Saturday, September 22, 2018

A Kayak Trip Across the Bay

Little Tutka Bay from Rick and Dorla's cozy spot

I've been out kayaking before in Halibut Cove and on Hidden Lake, but never spent a ton of time on the water. Last spring I was attending a silent auction and won a bid for a full day kayak trip with A Seaside Adventure.  It did indeed end up being an adventure!

As a single person, I was curious who the rest of the group would be.  It ended up being a family from the East Coast with two adult daughters and one of those daughter's husband who were doing a family vacation to Alaska. Ma and Pa were in the 60's and 70's, and Pa was hard of hearing and not wearing his hearing aids. We discovered each other on the dock as our water taxi was late.  They were panicking, pacing up and down the docks, worried they would miss their boat. Once we started talking, I realized it was likely they were more nervous about the kayak trip than missing their boat. Neither Ma nor Pa had ever kayaked before in their life, and I admired their willingness to try it--on the ocean in Alaska no less.

Turns out the water taxi was late because the waves on Kachemak Bay were impressive that day. The ride over turned into a prayer not to get sick all over the boat as we were up and down and up and down all the way over. Once we got behind the Herring Islands, the way was smoother.

I don't know if every trip is as epic to set up, but between getting to Rick and Dorla's spot in Little Tutka Bay late and then gearing up, getting lessons on kayaking and actually getting the kayaks in the water, it was almost noon. I was just along for the ride and not set on making incredible progress so I just enjoyed getting to know the family I was spending the day with.

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I'll let the pictures (with captions!) demonstrate the day.

Getting geared up, seats adjusted, basic stroke lessons

Slightly choppy waters even in the protected area behind the Herring Islands.
We were all in double kayaks; the person in back got to steer.

Little islands, mountains, water and the sky--enjoying Little Tutka Bay

Wildlife viewings on this day were eagles and sea otters

Putting in at a quiet cove for lunch

Enjoying the scenery from our lunch spot

With such large tide differentials in the area, it is important to know whether the tide is coming in or going out so the kayaks are left in a safe spot

Rick and his assistant preparing a lunch of salmon and wild greens we picked minutes before tossing them in the soup (the salmon, however, we did not catch!)

Things got interesting after lunch. We were paddling back towards our starting place and there were waves coming in and Rick noticed some rip tides in the area we would need to paddle. As he said, if all the folks were young and experienced paddlers, he likely would have had us push on, but Ma and Pa were struggling as it was so Rick decided to head back to our lunch spot. He called a friend who lived next door to him in Tutka to come and get us, and he left the kayaks there to come back and retrieve them later.

The water taxi was 30 minutes late picking us up, but the ride back was uneventful and smoother than the ride out that morning.  We'd kayaked maybe 2 hours out of the whole day. I heard that other kayak tour places cancelled completely that day, so we were lucky to get that much in.

Even for that little bit being out there, it is an experience that gave me confidence on the water. And it was fun getting to know some new people for a day too!
And back to Homer...a cruise ship was in the harbor

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Johnson Lake Campground

One of our favorite campgrounds in our early years in Alaska was Johnson Lake in Kasilof. It is relatively close to Homer--only a bit over an hour away--and has a beautiful lake, nice big campsites and some years, berries to pick. We'd given up fall camping for 8 years while the kids were in middle school and high school cross-country running, and have rediscovered the joy of fall camping once again with our empty nest. We didn't even have a full day, leaving Sat. evening after the Homer High football game and coming back early Sunday afternoon, but it was a delightful break nonetheless, even with rain nearly the whole time. The campground was pretty full but peaceful, with little traffic. I managed to find a few lowbush cranberries in the process, which will be wonderful come Thanksgiving!

Lowbush cranberries--filling my bucket!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Beautiful Alaska on a Fall Morning: Vagt Lake

Vagt Lake on a calm fall morning

Labor Day weekend we did a mish-mash camping trip that included a visit to a relative in the hospital in Anchorage, shopping in the big city, a night in the Bird Point Campground just south of Anchorage, then a jog on down the road to Trail River Campground just south of Moose Pass on the way to Seward. We got some biking in, some hiking, and explored places we'd never been before.  

The trails we didn't find!
One of those places we discovered was Vagt Lake. We weren't intending to go there; the plan was to find the Falls Creek Mine or Falls Creek trails, neither which I'd ever heard of before, but which we'd stumbled across the day before while hiking from the Ptarmigan Campground.  But we didn't find the parking area for either of those, and having passed them I suggested we pull off where the Trail River outlets from Trail Lake and check it out. It led us to one of the most gorgeous, scenic views we've seen--courtesy of the soft fall morning light and an incredibly calm morning.

