Holidays in a Small Alaskan Fishing Town

20141225 4049 boat xmas tree rI’ll continue to share a few photos from our holidays in Petersburg as we wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year.

People often ask us if we have a Christmas tree on the boat, and of course we do – it’s a boat-sized tree made for us many years ago by my old Sea Scout friend.  We enjoyed a quiet Christmas morning together, then joined a gathering of about 15 people for a pot-luck Christmas dinner – it was a perfect day, though the promise of snow turned into rain with warmer than expected temperatures.

Jim was busy baking his famous monster cookies, but I had to keep reminding him that Christmas is all about sharing them.20141221 3983 monster cookies rWe finally had a day without some rain so I could photograph the Sons of Norway hall – first at low tide on the slough…20141224 4004 son hall and low tide slough rAnd then at high tide.20141224 4009 sons of norway christmas high tide rOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe haven’t had many decent weather days in a while, though Saturday and Sunday were clear and cold with bright sunshine – finally!  We loaded up the cameras and decided to head “out the road” to see some birds, but lots of other people were out enjoying the good weather with their dogs, so the birds were pretty scarce.  We enjoyed hiking and exploring new parts of the island, and with the crisp temperatures the fallen leaves and the swimming hole were kissed by frost and ice.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe muskeg meadows were misty and frosty, and it was great to take the time to notice nature’s little details like this Spanish moss on the evergreens.20141227 4028 spanish moss macro rWe made it all the way to the end of the road on the island, making lots of stops to explore along the way.  The sun was getting ready to dip below the mountain but it still cast a nice light on the snow-capped mountains across the strait.  We loved the views with every twist and turn of the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next day was clear and cold again, but we had a bit of fog in the early morning which froze into a very thick frost that covered the dock and everything.  I’ve never seen frost that thick, and it was very tough stuff since it remained intact even after two days of people walking on it.  The frost made everything sparkle like diamonds – so pretty.20141229 4045 thick frost rAnd from the beauty of nature, we turn to the insanity and/or hardiness of the people of Petersburg as the New Year is celebrated with a Polar Plunge.  Let me note that it’s a miserable rainy day – about 44 degrees which, coincidentally is the same as the water temperature!  Despite the weather, quite a number of people came out to take the plunge.  A safety swimmer was geared up and ready in his dry suit and the Volunteer Ambulance Corps was present… just in case.  The brave souls lined up on the launch ramp dock…20150101 4075 polar plunge brave souls rAnd someone counted down to the moment of truth!20150101 4077 polar plunge jump 1 r20150101 4078 polar plunge jump 2 r20150101 4080 jump 3 rMost people couldn’t get out of the water fast enough…20150101 4085 polar plunge get me outta here rBut a few folks paddled around for a little bit, enjoying a little harbor swim.20150101 4092 polar plunge swimmers r

Merry Christmas

The holiday season continues in full swing here in Petersburg with more concerts, a holiday fun run, the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, and wonderful hospitality from new friends.  We were walking down the street after working out at the community center the other day when we were gently herded into the home of new friends Grant and Lila for some conversation and some fresh-from-the-oven Norwegian kringle.20141219 3980 norwegian kringle rThe kindness and warmth of the people we’re meeting here is remarkable, and we’re enjoying learning more about the area and about the culture.

Petersburg really lives up to its nickname of “Little Norway” at the holidays, with the tradition of Julebukking taking center stage this week.  Julebukking is an old Norwegian tradition that was originally pagan in origin, but was later adapted by the Christians.  In its purest form it’s a little like Halloween at Christmas where people would dress up in costume and visit their neighbors, and the neighbors had to try and guess who they were.  Food and drink featured prominently.  It’s a variation on the idea of a holiday open house, and here in Petersburg it’s practiced by the various businesses around town (and you don’t have to dress up in a costume!).  There are so many local businesses hosting Julebukking that the paper had to publish a schedule of which places are hosting on which days, culminating with 10 different places today.  We finally came home early today – utterly Julebukked-out – but it has been a great way to get to know people in town and we’ve had a ball.  The holiday feeling here is old-fashioned – festive and happy.  People greet each other on the street and hearty wishes of “Merry Christmas!” are everywhere – between friends and strangers alike.

