Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Crazy Waves and Plowing Rocks on the Spit

On my way to the 2:00 hockey game at the Kevin Bell Arena on Saturday, impressive waves were rolling in from Cook Inlet.  A few waves were crashing over the rocks, splashing the road. Nearly two hours later, the tide must have come in, because when I pulled onto the Spit Road later, the road was littered with rocks, a tree was teetering on the edge of the rocks above the road, and waves were crashing over both lanes of the road the entire 1.5 miles from the arena to Mariner Park where the slough adds a buffer to the road. My car was covered with a slurry of salt water, making visibility out the windows poor.  A plow was shoving the rocks off the road, and maybe trying to control the depth of the slurry that was pouring over the rocks as well.

I headed to the car wash to get it cleaned off, and every bay was lined up 10 cars deep. Obviously, that is what one does after driving the spit during big waves!

This would have been an awesome picture or video--but I'm afraid I was so impressed with getting off the spit, I didn't think to get out my camera!

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Brief Window for Outdoor Skating

All fall I kept a pair of ice skates in the back of my car, until a week ago, on the off chance that "good ice" might happen on a local lake.  Upon returning from Hawaii I gave up on the chance and put my skates away.  The next day, a friend texted and said, "Lampert Lake is skate-able!  I'm heading out there now. Wanna go?"  Aaaaargh!  I didn't have my skates ready!  So that evening I put my skates back in my car and plotted catching a few laps on the little lake off Kachemak Drive that is usually skateable if any local lakes are skateable.

Thursday I headed over after work, having noted that snow was on the forecast and the window was a short one for outdoor skating.  It was skateable, with a few diehards out there, but not extraordinary like I'd hoped.  Bums from thawed springs and cracks were a tad too plentiful, and then there was the terrifying crrrrraaaaack of small pockets of surface ice cracking under the skates in some areas.  It wasn't a matter of the overall ice breaking, it was just little surface pockets. But the sound is so stressful that it is difficult to enjoy skating. I did enjoy the sunset, though!

Now we've been dumped with 5 plus inches of snow, and with this delightfully cold winter (it actually feels like winter!!), it is unlikely the lake skating window will open up again this winter.  Maybe if I take my skates out of the car....?

Sunday, January 8, 2017

An Alaskan Vacation: Hawaii!

Since we moved to Homer 10 years ago, every year "Hawaii" seems to be on many people's lips in the winter, though especially at Christmas-time. With no basketball games for our kids to play this year during Christmas break we decided to make a Hawaii family vacation happen.

I was impressed with many similarities between Hawaii and Alaska, and how those things attract Alaskans to Hawaii.


Both Hawaii and Alaska have ocean, beaches and cliffs.

Hawaii seems to have more sandy beaches and larger surf, though I will say that Alaska has a whole lot more beaches and I've only seen a very small number of all the beaches in this state. Most beaches here are pebbly or stone-covered.  I will say the waves were much larger in Hawaii than in Homer, with the 'normal' size waves there being the very largest waves we get in Homer, but we are also in the protected Cook Inlet so that makes sense.

Hawaii has remote areas with wide-open vistas, just as Alaska does.

There are areas of Alaska that are so wild and remote, though most are not quite as barren as this mountainside of inactive volcano Mauna Kea that we climbed up.

The drive and then the hike to the Green Sand Beach on the southern shore of the Big Island struck me as remote, despite the dozens of folks walking the rabbit warren of roads to the beach with us, and the handful of amped up trucks carrying tourists to the locale.  This was my favorite hike of our 2 weeks' stay, with the ocean crashing onto the volcanic rocks on one side and a grassy plain reaching as far as we could see.

Both Hawaii and Alaska have gorgeous sunsets and sunrises.

The one difference between Hawaii and Alaska sunsets is that there are beautiful palm trees outlined in many of Hawaiian sunsets!

The fascinating thing with the Hawaiian sunsets is how fast they were!  We could literally see the sun setting in a 2 minute process in this picture, and within 20 minutes it was pitch black out.  Contrast that with the sunset the next day when we arrived home in Anchorage. The sun set at 4:15 pm and we were treated to the afterglow of the sun and dusk till 5:30, over an hour later. The hang time of sunsets in Alaska is amazing!

