Monday, January 25, 2010

A Man and His Blue Tarp: It's an Alaska Thing

There's a saying here in Alaska: The odds are good, but the goods are odd.  It's about the ratio of men to women (more men here).  And I think it might apply to that fetish of all Alaska fetishes: blue tarps.  The odds are really good you are going to see one up here.  Did you know you can buy blue tarps by the caseload?  And if that's not enough, you can get 40' container pricing for all your...uh, I'm not sure why or what one would need a forty foot container of tarps for.  Though judging from the vast quantity of tarps I've spotted in my jaunts around this great state, someone could turn a pretty profit setting up a roadside stand on the New Seward Highway.

Perhaps this cheerful spring pansy is as blue as a blue tarp?  I don't think so....

Recently I was grousing a bit to friends about all the bright blue tarps.  I speculated that it must be a plague indigenous to Alaska, as I don't recall seeing too many blue tarps on my travels.  A visiting friend cut in dryly, "Well, there are plenty of blue tarps in Tacoma, judging from the bird's eye view I had during takeoff."  Blue tarps in other locales are a small comfort, I'm afraid.  Maybe we've just spread the "blue tarp love" down to the Seattle area.  I don't know how much of the country is infected.

Is this flower as blue as a blue tarp?  Nope. (Geranium 'Johnson's Blue')

Having blue tarps on the brain made me notice them more often.  I saw quite a few colors and styles covering woodpiles, campers, and shed roofs.  And boats, hot tubs, and small planes.  It's so ubiquitous in Alaska that I'm thinking of having a sidebar feature on the blog entitled, "Tarp of the Month," with an accompanying photo.  (this idea was too fun to pass up, check it out

Most original use:
I don't even know what this is covering.

Is there something inherently bad about a gray tarp or even a brown one?  My Alaska-raised husband and I came to a compromise on the issue of tarps.  "I must have one," says he.  "We are not tarp people," says I.  After much (heated) debate, we settled our differences.  "Fine, you can have a tarp, but not a blue one!"  He came home with a green one and proceeded to wrap our teak outdoor dining table with it, making a large chrysalis wound with that other Alaska fetish: duct tape (see this post for photo and duct tape lowdown).  Sadly, inevitably perhaps, he did succumb to the blue tarp addiction.  As explained to me, after the fact, "But hon, that's the only color they had at the store!"

Is this Delphinium as blue as a blue tarp?  Maybe....

What is it about the color of a bright blue tarp that is so jarring?  Is it the fact that it is not a color commonly found in nature?  Or maybe we're just used to looking up into the sky to see a color that intensely blue and when we see it looking down (covering a woodpile for example) something in us revolts and says: "That's just not right..."    I'm trying to think of garden flowers that are intensely blue ("tarp blue" as a selling point?) and I can only come up with Delphinium, Corydalis, and Meconopsis (blue poppies).  We grow blue-flowered plants here in Alaska very beautifully.  So maybe that's the answer.  For many gardeners that rare blue color is a holy grail of sorts, very uncommon in nature, thus highly desireable.  And then there are those who take it one step further, or backwards, depending on your view of things, and decide that such an unusual, intense blue is also good for covering the shed roof, '79 Camaro, woodpile, and the lawnmower.  There was a home next to a major road here in Anchorage that for years had a gigantic blue tarp weighed down with cinder blocks covering the roof.  That was a lot of blue.  I think it finally wore out (or the neighbors revolted) because a new gray roof tarp made it's debut a couple summers back.

Not blue enough for blue tarp folk: Gentiana septemfida var. lagodechiana

One thing about tarps: Alaskans will use them.  So to suggest we all go cold turkey would be futile.  I'm just humbly asking, when out shopping for tarps, give the brown, green, or gray consideration before automatically reaching for old blue.  Your neighbors will thank you.  And those flying into Anchorage International Airport will, too.


Oo-dah-la-lee, that's blue!  And (gulp) it's in my yard!

Local quirk or nationwide (dare I say worldwide) disease, you tell me.  Where have you seen blue tarps?