The best of the Julebukking was today at the hardware store where they had a nice spread of noshes, punch, and the feature:  “Moose Milk”.  “Moose Milk” starts with this:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo which you add some liquor named “White Christmas”…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then you put it into the paint shaker…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd when it’s sufficiently shaken (not stirred), you pour it into an elegant bowl, and serve it with a dash of nutmeg on top!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMonday night was a Community Concert where 16 different groups or individuals played a musical instrument and/or sang holiday songs.  To see that many people offer to share their time and talents was heartwarming enough, and most of the performances were extremely good.  Our favorite was a duet by Lila and Grant singing an old Norwegian carol, along with the story of how they learned the song and met as youngsters in Minnesota.

Saturday was our day for the Christmas bird count for the Audubon Society, and I joined a valiant group of volunteers on a cold, rainy, windy day – not the best for seeing a lot of birds.  The scoters are plentiful in the harbor and we’re starting to see some long-tailed ducks, and I’ve been assured that many more are on their way here for the winter soon.20141212 3924 oldsquaw 5 rI was on a little team with a local bird expert currently working on her PhD and a retired Alaska State wildlife biologist – which was fantastic.  We counted the trumpeter swans, buffleheads, mergansers, loons, pine siskins, etc. I got a nice tour of some good hiking and bird watching spots on the island and I learned a lot from them both – well worth enduring the cold wet weather!

We heard our names on the local radio station (KFSK.org) today announcing that we won the Christmas Light Contest in the “boat” category.  There was only one other entry in our category, but a win is still a win!  Jim gets all the credit – he’s the one who does such a nice job putting lights all around the boat and a big red ribbon on the bow.

We wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or as the Norwegians say “God Jul”!20141217 3956 petersburg christmas tree r

Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice – the shortest day of the year and the first official day of winter.  Here in Petersburg the sun will rise in a little while at 8:29 and it will set at 3:13 this afternoon.  It feels odd to see the daylight end so early in the day – we keep feeling like it’s time to start fixing dinner when it gets dark and we have to look at the clock for cues about where we are through the day, but all the Christmas lights around town make the dark hours look sparkly and pretty.

The good news is that starting tomorrow the days will get longer by a noticeable amount – 5-7 minutes per day until the days are crazy-long once again.  The bad news is that the holidays will be over in a couple of weeks and many of the pretty lights will be put away until next year.

This is the second installment of “Life in a Small Alaskan Fishing Town”, and today’s post continues with Santa arriving by helicopter at the Community Center children’s party last Saturday.  He needed a little extra help getting out of the helicopter and he was walking with a cane – apparently he tripped over an elf recently, but he assured us that he’s on the mend and he’ll be in good shape for The Big Day!santa by helicopterLast weekend was also the bi-annual presentation of the Nutcracker by the Mitkof Dancers (Mitkof is the name of the island we live on).  The Nutcracker was put on by 140 dancers from town, including 30 boys, and the ages ranged from 3 to early 20’s, plus one middle aged gentleman who danced Herr Drosselmeyer.  It was OUTSTANDING!  The costumes were excellent – elaborate, creative, and they fit each child perfectly.  The sets were lovely, and the dancing was very good – at least a dozen dancers were in toe shoes.  We were completely blown away by the entire production, and it was a grand way to mark the holiday season.  My favorites were the little ones.  The snowflakes were 3 years old…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd these little sugar plum fairies were only a little older…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen we had “little Chinese tea”…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was plenty of serious dancing and it was very good – the Rat Queen was particularly talented, yet they still found ways to include the younger dancers.nutcracker dancersThese tiny gingerbread gals melted our hearts, and one girl was like a deer in the headlights just standing still.  Her friend’s attempts to get her back into the dance had us crying, laughing so hard.gingerbread dancersOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery performance was sold out and the crowd was packed with more than just the parents of the dancers.  Punch and Norwegian cookies were served in the lobby afterwards, and we left feeling uplifted, festive, and happy.