The trail was only a mile, graveled and mostly flat so very accessible. There's a nice picnic or tent area when you reach the lake. We started going around the lake but it got grown over quickly and we were just out for a pleasant morning hike so we left that for another time.  Here are some photos from the hike.

The bridge and walkway near the Vagt Lake turnoff

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Lazy Day In Search of Berries

Friends invited me to hang out with them in search of berries across Kachemak Bay last weekend. It turned into the most deliciously lazy day I have had in a long time. A late morning leisurely start out of the Homer Harbor included lots of details of affection about their sailboat. Smooth waters made the ride to Halibut Cove Lagoon relaxing, and I appreciated the new dock in the lagoon, having the rigged float dock for a year or two.

After a couple hours of random and unfocused berry picking (blueberries, crowberries, low bush cranberries, bunchberries, & watermelon berries) we made our way back to the dock where we had it all to ourselves and we sunned ourselves and ate lunch for a couple hours.

A ride back out of the Lagoon with the outgoing tide was exciting. We turned off the motor and rode the current, which was 5 to 12 knots in places. We joined the masses of sea otters that were floating about just off Hawaii Beach, which is the start of the Saddle Trail, floating along with them for another few hours. 

Then we took the boat to shore and each took some quiet time, hiking, berry picking, and napping. By time we were ready to go, the boat had gone dry so we had to wait for it to come back in. We got some dinner on the boat while waiting for the tide to rise. We also got treated to an incredible sunset from the beach. 

The ride back to Homer was magical, with glassy, sunset-laden colors on the water and the fullness of a day of great conversation, good food, lots of sunshine and a beautiful area. It was a day like no other I've experienced before.

Halibut Cove Lagoon dock

Our sailboat, with not enough water to get back out

Pilings from the herring warehouse that was built on Hawaii Beach in the 1920's

Pilings in the other direction--it was a huge warehouse!

Ways to go before we'll get back out!

No wonder this is called Hawaii Beach!

Glassy waters and sunset on Kachemak Bay at 10 p.m. in September

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Summer Day on the Spit

After a busy summer that is seguing into a busy fall, I'm finally in a space to think about transferring all my pictures from the summer to my computer, and that leads me to think about all my potential blog posts.  Came across a classic "Homer Spit" picture that I thought I would share:  the Alaska Marine Ferry in the background with families playing on the beach.

A cool, rainy typical day on the Spit

Seagulls hang out where people filet their fish; here on the Spit, near a fish-cleaning station

Monday, June 25, 2018

Mudslides, Moose & Bear!

It seems I don't have to travel far to get Alaskan-style excitement these days!

Last week, after a day of solid, drenching rain, we went for a walk up our road and walked into a mudslide that had just happened within an hour. A creek that normally goes under the road got plugged with mud and went over the road instead.

Further on, the neighbor's yard demonstrated what havoc a little mud can create! We had quite the neighborhood reunion as word got out and folks came by to view the carnage and offer help.

In chatting with one neighbor, they mentioned seeing 5 black bear at one time from their yard the previous week--a sow with 3 babies and another mid-size blackie. This evening we came home, greeted by what I thought at first was moose droppings but on closer inspection was bear scat in our front yard.

I'm bummed that I didn't get to see the bear! But I am worried for the little moose that was cavorting about our yard yesterday, with momma guarding.

I know--you may be thoroughly sick of pictures of moose!  But they're a staple in our lives and most Alaskan's appreciate the opportunity to catch glimpses of them regularly, even when they have heart-stopping moments of nearly running into them on the road.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Signs of Spring Part II

Spring has been cool, wet and windy this year. Normally I have my greens planted in my greenhouse sometime between April 1 and May 1, but this year it didn't happen till a warm, sunny day in mid-May woke me out of spring doldrums (and my mother-in-law, who was determined to help me get the garden going for the season!). In a mere week it seemed we went from nearly bare trees to a lush, green lawn that I had to mow twice in 8 days!  

I know it's spring when the robin builds a nest on the eaves of our cabin.  This year mommy and daddy robin built the nest in one day flat while we were away. I took it down that evening when I discovered it, impressed that the mud was still wet, placing it carefully in the tall grasses nearby, which was a useless move since the robins won't be using it there but it made me feel better for respecting their hard work.  The next morning more grass and debris were hanging from the eaves. I  pulled that down and my chicken wire went up. We left for a long weekend and came back to a nest tucked in behind the chicken wire. I gave up. I don't care if the robins have a nest, but last year they divebombed us every time we went into and out of the cabin, and it got so bad they were divebombing us if we walked up our driveway. This year, no divebombing, so we have reached a truce and I won't continue to hate robins.

