Shy Bears

It’s peaceful out here on the water, without the usual cruise ships and small tourist ships and charter boats. The marine radio and the anchorages are quiet – the waterways are largely the domain of the locals this summer, so we’ll visit some places that have been “discovered” and aren’t often as solitary as we like. Red Bluff Bay on the east side of Baranof Island is one such place – a stunning inner bay surrounded by mountains and silvery cascades, with a big roaring waterfall and a lush green “bear meadow.”

The entrance to the bay is marked by distinctive red cliffs along Chatham Strait.

According to my geology book, the unusual red rocks are ultramafic – the exposed roots of volcanoes raised by oceanic plates shoved against each other. There are about 25 spots like this within the Alexander Archipelago (southeast Alaska).

Once we thread our way among the small islands protecting the entrance, there’s a roomy outer bay with some rusty vestiges of an old cannery, and snow on the north-facing slope – all the way down to the tideline!


The real gem is the inner bay, partially hidden by a narrow pinch between heavily forested shorelines.

As you enter the inner bay you can’t ignore the roaring waterfall – 500-600′ tall.

I flew the drone to give you a better feel for this magnificent place – mountains and meadow and falling water.

The head of the bay is very shallow – you might have noticed the brown areas adjacent to the green meadow – that’s the tide line. It’s a perfect place to explore by kayak, and even better at this time of the year since it’s when bears are out eating sedge grass. One evening we scanned the meadow with binoculars and spotted 10 brown bears.

I found that the bears here were very skittish – even with the generous distance I typically keep from them in the kayak, they were not comfortable. Bears will stand up to get a better look at things sometimes…

…and though it’s a great photo op it’s also a sign that I needed to give them more space. If I didn’t move off they would have bolted into the woods. They’re hungry and they need to eat, so I backed away until they stopped checking to see where I was. You might have noticed that there weren’t any bears in the drone video – that’s on purpose. First of all, the drone’s view is so wide-angle that it’s difficult to see something even as big as an 8′ brown bear. Second of all, bears don’t like drones – they can hear them but can’t see them, and they will leave the area. Out of respect for the bears, I only flew when the meadow was quiet.

A sow and her two second-year cubs were frequent visitors to the meadow – we saw them several times a day, but even with her bigger cubs she was extremely skittish and ran back to the forest even when I was quite a distance from them.

As soon as I saw how intolerant she was of my presence, I stayed away from her part of the meadow. Some photographers will do anything to get “the shot”, but that’s not the ethos we have when we’re in nature.

Fortunately there was plenty more to see up close – mergansers and harlequin ducks, this curious seal…

…and a couple of mink. I saw this one jumping into the stream, grabbing something and then scampering back up the rocks to eat it.

The wildflowers were starting to bloom – no chocolate lilies just yet, but shooting stars and buttercups lined the creek shore.

We had a great few days all by ourselves in this lovely place – we are so blessed to be able to do this. It’s always hard to leave a pretty spot, but there are other pretty spots waiting to be savored. And of course, whales to keep us company on the way.

Wrangell Narrows

I think it’s time to shift gears and show you a little more of the scenery around Petersburg, Alaska. This little video shows you some of the Wrangell Narrows just south of downtown. It starts out looking towards the north with Petersburg Mountain reflected in the morning calm water, then takes a little peek towards Petersburg Creek on Kupreanof Island, then turns west and south down the Narrows. Enjoy!

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Be patient. Keep washing your hands. Stay home. This isn’t over yet. It’s devastating for so many with life and financial issues, but it’s better than dying, and better than killing other people by being selfish or careless. Covid-19 is complex and insidious and much is still not known about it. While some people can have it and be asymptomatic, others may experience it as a nasty flu – but it can and does kill indiscriminately. Anyone can die from this.

Saturday, my 55 year old cousin Ed passed away from Covid-19. He was a strong, healthy guy with no underlying conditions, but it took this sweet man away from us in three short weeks. The story in his local paper talks about him and this awful virus. His wife and two sons tested positive, but so far they are okay… Just utterly heartbroken.

