Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Alaska - Last Days of the Trip

Let's see, where did I leave off??? I made it through Monday, Sept. 7th. That's right about where I lost all track of days and dates. But I did manage to make some cryptic notes on my handmade calendar within my journal.

Tuesday, September 8th, however is rather lost. I think we must have spent it doing mundane things around town.

Wait...let's back up and I'll include some photos of things mentioned earlier.

Beautiful Fall Colors

The Fisherman cutting down trees at Jerry's.

Note the difference in weather. Same day, just a couple hours later. The saying in Alaska goes, "If you're not happy with the weather in Alaska, just wait a minute; it'll change." These trees are on two different sides of their yard. I have a photo of The Fisherman in this second tree with nothing but clouds behind it. This blue skied photo was taken literally minutes later.

Here's the top of Bear Mountain overlooking Skilak Lake ...

Some turning fireweed leaves along the Bear Mountain trail.

Surprises For Me At The Cabin

Wednesday, Sept 9th we took our Alaska truck to Homer. We needed to drive all the gas ...excuuuuuse me, deisel.......out of it before filling it with fresh deisel for the winter. Yes, I've learned from friends that it's NOT "gas", it's "deisel fuel". Anyway, on the way to Homer, The Fisherman took me for a drive into a neighborhood with large parcels overlooking Kachemak Bay, green rolling hills covered also with red fireweed stalks. The hot pink flowers were all gone but the red stalks seemed just about as spectacular. In Homer we went to the Time Bandit store again. They said it was moored in the Deep Water Marina. The gal told us she thought they were on board and that if we hollered out they MIGHT let us aboard. We were excited and hopeful. But when we got there, we saw that ships were parked two deep next to the dock and unfortunately, the Time Bandit was on the outside. There was no sign of anyone in the parts we could see. But we did manage to get a few photos of it. We also enjoyed walking the dock looking at the big ships, some of them rusted and patched hulks that looked like they'd been there for years.

Afterwards, we headed to Pioneer Rd. for the art galleries. Mmm, mmm, mmm. I had fun. Saw some gorgeous scarves made out of super soft Italian yarn and one scarf that was "partially felted" loosely laid out silk yarns. Also saw the art of a Downs Syndrome young man. I bought the book about him.

On the way back we took a detour 8 miles off the highway looking for a Russian community with a highly recommended cafe we wanted to try. When we finally reached the community, we got some stares from the kids on bikes and ladies wearing their traditional Russian Orthodox garments. We got to the cafe and found it closed up tight. That must be why we looked so out of place; the cafe may have closed for the season days or weeks before. Not sure. On the way out on this long isolated road we stopped at the side of the road for a moment. Turns out we were right in front of a small side road. It was so much in the country at that spot that it didn't matter that we were blocking the road. But... as fortune would have it, I soon glanced out my window and saw an ATV ridden by a man and a child, and a team of seven sled dogs pulling them! We moved out of their way and they carried on across the road to a path almost hidden by tall grasses running parallel to our road. It was so fun seeing them. Summer training, I guess.

Thursday, Sept 10th we headed the opposite direction to Seward. Still had gas to burn out of the truck and wanted to have some fun, too. We walked the black shale beach of Lowell Point and were joined by a playful stray dog. This muttly looking dog was so cute and smart. He got himself a five foot branch for us to play fetch with him! He would trot up ahead of us about 15 feet, drop the branch, and wait for us to catch up. Of course, he was wearing his most expectant, playful, happy dog face as he stared alternately at us and the branch. This was no long twig. It was a beefy branch! Try throwing a five foot branch for a dog to catch! He was pretty smart, though, and knew how to stay out of the way as we tried to gently heave it. But as we walked somewhat apart from each other (The Fisherman and me) we'd have to warn each other that the dog was approaching from behind and about to whack the front person in the back of the leg with the branch. Turns out he belongs to the owner of the store down the road and is often found roaming around on his own. Hmmm.

