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.

Short November Days

We’re down to 8 hours of daylight, still disappearing at a rate of more than 4 minutes per day. The good news is that we don’t have to get up early to see the sun rise; the bad news is that we have to fight the urge to fix dinner at 3:30 in the afternoon once the sun sets.

Mornings can be so beautiful – the pre-dawn light is pastel pink…

… and when the sun rises above the Coastal Mountains, the early light kisses the snow-capped mountains.

Here’s a short time lapse video to show you what it looks like with a 20′ tide and the shallow arc of the winter sun.

We’ve had snow already, though it hasn’t accumulated or lasted just yet. One sunny afternoon last week we took a drive Out The Road, and saw some of the creeks starting to freeze over.

The edges of the ice show how the crystals form, delicate fingers reaching and branching into the still water.

The days are cold now, but it’s still too early for the bears to den up for the winter. The bears are restless since they didn’t get enough to eat this summer. Recent years of drought caused poor salmon spawning, and fewer mature fish to return to the streams this year. We also had a very cold, wet summer (which made up for the droughts), resulting in a poor berry crop… which all adds up to hungry bears.

In the 7 years we’ve been up here, this is the first year we’ve had problems with bears in town. Lots of problems! They’ve been up on the decks of people’s houses, cubs climb into trash cans – in fact, the worst part of the problem is that sows are teaching their cubs to look for food around humans. We can’t un-teach that lesson to those cubs, so they will keep returning to human areas in search of food.

Fish & Game will try to trap and re-locate problem bears to the other end of the island (35 miles away), but that’s no guarantee that the bears won’t find their way back to town. It’s a sad situation. Last week a cub got down on the dock! The poor thing was so scared, running from the Fish & Game officer trying to net it with no mom in sight. Another only-in-Alaska type of story is yesterday’s local news item – an Alaska Airlines 737 struck and killed a brown bear on the runway in the small town of Yakutat.

So that’s the story here. We’re hunkered down, wearing masks when we need to go to the store or post office, and keeping busy. Stay safe out there, and have a very Happy Thanksgiving.

I Only Have Ice for You, Dear

We love Glacier Bay National Park for the wildlife diversity, but of course we also love it for the variety of glaciers! There are about a bazillion (give or take) glaciers in the park, though many are now “hanging glaciers” that no longer reach the sea. Glacier ice was once snow that fell in the mountains about 200 years ago, compressing into ice that slowly grinds away the surrounding mountains and flows slowly (at a “glacial pace”, naturally) down, bulldozing boulders, rocks and flour-fine silt as it goes. Calving from above and below the water, glacier faces cast off bits of ice, large and small, fanciful, blocky, textured, or glassy smooth.

“Bergy bits” may be crystal clear, white, blue, or they look like floating rocks – encrusted with dirt and grit. Providing a respite for seals, sea otters or birds, the ice is an important part of the ecosystem here.

The “mother” glacier of Glacier Bay is the Grand Pacific, seen below covered in glacial till – rocks, grit and rubble left behind as she has thinned and retreated across the border into Canada. Looking towards the north you can see her snaking down the mountains, still grinding rock and transporting bits of the mountain to the sea.

Adjacent to the Grand Pacific is the showy Margerie Glacier – probably the most photographed of all the glaciers in the park.

The brash ice wasn’t too thick this trip so we were able to get fairly close to Margerie’s face, admiring the unreal blues in the cracks between the icy spires (called seracs). We’ve visited these glaciers over a dozen times over 7 years, but each time is a little different – depending on the weather, time of the day, amount of brash ice to contend with, and of course the impacts wrought by Climate Change.

The brash was too dense to get anywhere close to the Johns Hopkins glacier so we spent more time admiring the nearby Lamplugh, where we had explored ashore earlier in the day. The afternoon light was much less harsh, and despite the glacier’s considerable retreat in the last couple of years, certain characteristics remain – dark lateral moraines on the right side, and many shades of turquoise blue.

The best anchorage for exploring the northern end of the park’s west arm is just inside the terminal moraine of the Reid glacier. A moraine is the rubble and silt pushed along by a glacier, and the terminal moraine is the farthest point the glacier reached, bulldozing its rocky debris. As the glacier retreated, the moraine remains, forming a protected cove.

As we turned into the anchorage, our eyes teared up seeing how much the Reid had changed since last summer, and especially since we first met her.

We jumped in the kayaks for a hike ashore, and to try and reach the far right side of the ice as we’ve done on just about every other visit.

Alas, the edge has retreated to the far side of the roaring melt stream, with just a small dirt-covered remnant of ice clinging to the rocks.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s ice and what’s rock, but most of what you see in the photo above is ice, except for rock at the water’s edge on the right.

Hiking over the moraine is hard work! The rubble and rock piles can be quite high, and the silt flats – damp from the tide – are like walking on slippery snot. You can’t even see the tiny dot that is ADVENTURES in the distance.

The park is a living laboratory to see the plant succession after a glacier has retreated and left behind a scoured landscape. Life is tenacious though, and we’ve learned to pay attention and notice the little surprises.

Farther from the glacier’s face, willows and alder are growing, wildflowers bloom in the earlier summer, and this beautiful cottony grass abounds near the terminal moraine.

Our time in the park was cut short by weather – several days of thick fog which made sightseeing up the east arm rather pointless, and a front coming through that we needed to hide from. The fall pattern was starting to assert itself, and that’s a sign that we should begin to head for home. Despite setting records for rainfall in every month this summer, it was a wonderful cruising season. Quiet and relaxing, because we can’t work on the usual outside boat projects in the rain!