Next up:  Julebukking.  Stay tuned!

Pickled Herring Contest

Welcome to the first installment of: Life in a Small Alaskan Fishing Town…  specifically “Little Norway” – Petersburg.  We missed a few interesting events while we were traveling, but we returned to a full calendar heading into the holiday season, and first up was the 40th (yes – 40th!!!) Annual Pickled Herring Contest at the Sons of Norway (where I am now a member).  With actual Norwegians and a Swede in my family tree I’m definitely getting in touch with some long-neglected roots and it feels pretty darn good.

I started making snarky comments about the idea of an actual contest about pickled herring, but I was quickly sorted out by my Danish friends in Maryland who informed me that pickled herring is a WONDERFUL THING, to be enjoyed, appreciated and cherished, and maybe they would look for a decent airfare to come out here and join in the fun.  I’m learning!

20141210 3873 norwegian doll r

So despite the fact that I do not eat seafood or fish of any kind (I really don’t like it though Jim does) we headed over to the Sons of Norway Hall to expand our cultural horizons.  By the way, I’d like to point out that the Sons of Norway Hall in Petersburg was built in 1912 and it has been in continuous use for over 100 years.  It was beautifully decorated for Christmas, creating a lovely setting for the Big Contest.  I think there were about 150 people in attendance, and the number of people wearing beautiful Norwegian sweaters was staggering!  The nickname “Little Norway” is more than appropriate for this town.20141210 3919 son hall christmas decorations r 20141210 3869 p-h entry rTables were laid out for each type of entry: Pickled Herring, Smoked Salmon, Smoked or Cured Fish, and Pickled Seafood.  There was also a table with appetizers and sweet treats so people had things to nibble on while the contest entries were judged.20141210 3870 p-h pickled herrings r20141210 3868 p-h smoked fish rGiven that 99% of the people attending and competing have been involved with commercial fishing to some extent, the competition was stiff.  The judging took a long time, despite an earlier start than previous years to try and keep things moving along.  The judges really took their time…20141210 3879 p-h judging 2 rAnd eventually the winners in each category were announced.  We were proud to see our Harbormaster Glo win the coveted Pickled Herring award after 23 years of entering the contest!20141210 3893 champion rAfter waiting patiently for about an hour the crowd was finally allowed to eat the entries, and it didn’t take long for the platters to be picked clean.20141210 3904 p-h everybody eats rWe had a good time and met more people from town, including the President of the Sons of Norway.  In fact, when we first arrived I wanted to try and find her to introduce ourselves as new members.  Coincidentally she was near the door and we met her right away, and I kept thinking about that good bit of luck… until I thought about it some more and realized that we were the only strange faces who came through the door – so we must be the new people in town.  Duh!

Next on the calendar is the Nutcracker put on by 140 dancers from this town of about 2000 people, followed by the Julbord Feast at the Sons of Norway and the school band concerts.  Petersburg really does the holidays in a big way, and we love it!

Major Road Trip

This is the last post I need to get the blog caught up with real time – I’ve been behind for quite a while, and new things to blog about are piling up as we experience the Holiday Season in a Small Alaskan Fishing Town (which is really awesome, just to give you a hint).  After zooming down to Washington to retrieve our car and ferry it (literally) back here to Miktof Island in October, we quickly had to get ready for a major “road” trip (which involved a bit of flying to get things started).  We were heading back to the east coast for a good friend’s wedding, to visit family and friends, and to spend Thanksgiving with Jim’s Dad.

It takes two days to fly from Petersburg to The Rest of the World – we flew to Seattle the first day, and then on to Baltimore the second day.  Flying is tricky these days since we had to keep within the 50 lb limit for our one checked bag each, and we needed clothing for a month that included: wedding clothes, northern clothes, and Florida clothes, plus enough camera gear and knitting to keep me from having withdrawal symptoms.

