dec 11 wintry images

This morning is supposed to be about catching up on photos -- printing those of my little nephews that my step-mom has sent; printing photos of other family members and friends from the past year; downloading photos from the last 2 weeks from 2 cameras; editing photos from the Divas trip to Eklutna in September; and editing everything since then. But I've run out of photo paper about halfway through and the number of photos to be edited is a little daunting.

It's the season for not only cleaning up the physical and digital space but also to sweep through the mental space to see what needs to stay, what needs to go, what needs to change. And I can't decide if my resolution for the new year should be to take a photo a day, keep up on the blog better (think I've tried that one before), lay the blog down, or just not get too hung up on any of it.

I'm going to contemplate all of that while tromping about this snowy world on snowshoes later today. In the meantime, I'll post a few photos from this month and feel a little satisfaction in getting a few photos printed, a few edited, and a few posted.

A spectacular sunset just after a snowfall between wind storms a couple of weeks ago

Snow biking on my birthday last week. Thanks to my friend Rose for loaning me her mukluk while her shoulder heals. A Happy Birthday indeed!

An early afternoon ski with Paul on Christmas Day in Talkeetna

3 dec 11 singletrack mindfulness

Around lunch time on Saturday a friend called with some bad news that affected his family. Someone we knew had made an impulsive decision that was meant to be helpful to a member of his family without thinking about legal ramifications and long-term consequences.

Paul and I had planned to go for a bike ride, and we hit the singletrack about the time I was struggling with my attempts to not judge a couple of the people involved in the situation. There's nothing like pedaling down a snowy trench to keep me focused on the present moment. If I want to stay upright on the trail, my mind has to be tuning into my body and the feel of the bike. If my brain is whirring on problems far from the trail, I'm going to be dabbing or drifting into the soft snow. Riding singletrack, especially in the winter, is an excellent practice in mindfulness.

Going with the flow on a mukluk holiday. Thanks, Rose!

16 oct 11 angry busts (with captions & update!)

This photo just seems to be begging for a contest to write a caption. These two sour faces were displayed at an antiques market that winds through the piazzas and narrow streets of Lucca every 3rd Sunday. Perusing Italian antiques broadens the cultural experience of being in an old, old country.

So anyway, if you want to suggest a caption, comment please!

More of my photos from Lucca, a beautiful walled city in Tuscany, are posted on Picasa.

oct 11 lost under the tuscan sun


In the Garfagnana region of Tuscany, we found that the saying about a man with two watches also applies to trail maps; to paraphrase - "a man with one map always knows where he is; a man with two is never sure." Paul had bought a map for the area around the town of Barga on our last trip there 6 years ago, and this time we picked up a map of the roads, trails, and sites in the region from the Barga tourist office. Unfortunately, the two maps don't always agree and sometimes neither one is right. But the consequences of getting lost here are somewhat minor - no lunch and, even worse, no gelato in the middle of the afternoon!

Paul, his sister Mary and her husband Gerry and I had hiked to Barga our first day, following one of the many trails maintained by the Italian Alpine Club. That route was well-marked with red-and-white striped blazes and directional signs with the estimated time to the next destination. One of our maps and some arrows on the street just down the hill from our rental house made us think that we could pick up another trail just down the road that would lead to Sommocolonia, the picturesque village farther up the hill. We knew that we could get the trail at the end of the road further up the hill but we wanted to make a loop out of it. We did make a loop, but it took 3 times as long and we didn't reach Sommocolonia.
Paul and Mary check the maps; Gerry admits we don't know

After 20 minutes of walking through woods and around farms and vineyards, we came to a wide paved road, somewhat unusual in this part of Tuscany. We couldn't figure out where we were from the maps so we decided to walk up the steep road to find some landmarks or maybe a person to ask. After a kilometer we reached a sports center and talked to a man in the restaurant. First he said we couldn't get to Sommocolonia from there, but then he said we could but it would be 10 - 15 kilometers. That estimate seemed odd given that it was only supposed to be an hour's walk from the house, but the day was pleasant so we pressed on with his hand-written directions.

Gerry shook apple trees to provision our trek.

We got off track once when a dry streambed looked like the shortcut he mentioned, but were soon back on the road. We were starting to think about our time limit for turning around, when a car came along (the first in an hour). The two women spoke broken English with Scottish brogues and confirmed the man's directions and landmarks ahead. Twenty minutes later we reached the old car and yellow gate and thought we really were going to reach Sommocolonia that day. Less then a kilometer later, however, the trail forked and we were uncertain which way to go. We could see a hilltop village but it didn't look like the picture of Sommocolonia on the tourist map. It was also on the other side of a deep valley, several kilometers away yet. The time was already 4:00, with sunset just after 6:00. We'd been hiking for over 3 hours so we decided to go back the way we had come instead of venturing further on unknown trails.

