Sunday, January 31, 2010

High Tide on Bishop's Beach

One of our favorite places in Homer is Bishop's Beach. In the winter, though, we don't get down there as often, expecting it to be too windy and cold. Saturday, however, was sunny, calm and relatively warm at 41 degrees so we headed down to the beach for a walk. As we drove up and saw Beluga Slough flooded, I grabbed the tide book to see how high it was. Wow! We had arrived at the peak of a +22 tide, one of the highest of the year! The normal thoroughfares for vehicles were under water, and the normally sparsely populated beach was "packed" with 20 or 30 people (as you can see from this picture). I had to chuckle at our definition of "packed." Call that one an Alaskan special!

Normally one can walk the beach 15 miles from Homer to Anchor Point, but we didn't get far before we were clambering over driftwood. Speaking of driftwood, that was such an unusual sight to have such a high tide that the driftwood was drifting that we weren't the only ones stopping to look at it which is why I took a quick video of it!

Very high tides are followed by very low tides, and a -5.3 was going to happen that night at 8:45 or so. If we hadn't already had plans for our daughter's birthday party we probably would have gone on down there. I've never seen a tide that low, and it was a beautiful, clear night with a nearly full moon. What struck us, though, was that to go from a +22 to a -5.3 is a 27.3 foot tide differential, which is one of the tradmarks of Cook Inlet tides: they have some of the greatest changes of any tides in the world. It sure makes things interesting on the beach!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Visit to the Big City

Teaching online classes and homeschooling has freed us up to travel so the kids and I tagged along with Doug last week as he traveled to Soldotna and then Anchorage for conferences.

Even though we've been to Anchorage a lot this year compared to previous years (about once a month compared to every 2-3 months), it is still a culture shock for me to go to "the big city." It took us 40 minutes to go 3 or 4 miles during rush hour traffic, there are homeless men/panhandlers on many street corners, the malls are like malls everywhere and I couldn't tell what city I'm in (kind of like airports).

A trip to Wal-mart was the greatest culture shock of the trip. It had been well over a year since I'd set foot in a Wal-mart. I am used to Ulmer's in Homer, the local drugstore/pharmacy/sport shop/rental place, the sort of small town catch-all shop that dotted the country before Sears, Kmart and Wal-mart took over the country. I was in awe at the wide aisles and the humongous array of choices. There was well over half an aisle of body washes alone, with dozens and dozens of choices (don't people use soap anymore??). And finally, the huge variety in ethnicities also amazed me. I know the Anchorage School District has over 100 different languages represented among the children attending school in Anchorage, but it seemed as though there was a wide representation right there in Wal-mart.

My favorite part of the trip was discovering the outdoor speedskating rink near the intersection of C and 40th Streets. My aunt and uncle told me about it recently, and said it is hotmopped daily, making for an beautiful 1/4 mile track conveniently located in mid-town. We had about an hour before we needed to be at the hotel to pick up Doug from the conference, so we swung by.

It had snowed a few inches the previous day but the rink had been cleared though not hot mopped. It was smooth ice, and despite being right next to a slew of office buildings it was nice to be ice skating on such a large rink outdoors. The Chugach Mountains rise in the distance, as seen in the picture to the right. It was a gem that will have me hauling our ice skates to Anchorage whenever we go up there in the winter.

We're small town people, but as far a cities go, Anchorage is a decent city and we enjoy the shopping, recreation and restaurants. Ironically, most people we've met who live in Anchorage consider Homer a distant and foreign place that is a long, long ways away, while to us the drive to Anchorage is a quick 5 hour hop, skip and jump. If we lived in Anchorage, we'd be the same way: why leave when you have it all right there?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New Blog!

I just realized that I haven't let all my blog readers know that I started a new blog! Yes, Life in Alaska--A View from Homer will stay, but I started blogging about homeschooling back in December. Obviously, many of you won't be interested in a homeschooling blog, but hey, if you like how I write you might find it entertaining anyways!

My homeschooling blog is different in that I write in it most every day, but there are very few pictures, which I know is a bummer since everyone likes pictures. I'm working on figuring out how homeschooling can be more photogenic! Even though it doesn't relate to my new blog, I'm going to upload the moose video Denver shot in our yard a few days ago so you have something fun to look at in this blog entry! If we weren't homeschooling I don't know if Denver would be walking around with a camera quite as much as he is, and certainly not during daylight hours!