The wedding was fantastic, and it was a perfect, beautiful late fall day with some trees still in full color. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA20141116 3833 bobs frankie rWe packed a ton of visits into a short amount of time but there were a number of people we wanted to see that we just didn’t have time for, which is frustrating.  We ran ourselves ragged and Jim ended up with a sinus infection, but we had fun despite the crazy schedule we made for ourselves.  We spent a little time with my brother and his wife and their dogs – this one is Frankie.  I got to watch my beloved, heart-breaking Giants with my brother, and laugh because we made many of the same comments at the exact same time through the game.

We vowed to take one day of our time in the Washington DC area to enjoy a museum – there are so many wonderful ones, and we chose the Udvar-Hazy Center – an extension of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum that’s located next to Dulles Airport.  It has been on our wish list for years, so we finally went… and it was outstanding.  The first aircraft you see, front and center, is the SR-71 Blackbird.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was so exciting to be able to get so close to see it, as well as the extensive collection of planes throughout the history of aviation.  Jim loved seeing the F-100 and F-105s – which he worked on when he served in the Air National Guard in Vietnam.  We also got a kick out of some of the  displays, particularly this one… an example of out-of-the-box thinking.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe number and variety of aircraft was staggering – from the actual Enola Gay to the Concorde, small planes and big planes, modern and antique.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There was more than we could absorb in one visit, so we’ll definitely go back the next time we’re in town.  My favorite was the Space Shuttle DISCOVERY.  I was at Cape Canaveral for her maiden launch in 1984, and I have a little flag that flew on that mission – so it was special to see her once again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe could see into the hangar where more aircraft were being restored, and we were just so impressed by the magnitude and quality of the museum.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe got to see one of Jim’s brothers and and one of his sisters, as well as a niece and nephew and all the spouses – we always have a lot of laughs.  We visited friends at their weekend house in West Virginia and had fun splitting logs, running around on their ATV, and catching our breath after too much visiting and eating and sitting around.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA20141126 3838 linda and ed rFrom the chilly mid-Atlantic we drove down to sunny Florida to see Jim’s Dad for Thanksgiving.  In the “small world” category, we made the happy discovery that our Canadian boating friends from the Northwest were in nearby St. Petersburg on their RV, so we met them for lunch and a very happy reunion.

Unfortunately Jim’s sinus infection was still hanging on, and the new medication that his doctor prescribed didn’t agree with him, so he ended up skipping Thanksgiving dinner since he was still pretty wobbly… poor kid.  He took another day to rest and was feeling well enough to go visit some other boating friends who just crossed the Gulf of Mexico from Florida’s panhandle.  We strolled around Tarpon Springs and ate wonderful Greek food and toured around in the dinghy.  My friend Carol is my best birding and photography buddy, and we got to see the pelicans and the young wood storks.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey have faces that only a mother could love, but it’s neat to see the feathers on the edge of their wings – a pretty iridescent green-black.  Some snowy egrets and a few blue herons were hanging out around a fish cleaning table, and the pelicans were smart to sit beneath the table’s drain pipe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe warm sunny Florida days were lovely, but we’re acclimated to Alaska weather now and sometimes it felt a little too warm.  Two years ago we would be in jeans and long sleeves at 70 degrees… now we’re comfortable in shorts.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw another of Jim’s brothers and another sister down in Florida, but ran out of time to see some of my Florida cousins.  Sunny and Jim spoiled us with their usual killer hospitality, and we enjoyed the time we spent with everyone very very much.