58 comments:

gloria said...

Christine, I always look forward to your post, because I know I will laugh out loud. Our neighbor's garage has a window that faces my garden. And would you know they, yes, they put a blue tarp in the window. This caused me to hang a trellis and grow a vine to cover the blue. And this year we are going to rework the trellis. All becuase of a blue tarp. We should start a support group! Gloria

Christine B. said...

@gloria
Hi there Gloria!

Tarps are a touchy subject up here in Alaska. People want to protect their stuff from the snow and the damage it can cause. It's mostly the blue color that drives me nuts: how can a color look so great on a pot or chair in the garden and so horrible when flung over large objects? A support group is a splendid idea. I should raise money to air-drop brown tarps all over the state. Or maybe outreach to tarp companies to help them understand that brown doesn't set people's teeth on edge as much as blue.

CB

Hank Moorlag said...

Awesome post!! What a great perspective - so very 'Northern', because you've probably noticed on your visits to the Yukon that the blue tarps seem to be equally ubiquitous here.

My next door neighbour is building a shop in the back yard and just got the trusses installed before winter, so it's completely covered by a huge tarp - mercifully not blue, but a milky kind of clear tarp. Now that the wind has rubbed it sufficiently back and forth over the pointy parts of the trusses, it looks a bit hideous - but would be a lot worse if it were blue.

Trying to match that shade of blue in the garden, however, would be an interesting challenge, indeed. Hank

Christine B. said...

@Hank Moorlag
Hi there, Hank, my neighbor to the east!

Tarps as a roof stand-in (or permanent roof) are pretty common here, too. My favorite is one I drive by fairly often: a kids playhouse roof that was once a blue tarp, now after the passage of years, it looks like Captain Jack Sparrows playhouse, very haunted! I can just see a little Johnny Depp in there waving his arms around....

CB

Deb said...

my husband has brown tarps...love your blog...

Christine B. said...

@Deb
Hi Deb,

Sounds like you've trained him well or he's a really considerate person;) Maybe he could give classes up here on the benefits of brown tarps...happier neighbors, etc.

CB

azplantlady said...

What a great question! I have never wondered about why tarps are blue, but whoever invented them must have made them blue because it was their favorite color. I do agree it is jarring. What about a muted green?

Christine B. said...

@azplantlady
The tarp-makers favorite color must be blue or the blue dye/fabric is cheaper than brown or green. I admit (sheepishly) that we have brown, green, and blue tarps. The brown seems to blend in the best, but the green is not bad either (a bit more noticeable than brown in winter though).

Thanks for stopping by,
CB

Jim Groble said...

i got a couple of blue tarps too. Yea, and a couple of brown and one big silver one. Nice post and great pics. jim

LeSan said...

Please, please, please do a blue tarp of the month side bar. Too funny!
I hate those things with a deep and abiding passion. Grrrr!

Barbara said...

Hilarious! Although I do admit to having a tarp covering the wooden swing in our garden for the winter - but it's the milky kind, not true Alaskan blue. I'll have to think of you every time I see it now.

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Wonderful post Christine, You had me laughing out loud! Blue tarps are also very Canadian, as is Duct Tape, in fact we've dedicated a whole show to it www.redgreen.com, both make frequent appearances as they try to 'MacGiver' various contraptions. We have both in our garage, and they make appearances 'as needed' lol. Another favorite seems to be ratchet straps and bungee cords ;).

I prefer the garden shade of blue.

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

Doesn't everyone own one? LOL! I have one of the blue beauties covering my garden patch to rid it of weeds for next spring. I use them to drag raked leaves to the compost pile on final clean ups in the Fall. I usually mow up the leaves. So there may be more in Alaska but they are used around here often to. There is the occasional green one though :-)

Christine B. said...

@Jim Groble
Hi Jim,

I see you also have a rainbow of tarps like the Last Frontier husband does. But you are teasing us, not sharing what you have them covering!

CB

Christine B. said...

