Merry and Bright

We returned home in time for Thanksgiving and the start of the hectic holiday season.  There was a good layer of snow on the ground and we were sorry we didn’t put the studded snow tires on the car before we left!The mountains are so beautiful with their dusting of snow, and it’s an important insulator for the yellow cedar roots in the winter. 

The day after Thanksgiving is the official start of the holidays here in Petersburg as Santa led the whole town in a parade down Nordic Drive to the town Christmas tree.  Everyone carried a candle, and members of the school band were playing holiday music.  The Sons of Norway handed out cups of hot cider on the chilly, drizzly evening, and our friend Jean got the honor of lighting up the big beauty of a tree.  Huzzah!Our radio station has started playing holiday music in the afternoons – the show is called “High Tide-ings”…. get it?  With that inspiration, Jim put up all the outside lights on the boat, in the snow.  Holiday lights are particularly important living at a high latitude, where the daylight is pretty short at this time of the year.  Today the sun rose around 8:18 this morning and it will set at 3:12 this afternoon.  Combine the short daylight with overcast, gloomy weather and believe me – pretty sparkly lights are worth their weight in gold! The social pace seems to pick up in the winter months, and we have a packed schedule – dinner parties with friends, helping decorate the Sons of Norway hall, the Christmas Bazaar and soup sale, local shopping days, chorus practice for Jim, band concerts, the community holiday concert, the annual Pickled Herring Contest, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count… all leading up to several days of Julebukking all around town.

The weather hasn’t been the best lately, with a long stretch of snow and slush, and now a stretch of relentless rain but temps in the 40s.  We had a few clear days, and sometimes the dawn light makes the most magical golden-rosy glow in the morning sky.We took advantage of a pair of nice days to take a drive out the road with some friends, enjoying a picnic lunch and looking for trumpeter swans on the slough.  We didn’t see the swans, but I did spot a hooded merganser, some other small ducks, and a lot of eagles swooping around.  We wanted to get back to town (and into cell range) before dark, and we were lucky to catch some alpenglow on the Coastal Mountains across from our island.  Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we get to live in such a beautiful place.

Saturday was the annual “Cookie Walk” at the Lutheran Church, where the men and ladies of the church make their best holiday treats (“made with butter and love” as they say here) and lay them out on several long tables.  Other ladies are in the kitchen making krumkake for sale too… hot and fresh.  Everyone gets a to-go box and a plastic glove, and then you happily wander around the tables filling your box with your favorite treats.  Cost is calculated per pound, and it goes to support the needy in our community.This weekend was one of our favorite holiday events – the dance recital.  The Mitkof Dance Troupe has a dance school that’s open to children from 3 to 18, teaching ballet as well as more modern dance styles.  Over 140 children participated in this year’s winter recital, showing a wide range of costumes and themes.  The older gals doing ballet en pointe are just lovely, but the little ones melt my heart.  We’re always so impressed by how hard these young people work – on their studies, participating in sports and/or the band and chorus, volunteering in town, and on their dancing.  All three of the recital performances were sold out, as usual, and the rest of the town is just as excited to see the show as the parents and grandparents of the little dancers.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…  but there will be more holiday blogs to come!

Olympic Peninsula’s Wild Beaches

This post wraps up our adventures on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula and in the Olympic National Park.  The variety of land and seascapes really surprised us – there is so much more to see and do here than we expected, and we feel like we only just scratched the surface – we’ll be back. 

Cape Flattery is the north and western-most point in the Continental U.S., and its beauty is rugged and windswept. The area around Neah Bay and Cape Flattery is owned by the Makah Native People, and they have a cultural museum that’s worth checking out.  I don’t envy the fishermen and Coast Guard personnel who have to operate out of Neah Bay!

A little farther south we headed into the woods for the muddy hike to Shi Shi Beach, also owned by the Makah People.  We read different estimates of the trail’s length, and we had to keep moving since the day was getting late and we didn’t want to end up hiking the few miles back in the dark.  The forest was so pretty though, with the late day light filtering through the trees.We eventually came to the overlook above Shi Shi Beach, and we didn’t realize that we’d have to climb a couple of hundred feet down (and back up)… so we decided to savor the beach from the viewpoint, and tackle the hike down another time.The spires out in the water are called “sea stacks”, and they’re found in many places along this rugged coastline.

