Sunday, January 28, 2018

Weird Weather the New Norm

It has been four years of above-average winter temperatures in Homer, with winters feeling like spring or fall, with the grays of those seasons more common than the white of winter. This year is the all-time record high temperatures since recording began in the early 1900's. We now know that the poles are warming faster than the equator, and the uncertainty around skiing has become the new norm:  the Kachemak Nordic Ski Club now puts TBA for many events--date and place dependent on snow, and rather than committing themselves to saying when and where it is going to happen, saying it will happen, snow dependent.

I've seen ice flows before--just random places where water seeps out of the ground and creates an icy patch on the trail, but this year, it seems like at the McNeil trails, which are dominated by boggy areas, there were many more ice flows than usual.  The groomers adjusted by just going way out of their way around it, where they could, creating a new groomed trail.

Water flows on the ski trails

More flows

Luckily it is not all like that!

Warming and thawing, which is the new norm in Homer it appears, is wreaking havoc on roads, which are just breaking apart, with giant potholes appearing seemingly overnight. On our road, the ditch has overflowed because of frozen culverts so instead of running under the road the flow is now all over the road, an icy, slushy mess that will continue to get worse till the borough gets out and thaws the culvert.

Temperatures in the 40's is now common, and while some folks like it, it also means that many times the precipitation is coming down when the temperatures are at freezing, creating insanely icy conditions. A few nights ago it was 24 degrees, but drizzling, turning the roads into random slick spots. Oh what fun! 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Big Shake!

The earthquake that shook Alaska early Tuesday morning was a very large shared event for folks in Homer, who got the double whammy of the quake, along with a tsunami warning. I had the good fortune of sleeping through the whole thing. I awoke Tuesday, turned on my light and wondered why all my dresser drawers were open. I was able to shrug it off, until my husband said, "The pool is closed--we had a big quake last night and school is delayed."  That got me awake quite quickly, and the rest of the day was a series of folks sharing "their experience".  Here's a few slices of experiences.

My husband was barely awake through the quake itself, and he rated it a 6.5 or 7.0 maybe, rather than the 7.9 it was rated at. What woke him up was the slew of texts and phone calls he started getting once the tsunami warning was put out. The high school is one of the "safe places" in Homer, along with the hospital, because it is 300 feet above sea level and just over a mile inland. Somewhere around 50-70 folks in the tsunami evacuation area came into the school (along with a variety of pets such as gerbils, hamsters, etc.), while others just parked in the parking lot. The assistant principal lives in the evacuation area so luckily she was in and unlocked the doors.

A co-worker of mine also lives in town. She said that when the tsunami tower went off it sounded like it was right in her living room. Then emergency vehicles drove up and down the streets sounding alerts to evacuate. Finally, the City of Homer Public Works evacuated their heavy equipment across town to the high school parking lot, since they are located by Beluga Slough and at virtually sea level and would get the brunt of a tsunami. All that was quite noisy, so even if one would want to fall back asleep there was plenty of action to keep one awake!

Another co-worker of mine lives 4 or 5 blocks below the hospital. She said lots of folks were walking up the hill to the hospital, the moose on one side of the street and the people on the other. The birds were going nuts like it was morning, and of course the dogs were adding to the chaos.  Some folks just drove to the top of the ridge that Homer rests on, which is about 1000 feet high.

The tsunami was called off sometime around 3:30 or 4:00, so folks could go home. At that point the school district decided to have a 2-hour delay for Homer schools so folks could get some sleep. Many people had a hard time getting back to sleep after that. We did end up getting a 1.5 to 2 foot tsunami, which would be slightly noticeable from other waves coming in, primarily by it's longer wavelength.

That day, folks were just very tired, and also a bit wound up. As I was getting dinner ready that evening, a series of 4 quakes within a minute shook the house a bit and light fixtures were swaying. Apparently there were dozens of aftershocks. Damage has been minimal. I did find a cracked wall at work, and some folks had things fall off their shelves and break, but for the most part it was not destructive. My husband said it was less scary than the last one last year, which had hard jolts that shook things violently, and which created much more damage even though it was a smaller magnitude.