@LeSan
Hi LeSan,

I'll put up a tarp sidebar right now!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Barbara
Hopefully you'll think of me in "ha ha" terms, not "that stupid woman hates my tarp" terms!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Rebecca @ In The Garden
Hi Rebecca,

Yes, we are ardent "RedGreen" fans. I especially love when he remodels cars with duct tape. As for ratchet straps and bungees, we have them aplenty, too. I don't think I'm too far off when I call it a disease.

CB

Christine B. said...

@Hocking Hills Gardener
Hi HHG,

Don't get me wrong, I may loathe them, but I use them all the same. Esp. for dragging things around the yard, like lifted perennials. The LF husband told me he saw a camo tarp a couple months ago. I think he wants one!

CB

Kyna said...

I love learning about people's pet peeves. Whenever I hear of one that I've never heard of before, I have to laugh :D My husband has one tarp, that he keeps rolled up in his truck, and it's green. Came in quite handy for lining the truck bed when taking old, rotted lumber to the dump....glad he hasn't flung it over anything though lol.

Grower Jim said...

After a series of hurricanes in 2004 nearly every house in Central Florida had blue tarps on the roof. All the stores were selling out of them. When there's a big hole in your roof you don't care what the color of the tarp is! It was quite a sight flying over Orlando that year!

debsgarden said...

The blue tarp is alive and well in Alabama. My house sat for months under blue tarps after a tornado heavily damaged our home back in 1990. It took a long time to get all the insurance, remodeling, financing kinks worked out, and my poor neighbors must have cringed every time they looked our way. I decided last fall to smother a weeded area so I could plant it this spring, and my husband said he would cover it with a tarp for me. No, not blue - it was bright orange! So remember that there are worse tarp colors than blue!

Grace Peterson said...

Well Christine, you've touched on a subject very near and dear to my h... I almost wrote "heart" but "consternation" seems more fitting. In fact so much so that the other day while engaged in my drive-by shootings, I thought about photographing tarps. Yes, tarps are BIG in Oregon. Maybe it's all the rain. Unfortunately certain family members [who shall remain nameless] seem to have zero qualms about using them. I know what you mean about that godforsaken obtrusive blue. What were they thinking? Maybe it's like the orange cones at construction sites. They're INTENDED to be seen. Perhaps as a sort of cautionary, "there's something under here so be careful" jargon.

The green ones, albeit it still in the realm of TACKY TARP are a little easier on the eyes.

As for Duct tape... there's not enough room to elaborate on my similar consternation with it. I recently heard it dubbed: "Alabama Chrome." Talk about ROTFLOL !!

Christine B. said...

@Kyna
Hi Kyna,

Your husband sounds like a sensible guy! Tarps are useful, for sure, and as far as tarps go, green is not bad. (But beware of the day that he wants to drape it over something outside longterm.)

CB

Christine B. said...

@Grower Jim
Hi Jim,

Sounds like quite a sight! Now if that were Alaska, the tarps would still be on 1/3 of the houses as a permanent roof.

CB

Christine B. said...

@debsgarden
Hi debsgarden,

I have never seen nor heard tell of an orange tarp! I'm wondering if it is a home improvement orange or a more muted color.... You have nice neighbors (maybe they are former Alaskans?). Tarps are indispensible, aren't they?

Christine B. said...

@Grace Peterson
Hi Grace,

I'm sorry (or is it glad?) to hear that Oregon is infected with tarp-itis as well as duct tape-osis. And I'm glad to know I'm not the only blogger that does "drive-bys"!

CB

Carol said...

Lovely blues ... well with exception to the tarp!! LOL... I even have one this winter over my wood ... never thought I would see the day! You wonder how they ever decided on that color... absolutely... I have a green one too ... over my sad shed! It looks a bit odd in the winter but it is hidden with the green of spring and summer. ;<)

VW said...

We saw plenty of blue tarps when we lived in Iowa! What a funny post. I think the problem is that the blue is so bright that it really grabs your eye. If you have to have an ugly tarp, it's better to have one in an unassuming color that doesn't demand to be the focal point, right?

