Although some behaviors appeared to be idiosyncratic, others were universal, e.g. snoring.  Notably, none of the test subjects admitted to snoring.

Figure 1: Selected observed behaviors of test subjects.

Univariate and multi-variate increases over time were found with regard to several additional variables, including college-level Russian (E), horseback riding (M), trail marathons (N, E, M); swallow-catching and hatchling-banding (E, M); haircutting skills (M), viola-playing (M), art and photography (M), rock climbing (E), extensive reading about goats (M) and extensive reading about astrophysics (E).  Six out of seven subjects9 were closely correlated in their appreciation of long walks, bike rides, and ski jaunts on backwoods trails (Fresco, Cable, Cable, and Cable 2021). 

During data analysis, it was mathematically determined that if a person is digging an outhouse pit and is currently 17 feet below the surface, assuming she can fling dirt upward at a velocity of 32 feet per second, she will not successfully hurl the next shovelful of dirt out of the pit10. 


Based on these results, several experimental hypotheses can be supported, including Hypothesis 1: “Math is fun”; Hypothesis 2: “We miss traveling and especially miss seeing all of you plus also museums and cool restaurants and stuff”; and Hypothesis 3: “Yay, snow!” 

Additionally, although the author cannot correctly recall all the steps in the Krebs Cycle, despite having a PhD in biology, she can support the hypothesis that the Krebs Cycle exists, and will definitely be on the AP Biology Exam.

Future research will focus on upon linking climate change data to a series of derivatives, integrals, summations, and natural logarithms that the author recently found in papers on spruce bark beetles.  In light of this, it’s probably a good thing that she was able to solve the outhouse calculus, albeit not as quickly as anyone else in the room.


May your celebrations of the season be filled with joy, laughter, light, warmth, love, and deliciousness11.  Happy Solstice to all! 

Works Cited

Fresco, Nancy, 2012. Choose-Your-Own Holiday Letter. http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2012/12/choose-your-own-holiday-letter.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2013. Oddness-y. http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2013/12/oddness-y.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2014. Needs Improvement http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2014/12/needs-improvement.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2015. Sing a Song of Sixpence, I Didn’t Send You a Card http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2015/12/normal-0-false-false-false-en-us-x-none.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2016. I Verb You a Happy Noun http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2016/12/i-verb-you-happy-noun.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2017. Emery Isthmus http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2017/12/emery-isthmus.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2018. Hallelujah http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2018/12/hallelujah_24.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2019. 2019 (Basic Recipe) http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2019/12/2019-basic-recipe.html

Fresco, Nancy, 2020. A Short Letter, and Several Letters Short. http://latitude.nancyfresco.com/2020/12/a-short-letter-and-several-letters-short.html

Fresco, Nancy, Elizabeth Cable, Molly, Cable, and Jay Cable, 2021. Go Play Outside! Tips, Tricks, and Tales from the Trails.  University of Alaska Press.  https://www.alaska.edu/uapress/browse/author-detail/fresco-nancy.php



1 I mean, seriously, who on earth would read footnotes in a holiday letter?

2 Or grants.  Preferably grants.

3 Some exceedances occurred during summer months; project materials did not include air conditioning.

4 Subject S2 expressed a clear non-verbal preference for non-sub-Arctic environments.

5 Only subject S2, with occasional after-the fact participation by Subject S and Subject E2

6  Subject J was noted to sing a novel song to remind his offspring that they cannot escape his genes.  This behavior was received with characteristic eye-rolling responses.

7 Which, with the exception of a couple of delightful members, should never be allowed to determine anything, ever. 

8 But the author wants you to know that she knows the word heteroscedasticity.

9 Meow.

10 Hannibal Grubis, 2021.  Math is fun.  See also Beth Zirbes, 2021. 

11 And math -- but only if you personally support Hypothesis 1.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Bubble, bubble


After shoving a couple of wooden serving spoons into the salad and quickly checking on the pot of Thai curry, the rice cooker, the cheesy garlic bread, and the peach and cherry cobbler – mismatched cuisine to match my haphazard tastes -- I stepped over to set the dinner table.  Plates, mugs, forks – one at every place.  Thirteen. 

It was good to be back to eating with a perfectly normal number of people. A community.

Our non-standard living arrangements have been both a comfort and a challenge during COVID. For the past 17 years, our little neighborhood of friends has shared some of our space and resources, and has dined together on weeknights.  This has always been a little hard to explain to new acquaintances, in a “What kind of oddball Alaskan cult are you, exactly?” kind of way.  Americans just don’t do that.

Our nation has an awkward attitude about “community”.  We ostensibly champion close extended families and cohesive neighborhoods, but if someone lives with several great-aunts, starts a childcare cooperative, or suggests that tax money should go toward town recreation centers – well, that’s… suspect.  Culturally, we assume that Mom, Dad, their 2.1 children, and their 1.6 dogs are an entirely self-sufficient unit in terms of economics, emotional support, logistics, vacuum cleaner ownership, and apple-pie-baking.  (The 1.8 cats refused to comment on their role.) Such are the joys of unfettered capitalism that we fail to recognize the gaps.  We continually create social norms and economic infrastructure that undermine communities.

