Nigel the Christmas Tree

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This is our Christmas Tree!  We named him Nigel, in honor of our Florida Christmas tree, Norbert, which was a potted Norfolk Island Pine.  Nigel, however, is a legitimate Sitka Spruce, real “live” Christmas tree.  We figured that as a local renewable resource, Nigel is less of a strain on the environment than an imported potted plant purchased at Wal-Mart.

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We legally cut Nigel near the Buskin River, under the baleful watch of a bald eagle, in the shadow of Barometer Mountain.  Well, there would have been a shadow if there had been any sunshine.

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Nigel is currently adorned with lights and decorations and is sitting in a brand new tree stand purchased at the thrift shop for $5.  We think he is beautiful and are delighted!  Allison isn’t too keen on the low branches as Sitka Spruce needles are sharp, but she is learning to walk around the tree instead of into it.

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Merry Christmas!

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Pillar Mountain

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A few weeks ago, we did our second hike up Pillar Mountain, per Rachel’s request.  Almost all of the electricity on Kodiak comes from these beautiful wind turbines, and they are all up on Pillar Mountain.  We can see them from our house and drive by them every time we go to town.

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Last time we hiked Pillar, the rain and fog were so thick that we couldn’t see more than 100 feet in front of us most of the way, and we heard the windmill before we saw it.  We hiked the real trail up the mountain, but then hiked the road down, as my knees were aching on the way up.

We ate our picnic lunch along with some lignonberries (called low bush cranberries here) that we found on the ground.  The weather was spectacular, and the views matched.  What a glorious day to live in Kodiak!  We had camped at Ft. Abercrombie the night before.

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We saw a bear!

We saw a bear by Sargent Creek a few days ago.  It was, honestly, pretty cute.  A juvenile, as far as we could tell, much more interested in chasing after salmon than even acknowledging his onlookers.  I feel like I really do live in Kodiak now!  There are approximately 4,500 bears in the 4,000 square miles of Kodiak.  Most live in the National Wildlife Refuge, but they do venture out to check how the salmon runs are doing in other areas of the island.  They occasionally venture into town or onto base in hopes of devouring some trash, but since all the trash is put in dumpsters, they generally don’t have much luck.  In my Alaska gardening book, it said that one of the many reasons it is difficult to grow apples in Alaska is that bears will raid the orchards!

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Kodiak

I get to live here.  Isn’t that amazing?  Sometimes, on the drive into town, I am just overcome with how beautiful and rugged it is here.  These pictures are from a hike around Gertrude Lake at Ft Abercrombie.  The rainbow photos are from my back porch, looking at Old Woman Mountain and Barometer.

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high bush cranberries

high bush cranberries

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Barometer!

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Steve and I (and Allison) made it up and down Barometer Mountain today.  It’s 2500 vertical feet in roughly 2 miles.  It was a tough hike, but certainly not the most miserable I’ve ever been on.  The bugs were super annoying and frustrating  The trail is very obvious but rocky, gravely, and muddy.   Nicely, though, it isn’t very closed in.  Some of the trails we have hiked are so surrounded by brush and alder that you can’t see anything till you get to the top.

Not that I was too concerned about seeing anything as we plodded and pecked our way up the mountain ridge.  I think the average grade is 60% and there are a few places where I gave up on my trusty trekking poles and clambered up on all fours.  However, those few stretches were less than 20 feet each, so it wasn’t nearly as treacherous as I thought it would be.

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Coming down was worse than going up.  It always is, I think.  And  my poor knees think so too!  Steve carried Allison on his back in the kid carrier; he was faster getting up but I was faster getting down (mostly because I could scramble more easily without a child on my back).

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We’re glad we did it, but we’ve no desire to do it again.  The view from the top is pretty amazing, thankfully!  I mean, who wouldn’t hike that to hang out with such a cute baby?  Oh yeah; there’s some mountains and ocean and trees and stuff too.  And even more thankfully, I get to hang out with this baby all day.  All night, too, but that’s another topic.

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Camping Ft Abercrombie

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A few weeks ago we set out for another one-night camping trip.  Eventually, we will go on a real two night sojourn in the woods, but at least we are getting outside.  We even went on a short gentle hike that accommodated my healing ankle.