Grace Peterson said...

Hi Christine~~ Can I be a team player? A regional rep? See my blog. I hope I'm not being presumptuous.

Cheer, Grace

noel said...

aloha,
they have taken blue tarps in hawaii to a new level even to the fact that people camp out in beaches semi permanently and in their properties permanently in alot of cases with blue tarps, so it is a sore subject with me....thank god you diffuse it well with your humor and blue flowers, I don't think i would have done remotely close to your funny post!

Christine B. said...

Grace,

You can be a regional rep but I think Alaska must be the worldwide headquarters of tarp-itis. I will head over to check out Oregon's tarp woes right now.

CB

Christine B. said...

Noel,

It's either diffuse the situation with humor or get committed. The kids would miss me so I go with the humor. Sad but not suprised to hear Hawaii is infected. Tarps on a beach, that must be something to see....

CB

fairegarden said...

A brilliant essay, with gorgeous blue flowers as an added bonus! I was scanning the comments to see if Tennessee was represented, didn't see any. While this is considered big orange country, the colors of the University of TN very near to us, with some orange tarps, and you think blue is bad!, there are blue tarps aplenty here as well. Covering all the things you mentioned, leaky roofs, check, motorcycles, check, wood piles, check, lawnmowers, check. Yup, we got em. And the duct tape is also here. Both are ubiquitous, and when used together, well, double points! :-)
Frances

Annie said...

Glad to see I am sure not alone in my dislike for blue tarps!

I think I have finally got it into my hubby's head to NOT buy blue....brown or green is fine, but NOT blue....NOT white either.

Christine B. said...

@fairegarden
Frances,

This was a really fun post to write for me, but yes, I will accept any and all "brilliant" compliments;) I am still searching for an orange tarp to add to our (apparently vast) collection. I guess that color variation of tarp-itis is regional in your area. Go Tennessee!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Annie
What? You're not going to share your methods of burning it into his brain with the group?! I could use some help with that one....

CB

Catherine@AGardenerinProgress said...

Yes, we see quite a few blue tarps here north of Seattle. We even had a few on our house for a few months after a huge windstorm tore off shingles and left us with leaks. I was so embarrassed while it was up, I drove my husband crazy asking when the roof could be replaced so we could get those things off :) I've also wondered why they have to be blue.
I see you're coming down for the Flower and Garden Show. We'll be there Sunday.

Wendy said...

hmmmm, I don't know why they're blue, but they're so darn useful! I have my share of tarps, but turn my nose up as my tarps are brown.

Christine B. said...

@Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
I think home damage from tornados, hurricanes, etc. would be in the "acceptable use" category for tarps. You have to cover the holes with something...however when months turn into years, I think that's when the neighbors start to mutter. I would have been nagging my spouse, too. I'll be at the show on Thursday and Friday. I'm going to miss the presentations of Rick Darke (ornamental grass guru), I am so disappointed!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Wendy
They are useful...more so when they aren't blue, I think!

CB

Pam's English Garden said...

Blue tarps are just as prevalent in Pennsylvania. My husband thinks I am wacky to be so bothered by them. He knows he can only use them INSIDE the barn ... brown or green outside. Thank goodness he doesn't use duct tape, but bunjy cords are only marginally better. Fun post! Love your flower pics.

FlowerLady said...

Right here in s.e. FL, especially after Hurricane Wilma. We even had one on our shed's roof that a pine tree had fallen into. There should be other colors that's for sure. Why don't they make them camouflage?

FlowerLady

Christine B. said...

@Pam's English Garden
Hello Pam,

I am sorry to see that the northeast is infected as well. My husband shakes his head at my aversion to blue tarps but I retort with the fact that more men are color-blind than women...coincidence? We collect bungy cords as well. He's even stopped in traffic to pick them up off the road. But's that's a whole other post!

CB

Christine B. said...

@FlowerLady
Hello! Sounds like hurricane country is perennially infected from the comments I've gotten so far. They do, in fact, make camo tarps. I don't know how effective they are, but something about the shininess of tarps just throws discreet out the window, doesn't it?

