The Big Melt

We were really beginning to wonder if winter would ever leave us!  Admittedly, I enjoyed more chances to go snow shoeing this season… …there’s such great terrain behind the airport, and as you climb higher the views just get better and better.  I even happened to catch the afternoon jet taking off in front of Petersburg Mountain.On the other hand, the constant snow dumps and occasional warm-ish days resulted in 4-5″ of solid ice on the roads, and sidewalks were completely impassible.  The town is pretty good about spreading small gravel and grit on the ice for traction, and we were careful to wear our ice cleats most of the time.  Everyone looked like little old ladies, walking with tiny mincing steps, and we accidentally walked right by friends since we all had our heads down, watching where we put our feet.

But still… the snow is pretty, and the lengthening daylight has perked up people’s moods.  It’s nice to see the sun set closer to dinnertime, and I like the changing angle of the setting sun.I’ve been watching the birds in the harbor carefully since March is the time when some of our winter residents start to migrate farther north, and we begin to see some transients and summer residents start to arrive.  The long tailed ducks won’t be here much longer, and the males have been getting a little frisky.

I’ve been watching ravens tearing up sisal mats on the fishing boats, flying off with big clumps of material for their nests.  And this particular pair of surf scoters look like they’re in love – can you see the heart shape on the back of one’s head?Fortunately the temps have started to warm up – goodbye winter (we hope!), and now the snow and ice are melting pretty quickly.  I suspect we’ll see some of the big snow piles hanging around for a few weeks, but we can walk on bare pavement once again… bringing a mess home with all the little gravel bits that get stuck in our boot treads.  Spring means that it’s time to get working on the boat projects in earnest, and I got things rolling with some inside varnish work.Next up is a big job to pull new control cables for both engines, and then replacing all the sanitation hoses and valves.  Fun times!  But the days are getting a lot longer, we’re shedding layers of clothing and we’re hoping to see some things start to sprout soon.  The deer have been wandering all over town looking for things to eat – all the snow has been hard on them.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Taking a short break from ducks and ice crystals, I headed down to Tacoma, Washington to attend Madrona – a knitting and spinning retreat.  Madrona is like graduate school – with superb teachers, advanced topics, and serious students.  For me, it’s a treat to spend a long weekend with other crafty people, sharing and learning and inspiring one another.If you don’t think knitting is cool enough to blog about, just check out this picture I found from the Winter Olympics.

Knitters (and spinners) are women, men, young, old, and everything in between.  Everyone wears their hand-knits, and the variety is staggering, ranging from very traditional items to contemporary asymmetrical garments in vibrant colors.  Everything goes.  But the absolute BEST part about the knitters and spinners is the rampant kindness and consideration.  The world needs a gigantic dose of knitterly polite-ness!  People go way out of their way to be gracious to one another – it renews my faith in the human race.  I think the reason for this is that a knitter (or a crafter of any kind) appreciates the effort another crafter puts into their creation.  It might be the ugliest color or style you’ve ever seen, but the person who made the thing obviously likes it and worked hard to create it.  Knitters appreciate that effort and pride in the finished product – they express their genuine admiration based on empathy.  This spirit of kindness and support creates a magical environment – it makes you feel like you can do anything.

Tacoma is one of the top spots in the U.S. for art glass, and the Hotel Murano does a great job showcasing an amazing array of glass works throughout.  Even the sinks in the ladies room are beautiful pieces of glass.This is my third Madrona, and it’s always a challenge to chose just a few classes to take.  Each one is like drinking from a fire hose – covering background and history as well as pure technique, so it’s best not to overdo it 

My first class was to learn about Roositud (pronounced “rosey tood”) – an Estonian inlay technique for embellishing knitted items.  Here are some examples from our teacher Nancy Bush.Each student got some different colored yarns, and we knitted little cell phone bags to practice creating the inlays.  On a more serious project, we would probably use slightly thicker yarn to cover better, but here’s what my finished sampler looks like… I think I need a lot more practice!In between classes I enjoyed taking a break and drooling at all the pretty yarns in the marketplace……and I actually resisted buying any (because I have plenty at home). The effects that dyers are creating these days boggles the mind.

It’s also fun to see all the different spinning wheels – a lot of people spin fiber into yarn with a simple drop spindle, a traditional spinning wheel, or a small tabletop electric wheel.It’s not easy to travel with a spinning wheel, but plenty of people brought theirs so they could take classes, and it was interesting to watch people sit and spin by the hotel’s fireplace.