Both Hawaii and Alaska have wildlife.

As we were hiking the trail to the Captain Cook monument and snokeling area, these wild goats posed on the lava rocks.  In Hilo later in the week traffic was stopped on a busy city street for goats crossing.  Feral goats, pigs and cats are common sights on the Big Island. Alaska, as you know, has moose and bear. Not the same, but wildlife nonetheless!

Both Hawaii and Alaska have steep, narrow roads.

The road into the Wapio Valley reminded me in many ways of the switchbacks at the end of the road in the Old Believer Village. Although it is paved, it was slippery, one way in many places, sheer cliffs on one side with amazing vistas on the other.  It also had an amazing number of tourists walking and driving down it, which is unlike Alaska!

There is food everywhere in both Hawaii and Alaska.

Bananas, papayas, you name it, there is fruit just hanging about in Hawaii, coconuts waiting to clobber an unsuspecting walker or nuts galore.  In Alaska we have an insane abundance of berries, and only in late July through September. The food is different in each place, and the timing is different but the abundance is still there.

Both Alaska and Hawaii have large and beautiful waterfalls.

In Alaska many of the waterfalls are remote and difficult to get to, while the waterfalls in Hawaii are mobbed by tourists and have roads and paved trails leading to them.

Rain forests are found in both Hawaii and Alaska.

In Alaska they are known as temperate rain forests, and are noted by moss hanging on the trees and deep, cushy moss covering the forest floor.  In Hawaii, obviously, it is a tropical rain forest, with the distinctive smells that come with that and the cacophony of birds that seems to come with the tropics too.

Other unpictureable similarities:

There are native Hawaiian cultures that they are working to preserve, just as Alaska has its many native cultures as well. There are many tourists in both places, though I feel like they were very concentrated in Hawaii as we were there during the busiest time of year.  Like Alaska, Hawaii is expensive, with gas prices right about the same at $2.90 a gallon.  However, a survey of Costco in Kona showed items we regularly buy as $2-$5 cheaper in Hawaii than the Anchorage Costco, which outraged me.  And while Alaska is not an island, it sure feels like one, albeit a very large one! But once a person is in Hawaii (or Alaska), it is going to cost some money to leave. It's not a place you want to get stuck. Apparently some folks in Hawaii are very anti-homeless, while in Alaska the climate makes it an inhospitable place to be homeless.


There are round mountains in Hawaii versus sharp peaks in Alaska.

Mauna Loa, above, is the largest volcano on earth, reaching more than 30,000 feet from the ocean floor.  Even this peak, which is 13,600 feet above sea level, sure doesn't look like a 13,000 foot peak. Distances were amazingly deceptive because of these long, gradual slopes and we were having a very difficult time estimating elevations in Hawaii because of this.

Other nonpictureable differences:

The most distinct difference is the daylight hours. In Alaska, having very short days in the winter and very long days in the summer leads to lethargy to insanity from winter to summer, a frenetic pace that takes a winter to recover from. Hawaii, with it's moderate climate and moderate daylight hours, seems more tempered and sane.

Supposedly folks fish in Hawaii, but we didn't see many marinas or boats in our time there, and didn't really see much sign of fishing, whereas in Homer or Seward, you cannot miss the fishing industry with the dozens of boats being hauled down the road, fish processing plants, charter advertisements and more.

Both Alaska and Hawaii have volcanoes, and in fact a volcano erupted on the Aleutian chain while we were in Hawaii, spewing ash up to 35,000 feet. But the volcanoes here are not the 30-year-flow of Mauna Loa, and the areas around Alaskan volcanoes are not very populated so they are not as high on the world's radar.

Overall, though, I was very comfortable in Hawaii and could see why many Alaskan's feel at home there. In fact, we met Homerites and Alaskans at every turn on our vacation. Will it become a regular pilgrimage for us?  Likely not.  There is much world to explore and as much as  we liked Hawaii, there are other places we want to see as well. The other Hawaiian Islands are on our list, though!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Solstice Sunset

Our shortest day of sunlight has come and gone:  sunrise about 10 and sunset around 4.  As we were walking on the spit on December 21, I appreciated that we had a little sunshine that day and snapped this photo, looking over the Mariner Park beach. In these winter months it feels like the sun is always about to set as it just skims up over the Kenai Mountain Range and then sets to the southwest.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

XC Skiing Extraordinaire in November!