Anyways, the address of my new blog is I always like comments, and feel free to join and become my follower there too if you like, or pass the address on to friends who might be interested in homeschooling.

Ok, here's the moose video by Denver with our one room schoolhouse in the background:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Snowmachining Adventure (of the Mild Sort)

I have always disliked snowmobiles, but also been curious about it as a sport since people who like snowmobiling tend to be fanatics who go to great lengths and expense to practice this hobby. My aunt and uncle probably fall into this category. They snowmachined (the Alaska term for it) the entire 1000+ mile Iditarod sled dog race trail not once, but twice a few years back! They plan snowmachining trips, invite friends to their cabin to go snowmachining, and have way more machines than people in their family.

We ended up being some of the people they invited to go snowmachining with them. It was quite the process. The snowmachines were already loaded up on trailers, so it was a matter of packing food and clothing for overnight, driving 20 miles of icy roads (it was really a road of ice, not with 'some' ice on it!) to the trailhead, unloading 5 snowmachines, loading them up with supplies and heading down the trail. All of this took at least 2 hours, and it seemed like an eternity. The sun was lighting up the Alaska Range as it rose about 10:45, and Mt. Illiamna rose in stately wonder above the rest of the range so at least we had some scenery to enjoy.

Finally we were all set....and pretty cold too after standing around outside for an hour or so during the unloading process. We headed down the trail, stopping every so often to make sure we were all doing okay since we had 3 first-timers out there: Douglas, Aurora and myself had never really snowmachined before.

Everything was going along swimmingly until we stopped at Grandpa's Watering Hole. I walked back to Aurora to see how she was doing, and she was nearly in tears. Apparently her hands hurt horribly from the cold. I rounded up a pair of wool gloves and mittens and Hotties hand warmers, but Aurora was fading out on me. She laid down on the snowmachine, then fell to the ground. Her eyes opened and closed, but she wasn't responsive even when I yelled at her. Finally she came to enough and I got her to eat a little food and drink some hot cocoa. After 15 minutes or so she was quiet but alert, sitting up on her own and watching the other snowmachiners go by. Whew! That was a little scary! We couldn't put her back on the machine driving so Denver got to have a go at it, driving her machine the rest of the way to the cabin. He went pretty slowly, but did what he needed to do and got there safely.

We got out to the cabin we were staying at, got the fire going and got warmed up a bit. Then my uncle, Douglas and I headed out for a powder run: cross-country snowmachining. This was the highlight of my weekend. Sometimes we were heading up ravines with steep sides rising above us on 3 sides and we would head up and pop over the edge, treated to the vista of either the Alaska Range and Cook Inlet or the Kenai Mountain Range or sometimes both if we were high enough up. Down, up, around, down and back up. For 2 hours we hit powder, following no trail and enjoying the machines' power. We could not have enjoyed this treat if my uncle were not so familiar with the area and confident about his directions. This could easily turn into a disaster with inexperienced sledders as there were hidden streams and holes to fall into, stumps or rocks to run into, and the weak light of mid-afternoon hid the contours of the snow making visibility poor. I could feel the wind buffeting my helmet, but besides my right hand (no heated grip on that side!) I was plenty warm with my 4 layers: long underwear, tights, goretex pants and snow pants on the bottom; long underwear, warmup ski jacket, heavy sweatshirt and winter jacket on the top. A bakalava, neckwarmer and the helmet kept my head and neck toasty.

The evening brought another concern: Denver fell asleep. Denver only sleeps if he is sick, but he hadn't appeared sick. A couple hours later we woke him up, and after a groggy dinner he finally joined us in our game-playing. Apparently the excitement and cold had worn him out and he just needed a little "freshening up." Us adults need it more often, but I was a bit concerned there since Denver never does. Three hours of cold outdoor air did it though!

Sunday morning dawned gray, but it had warmed up overnight to about 20 degrees and the wind had died down so it was a pleasant day to be out snowmachining. We hit some powder at the start of the day to Aurora's delight, as she was ready to prove herself fit for the ride. Then we settled in for the hard, bumpy ride home on the packed trail. Denver got a turn driving in there, though neither of them got their fill. They are hooked on the speed and power of the snowmachines and would love it if we indulged in this sport ourselves.