I took a class from one of my favorite teachers – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee – to learn to fix more complex knitting mistakes without unraveling days of knitting (which I have done plenty of times!).  We started with a plain swatch of knitting and tortured it in various ways.  What a confidence boost!  There are so many things that can be fixed after-the-fact, even adding forgotten cables or lace stitches.  It’s hard to believe that the mangled mess in the photo below was restored so you couldn’t tell that anything untoward had happened to it.  It’s a big time-saver, and reduces the amount of salty language that is sometimes needed to get through the creative process.Near the yarn market was an open area for a variety of demonstrations and expert Q&A.  My favorite was watching the lady who produces “knitted glass”.She does it by weaving wax pieces together to form a knitted “fabric”, then forms a mold around the wax, heats the mold to remove the wax, and casts the glass.  Yowza!In the photo above, the red is wax, and the light blue piece is glass.

The class I was most excited about was six hours learning techniques for constructing traditional gansey sweaters taught by a teacher that my Mom took a class from years ago – what fun!There are a lot of interesting and practical techniques used in this type of British fisherman’s sweater, particularly the cast-on edge, underarm gussets, and the decorative strap that connects the shoulder seams.  Each student created a tiny gansey as we worked through all the construction elements, and the lecture was dotted with bits of history.  Wonderful!  I’m inspired to design a gansey for Jim now, with motifs that reflect where and how we live.  The teacher – Beth Brown-Reinsel – also teaches other types of traditional European knitting styles, and I enjoyed the various samples she had for us to look at.My head is buzzing with inspiration, but my favorite part is the wonderful people I’ve made friends with at these Madrona gatherings – amazing people from all walks of life!

More Winter Beauty

The snow has continued to fall, though we’ve started getting some sunny days now and then.  The panoramas are so beautiful throughout the day as the light changes.  The sun is still fairly low in the sky, making a shallow arc over the mountains but the days are getting noticeably longer – by over 30 minutes a week.  We got out on cross-country skis to explore the area above the airport, enjoying views of the Coastal Mountains, Frederick Sound, and Petersburg Mountain – which you can see in the background behind Jim.Nothing beats a little fresh air and exercise to counteract the effects of hibernation!  Two days after we went skiing we had even nicer weather so I took the snow shoes and more cameras out for another tromp over the snowy muskeg.  The skies were sunny but it was much colder, and I’ve observed that when temps drop into the teens hoar frost will start to form… like tiny ice flowers.  I’ve run out of superlatives to describe the scenery, so I’ll let the photographs speak for me.Sunny days also make it nicer for photographing birds in the harbor, and I spotted some wigeons and teals in an area where I don’t often look.  Of course the long tailed ducks are everywhere, making their funny calls as they dive for food.And I found some red breasted mergansers near the docks to the south of us, with their spiky head feathers and red eyes.It has been so cold that even the birds are wearing woolly things!

Winter Wonderland

It has been snowing all week here, with just a few breaks in the action… so our world is a very pretty winter wonderland!  The first two days of snow were just around freezing so the snow was heavy and wet – snowmen cropped up all over town.  Thankfully the temps dropped a bit and now the snow is fluffy – much easier to shovel or sweep, and we have a little more time to get the accumulation off the very top of the boat before there’s a risk of warmer temps or rain which would increase the weight.

Of course school is still in session, though people were hoping for some cancellations so they can get more time to play in the white stuff – taking snow machines up on the logging roads, x-c skis or snow shoes out on the muskeg.  The weekend is almost here!

In the Lower 48 you have Groundhog Day, but up here today is Marmot Day.  Alaska likes to do its own thing.  People also have a good sense of humor about stuff like the tsunami warning last week.There has been a lot of discussion about the actual threat of tsunami this week, and the scientific consensus is that a big Pacific wave just can’t make its way back here to us.  On the other hand a big earthquake could loosen the face of the nearby Coastal Mountains, and if that happened we’d be inundated pretty quickly.  A senior meteorologist from NOAA’s Juneau weather service office gave a presentation Wednesday, and we discussed options for boaters.  Even the relatively narrow Frederick Sound close to us would be a safe place to escape a wave since water depth has a great deal to do with surviving a tsunami wave (if we could get out there in time).  Let’s hope we never have to find out personally.  Suffice it to say that the entire region is breathing a huge sigh of relief that the earthquake turned out to be the horizontal slip type – which doesn’t move much ocean water, rather than the kind that causes tsunami waves – and would have resulted in widespread loss of life in the outer coastal communities.

