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 ( 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!