Next we went to a favorite "snaggin' hole" of The Fisherman's. While he fished with the others lining the rocky shore, I wandered around in the other direction. This snaggin' hole is right in town so wandering around by myself was not dangerous as it would be in other spots. While we were walking the beach earlier we were looking at these giant drift wood trees washed up on shore. Roots and all. They are so cool. Many people haul them home and place them root side up in their yards. Some of them are short and stumpy but others are fully trees. We admired them and planned to someday haul some off ourselves for our own cabin yard. Well, when I was wandering around the snaggin' hole, I found a miniature version. "Hey, Honey! Look what I found!" We took it with us.

It actually does have sort of a "bottom" on which it can stand, which will be better once we take a saw to it.

Friday, Sept 11th was spent unloading most of the van, re-organizing, leaving some stuff in the cabin and loading some stuff from the cabin into the van. We took off toward dinner time. Stopped at Gwin's Lodge to visit and say good-bye to friends for the season. No telling what next year will bring. The lodge is up for sale by the family of the owner who died last winter. It may be the last time we hang out there. We just don't know. Fly Bob will continue to work there over the winter and we'll just all wait and see what happens. We also stopped at Jerry and Kim's to drop off some salmon and pick up some bear meat. Jerry gave us a pair of female caribou antlers. Love them! Drove to Anchorage and camped.

Saturday, Sept 12th
Did errands in Anchorage nearly all day. While driving into the Home Depot parking lot we saw about 40 Canada geese on a grassy peninsula surrounded on three sides by bustling Anchorage traffic. Beautiful and ugly. Serene and obnoxious. Nature and technology. Peaceful amid chaotic. Left Anchorage around 3pm. Got to Glen Allen, smelled burning oil and saw smoke. Yikes. We were leaking oil. The Fisherman tightened the oil filter as tight as he could and replaced the lost oil. We proceeded cautiously and camped a couple hours later 50 miles west of Tok.

Sunday, Sept 13th.
Took us ALL day to get to Tok! There were just too many pictures to be taken. We stopped at a lake that had 17 swans in it! It was so beautiful.

We stayed there over an hour. Lots of other cars stopped. We met another photographer who is from Virginia. This year he said he put his jeep and motor home on a ferry and came up the inside passage. Great photo ops! That's on our list now for someday. In Tok we found a mechanic who put the van up on the rack for us where we discovered that the gasket from the old oil filter was stuck to the mounting. The new oil filter, freshly installed the day before in Anchorage, could not seat properly and leaked. After getting the bothersome straggler removed, we drove on with much more confidence. We crossed the border into Canada around 6:30pm. Camped around 10:30pm.

Monday, Sept 14th.
Awoke to condensation inside the van again. It has happened often, but this morning it was frozen. 32 degrees inside. No wonder my head was cold during the night! I learned in Ski School when I was in High School that we lose 90% of our body heat from our heads. The instructors told us, "If your feet are cold, put a hat on." I keep a scrap of soft and thick flannel by my pillow when van camping in the far north. It really helps to put it over my head. That way I don't have to worry about suffocating underneath covers pulled all the way over my head.

Saw two deer roadside, a buck and a doe. Odd...the buck was still in velvet. I thought they'd be shed by now.

We were all off schedule for driving because of our late start and because we took so long getting beyond Tok the second day. We find we're driving through some of the most beautiful parts after dark. Dang.

Tuesday, Sept 15 and forward.
We drove...and drove...and drove. Passed some beautiful, beautiful territory but were very tired. Stopped for photos as they presented themselves. Buffalo, Stone Sheep, windows of blue in cloud laden skies, autumn colors, birch and spruce.

The Fisherman decided to drive through the night. This really confused me on what day it was and where we were. Without stopping at night to camp, I found I got pretty lost as to where we were. Pretty soon we found ourselves in Ft. Nelson. We stopped for gas and lunch groceries. On the way out of town, we saw a B&B that had a special stack of firewood. What was special to us about it is the fact that The Fisherman has toyed with the idea of making our "real" cabin home in Alaska out of stacked logs. The walls would be about 2-3 feet thick, stuffed, chinked and sealed over. The inside and outside walls would be the round ends of the logs, like this:

This design would be creative, different, super insulated, and inexpensive, too. (We have PLENTY of wood on our property!) We're excited at the possibily of having such a unique home. I guess it's not literally "unique" because it's been done before. (I had a college english professor who's pet peeve was people using adjectives in front of the word unique. "Something cannot be 'really unique'", she'd say. "It's either unique or it isn't.") Back to the story... We pulled into the B&B property and were quickly greeted by the owner who asked if he could help us. We told him we were just admiring his uniform stack of wood and our thoughts of building our home that way. He was very interested, said he just read a book about alternative homes, and saw one he really liked built by some guy in Arizona. Arizona? We're from Arizona! No kidding, really? We had a nice long chat with Peter. He was very friendly. He had some antlers around this beautifully stacked wall of wood, moose, caribou, deer. On a whim, The Fisherman asked him if he might be willing to sell us the moose antlers. He said, "Aw, you can just take them. They were given to me so you can just have them." WOW! We were exstatic! Those things cost about $500 at the antler store in Sterling. (Yes, there's actually an antler store. But it's not that unusual; there's one at home too.)

So, we managed to squeeze these giant moose antlers (connected) into the van. It was funny because the van was already stuffed - I mean PACKED - with other treasures we'd accumulated along the drive. Jerry's caribou antlers, some birch branches to make easels out of, and one giant beaver gnawed birch log that was just too cool to not have. I've created a monster, as the saying goes. For the first 20 years of our marriage, I was the one always bringing home twigs and rocks (still do). Now, The Fisherman is into it. Only in a man-sized fashion. He carried a 5 foot log 7 inches in diameter about a half mile from the river where we found it back to the van. Yes, we were stuffed with treasures. Some of them we will haul right back up to Alaska next summer for our cabin. We just acquired them while going the wrong direction. On that same hike (part of why it took so long to get to Tok) we saw tons of blueberries. We had fun picking and eating them.

Thursday, September 17th
Mom's birthday. And I missed it. I was so lost in what the date was, and even what day it was, that I completely missed her birthday. I suppose this can be looked on as a good thing. Birthdays of loved ones passed on are among the hardest things to go through, especially the first one. And I was completely oblivious. It was about 11pm when we were driving, again bleary eyed and exhausted, almost home, when I heard the newscaster say the date. I was instantly sad and my eyes filled with tears. I was so sad to have not known it was Mom's birthday. I felt cheated somehow, not being able to spend the day in some sort of intentional celebratory remembering of her life. Her love. My love for her. Memories. I felt cheated. I cried.

Friday, Sept 18th, 1:00 a.m. HOME.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Touching Base 2

Well, Festival #1 is over with. We are very pleased with the weekend, especially in this economy. One of the nicest features of the weekend was the absence of 30 mile per hour winds...like we've had in years past. Oh, and no microbursts .... like last year...which tore down 15 tents, sending two of them sailing over the fence just one tent away from us. This weekend was beautiful with blue skies and somewhat blazing sun. Temps in the 80's. We had tons of fun visiting with people who came to our booth, both friends and strangers. So many people who came to the booth have been to Alaska. We met people who used to live there and our photos made them pine for "home". Alaska sure gets in your blood. We had some happenstance visits from long ago friends, and some visits from folks who knew we'd be there and came to see us. It was a lot of fun.

Festival #2, we have learned, is going to be pretty dismal. Very few vendors will be there but we're going to go ahead and do it. We'll see.

I'm still hoping that this week MIGHT afford me the chance to finish posting about Alaska. I have a backlog of chores, business and emails to attend to.

If you're so inclined, here's some things going on that you could pray for us for:
- our church search
- I need a job
- I have lots of adjusments on my plate right now
- the daunting task of going through boxes and finding a place for everything can be put off no longer

Later to you all! :-)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Touching Base

We pulled into Home Sweet House at 1:00 a.m. on, I believe it was, Friday morning. I lost all track of days and dates over the last two weeks of the trip. I'm eager to finish posting about the trip and get current. HowEVer, we set up for the festival in just two days! I fear I will not be able to get caught up for a couple weeks! Maybe next week, in the lull between two festivals. Maybe....

Wish I could write more today but I've got to dash

Monday, September 7, 2009

Leaves are Turning Yellow

Birch leaves are turning yellow here in Alaska. The degree of yellow varies as you drive from one place to another, but one thing is for certain: autumn is coming. It is dark by 9:30 p.m. and evening temperatures are running about 50 degrees. I like sleeping when it's chilly.

