30 September 2007

flight of the finnblebee

late season gardening

Autumn is upon us and the garden is winding down for the year. While we had a less prolific year with the tomatoes, we just discovered that the heirloom variety Chianti Rose taste fantastic -- different than any other tomato we've had. Next year we'll have to ammend the soil with calcium to prevent the skin splitting....

I harvested the pumpkins before the family arrived. I don't know why my camera won't capture the lovely reddish orange they truly are -- you'll just have to take my word for it....

We had just given up hope on our luck with peppers when these beauts started taking shape....

The carrots are still working on it....

And what corn did grow tasted great!

I love the untamed look of the herb garden....

27 September 2007

they're here: part II

Well, actually, they've been gone for a couple of days now. We sure had a good time -- Pike's Place Market (and subsequent Dungeness crab dinner), went on walks and did lots of eating and napping (dictated by the nine-month-old).

We waited for the interurban....

Mom fended off the Fremont Troll...

We also went to two playgrounds, where we had loads of fun acting like kids again...

If my childhood playground had had one of these guys, I might've had a lucrative career as one of those kick-ass female heavy machinery operators....

At Kerry Park, we took family snapshots....

We went to the Fremont Sunday Market where we found Zoe's name waiting for her....

They found her halloween costume there....

I miss them all so much already. I hope we get to see everyone again in December!

19 September 2007

they're here! part I

My parents arrived today for a six day visit. My sister, brother-in-law and niece arrive tomorrow, and Eric gets back from a two week business trip on Friday. I can't wait!

I met mom and dad at their hotel, where we caught up as they settled in and rested a bit. Then off to the house and dog, then dinner and a grocery run. They seem to find it utterly impossible to travel without a case of Diet Peach Snapple Iced Tea around. I don't get it, but I needed apples and cereal, so I went along.

Tomorrow, we're going out for breakfast and then a walk down the Olympic Sculpture Garden before some of us make the daily airport run. Emily, Miles and Cricket are staying at my house, so I think Finn is going to have more excitement than he knows. I keep trying to warn him of this, but he just stares at me.

Trivia question from dinner: Without looking, can you name the third element on the periodic table?

17 September 2007

Alaska: days 4 and 5

We had hoped to go fishing and/or kayaking, but the rain started in good and heavy on Saturday. Breakfast at the local's favorite, the Smokestack. I like to try biscuits and gravy whenever I see them on a menu, and I certainly hadn't had biscuits and gravy in Alaska before! Now I'm not very well travelled, nor have I been to the South, where B&G originiated, but I've concluded that these were the best Bs&G I've ever had. Flavorful and chunky (not just white goo with meat bits) -- they were just great.

We spent the rest of the day doing rainy day sorts of activities -- coffee shopping, post card writing, and then dinner with friends-of-Dear Friend.

Day five brought the sad (and still rainy) end of my visit -- I was truly sad to leave. We managed to squeeze in a beach walk on our way out of town. The dog carefully sniffed the carcasses of the salmon that just didn't make it. I could only imagine what Finn would have done under such circumstances. I imagine that he would have grabbed two or three of the fish, torn them up, then rolled around on the his back on the rest.

I scanned the landscape all around the highway as we sped towards Anchorage for the chance to spot a moose before I left Alaska. Sadly, I saw none. Of course, this was one of the most beautiful stretches of roadway I had ever witnessed, so it wasn't exactly disappointing. But sure enough, as soon as I got through the security checkpoint, I noticed that Dear Friend had left me a message informing me that she and the dog had just seen a moose on their walk through town. Better luck next time!

I had a fantastic time visiting my Dear Friend whom I don't see often enough. I was so glad to be able to see where she's been living and what her life is like. I can't wait to go back.

Alaska: day 3

No crescent moon on Friday morning (or at least, I didn't see it). Breakfast and a dog walk--'course the dog and I were in for a big walk later on. I packed a sammich--homemade bread, mustard, havarti cheese and leftover salmon. The dog and I set off around 9:00--the Mt Marathon "falls trail" (meaning the backside trail, not the crazyass front side trail you can see in the photo below) trailhead was just a short walk away. The first bit was steep, and the trail was wide (would easily accomodate a truck and rutted) but not unlike other hikes. About 100 yards in, we encountered one gentleman who greeted us, and then about a quarter mile in, we came across another two fellows, one of whom informed me that they had seen two bears less than half a mile up the trail, and that I ought to watch the dog. I'd be lying if I said that the bears didn't concern me a little, but I had gone over with Dear Friend what to do incase of bear (brown bears were not at all likely, but black bears are common in this area), including what the dog would do, and what I should do with the dog. We covered moose encounters too, just incase.