Science is what will get us through this. Facts, not conspiracy theories and politics. This is a time to think about others, not just ourselves. Selfish behavior will only help to spread this monster, and will enable it to continue it’s killing spree.

Please, no comments or opinions. Just stay home. Wear a mask when in public – because the health (LIFE!) of everyone is worth far more than the inconvenience of wearing a small cloth on your face. Wash your hands. And pray for all those impacted by this virus.

It’s a Long Winter

Where have we been? It has been too cold or wet or slushy to enjoy outside very much this winter – meaning that there weren’t too many opportunities to take photos and none for flying the drone. This winter has been particularly gloomy – overcast and precipitating for all but three days in January. When it was nice outside, it looked like this!

And when things started to melt, it looked like this…

Huge icicle

We had a little bit of hoarfrost when the temps got really cold for a week, but even that didn’t last long.

February hasn’t been much better, weather-wise. It snowed, it rained, it melted and got slushy and froze again overnight. Repeat. Despite the weather our community remained vibrant though – busy with exercise classes, science lectures, volunteer gigs, an awesome concert by Gideon Freudmann on the electric cello, and the annual Lutefisk Dinner at the Sons of Norway.

Now, lutefisk is an acquired taste – I remember my Dad saying how much he hated it as a young boy. Frankly, I’m not sure how many people in town actually LIKE it, but we are Norwegians and we eat lutefisk because that’s what good Norwegians do. And at the annual Sons of Norway Lutefisk Dinner they also serve ham. Whew. It makes giving thanks for our dinner a little more heartfelt.

The BEST part of the Lutefisk Dinner occurs beforehand, when lots of people gather to transform balls of potato dough into that most lovely of Norwegian treats – lefse. Rolled thin with lots of flour and cooked on a special griddle, carefully turned with a narrow stick – flat on one side and slightly curved on the other… lefse is an art. We eat it smeared with butter and dusted with cinnamon-sugar (or just sugar, for the purists), still warm… mmmmm. I love that every year we teach others how to make it, and share the effort to produce about 500 of these yummy Norske crepes to accompany our dinner. The joy of the lefse takes some of the misery out of eating gelatinous fish! (Okay – so the fish isn’t all that bad, some people really like it, and I shouldn’t comment since I don’t even eat fish of any kind, no matter what.)

It’s all about tradition, man.

Rolling lefse

I was able to get “off the rock” for a long weekend to attend the fiber arts retreat in Tacoma – Red Alder, successor to Madrona. As always the classes were inspiring and informative. The yarns for sale in the marketplace were delicious – colors and fiber combinations that were impossible to resist! (I did resist, but only a little.)

These yarns are dyed in colors inspired by different National Parks!

Besides some advanced technique classes, I took a class about dyeing wool with lichens commonly found in the Pacific Northwest from the fabulous Judith Mackenzie.

Judith Mackenzie

Living in the middle of a National Forest full of lichens, I’m anxious to explore the colors I can produce. The lichens can even be fermented to get different colors. I predict lots of experiments in my future. I’m “dyeing” to try it out!

Lichens readily found in my backyard

Over 70 different sheep breeds and samples of their fibers and the yarn spun with them were on display…

…I was just disappointed we couldn’t meet some of those nifty sheep in person!

Of course, knitters and spinners and weavers aren’t always devoted to wool… sometimes we kick up our heels and get a little crazy. To support three international charities, the organizers held a fundraising Disco Night with dancing, costumes and woolly door prizes.

Crochet pants – yowza!

The thing I love most about the Fiber Retreat is the diversity of people, styles and skills. It’s a place where everyone is happily wearing their handcrafted things, and we shower one another with admiration – for an interesting pattern, for a color choice, or just for how nice something looks on someone. We all have something to offer one another if we just open our eyes and our ears and our minds. We share, we smile, we laugh, we lend a helping hand – and we each leave so much richer for it.