Saturday, September 5th we couldn't decide what to do. It was a beautiful day and we wanted to go in two different directions. We wanted to go to Homer to visit more art galleries than we were able to last time and we wanted to go to Cooper Landing to climb Bear Mountain on a beautiful day. Plus The Fisherman needed to cut down some trees for our friend The Bear in return for all the work he did for us building the road earlier this summer. The Fisherman cracked a rib early in the summer after I left and couldn't do them for him. Then work got busy and here we are. We figured we could do art galleries in the rain but not Bear Mountain or trees.

We headed east to Cooper Landing. The Fisherman climbed and cut about 5 trees. The Bear cleaned up below moving limbs and logs with a "thumbed" excavator he borrowed for the weekend. We took a break for lunch. The Bear fixed us bear burgers. They were good. After some more work, we headed out for Bear Mountain (lots of bears in this story). I can't believe The Fisherman climbed 5 trees and then climbed Bear Mountain! It's a little mountain with a tiny narrow 8/10 of a mile trail that leads through tall grasses, fireweed, alders, birch and spruce up to a large rock and a beautiful view of Skilak (SKEE-lak) Lake. The lake sort of wraps around Bear Mountain and it's foothills. Off to the east are the Kenai Mountains - the same mountain range we see from our property. There's a glacier up there, and just on the other side are the Harding Ice Fields. It's really cool to be up there. The hike is pretty steep and I needed lots of rest stops. Legs screaming, heart pounding, lungs huffing. But I did much better than I expected. We took our time.

Though I've never learned officially why it's named Bear Mountain, you can easily imagine. And it earned it's name for us this time. We didn't see the bear but we heard him. And it was pretty scary. The brush is so tall and so close - the trail is only a single-wide and in some places you are moving through fireweed and brush four feet tall or more. It easily hides a bear from view, so it's kind of scary. We wanted to hike it with The Bear and Miss K for more reasons than just their nice company. We wanted more people to make more noise and also so we'd have more "heat" (guns) with us. Unfortunately, Miss K wasn't with us because she was working. We walked the trail with me sandwiched between The Fisherman and his Rugger 480 strapped to his waist and The Bear with his shotgun slung over his shoulder.

On the way back down, The Bear was in front and The Fisherman was behind. The Fisherman and I heard a loud branch snap. That means bear. It was about 20 feet off the trail to our right. I had been instructed to get behind the guys if we encountered a bear so, after I gasped, snapped my head in the direction of the sound, and all the blood drained from my face, I stepped off the path to get behind The Fisherman. Trouble was, I was stepping backward without looking at what I was stepping into. And I promptly fell flat on my butt and my back into the uneven terrain of 2 foot tall grass. Great, I'm thinking, A bear's out there and I'm flat on my back! How vulnerable is that?! It's exactly opposite of the position you're supposed to be in if a bear comes at you. Meanwhile, during my fall, I instinctively reached up to grab The Fisherman to ease my fall. I was so unstable I continued to hold onto his arm while getting myself oriented. Only problem was, and this is a pretty significant problem, at the exact moment I was falling and grabbing him he was going for his gun to protect us should the bear be advancing rather than retreating. He had his hand on his gun trying to pull it out and I was hanging onto this arm pulling it down. If that bear had appeared and charged, we'd a been in trouble because he couldn't get his gun out! Meanwhile, The Bear didn't hear the branch break, didn't hear us say "Bear!" (probably because I don't think either of us said it) and he merely thought I had fallen down.

I'm learning that I'm not all that great in critical threatening situations. I'm pretty good in some situations. For instance, I was unanmously crowned The Most in Command of Her Faculties during our roll-over accident 6 years ago. But when it comes to a sudden threat from a wild animal in the Alaska woods, I'm running 0 for 2. The first one happened when I was here in the early summer. I failed to blog about it out of sheer humiliation, I'm sure. I was in the woods near our campsite, preparing to address nature's call. As I approached my targeted spot, I heard noises coming from the thick woods about 25 yards away. As that is the time for moose with newly born calves, I immediately thought MOOSE! After freezing for a moment, I took off back toward the van, again, not watching where my feet were going. I fell down flat onto the ground and had another "Great". moment as a whole moose-stomping-my-back scene took place in my head - just like the whole bear-mauling-my-front scene ran through my head on Bear Mtn. Afterwards, I laughed so hard about it and The Fisherman and I agreed, "Well, we can't make fun of those women in movies that always fall down when running away from danger anymore. Now we know it's real." That noise I heard? Turns out it was just the heavy dripping of water laden leaves in the forest. Even more embarrassing.