The old car and yellow gate (to the left) that marked the route

We also decided not to take the first section of trail that we'd started on but to continue down the road a little further because the map indicated that we could turn off to the village near the house. Maybe gelato was not totally out of the question for the day. Sadly, the map was wrong. We found out that we had spent most of the afetrnoon hiking up and down a private road for a huge resort, and that the only entrance, other than the trail we'd arrivd on, was at the very bottom of the Serchio valley. We searched for footpaths over to the village, parts of which we could see, but nothing seemed to cross the deep ravine between the resort and the village. So down we went to the valley bottom, and then climbed several hundred feet back up to the house.

The sunset just as we returned to the house from our first attempt to hike to Sommocolonia

Two days later we tried to reach Sommocolonia again. This time we hiked up to the end of our road where the trail started. In an hour we were entering the village on a cobble walk. Sommocolonia has a small war museum and memorial to soldiers who died during a nearby battle during World War II. The museum was closed and the town was very quiet on a fall weekday. There was no cafe serving coffee or gelato.

Two trails met at Sommocolonia. We could have hiked to Barga or continued further into the mountains to a pass.

The view from Sommocolonia.

We hiked down to Cartagnana, another small quiet village, and out the other side through some vineyards. We managed to get lost one more time when we missed a turn in the trail. Two dogs that joined us at one of the farms tried to lead us the right way, but when we chose the wrong, they stayed with us. Our mistake became obvious as the trail became a footpath and then disappeared just before dropping into a ravine. We climbed back up and found that the trail passed close to a house and soon returned us to the trail we'd taken to Sommocolonia. The entire outing took less than 3 hours and we returned to the house while the sun was still high and warm in the sky.

Gerry and Mary ready to dine on caprese salad, olives, rustic bread, and prosciutto.

I've posted more photos of our wanderings in the Garfagnana on Picasa.

18 nov 11 for the 99%

We saw James McMurtry in concert at The Latitude 62 last night in Talkeetna. He wrote this song in 2004. Sadly, it's still relevant for a lot of people in our country today. You can read all the lyrics at his website, even download the song for free if you show a little love for the Occupy movement.

We Can't Make It Here Anymore*

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore

High school girl with a bourgeois dream
Just like the pictures in the magazine
She found on the floor of the laundromat
A woman with kids can forget all that
If she comes up pregnant what'll she do
Forget the career, forget about school
Can she live on faith? live on hope?
High on Jesus or hooked on dope
When it's way too late to just say no
You can't make it here anymore

Now I'm stocking shirts in the Wal-Mart store
Just like the ones we made before
'Cept this one came from Singapore
I guess we can't make it here anymore

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I'm in
Should I hate 'em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They've never known want, they'll never know need
Their sh@# don't stink and their kids won't bleed
Their kids won't bleed in the da$% little war
And we can't make it here anymore

Will work for food
Will die for oil
Will kill for power and to us the spoils
The billionaires get to pay less tax
The working poor get to fall through the cracks
Let 'em eat jellybeans let 'em eat cake
Let 'em eat sh$%, whatever it takes
They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps
If they can't make it here anymore

And that's how it is
That's what we got
If the president wants to admit it or not
You can read it in the paper
Read it on the wall
Hear it on the wind
If you're listening at all
Get out of that limo
Look us in the eye
Call us on the cell phone
Tell us all why

In Dayton, Ohio
Or Portland, Maine
Or a cotton gin out on the great high plains
That's done closed down along with the school
And the hospital and the swimming pool
Dust devils dance in the noonday heat
There's rats in the alley
And trash in the street
Gang graffiti on a boxcar door
We can't make it here anymore

This song took me back to my hometown. I grew up in a small factory town. The Smith-Corona typewriter factory was by far the largest building on Main Street. My grandfather and an uncle made their careers there. My mom worked there part-time as a young woman. My neighbor was the plant nurse. When I was in elementary school my grandparents spent a year in Singapore to help open a factory there. A few years later, another factory opened in Mexico. The factory on Main Street closed while I finished high school and sat empty for years until the site pollution could be dealt with. All the kids in town spent the hot humid summer days at the town pool. Many of my friends were life guards as their first jobs.

Thanksgiving is only a few days away. I'm grateful to still have a good job for an organization that strives to make a difference in the world. May I remember that not everyone in our country is so lucky these days to be bringing home a paycheck that covers the bills.