The next day we headed out to explore more of the famous beaches, starting with the rock-strewn Rialto Beach near La Push, WA.If you love to pick up beautiful rocks, you’ll make yourself crazy here!The ocean-tumbled rocks came in a wide variety of colors and patterns, big and small.  Besides the urge to stop and pick up rocks with every step, it was difficult to walk on the thick layer of rocks.  We couldn’t waste too much time since we wanted to make it out to see the Hole In The Wall before the tide came back in.There were plenty of anemones and tiny sea creatures in the tide pools, and we were smart to wear our tall rubber boots since we lingered just a bit too long and would have gotten wet without them.

Besides the rocks, the beach was littered with massive logs flung ashore by the sea, some with roots that were quite large.  Can you spot Jim in the picture?And then we found this “dragon” on the beach…  pretty cool.Our pockets were rattling, full of rocky treasures as we made our way across the beach and back to the truck.  The constantly crashing surf left a lingering salty haze in the air, and the cobble glistened in the afternoon sunlight.We explored farther down the coast, stopping for a hike to Second Beach.  (Yes, there’s a First and a Third Beach too and some others with more interesting names…  but we didn’t have time to do them all.)  Second Beach was very different than Rialto in that it was just smooth sand with just a handful of rocks.We hiked through some pretty forest, then down a steep trail, and then climbed carefully over this massive tangle of logs to finally reach the beach.Second beach also had a “hole” in the protruding rocks, but the tide was too high for us to get close to it.By the time we got there, the waves were crashing through it – pretty neat!That finishes the highlights of our exploration on the Olympic Peninsula.  Now we’re back home in Petersburg where holiday preparations are well underway.  Stay tuned for scenes of some of the many festivities here in Alaska’s Little Norway – about the best place in the world to celebrate Christmas.

Olympic National Park – Two Rivers

Returning to our adventures in the very large and very spread out Olympic National Park, we spent a great day exploring the two significant rivers on the north side: the Elwha and the Sol Duc.

The Elwha River was once a thriving highway for salmon, a wild river that supported the Klallam native tribe until two dams were built on the river in the early 1900s.  The salmon could no longer migrate upstream, tribal lands were flooded, and the ecosystem was dramatically changed.  Fast forward to the 1990s and Congress finally passed a law to restore the Elwha River.  After years of planning and preparation, the first dam was removed in 2011 and the second one in 2014.  The river now runs wild once again, and the formerly flooded areas are slowly recovering.

After a nice hike down into the formerly flooded basin, we headed farther west to visit the Sol Duc River – another habitat for salmon.  We checked out the waterfall not far from the road first……and then headed farther in to hike the forest and check out the waterfalls higher up.I really liked the triple waterfall and the nice fall color, which appears even more saturated from the rain.  A park ranger told us that there were still some coho (silver) salmon making their way up the river, and we found a great spot to watch them leap up one of the smaller waterfalls – quite an athletic feat!  Here the coho are waiting in a quiet pool, resting before the big effort……which is sometimes successful, but not always.  We groaned when we heard the smack of a fish hitting the rocks and falling back.Still photos don’t convey the forceful flow of the river that these fish have to overcome – an impressive accomplishment!

Stay tuned for much more from the Olympic National Park….

Happy Thanksgiving

I’m interrupting the ongoing tales from the Olympic National Park to wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, partly because autumn is my favorite season and mostly because, among all the different thoughts and emotions that drive my life, gratitude is the overwhelming one.  I’m humbled by how fortunate I am – to have been adopted into a wonderful family, to have been given opportunities for education and good jobs, to be able to travel, to live where I choose and to live the way I want.  Most of all I’m so grateful for amazing friends and especially Jim and our life together.