A walk in Anchorage gave us the sweetest surprise:  a momma moose with a newborn baby so newborn it was still wet and attempting to get up. We watched it awhile; the poor little one kept toppling over face first. Momma moose was calm and kept licking the little'un, knowing it would eventually make it up on its teetering legs. I've seen baby moose before, but never that newly born. Quite the treat for all the folks on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage that day.

Last year during a high tide storm, this eagle's nest was swept off the pier.
This rebuilt one isn't as large as last year's but is still plenty large!

In Homer, the eagles are sitting on their eggs, so the sight of eagles peering out of their gigantic nests is not uncommon.  Off the top of my head, I can think of six eagles nests I drive by regularly. The most popular ones in Homer are at the light by McDonald's, where there are two, and where crowds will gather will cameras waiting for a view of the fledgling eagles to peep out of the nest and eventually make their first rough flights.

A flock of sandhill cranes in a local pond

As we walked in Anchorage we saw a single sandhill crane and a man was all excited about it. Here in Homer the cranes fly over regularly, swooping in for a landing at various people's yards. The folks across the street from us have a little pond and I noticed the cranes hanging out there the other day and snapped this photo.

May cruise ship arrival on a calm, beautiful Homer morning
(that white dot in the water, which is the end of the spit, about 5 or 6 miles away)

Cruise ships also mark a new season in Homer. The first one came in mid-May this year, which is unusual. Twelve cruise ships will make their way to Homer this summer--always on Tuesdays, arriving first thing in the morning and by 6 pm their bulk pulls away from the deep water dock and heads out of Kachemak Bay on to their next port of call. Those are busy days in Homer with school buses shuttling folks to and from town from the spit, the trolley in full swing and lots of people on the sidewalks wandering about.

Graduation is a rite of passage marking each spring. As the principal, Doug is the emcee of the Homer High graduation each year, but this year was special as our son graduated and he and his friends planned well-developed collaborative valedictory address. The senior class even flew up the commencement speakers from the Lower 48, a couple that comes to Homer High each year to conduct Poetry Slam events and who had bonded with the kids over the past four years. Graduation is a community event in a small town like Homer, and this year about 1500 people showed up to send off the 80 or so graduates.

In our family, track and field is part of our lives. Every year the Homer boys and girls track teams qualify for state so we head up north to cheer them on, this year to Palmer. It was exciting for Homer girls to get second at state with 6 girls on the team, all amazing athletes. Doug is always pleased when Homer teams get the academic award, which the girls did. The girls and boys teams both set school records in the 4 x 800 relay (and winning as well) and one of the guys set a school record in the 800 as well. After taking a couple years off track to play soccer, it was neat for our son to be a key player in the success of the team. The tradition in Alaska is for state champions to carry the state flag up the straightaway immediately after winning an event, which is what the video above is of.

Now, on Memorial Day, it is sunny and gorgeous and I'm ready to think summer!

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Thank You, Homer!

Each month my husband writes the Homer High School newsletter. Usually it is mundane school news, but this month, as our youngest child prepares to graduate, he got a bit more personal. Judging by the outpouring response to it, many other Homer parents feel the same way about raising their kids here. Thought I would share it here.

Normally I would write about all the great things Homer High students are doing and the cool events that are coming up. Instead, I want to let you know how grateful I am to the Homer community. We moved to the Homer area eleven years ago and it was the best decision we ever made. I say this because not only am I a principal of Homer High School, I am a parent and my youngest child is a member of the class of 2018 and will graduate in less than a month.

My children are a product of the Homer community. We have had so many great experiences raising them here. Events ranged from Bruins Basketball and taking art classes at Homer Council on the Arts to taking kayaking classes, HOWL and Boy Scouts. Our kids were inspired by participating in Math Counts and even performed for Pier One Theatre.

We have great memories with Homer Community Recreation, especially with Fuzzy and rock climbing. All through Middle School our kids lived at the rock wall. We even spent time across the bay climbing Kachemak Crack. We have missed Fuzzy since he passed away.

In High School our kids were able to play varsity sports and be a part of National Honor Society and Ocean Bowl. Most importantly, they were inspired by a great staff. They were awoken to the world of science by Mr. Rife and were challenged to think critically by Mr. Campbell. Mrs. Borland pushed their limits studying history and Ms. Tetor helped them fall in love with ceramics. There are too many influential adults, teachers, coaches and community members who positively affected our children's lives to list here.