*Music and lyrics © 2004 by James McMurtry

9-11 sep 11 bon voyage PWS

Our final weekend in Prince William Sound brought a little sun, a little sailing, a little hiking, a little rain, a little fog, a little fish, and lots of blueberries. We're already planning next summer's voyages.

This album now shows the highlights of our entire summer sailing Blossom in Prince William Sound:

sep 11 golden Alaska

So quickly the sunlight of long summer days is replaced by the golden glow of leaves ...

27 aug 11 hunting season

Fall in Alaska brings many into the woods in hunt of the elusive bolete. Last weekend we came away empty-handed from an evening walk in the park nearby. So the next day we bicycled to the far side of the park to an area that gets less visitation. We managed to fill Paul's bike rack bag with orange and birch boletes.

Paul is convinced that the increased popularity of harvesting mushrooms in the last few years makes it more difficult to find boletes in the parks and that the best hunting may be in neighborhoods. He may be right. We found 4 beautiful king boletes in our neighbor's yard and the two birch trees outside our kitchen window have provided four nice birch boletes so far.

23 aug 11 north granite bay

A small craft advisory delayed our departure to Whittier and then kept us in the harbor for a day while we waited for the winds to die. The irony of this situation always occurs us – the wind is too strong for our sailboat, yet once the storm passes, we might not see more than a breeze and not sail at all. As always, we hoped that the wind would decrease from 25 mph and settle somewhere between 10 and 15 mph long enough to get us where we wanted to go.

Unfortunately for us, the wind settled at 10 from the East, the direction we have to go to leave Passage Canal and access Prince William Sound. Unless we wanted to spend hours tacking upwind, the motor would be required to get to an anchorage before dark. As we left the Canal, the wind had a northerly component and we raised the sales. The storm remained in the waves, however, and as we moved out into Wells Passage, the chop increased and it was too rough to keep wind in the sails. So we dropped the sails after a while and motored up Port Wells to North Granite Bay.

We hadn’t been to Granite Bay State Marine Park before. The clouds were low but we could appreciate the steep granite walls all around the bay. We’d been mentally prepared for a rainy weekend and thought this anchorage looked as good as any other to hang out, read, play games, and sleep late for a couple of days.

When the skies cleared the next day, we decided that it was also a good place to hike and explore by land and hang out in the sun. We also picked a couple of quarts of blueberries, and I kayaked around the island at the bay’s head. We had a beautiful day-and-a-half exploring the head of North Granite Bay.

The relaxation may have helped us to weather the mechanical storm that battered our return to Whittier. A few minutes after we started motoring away from our anchorage, the motor stalled and wouldn’t restart. We didn’t leave Granite Bay for another two hours while we considered every part of the fuel delivery. We dropped the anchor again and ate lunch half way through the process. Paul replaced the fuel filter eventually, a difficult task with the mount of the motor, and the motor started up again.

Another irony with sailing – the winds were good for a broad reach out of Port Wells but we didn’t dare turn off the motor. Paul did raise the jib to reduce the bouncing from the chop.

We were an hour out of Whittier when the motor stalled again and wouldn’t restart. Now Paul suspected water in the gas. He replaced the fuel filter again and stuck the fuel hose in the spare tank of gas. It took about an hour of starting and restarting the engine to run all the old fuel through. Then the motor ran strong back to the harbor. During that hour without a motor, an east breeze kept us in deep water in Passage Canal and we even raised the jib for when we could think about anything but the motor.

We’ve come a long way with this boat, especially this motor. No panicking this year (though strong language still has a role) when the motor stalls. No marital discord sparked by the frustration. Just calm problem solving and patience to find the problem. As the previous owner predicted, owning a boat has moved us beyond being a family to being a crew.

Here's the only other hiker/berry picker that we saw

12 aug 2011 biking smile

If only the cars got the same sign at their stop sign

A state advisory council that I used to be on had a 20 year reunion lunch at Kincaid Park on Friday. I was only working half a day so I decided to bike across town to the reunion. I could only weave a small portion of the Campbell Creek Creek greenbelt into the route so I hoped to link neighborhoods together and avoid the major arteries as much as possible.

Unfortunately, the Seward Highway forces bikers on to major roads to cross it here on the south side. As I pedaled along Dimond Boulevard, I remembered Thich Nhat Hanh's advice for walking meditation - smile slightly. I thought I'd try to be 'mindful' on my bike (could save my life) and I'd try to hold a smile (could reduce my stress on the busier streets). A couple of minutes into my biking meditation, a truck decided that he could wait for all the cars to pass before turning left but not for me. I didn't exactly grin at him, but my response was a little more low key than usual. I was similarly cut off another two or three times in the 25-mile round-trip, and each time I tried to channel TNH for a calm response.