I'm always a little relieved when we get quakes. I'd rather have the pressure relieved than have it build up. I'm not sure if my logic is solid or that's just wishful thinking, but I'll take that hopefulness!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hiking Carter Lake

Carter Lake, with a skim of ice on part of it
My husband's first weekend off in three months led us to a Cooper Landing getaway last weekend. The weather was outstanding for hiking: in the 30's and 40's so things were mostly frozen and not mucky from our months of rain, and comfortable for hiking. We hadn't hiked the Carter Lake Trail a few miles south of the Seward Y on the Seward Highway, about 10 miles from Cooper Landing, for many years so we decided to check it out.  It was a good choice; the hour-long uphill trek got us warmed up, but it wasn't so steep we were sweating. A light crust of snow at higher elevations made traction good. We made it to Carter Lake in an hour, though did not press on to Crescent Lake and the Crescent Creek Trail, which may have been possible at this time of year. Many times the trail through is overgrown with grass.  Here's a photo journal of our hike.

Cat tracks in the snow....likely lynx. We saw 3 ptarmigan on the hike up to the lake,
 and saw them again on the way back down

I'm a sucker for pictures of bridges. Maybe because I love what they do for me (dry feet!)

Mid-range trail, right at snow line (the snow quite literally starts at one spot)

The lower trail--below snow-line and looking like fall

Monday, October 30, 2017

Beautiful Harbor

The other evening I was out walking on the spit around the Homer Harbor and was struck by the distinctive lighting and still water. Normally my pictures don't turn out as beautiful as the reality, but these pictures turned out well enough to share. The outdoor lamps almost look like moons at first glance, which adds to the interest of these photos. Somewhere in the picture (second row of boats) is likely the Time Bandit, famous for being seen on the TV show Deadliest Catch.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Alaskan Wildlife

Not all wildlife in Alaska is "wild".  Here's some photos and videos I've gotten in the past couple months of 'wildlife'.

Cute little squirrel hanging out on the railing of the Ship Creek trail in Anchorage

I came out of church in late September and was impressed by the squanking of sandhill cranes going overhead. What impressed me more is that they kept coming...hundreds of them, all heading north. The lady standing next to me was saying that sandhill cranes cannot fly over the water so have to migrate over the shore, so they head north, following the shoreline. It was a treat to witness this, and I was expecting more but that is the only time this fall I have seen sandhill cranes fly over.

We don't normally get bull moose with large racks in our yard, and we definitely do not get bull moose with a cow in the yard, but so it happened last week. The cow took the rosebush out front, and the bull took the raspberry patch. Each was quite systematic about their work of eating them!

Another view of the munching moose:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Harvest Time

This was a strange year for growing, seems to be the consensus among people that notice.

The summer was cool and things seemed not to come at their usual time--like the berries! But then we have been spoiled for two years of exceptionally warm summers and July harvests of berries, so we're not sure if this is normal or late. So to pick blueberries mid-August seemed late; I used to always plan my girls' weekend of berrypicking Labor Day weekend. So mid-August is still early!

June 26th when I returned from Michigan, my apple trees were still blooming. As of yesterday, look at them now!  One hundred apples on my single tree. I thought I needed at least 2 trees to pollinate and when the rabbits took my two other trees and left me a single one I was going to cut it down too. But I left it and now it is producing a delightful crop!

Not sure what type of apples these are, but they are tasty and tart!

Pushki was blooming in July in places.  Lupine was blooming as late as last week--a crop flower that should be done in July. Elderberries were later too, with the cloyingly sweet scent of the blossoms not happening till the end of June, when at times it has happened in late May.

The lawn was going nuts and had to be mowed every five days, if we could squeeze it in between rains. In the garden the broccoli didn't form heads but the cauliflower was huge and early.  In the greenhouse the tomatoes just finally started ripening the last week of August. The parsley is quite happy and growing prolifically. 

The root crops have done nicely. Carrots, potatoes and onions all were average crops, but are still growing. The slugs never arrived in my garden this year, despite the rain, which was a puzzler. No slugs and no wasps meant better raspberry and serviceberry crops since both of them feed on my berries. I'll admit I got tired of picking berries this year--a first in my life I think!--and so invited friends over for a berries, wine 'n' dessert event:  pick berries, then drink wine and eat dessert. It was a hit!

Red and white potatoes contrast nicely with carrots
Summer temperatures were in the 60's almost every day and 50's almost every night. Since mid-August, the temps are now 50's during the day and 40's at night, here on the bench in Homer. Up top they've gotten a nip of frost already. We might have been nipped too--my cucumber plants were a bit droopy in the greenhouse, but I admit to being derelict in my duty and forgot to water for 5 days in September so that could be it also.