Short daylight and slippery walking makes it easier to hibernate in our snug boat and, in my case, knit like crazy.  I’ve been lazy and haven’t gotten out to photograph as much as I should… though I did get out to capture some of the long-tailed ducks behind the boat.We’ve also had a lot of Pacific loons this winter – more than usual, and they look so different in their muted winter colors.Mergansers and Barrow’s goldeneye, scoters and other diving ducks also fill the harbor, and the resident blue heron tends to sit on the far end of the dock hunkered down and looking less than pleased.  We don’t see the sea lions as much since the harbor is fairly quiet, but a friend watched a sea lion wrestle with a 70 lb. halibut the other day, folding it in half and making quite a meal of it.

I went over to Sandy Beach Park when the snow was fresh one morning, and found plenty of deer tracks.  Our friend who lives fairly close to the park reported finding moose tracks through his yard, and he spotted some very rare lynx tracks on a more remote piece of property along the Sound.  We may not get to see the critters, but the snow tells us a lot about what is moving around.  Moose coming this close to town is a real surprise.

The park has a “troll bridge” built in Scandinavian style, and it looks so pretty in the snow.I paused at the point where the Wrangell Narrows meets Frederick Sound, and the views were sublime.  This is what we get to see every day, and we never get tired of the ever-changing beauty.The community continues to keep busy with the “Meatball-palooza” pot luck last week, and the traditional Lutefisk Dinner at the Sons of Norway next week.  Four of our young men just earned their Eagle Scout medals – which is pretty impressive for a community of only 2500 people.  The high school play (a melodrama) had us rolling in the aisles last night, and the two teams our high school sends to the state-wide Ocean Science Bowl in Seward did a great job practicing their presentations for the town this week.

Now it’s time to get out and shovel the decks since the snow has stopped for a little while…

Tsunami Warning

I was lamenting the fact that we’ve been having a pretty quiet January – a welcome change after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but making it hard to find something to Blog about.  I’ve been sort of hibernating, doing a LOT of knitting and hoping for snow that actually stays around so we can go out and play in it.  We had one beautiful snowfall, but the temps jumped up and the pretty white turned to rain and ice.

We finally had a little Blog-worthy excitement last night.  The harbor staff knocked on our boat around 0120 this morning to wake us up and tell us about an active tsunami warning.  We tuned to KFSK on the radio to find the normal overnight BBC broadcast replaced by familiar (somewhat sleepy) local voices.  At least one of them was awakened by rumblings from the 7.9 earthquake that was centered 175 miles SE of Kodiak.We started pinging for updates, as well as some of the other NPR stations in more vulnerable communities such as Kodiak and Sitka.  Note all the angry red – that’s the area of active tsunami warning immediately after the earthquake.  It might be hard to spot, but I put a small white dot in our approximate position near the eastern edge of the red warning area.  In theory we should be pretty well protected deep in the inner channels of the Inside Passage, but I’ve learned a long time ago that Nature makes its own rules, and it doesn’t always pay attention to “theory”.

KFSK advised us to prepare to evacuate to high ground if the tsunami siren went off.  We dressed in warm clothing and made sure we had our phones, wallets and flashlights handy.  We decided that we’d grab our laptops too, if we heard the siren.  Fortunately it only takes a few minutes to get to higher ground – everything is uphill from the harbor. 

We got the all-clear at 0320 this morning, so we went back to bed and had to read for a while until we felt sleepy again.  From our perspective, our community’s response to the threat was just great, and all we lost was some sleep.  We’re all so relieved that the more vulnerable Alaskan communities were spared, and we hope things stay that way.

I Only Have Ice For You, Dear

Right around Christmas the weather pattern changed and we had a week of temps in the low teens, with crystal blue skies.  It’s really beautiful, and felt pretty warm in the sunshine – even though the warm light is fleeting.  The sea water temperature, warmed by the Japanese Current, remains in the mid-high 40s all year ’round, so the super-cold air temperature makes the harbor steam.  It’s the perfect condition for the formation of hoar frost!  Ice crystals start to form, growing every day……building layer by layer, making a sparkling diamond-like crust on everything – it’s so beautiful!There’s no snow in these scenes – it’s all frost that has grown very thick.  The creeks also freeze solid, making it nice for ice skating or for Mother Nature to create interesting patterns.I was pretty cold photographing the frost, but the crystals are breathtaking – delicate prisms, angles, and clusters like flowers – I could have spent hours out there (but I had the sense to go home when I couldn’t feel my hands anymore).  The low angle sunlight made a warm glow on the frosty scenes, contrasting sharply with the deep blue light in the shade.We only get to enjoy these magnificent crystals for a few days, and though warmer temps were a welcome change on New Year’s day, I miss the sparkles.Here’s what the frost looks like on Day 1……and here’s how it has grown in just a few days.  Stunning!