Bringing Our Car to Petersburg

I’ve often mentioned that the communities on the Inside Passage in southeast Alaska are interesting because you can’t get to them by road (with the exception of Haines and Skagway, way up in the northeast corner – but they’re a very long way from anywhere).  Even the state capital, Juneau, is only accessible by boat or plane.  Once we wrapped up the cruising season it was time to go down to Washington (state) and get our car for the winter.  As I describe the process of getting the car here, you’ll be convinced that we’re crazy to go to all that trouble so we can drive on the whopping 35 miles of road (aka the Mitkof Highway) on the island here.  The car will give us access to more hiking and snow shoeing trails, and it will be vital for taking all the camera gear to one of the parks on the north end of the island to photograph stars and the aurora on clear cold nights.  To get it up here, we need to fly to Washington, get our car, and drive it up into Canada to meet the Alaska State Ferry in Prince Rupert.  At this time of the year the ferry only runs once a week so we had a VERY tight schedule to keep.

The first step was to fly down to Seattle.  Since we would be returning with the car we could do some shopping in the Lower 48, and we were armed with long lists of things we needed from big box stores, things that are expensive to ship to Alaska, or things that are just hard to find.  Flying from Petersburg on a 737 we took the “milk run” with stops in Wrangell and Ketchikan on the way to Seattle, and it was a “combi” flight.  A combi is a plane that is half cargo, half passengers and we have a lot of those kinds of flights around here.

We rented a car in Seattle and spent the day running errands, then up to Blaine (at the US/Canada border) for dinner with boating friends, picked up our car, and then spent the next day running around nearby Bellingham with our long shopping list.  We had so many stops that I used an online tool to calculate the optimal route among them all!  It was hectic, but by 8pm we declared success.  Total road miles between places so far: 90 (not including all the running around).

The next morning we drove 340 miles from Bellingham to Walla Walla to visit friends in the southeast corner of Washington.  Along the way we had a check engine light and we caught a rock that cracked our windshield.  Sigh.  We got to Walla Walla (so nice they named it twice!) late on a Thursday, and we only had Friday available to get the car repaired if we were going to make our ferry in Canada.  We got lucky with repairs, had a wonderful time with our friends, and then began the 3 day drive to the ferry terminal in Prince Rupert.  The first day we drove 460 miles up the east side of the Cascade Mountains into British Columbia and stopped in Kamloops for the night.  We passed miles of farms – primarily apples, cherries and grapes (wine!), with trees in fall color (this was back in October).  With election day approaching we saw plenty of signs, including some for candidates for Coroner (you can’t make this stuff up).  Here’s a map to show our entire route:car ferry trip to pburgThe next day we drove 325 miles from Kamloops to Prince George, BC, going over mountain passes with snow and passing lots of signs to watch for various kinds of wildlife.  We’re used to seeing signs about deer and even moose, but the Dall sheep and wolverines were new ones for us.  The roads were basically 2-lane, fairly lightly traveled; traffic was primarily logging and construction trucks, and once a week a number of cars heading for the ferry.  We got into Prince George early enough to pick up some tire chains at Princess Auto, and to rest up for the last day of driving – 450 miles to Prince Rupert for a total of 1665 car miles in a week.  Whew!

The ferry departed at 0700 the next morning and we had to be at the terminal by 0500 to check in and clear Customs.  Fortunately we decided to get a little cabin on the ferry for the 17 hour trip to Petersburg, so we were able to catch up on sleep and rest since scheduled arrival in Petersburg was 0300.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlthough the weather was bad, the 352′ ferry TAKU managed to give us a pretty good ride, even crossing Dixon Entrance into Alaskan waters.  We had a few hours layover in Ketchikan, but we stayed aboard to nap, watch a movie, and to give me time to finish a magazine article before the deadline.  It was a gloomy, rainy day – perfect for a little rest. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe woke up when we felt the ship starting to wiggle-waggle through Wrangell Narrows around 0200, so we just got up and watched the Captain navigate the narrow passage and were glad we weren’t in our boat trying to share the same channel as the big ferry.

The ferry ride was another 265 miles in addition to all the driving, giving us a total of 1930 miles for this little adventure.  We arrived home to our boat after 8 days away, and we had 6 days to get unpacked and re-packed for the next adventure.