With such moderate temperatures I'm not too worried about getting the last of the potatoes and carrots in. I've been harvesting enough to store in the fridge for a week or so. My favorite recipe at the moment is carrots, onions and potatoes cut into chunks, drizzled in olive oil and grated garlic and roasted in the oven for 25 minutes. Yum! I admit to having frozen kale left over from last summer still, so I've been making kale meatballs regularly to use that up. Zucchini keeps producing and I keep giving it away, eating it and freezing it. The kale keeps growing and I keep giving that away as well with my file of favorite kale recipes (kale chips, massaged kale). I thought my lettuce was done but it took off again so I can stop buying it and start eating it out of the garden again.

Our dinner table is a reflection of the garden, and it is a favorite time of year for me to have such a bounty to choose from. The days are getting shorter and the trees are yellow and mountainsides red. I used to miss Midwestern autumn's, but now this is what autumn is to me:  subtle but delightful color plays and the change of lighting. It feels good to be here.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Climbing Poot Peak

Conical Poot Peak, rising above the foothills across Kachemak Bay on a misty day

Climbing Poot Peak, the 2880 foot peak across Kachemak Bay from us, has been a goal for our kids for a couple of years. With Aurora's imminent return to college, and Doug's return to work for the new school year, the opportunities to head over there have been dwindling. With that narrow window in mind, I called Mako's Water Taxi to find out when we could get in and out on high tides during this past weekend. Halibut Cove Lagoon is the entrance to that area, with a dock and maintained trails. However, it is only accessible a few hours before and after high tides so it limits getting in and out. With the current tides we were able to get in mid-afternoon on Saturday and out early Sunday evening. That gave us 26 hours to backpack in the 2.8 miles to China Poot Lake, hike up Poot Peak, and backpack back out. It was a full weekend of hiking, but wasn't unreasonably so.

 A cabin is tucked onto an island on China Poot Lake, accessible only by float plane or boat

Poot Peak rises above the trail as one hikes out to the lake

China Poot Lake as seen from the north route up Poot Peak

The hike to China Poot Lake is fairly well maintained--not overgrown with brush and with relatively few roots to get over.

The campsite on China Poot Lake aleady had two tents set up, so it looked like it was going to be crowded by Alaska standards. After setting up camp, we went out for a walk, which on my map the trail was flat, but that must have been within the lines, give or take 100 feet, because it did go up and down plenty. And while it was a "walk" because we didn't have our backpacking backpacks on, it was still most definitely a "hike" on the rough trail with occasional splotches of berry-filled bear scat.

A fire ring offered a less rustic feel to this backpacking experience, and we enjoyed a few hours around the flames. A bear container was convenient for our foodstuff, but we also hung one backpack on the cable strung between two trees for that purpose.

The next morning the kids headed out of camp by 9:30 with their daypacks on, heading for the summit, while Doug and I cleaned up camp and pumped water for our waterbottles. Our goal was up the mountain, hopefully to the nob (that sticks out of Poot Peak near the top), but not the summit. Everyone we'd talked to had done the North Route, which was unmaintained, even though the South Route was supposedly maintained, so we headed up the North Route. And UP is an accurate description. Up and up and up, sometimes very steep, slippery slopes and then near the top, a more gradual up through a mountain meadow.

Glaciered mountains in the view from the nob on Poot Peak

Rugged peaks in the Kenai Mountain Range
The final trek to the summit rises behind this sign

We made it as far as the sign above, which marks the final climb to the summit, which includes a scree slope and a bit of rock climbing. A little lunch and lots of water later, we headed down, packed up camp, and headed back to Halibut Cove Lagoon for our water taxi ride back to Homer. As the kids said (in my words, paraphrased!), it was the most unremarkable peak they have ever climbed. Although it is 2880 feet, and it rises above the surrounding area, it doesn't have this awesome grandeur feeling that one gets on Grace Ridge or even Alpine Ridge. It rises by itself and is just a hunk of rock, with passable views, but only near the top. Camping at China Poot Lake will definitely get put on my list of regular hikes, to explore the area, but making climbing Poot Peak will unlikely be the goal. But one has to do it to know it, and now we can say we've done it. Check!