First day skiing (for me) this year:  sunset on Nov. 23 with Mt. Iliamna in the distance

There was snow last year, but it was unpredictable and I never knew where or when the conditions were good. When my son joined the ski team this year I was excited because I would get daily eyewitness reports of the snow conditions. The ski team has already been skiing for nearly 3 weeks now (amazing!), but I finally got out the day before Thanksgiving, motivated by company that loves to ski.

The conditions at Lookout Trails were great on Wednesday and Thursday--hard packed and fast, despite spots with bits of brush showing through. Quite a joy.  Friday there were 4-5 inches of fresh snow and it hadn't settled yet so the trails were softer so I opted to classic in the well-set tracks.  Moose tracks abounded, and there was even one bear scat on the freshly groomed trail!

Same view the next day--Thanksgiving!!
Both Mt. Illiamna and Mt. Redoubt (both active volcanos) are visible across Cook Inlet

It was magical to be out skiing this early, on good trail, in awesome weather:  calm, 20's and clear. I skiied more this past weekend than I have in the past 2 plus years combined.  Every day for the past week I keep looking outside thinking, "It looks like winter!!! I'm so excited! It's cold! Love it!!" You'd think I'd just take it in stride, but 2 years of seeing my green lawn all winter lawn made me afraid I was never going to see a "real winter" again. While there are advantages to a snow-less winter, less snow usually means more ice (borderline temperatures). So for this week, I am reveling in our snowy, ice-free road!

Monday, November 14, 2016

What a View to Come to School to!

Photo by Alayne Tetor

Every so often we get a rash of gorgeous sunrises. and the past month has given us some of those. A month or so ago the Homer High art teacher, Alayne Tetor, snapped this shot from the school library balcony of the turf field with Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountain Range in the background.

The photo was posted on the school website and grabbed 39,776 views, 4094 reactions, 420 likes and 305 shares to date, far outstripping the next nearest post (double state championships for Homer High School cross-country running team in early October). We're feeling pretty blessed to have a view like this--and that Alayne nabbed this shot and shared it!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Some Interesting Things I've Noticed About Homer...

Homer is now home to me, and what it is like here is now "normal", but every so often I ponder how Homer is different than the world I grew up in in the Midwest.  

Here are some things I have noticed from my nine years in Homer:
  • There are a number of households that the dads stay home with the kids and the moms are the household breadwinners.
  • Many women keep their maiden names and do not take on their husband's names when they got married.
  • A number of folks who seem very eligible singles simply don't get married (I hear this is a national trend, but from a woman who recently moved here from Oklahoma, it is unusual not to get married and started with a family by 30).
  • There are some big families, and it's not because they are Catholic. Some seem not to have any formal or public religious beliefs, but they still have a number of kids (as in 4-6, which seems like a lot!). Others, such as the Old Believers, religion may play a role.
  • In general, people seem more sensitive to and aware of the environment and passionate about preserving the world they live in.
  • Many folks have a 'hands off' mentality about the government or other institutions such as schools:  they believe in their rights as individuals and don't want others meddling in their families or lives.
  • In Homer, people don't seem to care quite as much about appearances.  Jeans, xtra-tuffs, old vehicles, whatever. 'Be comfortable, be real' seems to be the guiding philosophy, even if you are independently wealthy, as a number of Homerites are.
  • Art and music are a big part of people's lives here. When my daughter gave her valedictory address on graduating last spring about art and one's life, it resonated with many people, as she thought it would. 

It could just be the group of people I associate with, but I feel like a minority among women I know that I changed my last name when I got married. My daughter felt fully accepted as a female interested in the sciences in Homer, and now in college in Colorado is becoming aware of stereotypes she didn't realize existed. 

Of course, none of these could be said about "everybody" in Homer, but there is a different culture here--a different perspective on the world. Does this place just attract folks like this (since most people in Homer are transplants from elsewhere)? Or does this place change the people who are here? It's not something we could answer, but it is fun to ponder!