All of the trailers from MWR were reserved for the long 4th of July weekend, so we ventured forth in our tent.  Actually, Ft Abercrombie is “tents only” camping, so that worked out rather well.  You can’t reserve camping sites in any of the Alaska state parks; they are all first come, first served.  We didn’t know if there were even going to be spots open, but there were!

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At Ft Abercrombie, there is one section near Monashka Beach that you can drive up right to and pitch your tent on a wooden platform.  It would be a fantastic site for a group trip, but it is unshaded (read: lots of light at 11 pm).  We instead camped at the walk-in sites near Lake Gertrude that are literally in the woods.  There is no running water, and the Biffy (bathroom in forest for you) is across the parking lot, but the seclusion is amazing.

Rachel had a hard time falling asleep with the abundant light, despite the overcast skies and the canopy cover, but slept till 8:30 am.  Allison fell asleep somewhat more easily, but awoke at 6 am (and, let’s be honest, a few times before that) and refused to sleep after her 6 am nursing session.  All in all, camping in the tent went better than we had imagined, but we totally lucked out…overcast but no rain, very shaded site, etc., so we still want that trailer!    2014-07-05 15.19.06

Dangerous Picnic

Allison usually takes 2 naps per day.  This is wonderful, except when it is grocery shopping day, and you don’t leave for Safeway till 11:15.  The weather was beautiful, so I packed us a picnic, complete with Allison’s booster seat, and we headed to a beach picnic spot in town.  It was a brilliant idea.  It would have been more brilliant if I hadn’t stepped into a hole hidden by long grass and sprained my ankle.

So a word to the wise: if you are headed to the picnic tables at Mill Bay Beach, step gingerly.  And bring arnica cream and an ice pack.

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Camping Buskin

2014-06-27 18.20.41Two weeks ago, we made our first Alaskan camping trip!  It was also our first camping trip just the 4 of us.  We rented a 13 ft travel trailer from MWR and hauled it approximately 7 minutes down the road to Buskin River State Recreation Site.  There wasn’t a lot of hiking to be had, which is our preferred camping activity, but we did meander down to the beach and watch people fishing for salmon.

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It was a good “shake down” trip which prompted me and Steve to compose a Camping Pack List while we sat around the campfire after the girls went to bed.  We did, however, remember the crucial items of s’mores material (Rachel calls them Mores) and tortellini.  Tortellini has become a traditional camping dinner for us, and we gave Allison her first tortellini ever, thus formally acknowledging her as a full member of our camping-loving (pasta-loving) family.

2014-06-28 00.35.50The Scamp was pretty bare bones, but had two amazing features.  1: Waterproof  2: Dark.  We brought our extra blackout curtains and situated them over all the windows of the trailer, and slept snugly and happily in the dark.  This is quite a feat when the sun sets at 11:15 pm and rises at 5 am, with lots of twilight time in the middle; true darkness is achieved for only a few hours each night.

While we acknowledge that camping isn’t quite as camping-ish in a trailer, we are in the market!  So if anyone happens to be looking to offload a 13 foot Livnlite all aluminum trailer with bedspace to sleep 4…please let us know.

Local, Renewable Garden Boxes

I had signed up for a plot at the community garden before we even arrived in Kodiak.  It is only 3 miles from the house, but sadly, 3 miles soon proved to be 3 miles too far.  I may still try a potato crop in the bed that I so fervently attacked with shovel and cultivator, but I needed something here at the house.

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The very nice man at Sutliff’s Ace Hardware asked me, “How handy is your honey?”  I assured him of Steve’s amazing carpentry skills, and he directed me to the local mill.  And by local, I mean, LOCAL.  A true Alaska experience.  Island Lake Sawmill is a small diesel/gasoline driven mill that cuts local spruce logs into rough planks.  I wouldn’t say they were over the top friendly, but they were incredibly helpful in wedging 5 8-ft lengths of 2×12 on top of bags of dirt and between two car seats in our Highlander Hybrid.

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I talked with them a bit about my time on the logging sports team in college, but I’m not entirely sure they believed me.

Mountains

Waiting for the ferry in Homer; Allis is snuggled in the Ergo plus my fleece

Waiting for the ferry in Homer; Allis is snuggled in the Ergo plus my fleece

I love living near mountains again!

I said this on Facebook already, but it is still true: When I left Oregon 6 years ago, I left a piece of my heart there, too. I think I found it again here in Alaska!

View of the mountains from my walk on base today

View of the mountains from my walk on base today