Since COVID first reared its ugly spike proteins, the question of community has become both more fraught and more overtly discussed.  Who is in your bubble?  Who is not?  What do wealth, class, race, culture, and definitions of family have to do with it?  What do roommates owe one another, and WHO LEFT THESE DIRTY SOCKS ON THE COUNTER?  What about strangers in the same building, the same laundromat, the same bathroom-down-the hall?  Where is the fuzzy middle ground between fully cohabiting married couples and entanglements that are harder to explain to your grandpa -- and how can you keep your grandpa healthy while you’re explaining?  When is privacy a privilege, and when is isolation a curse?  What are the tradeoffs between safety, loneliness, civic duty, and love? 

People who know about our living setup asked us how we were dealing with our unusual situation.  The answer was “the best we can”.  Ultimately, how we reconfigured depended on individual and family-level choices about risk and uncertainty.  One family of three chose to become a self-contained unit, and one young adult and one older individual each temporarily left our bubble to be with their respective off-site partners.  That left eight of us at the dinner table: my own family of four, and two other couples. 

Eight people still felt like a large bubble.  Moreover, the group included two high-risk people, based on their ages (73 and 88). The responsibility felt heavy, and I fretted.  But at the same time, the daily company of these long-time friends was a balm – and if an octogenarian wanted to throw in his lot with me, my husband, and our twin 13-year-olds, who was I to second-guess him?  We were all lucky enough to be in low-risk, work-from-home jobs and Zoom school.  We were all luckily to still have jobs, and teachers.  And we were lucky to have one another.  Together, we celebrated a 74th birthday, and an 89th.

The community members who stepped out of our bubble nonetheless regularly stepped into our shared building for showers and laundry.  We live in the woods on land underlain by permafrost, and don’t have standard pipes or septic.  Our water is delivered by truck to a shared tank.  I don’t need to explain the necessity of a year’s worth of hygiene.

The non-dinner-table community members became part of a new social genre: the Outdoor Friends, a.k.a the Walk Buddies or Driveway Hangers.  All friends are awesome, of course, but the ones who willingly-but-awkwardly stand next to a parked car to chat with you or get together for socially distanced ambles in Fairbanks in January are Lindt-truffle-level awesome. 

My Outdoor Friends are cautiously crossing thresholds with me again.  We’re not post-COVID -- not even close. Nonetheless, we’re vaccinated, and some things ARE changing.  That includes some quirky yet fundamental aspects of my own life.  This week, I regained access to the showers in the basement of my plumbing-enabled workplace.  I took a full-force shower that was eleven minutes long.  Eleven!

The twins turned fourteen during COVID.  Then they turned fifteen – still during COVID.  Yesterday marked the day when they were two-weeks-post their second Pfizer vaccines.  They spent the day hanging out with a similarly freshly-vaccinated kid who has been their stalwart Outdoor Friend for the duration.  Last winter, these teenagers spent hours in the snow at 20 below zero Fahrenheit, just to be together.  I tossed snacks out to them as if they were feral. 

No one will believe their stories when they’re all geezers.  Then again, what will be “normal” in 2090? 

As we all try to figure out how the world has changed, how it’s stayed the same, and whether we want to go back to wearing real pants and making small-talk, I’ll continue to ponder the meaning of community.  And -- superstitions and my questionable cooking skills notwithstanding -- I’ll keep setting thirteen plates at dinner.

Friday, March 19, 2021

The eleven types of Zoom meetings

1.           Zoom meeting that could have been an email.

2.           Zoom meeting that could have been an email, except that let’s face it no one would have answered the email, or even read past the first bullet point, let alone clicked on the link to the Google Doc that needs editing by the group, so fine, let’s do this in real time.  That’s not awkward at all.

3.           Zoom meeting that is not actually a Zoom meeting because someone works for the National Academy of Making Things Impossible.  Okay, fine, we’re using the different software you recommended.  No one understands the software, except for Tiffany, who is unable to download the software because she’s hotspotting from her minivan.  Despite the software change, Nigel is still stuck behind a firewall. 

4.           My kids’ Zoom chemistry class.  Involves rummaging in the cupboards for baking soda and fielding sudden urgent questions about electron orbitals.  Invariably occurs simultaneously with #5.

5.           Zoom meeting that requires laser-like focus and Herculean organizational skills lest I look like an idiot in front of my most influential colleagues and/or people who can fire me.

6.           Meeting that is really a presentation.  I am not touching that unmute button, ever.  My camera is off.  Of course I’m here.  Why would you question whether I’m here during your monologue?  Totally here.

7.           Meeting that is really a phone call.  I don’t need to look at anything or anyone, and I’m very sure that no one needs to look at me.  I am entirely cogent, fully contributing, and no one needs to know that I’m taking a walk with my ear buds and phone.  What do you mean, is that the sound of a backhoe?

8.           Meeting in which I can openly admit that I’m taking a walk, because you’ve all been working with me for a decade and you haven’t managed to get rid of me yet.  Yeah.  Totally a backhoe.

9.           My kids’ Zoom gym class.  Noisy.  Makes the house vibrate.  Smells like teenagers, even though 28 of the 30 students are not physically present.  Conducted with cameras and microphones off, entirely on the honor system.  Causes me to vacillate between pride over my children’s obvious honor, and the desire for less honorable children.

10.         Zoom meeting that could have been a semaphore message from a remote windswept hilltop.

11.         Zoom meeting during which I’m writing this list of types of Zoom meetings.