Winter Green

It’s mid-May, and today the temperature never quite hit 50. Add some on-and-off rain all day and it was pretty raw and chilly to be outside, trying to enjoy the Little Norway Festival. Where is spring?? Will we have a summer? Last year it was cold and rainy all summer… and we don’t want a repeat of that!!

We had a 12 day stretch of glorious weather in mid-April – oh, we all thought Spring had well and truly sprung and we could start working on the boat. Job one was to scrub all the green from the outside of the boat that accumulated over the wet, soggy winter. It took three days of scrubbing to get ADVENTURES clean, and many of the boats in the harbor were starting to look pretty spiffy as well.

The promise of spring spurred a lot of action on the docks, with people loading up their toys to transport to their summer cabins.

Look at those blue skies!! With long days (15-16 hours of daylight) and sunshine the whole town launched into a frenzy of activity, unleashing all that pent-up energy from the long dark winter. In the end, I was sort-of glad to see the rain return just so we could rest a little.

In the meantime, we received the very happy news that we won permits in the state lottery for the McNeil River Bear Sanctuary near Homer, Alaska. Those permits are very hard to come by, and we won the first time we tried! We’ll join 8 other people for four days of up-close-and-personal time with brown bears. Really close. McNeil has the largest seasonal concentration of brown bears in the world.

The challenge of McNeil is that there’s nothing there except a little cook cabin and a couple of outhouses. We’ve borrowed a sturdy tent from friends, and we did some experimenting with freeze-dried food to keep things simple and lightweight. Note the expiration date. Actually, the food we tested was much better than we expected, so we ordered a variety of meals for dinners. We’re very weight-restricted for the float plane trip over to McNeil, so every little bit counts.

Jim checked out our old camping pads and some newer sleeping bags, and they should keep us warm enough in the exposed coastal delta at McNeil.

We’re pretty excited for the McNeil adventure, and I can promise that I will bore you with oodles of bear photos when the time comes.

Before we hang out with the bears, it’s time for a shakedown cruise to test the boat’s systems. We had two sets of friends hauling their boats out in the boatyard in Wrangell – the next island town about 40 miles from here. We decided to cruise down there to give them a hand with a few projects, and just to spend some time with them. The boatyard is a fascinating place, with a few pleasure boats and lots of fishing boats – big and small. Other Petersburg friends were there with their fishing tender – the MATILDA BAY – 180 tons of steel, seen below being picked up by the 300-ton travel lift. Yowza!

The propeller on MATILDA BAY weighs 850 lbs, and they had sent it down to Seattle to be re-worked. It was a happy day for her owner Sherry when it arrived on the barge, looking all shiny and new.

The excitement happened when the yard started to put the prop back on the boat, and as they maneuvered it into position the sling slipped off the forklift. 850 lbs. came crashing down, slicing owner Kurt’s sock and shoe, and shaving a little sliver of skin from his ankle. It could have easily sliced off his foot. The bad news is that one blade was bent, but he was able to heat the tip and bang it back to true. You have to pay attention in the yard!

It was a wet, cold week in the yard, but we got a lot accomplished and had fun spending time with our friends. Cinco de Mayo occurred on the only dry day of the week, so we postponed our party to the following evening. Knut made margaritas…

…and it didn’t take long for us to inhale good food and nod off on the sofa.

We completed our busy spring with a Field Day for Fish & Game’s basic gun safety program. We enjoy target shooting, and I’ve found that it has improved my telephoto photography. It was a cold day at the range, but our local State Trooper, Forest Service and Fish & Game folks put on a superb class.

So it has been a very busy “spring” and now we’re itching to get back out on the water for the summer… rain or no rain!

No Fooling!

The only prank we’ve experienced today is from the weather. Seriously. We’re used to changing conditions up here, but today has had the wackiest weather ever. We’ve had snow, falling slush, rain, brilliant sunshine (that never lasted for more than 10 minutes), then a blizzard, then melting like crazy, then another blizzard, then rain, now bright sun trying to burn through thin clouds. Welcome to April – let’s hope it’s an improvement on March, when we had measurable precipitation (primarily snow) Every. Single. Day. And all this snow isn’t even the nice kind that we can go play in. It’s just the wet, sloppy slushy mess that slumps right off the trees. Where is Spring???

The good news is that we’re gaining daylight at a rate of 5 minutes per day, and we’re up to 13 hours of daylight today. The poor flowers are so confused with all that daylight and too much snow and slush.

I haven’t been blogging because there hasn’t been much to go out and photograph in the rain and wet snow. I do have some beautiful frost crystals that I photographed on one day in late January or early February – that’s how long it has been since we’ve had a decent day of weather. Most of the hoar frost was gone, but I found these feathery crystals in one little spot. I photographed one with my ring so you can gauge the size. All were shot with a macro lens so you can see the structure of the feathery crystals. Enjoy.

We’re hoping for some clear skies soon… it has been a while since we’ve seen the moon and the stars. Here’s the last moon-set I saw back in late January.

Please… we need Spring! No fooling.