Growing up, I loved our Thanksgiving tradition.  We always went to dinner at my Aunt Beverly and Uncle Buddy’s place – an apartment over their funeral home.  Yes, a funeral home.  You can’t make this stuff up.  It had a beautiful carved oak banister and stained glass windows, and we usually parked in back and came in downstairs.  Down the ramp.  Past the casket elevator and the always-closed doors of the embalming room.  When I was a little girl I would say to Aunt Beverly, “some day I’d like to take a ride on that elevator!”, and she would say “…and some day, you will.”  (I didn’t get the joke until many years later as I walked by the elevator for the millionth time, and I just about fell over laughing.)  We never saw anything untoward down there – it was just the most convenient way to go upstairs.

Every year there would be a certain amount of kerfuffle in the kitchen between Uncle Buddy (who had a very gruff demeanor) and their housekeeper, a tough Austrian lady named Hanni.  The fuss would be about how much sausage or pepper to put in the stuffing.  No one would dare enter the little kitchen during the dinner preparations – never in my entire life, until Jim was invited to help make the mashed potatoes the first time I brought him around.  Unprecedented!  I had to marry him after that ringing endorsement.Note that Uncle Buddy is wearing a pink shirt and a pale pink sweater.  I never saw him “at work”, but since he had to wear nothing but black in his professional life he chose to wear colorful things in his social life.  He was built like an NFL linebacker, so no one would ever make a snarky comment about a guy wearing pastels.  My favorite was his emerald green silk suit (with the pale pink tie).  Fabulous!

Those Thanksgiving dinners were an odd collection of 20ish family and friends – some real characters, and often a few “strays”.  Sometimes it was a freelance embalmer or hairdresser (the kind whose customers don’t tip, but they don’t complain either)… but that’s part of what made it fun every year – wondering what outfit the Bronx relative would wear, figuring out how to escape Hanni’s smack on the tush (and her comment about one’s weight), and what other people might be there.  Always interesting.

You know how little kids get antsy when these family dinners linger too long?  When we were at that age Dad would take us downstairs to the parlor level and he’d play hide-and-seek with us.  It was a big place, with dividers to make the parlors bigger or smaller, and we’d stay out of parlors where someone was laid out (out of respect, though I always liked how the flowers smelled).

For almost 40 years that was our Thanksgiving tradition, and I still miss it. 

I like Thanksgiving so much that Jim and I got married on Thanksgiving weekend – 29 years ago.  We have no idea how so much time has passed so quickly.  Who are those young, thin people?Even with all the terrible losses of close friends and my brother this year, I still feel grateful – to have had people that I cared about so much in my life.  The pain of their loss is a reminder of the amount of joy we had together.

My cup runneth over, and I hope yours does too.

Hidden Treasures of Victoria, BC

We spent our first winter in the Pacific Northwest on the boat in Victoria, British Columbia – the warmest place in Canada in the winter.  It’s a lovely city, and we were docked right in the heart of downtown, near the beautiful Empress Hotel and Parliament buildings.  The daily arrival and departure of the COHO ferry from Port Angeles, Washington helped us mark the time of day as she blew her sonorous air horns when arriving and departing.  We loved to watch the huge ferry back all the way across the inner harbor in the midst of boat traffic and commercial seaplanes to turn around and head back across the Strait.  We always said, “someday we should take a ride on her.”

And so, finding ourselves in Port Angeles, WA and seeing Victoria across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Hurricane Ridge, we decided to take a day trip over on the COHO.

It was great fun to come into Victoria harbor, passing the long outer breakwater where I once ran out to watch the ship bearing our ADVENTURES arrive.  The somewhat narrow channel is also a commercial seaplane runway, so smaller boats like ours must stay close to a string of yellow buoys.  But the big COHO takes up the whole channel, and the seaplanes have to be patient.