Back on Bear Mountain, it all ended fine. The bear went away, we heard one more twig snap - smaller or farther away than the first one - I got off my butt, Jerry got up to speed (and advised us to shout "Bear!" next time) and we talked a lot more and more loudly on the way down. "Heeyy, bear!" is the common thing to yell, at least in the hiking entourages I've been among. I'd add the occasional, "Go 'way, bear!" At one point, after I'd hollered that, The Fisherman chimed in with a comical "C'mere bear!" and a "Here, bear!" Funny. It reminds me of how sometimes we'd talk to our dogs in that sing-songy dog talking voice everyone uses but instead of the sweet things usually said, we'd get a kick out of saying insulting things and watching their oblivious happy responses. We'd say things like, "You're so stooooo-pid!" or "Are you an UG-ly dog????" Saying "Here, bear!" was funny at the same time it gave me a creepy feeling, despite the obvious fact that they can't actually understand what you're saying and the point is just to say something so they'll know you're there and stay away.

So we survived Bear Mountain - in all ways applicable. We sure enjoyed the peaceful time on the rock. So nice.

We went back to The  Bear's house, got to visit with Miss K for awhile, took showers, and pretty soon it was 11:30 and we headed back to Soldotna so we could go to church in the morning. If we had not planned to go to church, we would have just camped at their house.

Sunday, September 6th, we were bleary eyed and nearly comatose at 8am. Church started at 8:30...or so we thought. At 8:10 there was no one in the parking lot. (The church parking lot is The Fisherman's new camp spot till we leave.) The Fisherman re-checked the sign and it said that the church service is televised at 8:30a.m. but that the services are actually at 10 and 11. Good. We lounged around another hour or so and went in at 10. Turns out that was like a Sunday School teaching hour. Church was at 11. We were so tired we had a hard time staying awake. (I told The Fisherman I now know how we need to do strenuous hikes together. First I need to have him climb and cut down 5 trees and then we'll be more evenly matched for the hike.)

After church was an immediate nap. Woke up with a start at 2pm and headed to the grocery store and then to Jerry's again for more tree work. We had also intended to hike "The Canyon" - the Kenai River canyon we saw from Bear Mountain. But, The Fisherman was too shot and time was too short by then. They guys did trees, I cooked potatoes, onions, and peppers on the stove inside. Kim came home early and we had dinner around 8pm. Headed out at around 10:30; The Fisherman had a gig this morning.

Today - Monday, September 7th is The Fisherman's last gig. It's the last gig of the whole season. We've learned that any time there is a troublesome client, they give them to The Fisherman. Quite a compliment actually. He adjusts his guiding to their needs or desires and his clients always get fish. Today was one such trip, so hopefully he's having a good time out there.

Well, I've caught you up current. Think I'll go get something to eat. I have 3 and a half hours before I go pick him up. I'll either read my book, or perhaps go over to River City Books and look for a book Jerry recommended to us about the area. It's a book written by a local historically significant man named Peter Kalifornsky. There is such a mix of native and Russian influences in Alaska. I expected a man named Kalifornsky to be a Russian. He was, however, a native. He wrote the history of his people and also preserved in writing their language before the last known speaker of it died. His people are the Denina. I know I've spelled that wrong; there is an apostrophe and a whole 'nother silent syllable in there somewhere, but there's just no hope in me even trying. This Peter Kalifornsky has a road and a beach named after him here in the Soldotna/Kenai area. Kalifornsky Beach Road is one of the main roads connecting the two towns with much business on it. It's quite a mouthful so it has been nicknamed K-Beach Road. Much easier to say.

But I'm not headed to K-Beach Road right now. I'm going across the Sterling Highway - the main drag through Soldotna - over to the bookstore and some lunch.

I think we'll be leaving this area in a couple days. Maybe Homer tomorrow. We still haven't done any work on the cabin yet. I can't believe how fast the time is going.

