Early Morning Light

Finally we don’t have to wait until the third or fourth cup of coffee to see some beautiful sunrise light on the mountain tops! The reward for early morning exercise classes (Tai Chi on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and deep water aerobics on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays) is that it’s getting light!! Huzzah!!! Moods are perking up all over town, especially when we got a nice dump of the white stuff and it was cold enough to stick around for a while. Snowmobiles on trailers were zipping out the road (they can run on the old logging roads), and cross country skis and snow shoes were finally getting some use.

The BEST treat was clear skies – beautiful stars at night and crystal blue in the daylight. After a long stretch of overcast and gloomy weather, it’s like the world is suddenly in color once again!

One morning the pre-dawn sky was a magical pastel pink just before the sunrise kissed the mountains. We paused our Tai Chi to watch – it was so beautiful. I was frustrated with no camera in hand, so the next morning I headed out before class to try and catch that light again. While I didn’t see that pastel sky, the morning light didn’t disappoint…

Petersburg Mountain

I zipped down to the South Harbor to catch a different angle…

South Harbor and Bearclaw Mountain

…then looked to the north and spotted some light on the Devil’s Thumb (a 9000′ peak that marks part of the US-Canada border) so I zipped up to Hungry Point – at the confluence of Wrangell Narrows and Frederick Sound to catch the view.

Flocks of surf scoters, Barrow’s goldeneye, mergansers and long-tailed ducks were feeding in the shadow of the Coastal Mountains, and the light on the water was a coppery hue.

The light was fleeting… by the time I turned around and pointed my camera back down the Narrows towards town, the magic was gone. All I was left with was the usual beautiful view…

Eagles were perched on some of the light poles as I zoomed to class. Just another Petersburg day.

4:01 pm – Yippee!

Today we cross another threshold in the daylight department – the sun will set today at 4:01 pm. Finally! Every day it’s brighter for a tiny bit longer and everyone is pretty pumped up about it. We’re still happily hibernating, but now we’re starting to feel something stirring. Winter isn’t over yet, but we’re starting to think about spring with great anticipation.

In the meantime, we continue to live in a picture postcard (until the rain came and washed all the pretty snow away.)

Dinner parties are frequent ways to pass the winter evenings, gathering with friends and sharing comfort foods. The best part of these events is listening to people’s stories. We’re still shedding our “cheechakos” (Alaska newbie) label, having lived here for just five years now. But many of our friends have lived here their whole lives, or all of their adult lives. One friend was telling us stories about when he lived way up in Kivalina – a very small island village about 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and about 1000 miles northwest of Anchorage. He and his wife taught at the native school there, and they had a five dog sled team to get around in winter. It’s not the kind of place with easy access to groceries, so subsistence hunting is a necessity. In winter people kept their caribou carcass up on the roof of their houses – because it keeps perfectly well in the frigid temps. When you wanted some meat for dinner you opened a window and whacked off a chunk of caribou. Our friend said that he used a bone saw to cut the piece; a lot of the locals used an axe, and that left bone chips in the meat. The things you learn over dinner!

Another friend asked if they were concerned about polar bears taking their caribou, but he said it wasn’t usually a problem. In fact, he said that sometimes a polar bear would come and socialize with their sled dogs – he knew this because he would find their massive paw prints in the snow by the dogs, but the number of dogs remained constant. Yikes! Polar bears are absolutely apex predators – they look at us and see “food.” But they must have had good seal hunting nearby, and were sated.

Sadly this little native community must relocate, as global warming has caused the sea ice to form much later, and for a shorter period of time. The sea ice protects the island from winter storms, and it provides a safe “land bridge” to get to the mainland in the cold months. Without the ice, the community is inundated by big storms more often, and the island will be uninhabitable in the next few years.

Four Minutes

Four minutes is how much more daylight we’ll have tomorrow, and the daily improvement has perked up spirits around town. We still fight the urge to fix dinner early, but now the feeling hits around 4:30 instead of 3:30.

We haven’t had much snow so far this winter, which is disappointing to people who actually enjoy getting out in it. Snow-machines sit forlornly on their trailers in driveways, skis and snow shoes sit patiently by the door. There’s still time. We did get a few days of temps in the 20s so people got out and skated on the slough, but it was spoiled by a snow storm…

…giving our hibernating selves some exercise shoveling it.

Loon in winter colors

Mostly, it has been a warmer, rainy winter. When we’ve had some sunshine we dashed out the road to enjoy the scenery, and it gave me a chance to photograph Jim in the new custom gansey sweater I made for him. Each of the motifs and symbols on the sweater are either very traditional, or I designed or chose them to reflect where and how we live.