During the garden tour, we happened upon a little greenbelt dedicated to Kathleen Joy Lowry and I was happy to incorporate that into the route. The gravel path follows a grassy drainage ditch between two neighborhoods and passes a small lily-covered pond with a covered observation deck. I pedaled through several neighborhoods that I'd never been in before.

a break at the deck in the Lowry greenbelt

The highlights of the trip were the usual for Anchorage town rides. A sunny summer day that seemed like heaven after a few days of August rains. A moose that just had to cross under Minnesota and would not be deterred. Smiling people walking and biking along the greenbelt paths. Nice, considerate, alert drivers who waited for me at cross walks. Despite the impatient drivers, I couldn't have picked a better way to spend half the day.

I felt marginally safer behind a clump of cow parsnip and a sign

31 jul 2011 bloomin' anchorage

Our tradition of biking the Anchorage Garden Tour on the last Sunday of July wasn't deterred this year by a little rain. Pam and Roger joined us for a third tour, and Rose was properly baptized by Mother Nature on her inaugural tour. The quality of the gardens was especially high this year, and the biking was as rewarding as ever. Five of the gardens were somewhat clustered near us on the south side of town. One outlier in Spenard had us hustling north to catch the last -- and best? -- before the close at 5:00. Instinct and Rose's prior residence in Spenard helped us to navigate several neighborhoods so we could avoid the larger roads most of the way. We ended the tour with a picnic in Spenard on a dry patch of grass under a spruce tree.

jul 2011 clear sailing

Our July 2011 week in Prince William Sound was almost the exact opposite weather-wise as the same July week we spent there in 2010. Last year we had one sunny day of weather. This year, we had one rainy afternoon and night.

The itinerary turned out to be much the same. We hadn't intended to anchor in Surprise Cove, but an east wind on our first afternoon out altered our plans. That was the right decision because it was the only real sailing we did all week. We even neared Blossom's hull speed (6.3 knots) on a broad reach into Cochrane Bay.

The next day we motored to Long Bay in Culross Passage. Last year we had the bay to ourselves but we'd heard that the salmon were running and other boats would be there this time. And that was true, though numbers declined each night. Eight boats Saturday, 3 on Sunday, just 2 of us on Monday night. Paul cast for silver, sockeye, chum, and pink salmon at the head of the lagoon and caught a huge pink that fed us dinner and lunch. We assembled our kayaks on the beach and explored the lagoon one day and the bay the next. We also hiked up to the Shrode Lake cabin.

The wind had us changing our float plan again on Tuesday. We had intended to head south out of Culross Passage to visit Port Nellie Juan for the first time. But a strong westerly breeze in Long Bay indicated that the forecast was correct about a decent westerly blowing. So we headed north out of Culross to hit the wind sooner and sail it over to Perry Island, where we hadn't been yet either. We were disappointed to see the wind die as we left the passage.

But we weren't disappointed after an hour-long motor to West Twin Bay. We anchored behind the spit near the head of the bay. The clarity of the water and light and the warm sunny weather made the bay look almost tropical. Paul even jumped into the water before our shower on Wednesday evening. West Twin had the added amenity of few bugs so we were able to spend much time relaxing in the cockpit, sipping cocktails and enjoying the bay, which we had all to ourselves.

Bhikkhu's first kayak trip

To see more photos of this trip and earlier ones this summer in Prince William Sound, click the photo:

Sailing Prince William Sound 2011

8 jul 11 under the highway

If you live in Anchorage and follow how the voters react to Parks and Trails bonds, or follow the current Assembly and Mayor's support (i.e. lack of) for parks, you can be amazed that we have the trail and park system that we do. The recreational opportunities within the city are great.

Yesterday Jo-Ann, Bev, and I encountered one of the gaps in the system - the intersection of the Seward Highway and the Campbell Creek Greenbelt Trail. The trail runs for several miles on either side of the highway. At the highway, it's a rocky footpath under four road bridges. When they built the trail, even though it wouldn't go under the highway, the planners thoughtfully put a foot bridge over the creek so that those who would be ducking under the bridges could get to the other side of the creek where the trail resumes.

We stopped on that foot bridge in both directions for a break. As we watched for salmon in the stream, multiple bikers passed us. People are not only using the trail for recreation, like we were, but they're commuting to work and school. The Campbell Creek trail ends at the east side at two universities and two hospitals. Yesterday we saw moose feeding along the stream and sockeye migrating.

I suggested that someone should set up a motion-activated camera under the bridges, similar to what Fish and Game does to see how many bears use streamside paths in the city. The Department of Transportation could see how many people depend upon this route to commute. How many more would use it if they didn't have to climb under four highway bridges?