For myself, I enjoyed it too, especially the guided off-trail tour by my uncle. I could do this more often, but I have my reservations: there was a lot of trash along the trail, we arrived home stinking of fuel, the trail were busy, and I have no doubt there were plenty of intoxicated drivers out there. It doesn't seem like the wisest thing in the world to put an inexperienced kid on a machine like that. However, I can totally see how, especially in Alaska, people love the winter because snowmachines allow easy access to areas that are completely or nearly inaccessible in the summertime. Swamps and rivers, bogs and bugs, are the nemesis of Alaskans. And yet at heart I am a silent sports enthusiast: I love the clean quiet of snowshoing and sking. Yes, I will snowmachine whenever I get the chance because it will allow me to explore Alaska, but will I become a fanatic: no. In these times of conserving resources and preserving our world, it seems like it uses more resources than recreation should, and I found myself cringing as we ran over trees and shrubs, damaging them. Perhaps I am a patsy that way. I wish sometimes I could steamroller over the world I live in without a care, but my consciousness of this earth doesn't let me. So I feel a bit guilty, but enjoy myself too.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve in Homer

We've never been in Homer on New Year's Eve before so didn't realize what an event it was.  We got multiple invites to events, and ended up going to Bishop's Beach for a bonfire.

We don't go to Bishop's Beach at night ever, so I'm not sure if it is always as busy as it was last night, but I doubt it.  There were at least 4 bonfires going along the beach, some quite large!  A constant stream of cars drove through the parking lot or along the beach.  Groups of people would disembark their cars, go for walks and load up again.  Dogs wandered freely, and it wasn't always clear whose dog was whose.  Fireworks would go off, first on one end of the beach, then the other, then over on the spit, then down on the sand where the kids were playing.

Speaking of fireworks, that is what struck us the most about New Year's Eve in Homer.  There were fireworks going off all the time somewhere.  You could see them or hear them, not only on the beach, but in town as well.  It took us awhile to figure it out, but then we realized that it is light out 24 hours a day in Alaska in the summer so fireworks aren't shot off at the 4th of July.  New Year's Eve becomes the perfect time to shoot them off, and people do so in large numbers.  Doug got this picture of a firework shot off right over our heads with his iphone camera--no high quality, but I'm impressed it even turned out this good!

The weather was perfect:  nearly calm, a crystal clear sky with a full moon and cold enough that we appreciated the fire and hot drinks!   The tide was a -4 so there was an expanse of wet sand for the kids to play on.  From our vantage point they looked like shadows flitting about.  We kept track of the number of shadows, and at one point there were 6 shadows instead of 5.  We yelled, "Who is the extra kid?"  The kids didn't seem to know what we were talking about; they milled around, trying to figure out who the "extra" kid was.  When finally they found him we discovered he was from the party the next bonfire down.  Pretty soon the kid's mom wandered down, infant in arms.  She recognized me from a Christian homeschooling mom's group, so soon we had a great conversation going.  It struck me what a small town this is that you can meet and recognize people you know at night on the beach.  The kids were perfectly comfortable with their wild running-around fun, and were out there for a couple hours before they petered out and collapsed by the fire, grabbing drinks and snacks.

The "boat barn" party was one that we missed--square and contra dancing with a live band and food.  Guess that one is a huge annual tradition in Homer; not publicized formally but apparently open to all.  We also got an invite to a sledding party/bonfire as well.  We didn't feel like being nomads, and the kids were having so much fun we didn't want to break it up so we ended up being on the beach for hours.  This was all after we'd invited some people over for dinner at our place....but we'd invited too late and everyone had their party schedule in place for the night.

The other thing that really struck me was how many people mentioned that they avoid being on the roads after 11:00 on New Year's Eve because of the crazy drivers.  One person described things as "wild".  It made me a little nervous driving home, but curious as well:  are there that many drunk/high drivers on the road and is it really that dangerous??  I don't know, but when I check the news report I'll find out just how bad it was.

It was interesting being in Homer for a New Year's Eve. It wasn't so incredible that I would feel terrible if I missed it, but I can rest assured that there will be plenty to do if we want it!