Friday, September 4, 2009

From Coffee Grinders - Soldotna, Alaska

I'm at my favorite coffee shop/internet cafe in Soldotna. The Fisherman is out on a free trip, sort of a training trip. They have flown 4 clients to Delight Lake down south on the Kenai Peninsula. In the 9 passenger DeHaviland Otter there were a few seats open so The Fisherman got to go. Perhaps he'll get some gigs there next year. Delight Lake is right near Desire Lake, which I've heard is also called Bug Lake - at least by some. Gives you a good idea of what it's like to fish there. The Fisherman was told, "As long as you don't mind insects flying all around and bouncing off your face, you'll be fine."

Meantime, I've been tooling around town. I love Alaska, but frankly, Soldotna doesn't have much to offer. It's a functional town. It has everything you'd ever need along with a few gift shops. Other than that, there's not a lot to do if you're not into going to the river and throwing a line in. I prefer tourist towns. Towns with several gallery shops, a marina, and tourist shops. Seward has the Sea Life Center, a glacier and the marina. Homer has lots of galleries (more than any little tourist town I've seen), the marina, and some museums I've never been to. Soldotna has a little gallery/knitting shop where I spent some of this morning. Yes, I came away with some yarn. And a pattern. I'm going to try my hand at hats.

Monday, August 31st was spent flying. Had a 3 hour layover in Seattle. I love SeaTac airport. They have a really nice gallery shop called Fireweed and the food court has a HUGE glass window that looks out on the runways. It is concave in that it curves away from you following the architecture of the floorplan which curves outward and it's convex in that from floor to ceiling it is curved inward in the middle. It's very cool. It's about 250 feet long and 50 feet high, made up of glass panels with steel at the junctures which horizontal and vertical cables run through.

I also saw some beautiful things from the air. On the first flight I saw the outskirts of the Grand Canyon. On the northern flight I saw, turquoise lakes puddled at the bottom of surrounding mountain peaks, rippling waves making intersecting arcs on the surface of the water, and a very special sight of three little mountain lakes. They were right next to each other. In my little distorted picture, they looked like they were about an inch apart. The amazing thing was that one lake was turquoise blue, the next was a pale milky green and the last was ocean blue. Very peculiar and very beautiful.

Tuesday, Sept. 1st we spent at a wildlife park. It was fun seeing all the animals. We drove down to "home" in Soldotna. Home base has moved since I was last here. When school starts in the fall, all the guides get kicked out of the schools where they've been allowed to camp all summer. So there are a couple weeks when The Fisherman has to find another place to camp. We're at a church a couple miles up the highway from his work.

Wednesday, Sept. 2nd we did boring city stuff, like laundry, computer work for The Fisherman, and I got myself organized and assimilated into the van. We went to our favorite Mexican restaurant here. Nothing like Sylvia's or Manuel's in Phoenix (just thinking about either of them gives me cravings!) but we found a couple items we like. We went to the Wednesday night service at the church. Very nice people and it was fun meeting fellow Christians from another place. I always enjoy the sense of family there is among Christians even when they're strangers.

Thursday, Sept. 3rd The Fisherman had to work a couple hours. Things are winding down pretty quickly in the fishing season. They flew across the inlet to take some motors off boats and haul them back in the plane which had some seats removed. They still have some boats over there and it looks like The Fisherman is scheduled with clients on the 7th but that will be his last gig. We grilled up some salmon for dinner and watched a movie. We've both been REALLY tired. I don't think we're drinking enough water, hard to do when there's not an easy bathroom around. But we manage.

We're going to try to make trips to both Homer and Seward before we hit the road for home. That will be fun. Like I mentioned above, I like those towns. The Fisherman does too. We often toy around with the idea that we COULD sell our property and buy something closer to either of those towns. But when we think of our view and all the work we've already done, we just can't seem to part with it. Who knows, maybe someday we will. But for now, we'll just keep plugging away at what we have. We'll be doing some work on the cabin while I'm here, too. It will be fun to make more progress on it. We're still doing interior boards. It's still a construction site. For now, there's stacks of boards, piles of insulation, ladders, and tools everywhere. Maybe we can clean it up a bit so that next May it will be a little more comfortable to hang out in.