They were able to give back by helping teach kids to ski in remote villages as part of Skiku, encourage children to get excited about sea life through providing tide pool walks for elementary children at Peterson Bay and help present Native summer camps in the Aleutian Islands. I am totally envious that my daughter got to deckhand on the Tiglax for a couple weeks one summer with Youth Conservation Corp (YCC). It is crazy to me the number of opportunities there are in Homer for our youth. It is like we woke up one day and hit the parenting jackpot.

Both of my kids worked hard and are going to college to become engineers and I couldn't be prouder of them. They have both earned awards, excelled at school and enjoyed sports, but it wouldn't have played out the way it did anywhere else in the world but Homer. In fact, our kids are mad at us that we didn't move to Homer sooner. In their hearts they are Alaskans.

It truly does take a village to raise a child and my children are an example of that. I am truly grateful for what the Homer area has provided for my family and I hope I can give a piece of that back to future graduates as Principal of Homer High School.

Thank you, Homer!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Signs of Spring

"Did you hear the cranes?"

"Yes! I saw two of them in my yard last night!"

"A flock of them flew over earlier today."

"There's a momma moose and little one outside."

"I think that momma is pregnant and has been trying to run her young 'un away."

"Yeah, I've had one hanging out in my back yard this week."

"I've seen at least a couple moose every day this week!"

These are conversations of spring in Homer. There's some anticipation of the first cranes arriving and a buzz when they come in, advertising their presence with their echoing squanks overhead.  Only in Homer is there a video of sandhill cranes in the pre-movie show. 

The moose that have been hiding all winter have come out, munching on the fresh green grass that has been sprouting and sticking to the highly populated areas of town and protection from bear.  Now the waiting game becomes watching to see when last year's babies are run off as the momma's anticipate their newborns and the breathless hope of seeing the little moose freshly born tottering around on their little stilted legs.

The sound of cranes and the sight of moose around town are unique signs of spring in Homer.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

February Sunset

Every spring feels like waking up from hibernation--despite best attempts at warding off seasonal affective disorder. I recall asking my cousins and aunt how they survived the winters when we visited Alaska three years before moving here, as that was my biggest reason for not wanting to live in Alaska.  They said you need to exercise and take care of yourself and get outside every day. Now I know that's not enough as even getting out in the middle of a sunny day in the winter doesn't provide much benefit besides the mood lift, as there is rarely enough skin showing to provide vitamin D.  Taking a vitamin D supplement helps, but for me doesn't completely take away that slight dulling of the senses.  Our local joke is "everyone goes nuts in February and March" when we start getting our daylight back. If some local issue is going to blow up, likely it will be during those months.

With that context, this Valentine's Day sunset behind the Seafarer's Memorial on the Homer Spit was a sweet treat--a gem that we really appreciated after enjoying a special dinner at Land's End Resort.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Easter Day Ski

After 4 years of amazingly warm winter weather, this winter has been a "real winter" and I have skied more this winter than the past 4 years combined. To top it off, we have the special treat of spring skiing.  With nights below freezing and days above freezing, the temperatures are perfect for "crust skiing"--the glorious activity of just heading out cross-country, off-trail, with perfect snow conditions everywhere! 

Easter Sunday I got out late--about 1:00--so the crust was just starting to get too soft to ski (breaking through the crust) so I had to stick to the trails. But with all the new trails at the McNeil Trail System this year, this is amazing!  The Homer Ski Marathon (25k & 42k) and the Homer Epic (50k, 100k and 150k) races both utilized this trail system this year so grooming has been extensive, winding up, down and around the hills and muskegs. I have always appreciated this little town having 70k plus of impeccably groomed XC ski trails, but with the additional trails offering wide, sweeping panoramas of the Kenai Mountain Range, and a feeling of being on top of the world, the trails at McNeil are now irresistible.  Oh, the portapotty at the school parking lot trail head helps too--also a new feature this year--since in the past it was a "find some bushes" situation.

The Homer Spit is a thin line in Kachemak Bay from the McNeil ski trails

Glorious views from the trails that serpentine higher and higher up the hills
The Easter Day ski was doubly delightful:  no hat, no gloves and no jacket! With temperatures in the mid-40's, it felt balmy, and the stiff breeze was welcomed.  Just a day later, on Monday, serious snow melt had happened and shrubs were started to poke through the snow on the trail. The groomers are likely done for the season, which is always a sad time to admit another ski season is nearly over.

On the same day of the glorious ski at McNeil, the 'bench' looks nearly bare of snow.
The harbor sits in anticipation of another busy season.
We know spring has arrived because the eagles are busily building nests, here, there and everywhere! This one is near the deep water dock off the spit. A high tide swept last year's nest off the metal platform.

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!