Party Like a Viking

Last year Petersburg had to cancel the annual Little Norway Festival for the first time in over 45 years, but this year people got creative and figured out how to do more things outside. Of course it was a bit rainy, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits – it went well and we had some fun.

I’ve written about the Little Norway Festival before – it’s four days of celebrating Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17 – Syttende Mai). They only celebrate for one day over there… we like to over-achieve in our town. Traditional costumes – called Bunads – represent different regions of Norway and many people have their own, often hand-made.

The Style Show gives people a chance to learn more about the various bunad styles, and a little history of some of the families in town.

There was plenty of good food to sample, including the ever popular Kaffe Hus at the Sons of Norway hall (take-out only) – treats made with butter and love. My favorite is always the parade, and I shot a little video to show you some of the highlights. New this year was the Precision Grocery Cart Team from Hammer & Wikan, celebrating 100 years as our local grocery and hardware store.

As soon as the Festival wrapped up it was time to cast off the lines again and head out cruising for the summer. Bye Petersburg!

As always, the Steller’s sea lions were fighting for coveted spots on the buoys out in the Sound.

Oh, it was sooooo good to be anchored out, especially after a long first day’s run. We spotted a few orcas in the distance, but it was pretty quiet otherwise. The next morning was still and pretty, and I spotted a bear out on the flat – sublime and perfect.

We headed out the next day towards the east side of Baranof Island, and were amazed at how much snow was still on the mountains! It makes sense since spring is so late this year – almost by a month. In the steeper anchorages there was snow all the way down to the water.

We spent two nights at Warm Springs Bay on Baranof Island, enjoying some soaks in the natural hot tubs there, as well as some time for chores.

It’s such a gorgeous spot, but the noise from that roaring waterfall eventually gets to be a bit much.

We made the short cruise to another favorite spot – Takataz Bay not too far north of Warm Springs, and spotted several bears as we were setting the anchor! They were all too far away to photograph, but there was a sow and three older cubs, as well as another bear over on the tidal flats. I got the kayak in the water quickly, but the tide was too low and I couldn’t get near enough to them. I also saw some mink, deer, widgeons, and this nosy river otter.

We’re working our way up to Glacier Bay, so we weren’t dawdling too long in any one place, but Pavlov Harbor on Chichagof Island is another good spot to stop and usually has plenty of bears around. I paddled to and fro – checking all my usual spots and didn’t find anything except lots of sea stars…

…and a plucky raven looking for something to eat.

And finally… bears! A sow and two cubs wandered out of the forest and spent the whole rest of the afternoon munching sedge grasses and foraging on the beach. Nirvana!

The bears were wonderful to watch, but the weather was changing and we needed to get up around the corner and out of the wind before things got too frisky. We headed to Hoonah to hide for 2 nights, then back into Icy Strait, on our way to Glacier Bay. We only spotted one humpback, but it gave us a good show with some breaches, pectoral slaps and tail slaps!

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.