CB

catmint said...

Hi Christine, this is my first visit to your blog, and possibly my farthest visit north ever! very thought provoking - blue tarps prevail here in southeast Australia, so obviously it is some kind of global takeover. I think I may have seen green ones in relation to the military but never anything but blue in a civilian context!
As I write this we are watching the Australian tennis open final with Roger Federer and Andy Murray. You guessed it - they're both wearing blue and the court they are playing on is blue! What can this mean????????????

Christine B. said...

@catmint
Hi catmint and welcome to my far northern blog! I am envying you your weather in Australia: no matter what it is, it's probably warmer/nicer than here right now. Sad to hear (but not suprised) that you folk are infected with tarp-itis, too. Maybe the tarp exec's are also tennis court/sportswear exec's, too (hence all that lovely bright blue). Or they could just be color-blind....

CB

Ginger said...

Tarps by the case is a hilarious concept to me!! We do have one of those blue ones, though :)

Thanks for visiting my blog! Yours is great and I'll be back.

henbogle said...

Thanks for visiting Henbogle, Christine. I'm happy to learn Maine does not hold the monopoly on blue tarps! I can't count the number of birds' nests I've found with a strand or two of blue tarp woven into it!

beth said...

Ha,
I am sorry to say that one of these blue giants appeared in my yard last month. I remarked to my husband about the blue-ness of the it, and he defended the beast by saying that it was the only option available at the store. I am still suspicious. So, you can add Sacramento California to the list of places infected with the blue tarp.

Fun post! Thanks!
Beth

lisa said...

I plan to cut my blue tarp and use it as a melon mulch. The blue is supposed to encourage fruiting and warm the soil even better than black much. We'll see...

Christine B. said...

@beth
I tell you, it's a conspiracy! Or perhaps, just a man thing. The LFG hubby said almost the exact same thing to me. Just try to blur your eyes, if you can, when looking that way.

CB

Curtis said...

I keep a blue tarp in the back of my blue CRV to keep it clean. It also makes a great target for mulch deliveries, since you can't miss seeing it.

Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

Hahahaha!! LOVE this post!! I think my hubby should go live in Alaska! We live in Massachusetts and my hubby always a darn blue tarp hanging over something. They make me crazy! I found your blog through Grace Peterson. Love it and I'm a new follower! :)

Christine B. said...

@Curtis
I keep a gray one in the back of my car. I still seems to get twigs and such all over the car anyway in summer.

@Ellie Mae's Cottage,
Sad to hear old MA is infected. I do think you have to have a Y chromosome to like blue tarps.

CB

Lynne said...

And I here thought I was the only person that gets so annoyed about blue tarps! My neighbour built a small shed right against the fence in his back yard, and flopped a big blue tarp over the back of it (instead of installing siding on the back wall). Then he flopped the tarp over onto my side of the fence, and wired it carefully to the fence all the way to the ground!
Every time I come around the side of the house, there it is, sticking out like a sore thumb, drawing your eye to that shed and away from my garden. I'm thinking of planting an invasive bamboo along the fence just to hide that blue tarp. On the other hand, maybe duck tape would work as well - a silver tarp would be an interesting element in amongst the green of the back 40, and think of the design opportunities! Probably wouldn't cost any more than that bamboo either.

lostlandscape (James) said...

Funny about your friend's comment about Tacoma tarps, because I was going to comment that that's where I saw the most blue tarps I've ever seen in my life, in exactly the same way your friend did: landing or taking off at Seatac. Even here in San Diego you sometimes see them, and I even have one one the side of the house right now, though not where you can see it easily. Yes, it's blue, blue because that's the only color they had at the store.

Susan said...

We are green tarp people here in Eagle River! LOVE your blog. :-)

Christine B. said...

@SusanHello there in Eagle River! And thank you for chosing the green over old blue. I always knew ER was more civilized than we of the blue tarp here in Los Anchorage.

Thanks for the blog love, you may be my only reader in ER!

CB

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