We spent a quiet Christmas in Talkeetna. Many of our friends were out of town, which meant we were able to stay at a house with running water (including hot!), electricity, and a thermostat. The comforts were much appreciated for the long cold weekend. We did miss our cozy cabin, but we were a short walk away and brought a few of its comforts over. We dined with friends on Christmas Eve and night.
With the cold and short daylight hours, our outdoor activities were subdued, too. Paul and I snowshoed on Saturday and decided that the route was solid enough from previous snowshoers, cold temperatures, and recent wind for the bhikkhu to join us on Sunday. The three of us toured the dismal swamp and numbered lakes 1 through 3. We met up with a friend and his dog for the latter half of the loop. I had hoped to photograph George's frosty beard, but my camera battery died in the cold.
I hope that your Christmas was filled with friends, comforts, and time outside with those you love in a place you love.
When I visit my mom in upstate New York, however, I am immersed in family, heritage, and a history rooted in place. My mom and stepfather live in two old farmhouses in upstate New York. One they bought just as I finished college, and they moved from the Finger Lakes area, where I spent most of my youth, to the northern edge of the Adirondack park. I haven't seen that house in years because early in this decade, my mom and her siblings inherited the family homestead in Verona with a house built circa 1815. My mom eventually became the sole owner of what we have always called "the Farm."
My mom's Uncle Ed acquired the Farm in the 1950s and slowly worked on it for decades. He added electricity and plumbing and a 'modern' kitchen in the 1970s. He had hoped to live there with his mother, my great-grandmother, but she died before they could move there. Finally in the early 1980s Ed and his sister Hazel moved in. Aunt Hazel was an outgoing, stylish woman who played a mean game of cards called Spite and Malice (which as a child I thought was Spike and Alice). Unfortunately her brother wouldn't let her paint or hang pictures, and the only room in the house that didn't look like a furniture store was her bedroom.
Visiting the Farm as a kid was always a treat because it had barns with sleighs, spinning wheels in the high attic, and another attic packed with stuff. A kid could hope there was some sort of treasure there somewhere. Now visiting the Farm is a treat because my mom has turned a handsome old house into a home. My step-father Jack installed a wood stove in one of the fireplaces, making the house cozier than it ever was before. They have painted several rooms in bright warm colors. On this recent trip, my brother and I got to give opinions on which green to paint the living room.
Jack has also created trails throughout the woods and dug two ponds. Some of the land is still cultivated by farmers who rent the land from my parents. The harvested soybean and corn fields attract deer and wild turkeys, which in turn bring coyotes. After Thanksgiving dinner, we walked through the woods and circled the fields. Jack showed us where the bucks paw the ground to mark their territory.
My family has also marked this land as ours, with houses, barns, fields, and a family cemetery. These things are only slightly more permanent than the deers' marks, but much more noticeable to other humans. They say that a family has lived here and cared for this place.
I left a gray/brown and white world in Anchorage. We already had more than a foot of snow on the ground at home. In Pennsylvania, fall hadn't quite ended. I felt like I'd stepped back in time. The Pendle Hill campus is about 23 acres and I circled it daily on the perimeter trail, basking in the glow of the remaining leaves on the gingko and maple trees.
The trees that brought me to a halt were the Japanese maples. I collected a dozen flaming leaves over the weekend and scattered them on the desk in my room. I even enclosed a few in a card home to Paul. There is nothing like this in the Alaska fall scene. After the workshop ended on Sunday, I walked to the Swarthmore Campus in the next village over. From the train* I had noticed a large woods next to campus and Pendle Hill provided trail maps. I walked along Crum Creek, dodging wet labrador retrievers and runners. I crossed under the railroad bridge and toured the holly collection of Scott Arboretum. Then I walked through the campus, which reminded me of my alma mater Cornell. When I noticed that the sun was getting low, I headed back into the woods for a last quiet evening at Pendle Hill.
*if I'd taken any train photos, I'd post an entry about how wonderful it was to use real public transportation (something else we don't have in Alaska). Amtrak took me north to Utica, NY, to spend Thanksgiving with family.
