Shakedown Cruise

The days are getting nice and long – we have over 16 hours of daylight now (still increasing by about 5 minutes per day), and folks in town are feeling pretty perky!  The many gardeners are happily digging in the dirt, and piles of soil and fertilizer and peat are vanishing from the hardware store.  Spring also means band concerts and the annual spring dance recital.  These performances are guaranteed to put a smile on your face as all the hard work and hours of practice come to fruition.  The bands have improved so much since the holiday concerts, and the students are happy to show off their new skills.  The dancers – aged 3 to 18 – delighted and dazzled us for over 2 hours!

We love our community and friends here but we’re cruisers at heart, and cruisers need to cruise.It has been a long winter tied to the dock, and there’s no better sound than the engines firing up to take us out for some adventures.  No matter how many systems we check ahead of time, nothing beats a good shakedown cruise to make sure everything is in good working order.  It’s much easier to make repairs at our home dock than it is to do it in some remote spot.

We were blessed with three glorious days of perfect weather for a little trip to the aptly named Ideal Cove, about 16 nm from town.  We waved at the Steller sea lions that love to drape themselves all over the buoys – groaning and napping and playing King of the Mountain.We didn’t see any whales on our way there, but we did see some nice bergy bits from the nearby Le Conte Glacier.In addition to stunning views of the Coastal Mountains from the cove……another attraction is the crabbing!Jim put his pots out and got 22 keepers over two days.  Of course, all that “free” food requires quite a lot of work to clean, cook, and pick.  The result was about 15 cups of picked crab, and the secret is to freeze it in milk.  When you want to use it, just let the milk drain away but don’t rinse the crab meat. 

While Jim was crabbing I was kayaking, and managed to get closer to some of the creatures we had been watching from the boat.  I found one of the river otters eating something under a big rock……and I’m happy to report that the black bears we saw were all healthy looking, even a little rolly-polly.Eagles, mergansers, buffleheads, bonaparte gulls, teeter-tails, and sandpipers kept us company, along with an occasional visit from a harbor seal.  It was a perfect way to test the boat’s systems (and stock the freezer), and to re-learn the different pace of life away from town.The boat ran well – we only had to replace a salt water washdown pump (which we suspected was wonky), and I had to dive under the boat and clean off the depth sounders.  Now it’s time to fill up the fuel tanks and cast off the lines for the summer!

Oh Deer, and Birds!

Winter has given way to spring.  We still have a little snow and ice on shady trails, and once in a while the overnight temps dip below freezing.  Still, I’ve thinned out the selection of woolly hats and gloves, keeping just what we need for cold windy rides in the dinghy or visiting glaciers through the summer.  Easter was a beautiful day, making it nice for children to hunt for eggs outside.  Of course, the ravens are also wise to Easter egg hunting, and they enjoy stealing as many as they can before the little ones get to them.

Many of the spring flowers that have emerged are showing signs of nibbling by the deer.  In fact, the deer are still hanging around town a bit.  I guess the snow hasn’t melted enough at higher elevations, but it’s time for them to move on.My friend Karen has a particular soft spot for all living things.  She puts out seed for little birds like the siskins, and even the neighbor’s chickens come over for a snack.We’ve been immersed in boat projects this spring, including replacing all the sanitation hose in the boat (46′ of it!), plus valves and a few other things.  The sanitation hose project was pretty disruptive, but dear friends Karen and Don invited us to stay at their house while we worked on the messy project so we could relax in the evenings.  We ended up having a blast with our friends, especially watching the deer come out of the woods every morning.  Sometimes 6 or 7 come out of the woods (including fawns), and occasionally they look in the windows. We’ve still got a lot of other projects going on – there’s plenty of chaos, but the call of the cruising season is strong and we’re really looking forward to casting off the lines and getting out – that keeps us motivated.

Other signs of spring are around, and on one pretty day I took a drive out the road to get a last look at the trumpeter swans before they migrate north for the summer.  As luck would have it, they were halfway between the Swan Observatory and the fish hatchery, but I did get to see a pair of them at a distance.  The slough was still partially frozen, so the rest of them might be closer to the salt water where it’s easier to feed.The snow has mostly melted off the muskeg, though a few tiny ponds still have some ice on them.  The long-tailed ducks have all left and the loons are starting to change to their pretty summer plumage.Speaking of migrating birds, the town of Cordova, AK has a migratory bird festival every May, and their local yarn shop is sponsoring a project to collect hand-crafted birds from all over the world to display during the festival.  Birds can be serious or whimsical, and it will be fun to see all the contributions once the festival begins in about two weeks.  I sent them two birds – one is a funny knitted “Peters-Bird” with a Norwegian sweater and Viking helmet, and the other is a needle-felted Atlantic Puffin that I made when we were in Nova Scotia.At the moment the town is anxiously awaiting the sandhill crane migration – they should be flying overhead any day now, and the radio station has promised to announce any sightings.  In the meantime the annual flamingo fundraiser has begun, with flocks appearing in people’s yards.It’s a $10 donation to have someone “flocked” for a day, and the “flock-ee” is encouraged to make another $10 donation to get the flock removed.  You can buy anti-flock insurance for a $15 donation, and all the proceeds go to our local animal shelter.

The Big Melt

We were really beginning to wonder if winter would ever leave us!  Admittedly, I enjoyed more chances to go snow shoeing this season… …there’s such great terrain behind the airport, and as you climb higher the views just get better and better.  I even happened to catch the afternoon jet taking off in front of Petersburg Mountain.On the other hand, the constant snow dumps and occasional warm-ish days resulted in 4-5″ of solid ice on the roads, and sidewalks were completely impassible.  The town is pretty good about spreading small gravel and grit on the ice for traction, and we were careful to wear our ice cleats most of the time.  Everyone looked like little old ladies, walking with tiny mincing steps, and we accidentally walked right by friends since we all had our heads down, watching where we put our feet.

