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!

Wrapping up Christmas in Petersburg

Julebukking and the Community Holiday Concert wrapped up the holiday season here.  The concert showcased a variety of musical talent, including Jim singing with the Oxford Carolers.Jim has really gotten into baking – not the healthiest hobby – but this year he was very generous and (thankfully) gave most of his homemade cookies away as gifts.  He also won the boat category for best holiday lights from the Chamber of Commerce, though there was virtually no competition.  He keeps upping his game every year hoping to inspire others to decorate their boats, but since most of the boats in the harbor are commercial fishing boats…

The inside of the boat has been decorated, and we even have a “boat tree” made by my old Sea Scout buddy – it’s perfect.Many of you keep asking about Julebukking… so besides reading the link to Wikipedia, I’ll just say that it’s a chance for all the local businesses and organizations around town to say thank you to all their customers.  They offer cookies, treats, things like smoked salmon, cold cuts, cheese, veggies, fruit and usually some kind of punch.  Each business tends to have something special that they do, and the hosting events are spread across the calendar, leading up to Christmas.  It means days of gastronomic debauchery for all of us…The airport had a nice spread, though it gets a bit crowded if you come too close to flight time.  The hardware store had a fabulous selection this year, with meatballs, wings, pickled herring, smoked salmon, lefse… and everyone’s favorite: “moose milk”, made with softened ice cream and White Christmas liquor in a 5 gallon paint can, shaken in the paint shaker.Coastal Seafood had huge piles of shrimp – cajun and regular, and the pharmacy had their usual – fantastic pastrami sandwiches… served by Santa’s elves.We went to Christmas dinner with friends, many who also live aboard boats in the harbor.  Our hosts almost had a disaster with the Christmas ham.  A few days before Christmas their refrigerator was pretty full and the weather was quite cold, so they set the ham in the garage.  A moment’s inattention leaving the garage door open was all it took for the ravens to find the ham and just start to attack the wrapping.  The ham was saved before they got it open, but you have to move fast because the ravens are faster.

It was a nice holiday, but now we’re tired – trying to shake the sugar addiction and eating lots of salad!  The days are slowly getting longer – we gained another 2 minutes since yesterday.  We’ll take every minute we can get.

A Little More Christmas in Petersburg

Oh, we’re not finished with the big ramp-up to Christmas just yet… but here’s another installment of holiday goings-on in town since the last posting.

Pretty twinkling lights have popped up all over, and the store fronts on the main street are particularly creative and festive.Santa’s Mailbox is out, and it’s fun to watch the young folks sharing their wishes.  Their letters are copied and published in our weekly paper before they’re forwarded to The North Pole – to Santa’s Workshop.  We were struck this year by how many little children asked for things for their brothers or sisters, and even for their parents as well as for themselves.

Santa and Mrs. Claus made a surprise visit to one of our knitting groups…Oh… he really gets around.  Last Saturday he came to the Community Center by helicopter!  (He’s a busy guy, so sometimes it’s better to take advantage of a quick ride while the reindeer are resting up for the big night.)

The Sons of Norway sponsored the annual Pickled Herring Contest – well attended, and with several repeat winners who have come up with new variations of pickled and smoked herring and other seafood dishes.

The Sons of Norway also held their Christmas dinner – the Julbord – serving turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, and a huge variety of side dishes and fantastic desserts (baked with butter and love!) brought by the 200 members who attended.The Middle School and High School bands held their holiday concerts, complete with sing-alongs and a rockin’ jazz band.  Music director Matt wore his best elf hat (complete with pointy ears), and everyone was impressed at the progress the Beginner Band (6th grade) made.The Clausen Museum had an open house last Sunday, and the Oxford Carolers performed – a group that Jim sings tenor in (he’s hiding in the back row).“Toots and Squeaks” also played – recorders and a violin to get everyone in the spirit of the season, to go with lots of treats and new artwork by people from around town.I spent last Saturday in the pouring rain and cold wind at the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  Despite the usual awful weather we’ve had every year, it’s a lot of fun to team up with other birders and do our part for Citizen Science.  I’ve learned about lots of great little spots to find birds on the island, as well as techniques and tips.  If you wear good warm layers and waterproof gear, bring several towels to dry binoculars with, and you bring your thermos of hot tea or coffee – it’s a great way to spend a day.  Our groups spotted 46 different species of birds on count day.

The Winter Solstice was two days ago – the shortest day of the year (though yesterday was just as short).  Technically the sun rose at 8:27am and set at 3:13pm, but it takes a while for the light to come over the mountains in the morning, and it ducks below them a little earlier in the afternoon.  All this low angle light paints the mountains a golden-rose in the mornings and a warmer pink in the afternoons – the alpenglow has been fantastic.  We celebrate the Solstice particularly because it means that from now on, every day will be a little longer.  We’ll start gaining 5 minutes a day in another 6 weeks or so.

There’s still more Christmas to come since Julebukking is now in full swing.  We just came back from Julebukking at the airport, and we’re off to see the new Police station and to sample their treats.  Tomorrow is the hardware store and my favorite… “moose milk”.. so stay tuned.

In the meantime, we wish you all Peace and Joy this holiday season.