We arrived and met a knitting friend and pen pal, catching up and walking around places familiar from that winter season 4 years ago.  Chinatown is always so photogenic with its tall gate……and the lions.  I love lions.The Telus phone booth in Chinatown has a Chinese style roof on it, and the Asian fruit markets offer a feast for the eyes as well as for the palate!My knitter friend is also a very good photographer, and she linked us up with her photo group on a “Hidden Places in Victoria” walk.  During our winter stay we walked all over the city, but never found any of the treasures the photo guides showed us except for the wonderful wall murals of people in windows that look so real.Little alleyways led us to other wonderfully painted walls……secret Zen gardens, and a helpful warning.We ducked into an alley that we must have walked past many times, and found shops and activity.  It’s a gamble to put a business in such a hard-to-notice place!I think my favorite “hidden treasure” was the parking garage.  The garage itself wasn’t hidden, but the stairwell used to get to the various levels had some funky lights at each landing, and a touch-sensitive bar over the handrail……where people can “play” the lights.  Each landing made different sounds, and we listened as an experienced local performed a nice solo on one of the levels.  Our group’s attempts at an ensemble were not successful – it takes a little practice.

Near the waterfront we found a funky statue that I particularly liked……because if you’ve ever felt a cold, wicked wind it would look a lot like this.  The statue was located near the repair dock for the adorable little water taxis that fill the harbor on summer days.We wrapped up the photo tour, and got to spend some time just admiring the beautiful fall color……and the orca topiary at the Empress Hotel……and savoring a hot cup of tea and long conversation with my dear friend.  We had a perfect day, and we caught the COHO back to Washington on the last day of the late sailings for the season.  Victoria is such a lovely small city, and if we weren’t so smitten with Alaska we would love to spend more time there.

The Olympic Peninsula, WA

I apologize for neglecting the Blog for a few weeks.  When that happens it usually means we’re having so many adventures that I can’t keep up with the photographs.  After our Stikine River trip we were busy getting the boat ready for winter, and then we headed out in the RV to explore Washington’s Olympic peninsula – Port Townsend, Port Angeles, and the Olympic National Park.We started at Port Townsend, camping right on the beach where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets Puget Sound, on the site of the former Fort Worden.In the photo below you can see the Point Wilson lighthouse, a tall radar that tracks shipping in the Strait and the Sound, and Mount Baker (in the distance on the right).Fort Worden is a lovely property, now used as a conference/event center and a woodworking school.  Besides its fame as the shooting location for “An Officer and a Gentleman”, it was an important artillery installation for coastal protection in the early 1900s.

We hiked around the concrete structures where the 10″ barbette guns were mounted and fed with ammunition.  The guns weighed 63 tons each, and could fire a projectile up to 7 miles!  These guns were designed and built in 1898 – and we were amazed at the technology available at the time to build such weapons.There were a number of gun emplacements as well as some mortar wells nearby.  We tried to imagine the thunderous noise when these guns were fired.  Many of the Fort’s guns were removed around 1918 to serve as railroad-mounted weapons for WWI, and the rest were decommissioned in 1945 since ships and eventually aircraft could do a better job of coastal protection than the stationary guns.

We hiked all over the Fort’s grounds, through forest……the parade ground, and the artillery museum.  Living in the land of glaciers, we’re attuned to signs of glaciation so we were quick to spot the impacts of ice ages on the land.  Scientists believe that glaciation began about 2 million years ago and that the region has had at least 6 cycles of advancing and retreating since then.

In addition to the Fort, we enjoyed walking around the town of Port Townsend checking out the shops and cafes, and especially the wooden boat school.

From Port T we headed west to Port Angeles, on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and across from Victoria, British Columbia.  Port A became our base of operations to unhitch the truck and do some exploring, and our first stop was the ranger station in the Olympic National Park to figure out how to best spend a week.  Olympic is a huge park with mountains, rain forests, and wild beaches.  It’s much more spread out than we appreciated, and we left plenty of things for future trips.

We headed up to Hurricane Ridge for some hiking, and got a quick reminder that we’re used to living at sea level!  Ah, but the views were gorgeous and worth some huffing and puffing.If you look closely at the above photo you can see Victoria in the middle distance, and the town of Port Angeles on the lower right.  We were so happy to have perfect weather after the cool rainy summer.  We even enjoyed watching the Olympic chipmunks (a distinct species)……and deer……and beautiful wildflowers.This was just the beginning of exploring the park.  Stay tuned for much more, and a bonus day trip to Victoria, BC.