You can see more photos and read more stories at
Three nights gave us time to explore the canyon by foot one day and relax in the sun another. As always, more food than we could eat, though we tried. Morning workouts by Stacey were a justification for the gorging for some of us. Maggie's tai chi was a welcome stretch and relaxation for some of us who did Stacey's workout.
Rose showed me how to balance rocks. We stacked rocks into cairns on a dry stretch of river bottom one afternoon. She is able to stack off center yet keep the weight balanced through a center plumb line. I was just happy to achieve a little balance in the autumn sun with good friends.
Here are more photos from the weekend:
Paul, my dad, and I bicycled from Indian to Girdwood and most of the way back on one dry day during my parents' visit. My stepmom Kay drove the support wagon, babysat the pup, and met us in Girdwood for lunch.
We skipped two weekends in Prince William Sound because of forecast downpours and small craft advisories. Then came the weekend after Labor Day ....
Blossom anchored in Bettles Bay Lagoon. We found a ridge full of blueberries above the lagoon.
We enjoyed a couple of hikes "in the heather" above Port Wells.
Mid-morning I was working at the desk in the loft when I heard a loud thump on a living room window. Last week a young robin died there and I was hoping that I could help another bird make it to the migration. On the deck a young female blackpoll warbler sat in a daze. I held her in my hands to keep her warm. I couldn't see any visible signs of injury. After a little while I placed her on the picnic table to see if she'd fly off. She didn't. So I made her a little nest of napkins and towels in a yogurt container and left her on the table. I looked out often, hopeful that she had flown off. Eventually I went back to work and hoped for the best.
Not too much later I saw two neighborhood dogs sniffing at the table. I ran downstairs and chased them off. The little warbler was still in the container. As I pulled back the napkin that was partially over the container, she flew off.
The predators were as active as the birds. A little later I noticed a flash of white outside. The neighbor's cat was stalking a young robin. I cranked open the window and both of them scattered.
Despite the drama of prey and predator, life and death, the reminder that we are in the season of birth and growth, the height of life, was refreshing after these weeks of rain.
* And it's official - the National Weather Service says that we're setting records for cool, wet, and cloudy. And it has rained every day since this article was in the paper.
** I've added some more photos with captions to the gallery.
What is it about large mushrooms that inspire song and poetry?
We went on a woodland stroll this evening in search of boletes. Paul found one in our neighborhood last night and started to get that crazy glint in his eye. Our one hour walk this evening turned into two. We have much to show for it, probably more than will fit into one batch of drying in the convection oven.
When the moon hits your eye like a big bolete pie
That's amore ...
Old Bichon happy in woods
Meet just once in life
In September 1998 Paul and I sailed together for the first time; it was the first time Paul had ever sailed. We went to Maine to visit my brother Ron. Our plan had been to rent kayaks and paddle part of the Maine Island Trail. We had rented a shelter on Isle of Haute in Acadia National Park for a few nights. But because Ron hadn't kayaked before, no one would rent to us. Ron, who is a boat designer, was working for a boat builder at the time, and his boss offered to loan us an open wooden sail boat that he had built. We'd still be camping every night, and if the wind didn't blow, the boat was fitted with oars. His daughter had named the little blue boat Blossom.
Ron and Paul did row quite a bit but we also sailed. Somehow Ron anchored Blossom off-shore each night and got us and the camping gear to the islands without a dinghy. The weather was mostly good, we ate fresh mussels, hiked on Isle of Haute, and had a great time. Not only did Paul get the sailing bug that week, but we bought two folding kayaks and found out that the National Park Service wanted to send him to Alaska to work for Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks. Our lives were changed forever in the span of a few days.
Our Jeanneau Tonic 23 is much more modern in design than that little wooden gaffrig sailboat, but those happy memories and maybe the blue bottom hull of our boat have caused us to call our sailboat Blossom almost from the time we bought her. We haven't told anyone, but that's the name we've been leaning toward. And we've finally toasted her with Paul's homemade mead (the last bottle from our wedding 16 years ago!) and made it official -- here's Blossom II.