Happy Marmot’s Day

In the Lower 48 today is Groundhog Day, but up here in Alaska it’s Marmot‘s Day. We like winter – nothing beats some nice snow and crisp temps so we can get out on the snow shoes or cross-country skis, or up on the logging roads on snowmobiles, or on the slough with ice skates if we get a long enough cold snap. Did the Marmot see his shadow today? I’m not sure – there aren’t that many hours of daylight to make a shadow. But as long as there’s some snow and sunshine, it’s okay if he did see his shadow.

We FINALLY (pronounced with great drama) got some snow and a couple of cold clear days – proper winter weather! So far, most of this winter has been ceaseless rain and moderate temps – useless for getting outside to play. But when the snow flies and the sun shines…

Devil’s Thumb mountain

…it can be magical. Fortunately the temps dipped down below 20F, so hoar frost started to form. The kettle ponds that dot the muskeg (Alaskan word for bog) freeze over so there’s no danger of falling in, and the frost makes beautiful patterns.

Kettle pond and Petersburg Mountain
Close up of hoar frost patterns on the ice
Super close-up of ice crystals

The views from the top of the hill above town were spectacular – I could see the water of Wrangell Narrows as well as Frederick Sound and the Coastal Mountains. Our red church spire was all that rose above the trees around town.

As much as the wide view was grand, the hoar frost kept distracting me. I tromped around the muskeg on snow shoes most of the afternoon, captivated by millions of glittering crystals.

Tiny twig with hoar frost crystals
Notice the crystal structure!

In the photo just above, you can really see the angular shape of the crystals. This is just 24 hours’ of formation – if we get temps that persist in the 20s or below, those crystals would continue to grow. Sadly, the temps warmed up a bit and the hoar frost was a fleeting gift. But still… the panorama was lovely, and you can see the tracks where someone headed off towards the NW on skis.

January has been a difficult month, with too much sad news from family and friends. Jim’s Dad passed away at 96, living life to the absolute fullest. And we know too many people who are battling serious illnesses at ages too young to comprehend. It teaches us to savor every day, every smile, each thing of beauty. And so we do, because sometimes it’s all we can do.

Each day the light disappears behind the mountains, but we know with certainty that it will return again tomorrow.

Darkness and Light

The “dark days” have been upon us for a while now, though the promise of the approaching Solstice gives us hope, as it marks the date when the days will start getting longer once again. Today we’ll have less than 7 hours of daylight.

Every day the tide ebbs and floods – some days it’s a smaller change and sometimes it’s a huge change (depending on the moon), but we know that when the water leaves it’s only for a while – it always returns… and so does the light.

We’ve had a lot of “darkness” these days – Covid of course, the election, inflamed racial tensions (although recent events are helping to shine a light on what has been going on for far too long – that gives me hope), etc. Locally, Southeast Alaska has had epic rain storms for the past couple of weeks – feet of rain, not just inches. Petersburg had over 8″ one day and over 5″ another day – it has been pouring rain for quite a while. Landslides are now a significant danger all around southeast Alaska, with several communities impacted – none as badly as Haines, about 130 miles north of us. Two people are still missing after a massive landslide obliterated their home early one morning. The road out to a number of houses was severely damaged, along with the water and sewer lines. 50 families have been evacuated to hotels and shelters in case of further slides. When the big slide first occurred, people stood on the shore in the dark, freezing temps and howling rain storm and shined a flashlight to signal for help. Others jumped in their boats and patrolled the shoreline in those bad conditions, watching for a flashlight beam. I love to see the way a community comes together in times of difficulty – it’s a beautiful thing in the midst of horrible things.

So this time of the year we think a lot about light – savoring its beauty when we have it, and creating as much of our own when we don’t. This year the town’s Christmas tree is better than ever, with extra lights installed by our power line crew.

Christmas is a big deal in Petersburg, and although the town is making some concessions to Covid, nothing can keep us from finding ways to celebrate. The annual town tree lighting was a more subdued event this year, with no parade and two “showings” of the tree lighting. The organizers added a little skit with some familiar characters, and Santa’s arrival by fire truck to make things a little more fun for the young folks.

Masks and family groups keeping some distance from others, plus fancy lighted batons and lighted balloons made the annual event fun and special despite the safety restrictions.

Sons of Norway Hall lights reflect in the slough – photo contributed

We’re all about the light around town. Holiday lights go up early (some even before Thanksgiving), and they stay around well into January. People like it, and no one thinks that’s tacky. Timers are set to turn on the outside lights on homes and businesses in the morning as well as the afternoon, since the sun isn’t up until around 8:30am, and it’s long gone by 4pm. We put lights up for ourselves and for our community. We all try to bring some light for each other in these dark days – one way or another.

We just heard on KFSK (“fish head radio”) that the annual Community Holiday Concert will happen this year, though the performers will be isolated and it will be presented by live-stream only. We’re all missing the festive band concerts and dance recital, and who knows how Julebukking will happen, but we know creative minds will come up with something to celebrate the holidays as best (and as safely) as we can.

We wish you Peace, Health, and Joy this holiday season, and hope that we all continue to shine a light in the darkness.