There’s a row of salmon swimming around the sweater. Above that the basket weave motif symbolizes how a small community is woven together, and the wave above it is my own motif because water is such an important element in our lives. The anchor, diamonds, and ladders are traditional motifs, but the trees are styled like the tall spruce and hemlock in the Tongass National Forest where we live. Above the anchor is a traditional motif for the Eddystone Light in Cornwall, England. Down near Ketchikan there is a rock formation called “New Eddystone”, named after that English lighthouse. The rope cables on the shoulder straps and arms also echo our nautical roots. Winter is a perfect time to spend some hours on major knitting projects like this!

…but when the sun shines… we’re OUTSIDE! Everything is so pretty dusted with snow…

…and the mist and alpenglow make even long-time residents stop to savor the view.

Eating and Singing

Those two words pretty much sum up the holiday season Petersburg-style. Julebukking continued, with the largest number of places hosting on Christmas eve. The Rexall drug store had their fabulous pastrami sandwiches, the electronics shop had chili, the gallery had a big spread, the Trading Union had a huge spread, and Hammer’s Hardware had the best… great food and “moose milk”.

Julebukking in the hardware store
Smoked salmon

“Moose milk” is a dreamy concoction of softened vanilla ice cream and White Christmas liqueur put in a 5 gallon paint bucket and mixed in the big paint shaker.

The 5 gallon paint shaker put to good use!

The result is poured into a silver punchbowl and served with a sprinkle of nutmeg.

One of the other businesses hosting Julebukking this year was Synthesis Metal Shop. Josef is not just a welder and fabricator, but he’s also a very talented artist. He served traditional krumkake and lefse, home-made venison jerky and cucumber sandwiches, and he had a gingerbread BOAT (with a welded aluminum frame underneath).

His shop was full of artistic creations and I’ve seen boats that he’s built, but the highlight was this octopus he made (welded, not cast) for his marine scientist girlfriend.

While all this Julebukking was going on, Jim was busy singing with the Oxford Carolers group, spreading holiday cheer up at Long-term Care in the hospital, then moving to some of the different julebukking venues… the bookstore, Cedar Box, hardware store (pausing for a sip of moose milk), pharmacy, Trading Union grocery store, and the art gallery.

Caroling in the Pharmacy
Caroling in the art gallery

And if that wasn’t enough, the Oxford group organized a Community Concert where over a dozen different musicians and groups sang and played to a packed house. Just in case you weren’t feeling the holiday spirit enough, the concert definitely did the trick.

As we’ve walked to and from all these events around town we’ve been seeing river otters playing on the dock more often. They’re cute, but they tend to be party animals and they leave a mess. They’re pretty wary and we’ve only seen them when it’s dark out. We try to walk by and not disturb them too much but they usually snort at us and dive into the water. It’s important to stay alert on the dock in the dark because you never know what’s in the shadows. Sometimes a blue heron suddenly takes off with a loud squawk when we pass by – I’ve been pretty startled walking down the dock half-asleep in the early mornings.

We gathered with dear friends for Christmas eve and Christmas day dinners, and Jim really out-did himself making a jule log dessert.

A few days after Christmas we were invited to the annual White Elephant party, where 26 people gathered to surprise one another with tacky gifts that are then traded around. The rule is that you MUST take whatever you end up with home… if you leave it behind you won’t be invited back next year. We chuckled, we giggled, we howled, and we cried laughing so much. People were really good about embracing awful gifts, wearing ugly hats and wigs with pride.

The pink flowery wig was pretty popular, as awful things go. Never take yourself too seriously.

As I write this I’m listening to our local radio station, KFSK, and Orrin announced that we’ve gained 5 minutes of daylight since the Solstice! Unfortunately it has been hard to tell that the days are getting longer since we’ve had a relatively warm and very rainy winter so far. The rain isn’t so bad, but the gloom from the heavy overcast skies is getting old. On Friday we had thick fog (the street lights never turned off all day), and Alaska Airlines couldn’t land one of the two jets that day. We knew people flying back from Seattle who got as far as Wrangell (the nearest town on another island), and the group of Petersburg-bound passengers had to hire a boat to take them the rest of the way home. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

Tomorrow we’ll check out the annual New Year’s Day Polar Plunge, though we plan to dress warmly (and in rain gear) and just watch. In the meantime it’s peaceful here. We wish you all a Happy, Healthy New Year!