Our Blossom with all the wet gear hanging out on the first sunny day
July was the first real sailing and gunkholing month on our Blossom. Over a long Fourth of July weekend, we anchored in Surprise Cove, hiked on a state park trail, and finally saw Blackstone Bay. We've kayaked in Prince William Sound many times and have never seen whales. We probably saw a dozen humpbacks in Cochrane and Blackstone Bays that weekend. We scooted back into Whittier for a night in the harbor when a small craft advisory was forecast for our last day. Sleeping at dock and maneuvering about the harbor the next day in sustained 14 mph winds with 40 mph gusts were excellent boat handling practice!
On the 17th we drove to Whittier with food, libations, books, and other supplies for a week's sojourn. We spent another night at Surprise Cove and then two rainy nights tucked back into Three Finger Cove. Two harbor seals had greeted us there. On the first night, I was awake in the middle of the night and heard an odd bubbling sound water off the bow. I jumped out, grabbed the binoculars, and peered out into the dark. I could just see some tremendous splashing near the shore. In the morning and all the next day, the seals were gone. I feared that orcas had attacked them. When we left the cove the next day, dozens of seals were hauled out on rocks near the cove entrance. I hope that our seals were just visiting with the family.
We left Three Finger Cove and spent the afternoon motoring up out of Cochrane Bay and down Culross Passage to within a couple of miles of where we had started that day. The sun came out for the first time in four days while we were anchored in Long Bay. We hung all the wet towels and rain gear on the boom, back stay, and life lines. Paul hoisted a sun shower from the main halyard and we bathed in the cockpit.
Clean and dry, we sailed out of Long Bay and then down Culross Passage to Picturesque Cove for a night. The next day we motored through the gap between Culross Island and Applegate Island and then up the east side of Culross. We had hoped for a little wind from the greater Sound for sailing that day, but the north breeze wasn't enough to be worth tacking back and forth up wind. We tried to visit Lake Bay that day but the commercial fishermen had it blocked off to catch pinks returning to the hatchery. So we returned to the north end of Culross Passage and anchored in Carrs Cove.
The wind and sun returned on Friday and we sailed out of Culross Passage and north into Port Wells. For an hour we just enjoyed the east wind on a broad reach toward the glaciers. Late in the afternoon we anchored in Ziegler Cove in the state marine park of that name. The swells in the cove rocked us to sleep after we explored the long gravel beach and boggy uplands separating the cove from Port Wells. On Saturday, those same east winds pushed us back to Whittier. With the whisker pole holding the jib out, we hit our fastest speed yet, under sail or motor, of 7 knots.
To see more photos of our Prince William Sound trips, click Play or the photo itself:
When we were deciding whether or not to buy the boat, the former owner gave a little speech about how sailing and boating had transformed his family: we used to be just a family, now we're a crew. We sometimes joke about that little speech -- you really could almost hear the music cued behind it. Yet the sailboat does seem to be bringing a new level of cooperation to our marriage.
So co-captains Paul and Corinne with first mate Gilligan (B's boat name) are off to keep honing our crew skills.
With the end of June only a few days away, I start to feel like the summer is slipping away. I try to remind myself to live in the moment, but it's so difficult not to pace this season in Alaska by its number of weekends (14 with Memorial and Labor Day). This is the 5th weekend (and it's rainy and gray). If we're lucky, we get a few warm weekends in May and September to stretch the summer vibe. I also usually mark the summer's passage by the number of camping and kayaking trips. This summer, it's the number of sailing trips. And due to boat repairs, family reunions, work, and more boat repairs, we've only had the boat in the water one weekend so far this season.
Thinking about what we did that weekend (4 days over Solstice), I realize that we are making progress. Our goals for the sailboat this summer are threefold -- get to know it, fix the problems it has (sometimes these seem to be multiplying), and get more comfortable with boat handling. We're doing pretty well with all three despite the limited time on the boat.
The first two goals go hand-in-hand and are the most frustrating. Seems the more we get to know the boat, the more we find things that need to be repaired. The bilge is very clean now that we've discovered the windows leak, the water tank leaks (especially if the mystery O-ring is fitted into the hose), and two stanchion bases leak. Thankfully, Paul is very good at repairing just about anything and has a good supply of tools and hardware on board. (Though sometimes those things are on board to fix the problem we found the weekend before.) In addition to those leaks, in the last two weeks, we've had problems with the motor, the windlass (just the power option), and the trailer hitch. At this point, (knock on fiberglass), it doesn't seem like there's much left to be broken. Paul already re-wired and re-plumbed it.
