Glacier Time

Tracy Arm is a dramatic fjord that’s about a day’s run from Petersburg, and we decided to check out the ice conditions to see if we could make it up to see the two Sawyer Glaciers this early in the season.  Often the Arm is so choked with ice that it’s impassable until early-mid July, but this time it didn’t look too bad and we saw that a few smaller tour boats and one cruise ship from Juneau were going up.In the photo above, the two bergy bits were about the size of our boat, and the cruise ship in the distance is 948′ long – just to give you a sense of scale for this fjord!We even have a playlist of big bold classical music to play when we go up – it seems fitting for the grand scenery.Unfortunately the brash ice was far too dense for us to get around the last point to see the face of the larger South Sawyer Glacier, though we could see the upper part.  Access to the smaller North Sawyer Glacier was pretty clear though, so we were able to approach the face keeping a good distance from the many seals hauled out on the calved ice.The Sawyer glaciers are very blue – the color almost looks fake, but that’s what it really looks like.After the long day’s run up and back, we chilled out in the anchorage, watched a sub-adult brown bear clamming on the beach……and I headed out in the kayak to check out some of the large bergy bits that were aground at the mouth of the cove.I never get tired of looking at the ice – so many colors and patterns.  Some is white and some is clear and some looks blurry.  I’m careful to stay clear of floating bergy bits in case they roll, and I’m also wary of overhangs that could break off… but anytime I can get close and study the ice I’m happy.


Party Like a Viking

Before heading out for summer cruising, we stayed in town long enough to enjoy the annual Little Norway Festival.  This year marks the 60th anniversary of Petersburg’s celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17 – Syttende Mai) where we party like vikings for four days.  (No self-respecting viking would party for just one day.)Vikings and valkyries come in all shapes and sizes……and they can use different kinds of transportation to get around.  Note the clumps of moss growing on their bus.  But ultimately, vikings prefer ships…  big ones, little ones, and even tiny ones.People come from far and wide to enjoy the festival, including Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor (riding on the truck pulling the big viking ship), as well as Norway’s ambassador to the US.The Norwegian ambassador has been to Petersburg a number of times now… he says that in Norway they only celebrate Syttende Mai for one day, so he likes our style better.  He’s also been here to bestow a special medal from the King of Norway to our harbormaster Glo. 

Norwegian culture is also featured throughout the festival, with our young Leikerring Dancers…….and members of our Sons of Norway lodge who wore their traditional folk costumes (“bunads”) around town.  The lodge also hosted a “fashion show” of over 70 different bunads for men, women and children from all over Norway, unique to each region.Other cultures celebrate the Little Norway Festival too, with the unveiling of a story pole at the Library carved by a famous Tlingit carver and drumming by the local Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in the parade.We tried our hand at rosemaling – traditional Norwegian tole painting, decorating little wooden doves.We had a good time painting and learning, interrupting our artistic efforts just in time to watch the volunteer fire department challenge the police department in a contest to see who could pull a fire engine faster – “guns vs. hoses”.  The “guns” (police) team won.The children’s fishing contest filled the north harbor docks with little tykes who learned to fish at an early age – these kids are serious!  The herring toss and viking games were fun to watch, and of course there were plenty of Norwegian treats to eat (“made with butter and love”).

But we’ve been tied to the dock far too long, and it’s time to “fly”…

Springtime in the Muskeg

“Muskeg” is what Alaskans call a bog, and we have a lot of it – covering more than 10% of southeast Alaska.  Clay or bedrock prevents an area from draining, and decomposing vegetation builds up and forms peat – a gigantic acidic sponge that holds water, covered by a top layer of sphagnum moss.  The moss can hold 15 to 30 times its weight in water – impressive stuff!  If you build a house in Petersburg you have to put it on pilings to keep it from sinking into the muskeg, which can be as much as 20′ deep!Because of the acidic mossy soil, trees (such as these shore pines) are stunted and twisted.  It seems like an inhospitable place, but there are many wildflowers that love the environment such as buckbean, labrador tea, and my favorite – the bog kalmia.Spring also brings the roundleaf sundew to the muskeg – a carnivorous plant.  It’s pretty tiny and can be hard to spot, but if you look closely in the photograph you’ll see the little droplets on the ends of its “mouths”.We’ve gotten out to hike a few times this spring, and I particularly like trails that switch between muskeg and forest.Notice the yellow flowers on the side of the trail boards?  They’re another spring arrival – skunk cabbage.  Their leaves will grow quite tall and large over the summer, unfolding from a tight center.The plant starts out with a large yellow blossom – something deer like to snack on….…and it seems to prefer wetter low-lying areas, creating a bright splash of color against the deep green of the forest.Skunk cabbage is sort-of edible, but it will cause raging diarrhea.  Normally this is not a good thing unless you’re a bear that has just awakened from hibernation – then it’s pretty useful to help “wake up” the digestive system!

Spring also means that the forest’s ferns are unfolding, and the coiled up leaves are called fern fiddles which can be harvested and sauteed or pickled.  I just like to photograph them.No walk in the woods would be complete without a nod to my favorite lichen – fairy barf.  I love the way it looks, and the name is just perfect as I imagine tiny little forest nymphs suffering from too much partying.

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!