But still… the snow is pretty, and the lengthening daylight has perked up people’s moods.  It’s nice to see the sun set closer to dinnertime, and I like the changing angle of the setting sun.I’ve been watching the birds in the harbor carefully since March is the time when some of our winter residents start to migrate farther north, and we begin to see some transients and summer residents start to arrive.  The long tailed ducks won’t be here much longer, and the males have been getting a little frisky.

I’ve been watching ravens tearing up sisal mats on the fishing boats, flying off with big clumps of material for their nests.  And this particular pair of surf scoters look like they’re in love – can you see the heart shape on the back of one’s head?Fortunately the temps have started to warm up – goodbye winter (we hope!), and now the snow and ice are melting pretty quickly.  I suspect we’ll see some of the big snow piles hanging around for a few weeks, but we can walk on bare pavement once again… bringing a mess home with all the little gravel bits that get stuck in our boot treads.  Spring means that it’s time to get working on the boat projects in earnest, and I got things rolling with some inside varnish work.Next up is a big job to pull new control cables for both engines, and then replacing all the sanitation hoses and valves.  Fun times!  But the days are getting a lot longer, we’re shedding layers of clothing and we’re hoping to see some things start to sprout soon.  The deer have been wandering all over town looking for things to eat – all the snow has been hard on them.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Taking a short break from ducks and ice crystals, I headed down to Tacoma, Washington to attend Madrona – a knitting and spinning retreat.  Madrona is like graduate school – with superb teachers, advanced topics, and serious students.  For me, it’s a treat to spend a long weekend with other crafty people, sharing and learning and inspiring one another.If you don’t think knitting is cool enough to blog about, just check out this picture I found from the Winter Olympics.

Knitters (and spinners) are women, men, young, old, and everything in between.  Everyone wears their hand-knits, and the variety is staggering, ranging from very traditional items to contemporary asymmetrical garments in vibrant colors.  Everything goes.  But the absolute BEST part about the knitters and spinners is the rampant kindness and consideration.  The world needs a gigantic dose of knitterly polite-ness!  People go way out of their way to be gracious to one another – it renews my faith in the human race.  I think the reason for this is that a knitter (or a crafter of any kind) appreciates the effort another crafter puts into their creation.  It might be the ugliest color or style you’ve ever seen, but the person who made the thing obviously likes it and worked hard to create it.  Knitters appreciate that effort and pride in the finished product – they express their genuine admiration based on empathy.  This spirit of kindness and support creates a magical environment – it makes you feel like you can do anything.

Tacoma is one of the top spots in the U.S. for art glass, and the Hotel Murano does a great job showcasing an amazing array of glass works throughout.  Even the sinks in the ladies room are beautiful pieces of glass.This is my third Madrona, and it’s always a challenge to chose just a few classes to take.  Each one is like drinking from a fire hose – covering background and history as well as pure technique, so it’s best not to overdo it 

My first class was to learn about Roositud (pronounced “rosey tood”) – an Estonian inlay technique for embellishing knitted items.  Here are some examples from our teacher Nancy Bush.Each student got some different colored yarns, and we knitted little cell phone bags to practice creating the inlays.  On a more serious project, we would probably use slightly thicker yarn to cover better, but here’s what my finished sampler looks like… I think I need a lot more practice!In between classes I enjoyed taking a break and drooling at all the pretty yarns in the marketplace……and I actually resisted buying any (because I have plenty at home). The effects that dyers are creating these days boggles the mind.

It’s also fun to see all the different spinning wheels – a lot of people spin fiber into yarn with a simple drop spindle, a traditional spinning wheel, or a small tabletop electric wheel.It’s not easy to travel with a spinning wheel, but plenty of people brought theirs so they could take classes, and it was interesting to watch people sit and spin by the hotel’s fireplace.

I took a class from one of my favorite teachers – Stephanie Pearl-McPhee – to learn to fix more complex knitting mistakes without unraveling days of knitting (which I have done plenty of times!).  We started with a plain swatch of knitting and tortured it in various ways.  What a confidence boost!  There are so many things that can be fixed after-the-fact, even adding forgotten cables or lace stitches.  It’s hard to believe that the mangled mess in the photo below was restored so you couldn’t tell that anything untoward had happened to it.  It’s a big time-saver, and reduces the amount of salty language that is sometimes needed to get through the creative process.Near the yarn market was an open area for a variety of demonstrations and expert Q&A.  My favorite was watching the lady who produces “knitted glass”.She does it by weaving wax pieces together to form a knitted “fabric”, then forms a mold around the wax, heats the mold to remove the wax, and casts the glass.  Yowza!In the photo above, the red is wax, and the light blue piece is glass.

The class I was most excited about was six hours learning techniques for constructing traditional gansey sweaters taught by a teacher that my Mom took a class from years ago – what fun!There are a lot of interesting and practical techniques used in this type of British fisherman’s sweater, particularly the cast-on edge, underarm gussets, and the decorative strap that connects the shoulder seams.  Each student created a tiny gansey as we worked through all the construction elements, and the lecture was dotted with bits of history.  Wonderful!  I’m inspired to design a gansey for Jim now, with motifs that reflect where and how we live.  The teacher – Beth Brown-Reinsel – also teaches other types of traditional European knitting styles, and I enjoyed the various samples she had for us to look at.My head is buzzing with inspiration, but my favorite part is the wonderful people I’ve made friends with at these Madrona gatherings – amazing people from all walks of life!