In the third goal - the most fun - we both became much more comfortable motoring around the harbor, docking, and launching/taking out. We anchored for the first time for snacks and a shore walk in Shotgun Cove, about 7 miles out of Whittier. We used commercial and shrimp buoys at the mouth of the cove to practice handling and to get a better feel for how tight a radius the boat turns in all directions. We are relieved to find that dropping the rudder more than a foot actually gives us reverse to starboard (we don't know how the previous owners did it with the rudder raised to the trailering position even in the water).
I could whine more about broken things but it's probably wiser to remember how beautiful the weekend was, how peaceful it was sailing in Passage Canal, how quiet Shotgun Cove was on a Sunday evening, how nice the various people we met in the harbor were, and how much we like being on the boat.
I'm never quite sure when to say that summer begins here. If you're Paul, you stick strictly to the idea that equinoxes and solstices bookend each season. I tend to think of those dates as the halfway marks. But when spring is really only a couple of weeks long, how can you call that a season? Or is Memorial Day the true kickoff, with a long weekend, holiday events, and the start of outdoor gardening?
I don't know when it truly starts, but this past weekend, I knew it was summer in Anchortown. I wore shorts all weekend and it was 60 degrees on Sunday morning at 7:00! I swapped out the flannel sheets with the 'cool-feel' summer sheets. All the leaves are full-fledged and green now and the elderberries are starting to bloom. And the surest sign -- the mosquitoes are so thick in the lower elevations of Bicentennial Park that I couldn't let the dog stop to do much of anything that wasn't vital.
Paul is reunioning back East with the Buttons so I devoted the weekend primarily to gardening. On Saturday, I rebuilt two raised beds for vegetables and planted all my seeds and seedlings (except the last few that I bought that morning at the farmer's market). On Sunday I pedaled around town on the Veggie Roll, a tour of vegetable gardens organized by Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage. We saw some creative and productive gardens where people are trying really hard to grow most of their produce right here in the big city. On Monday I turned to the flower beds. I weeded, watered, and mulched with leaves and wood shavings from Paul's 2009 winter project. I still need to weed and mulch the raspberry patch, but by Monday evening, I had accomplished all the big tasks on the garden to-do list.
Yes, it's summer in Alaska ... go-go-go while the sun shines.
After a week of clouds and wind, the end of the week dawned clear and bright green. Paul and I pedaled away from the house around 8:00. Less than half an hour later we were at the Bacon Station, one of the energizer stations set up around town for this official Bike to Work Day. We chatted with Anne, the municipality's BtW coordinator, about the event. I met Dawn from Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage ; she is planning a garden tour on Memorial Day weekend and I told her I'm in.
Two strips of bacon and a smoothie didn't fully fuel my commute, so I stopped at a coffee shop downtown and picked up some pastries for myself and my co-workers. I finally rolled into the office around 9:15.
This isn't a Friday that I normally work; I had decided to bike in for a little camaraderie with the rest of the bicycle commuters, especially those at my office. So after doing some low-key work, like filing and asking people about their commutes (I am the office BtW coordinator after all), I put my helmet back on and rolled over to the museum to meet Rose for lunch.
After locking up our bikes, we toured the grounds which have only recently been opened. We circled the new sculpture, Habitat. Like most city artwork, it has its fans and its dis-fans. I decided I liked it. The photos in the paper don't do it justice, nor does driving past in on 6th Avenue.
We had a leisurely lunch at Muse, the new restaurant in the museum. The Marx Brothers did not disappoint with a roasted beet salad, Bristol Bay seafood chowder, and a porkloin empanada. We lingered over cappuccinos to fuel our commutes home.
Crossing over Campbell Creek, where snow is still clinging to the banks and the grasses are waiting to green up.
Then Rose led me through the Fairview, Airport Heights, and Nunaka Valley neighborhoods and Russian Jack Park to Baxter Road on the east side of town. Near Tudor we parted. I pedaled up the hill on Campbell Airstrip Road to the Bivouac trailhead, then on the dirt trail through Bicentennial Park to my neighborhood. I finally rolled into the garage around 4:00.