6 jul 11 beautiful infrastructure

Not even a powerline up the middle of it can mar the beauty of this valley on a sunny summer evening ....

late june garden

My brother has been sending photos of his beautiful vegetable garden in Wisconsin. Cool temperatures and a late planting have meant a slow start to my garden, so I've been less than eager to reciprocate with photos. But here at the end of June, the plants are putting on some weight and I'm not embarrassed to share.

This is my main vegetable garden area. The entire form, from materials to size to layout, has evolved in the 12 years we've lived here. Unfortunately the trees in the yard have grown so this site isn't as sunny as it used to be. As a tree hugger, however, I am stuck with the spruce and birch. So this year I looked for some other places to plant veggies on our lot.

I usually have potted herbs by the back door. I included a gorgeous red lettuce in the wine barrel this year.

In addition to the two wine barrels that I've had for years on the deck, this year I set up 6 plastic pots of similar size. They were free at the annual pot recycling event that the botanical garden hosts. The pots are planted with veggies and edible flowers. A tripod in each will hopefully support scarlet runner beans, canary bird vine, sweet peas, or nasturtium. I've also got tomatoes and basil in pots with wall-o-waters around them.

The southside of our house has a long narrow bed that hasn't had much more than daffodils and tulips. Last year I was inspired by the poor returns in my vegetable garden and the edible designs at the Alaska Botanical Garden to add vegetables and flowers to fill in after the bulbs end in early June. I've added sunflowers, shiso, amaranth, broccoli, parsley, chinese cabbage, borage, calendula, and assorted other edible plants.

Two years ago we had to replace our septic tank, which was located near the back of the house under my largest perennial bed. They dug up two large boulders which became part of the landscaping. We saw a dry creek bed on the garden tour that year and Paul created one for us. I had dug up over 200 plants and almost all made the transition to the new bed and seem more lush with the additional topsoil and compost. Paul's torii gate Balance is in the upper left at our back patio.

17-20 june 11 sunny sound

I couldn't believe I was wearing shorts as we motored into Harriman Fjord. The water is ringed by glaciers whose icebergs are floating everywhere. The first two days of our long weekend were downright hot (by Alaskan standards). Even after the clouds returned, little rain fell and we enjoyed a dry weekend on Blossom. Two downsides to the calm weather -- no sailing and no breeze to knock down the no-see-ums.

Despite the millions of little buggers trying to steer me otherwise, it was an easy time to take Guillame Apollonaire's advice: Now and then it's good to pause in our pursuit of happiness, and just be happy.

Hobo Bay

Packing B up to the ridge

Blossom anchored at the base of Serpentine Glacier

Paul guides us out of Hummer Bay (where the tse-tses were unrelenting)

12 jun 11 gala in the garden

Paul made his artistic debut at the Alaska Botanical Garden's annual Gala and Art Show. His cedar-and-red torii gates were quite striking on the sunny Thursday evening that the Gala was held. The one he named Tranquility sold that evening, and Paul donated all of the proceeds to the garden. (The other one - Balance - is now in our garden.)

The art was up through the weekend for the Garden Faire. We biked to the garden on Sunday to see if the other torii gate had sold and to check out the vendors. All of the plants, crafts, and art were very tempting, but I only bought two strawberry plants and a few thoughtful Alder Patch cards, which was about all I could fit into my pack.

4 june 11 upwind in port wells

When I emailed our float plan to my family, my brother in Wisconsin replied "I envy you. We have a high in the upper 50's today with strong winds. It feels chilly; not boating weather." Hah! I said. That's a good day in Prince William Sound. I hoped it would reach 50. It didn't for 3 days, but that's beyond today's blog.

Despite the chill and rain, we hoisted the sails and headed up Port Wells to Esther Passage. Paul was at the helm for most of the sail because the wind held during his 1-hour shift. We have resolved to try to sail any breeze that comes up, so despite the weather, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to make some distance under sail and without the motor.

Eventually the wind died down and we furled the sails and started the motor. Minutes later, a pod of dall porpoises started swimming alongside us, and then crossing in front of us. Technically I think it was my shift at the helm, but I grabbed my camera and scooted up to the mast to photograph their antics. They are very hard to photograph, but you can see two in this photo - one on either side of the furled jib.

And while we were out in the rain, Bhikkhu was doing what all good first mates do, especially when the boat has two captains - he was checking the charts and guide and keeping us on course.

29 may 11 wild quaker

I was probably the only Quaker in the world who crossed a salmon stream and encountered moose and wild rabbits on my way to Meeting for Worship on Sunday morning.