The trail narrowed and flattened out right where we had bear sighting number one. I think the dog probably saw the bear before I did, but by the time I saw it, it was running away from us. It was a small black bear, probably still learning how to manage on his own.

The trail crossed a handful of small streams (the kind you just step over, no fording) and then turns abruptly uphill to follow one of the streams to a saddle. In addition to heading more or less straight uphill, the trail surface turns to loose shale, where you plant your foot and immediately slide a few to several inches downhill. Frustrating, but it's so beautiful, you don't really care. You care the next day though (and in my case, about three more days after that) when your leg muscles are sore. So sore).

the trail...

the saddle...

At the saddle, the trail completely peters out and you're left in a huge, majestic bowl, in my case, with two bears, roaming the hillsides for food. There were berries everywhere, so I don't think they were too interested in me, and paid the dog and me no attention, so far as I could tell. We stopped for lunch, but got moving again before my body temperature dropped too much. It was cloudy almost the entire time, but I was comfortable in my hiking pants, capilene t-shirt and baseball cap.
panoramic view from the saddle....
The next bit was a classic example of believing you're looking at the summit and hiking to it, only to find out that no, the summit is actually the next bump ahead of you. I did that four times. There was essentially no trail, so I did my best to stay off the vegetation (impossible for most of it). There were no plants taller than the tops of my feet at this point, but what there was was gorgeous. The bearberry was fire engine red, and my camera didn't capture the color as well as I had hoped.

At one point between the saddle and the summit, I noticed the dog had gone ahead a bit and was staring straight down the frontside of the slope. Something about his stance told me that he was staring at a bear, though I couldn't see it. I was relieved to have the dog's name to call and let the bear know I was there. I moved sideways towards the ridge to see if I could spot the bear. I got just a glimpse of his black ears and tan face peering at me just the way I was peering at him over the ridge before he ducked and ran away. I suspect this was the same small bear we had encountered earlier -- small and timid and on the same slope.

Looking back towards Resurrection Bay provided some stunning vistas, even with the substantial cloudcover. Of course, without the clouds, I wouldn't have what is probably my favorite photo: sunbeams on the bay....

And more neat lighting at the top once at the top.... if you were to walk on this ridge-top trail away from the camera, you would end up walking (sliding on your butt, more like) down the frontside "race trail" that you can see in the first photo.)

The view was magnificent, and I followed the dog's lead and lay down in a patch of green fuzzy groundcover and enjoyed the moment and sense of accomplishment. When I opened my eyes, a bald eagle had appeared and was casually chasing three ravens. As if all that wonderfulness wasn't enough, when I finally decided that it was time to head back, there was this:

I'm not sure it gets much better than that.

14 September 2007

Alaska Supplement: where's the bear?

By popular demand, I give you the location of the bear:

pink circle, right hand side (enlarging the photo helps)

12 September 2007

Alaska: days 1 and 2

Transcribed from my travel journal, written aboard the Tanaina, largely on Resurrection Bay, Alaska.

Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. Young girl in front of me on the airplane (8-10 years old): “Wait! Is there electricity in Anchorage?”

Before I left Seattle yesterday, I vowed to eat salmon for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so as soon as I arrived in downtown Anchorage, I set out to find some salmon for lunch. Settled on a little lunch spot (I don’t remember the name, but that’s no matter, since I don’t care to return), where I ordered a salmon salad sammie, and a cup of halibut chowder. The chowder was pretty good, but I’m increasingly sure that the salmon salad was actually white bread creamed with mayo and pink fish flakes, smeared between two more pieces of white bread. I am trying not to hold that sammich against the City of Anchorage.

Rented a bike, rode around the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Looked all around for moose, but saw none. I wonder if they saw me? Dear Friend arrived in Anchorage earlier than I expected, so she collected me along my bike route. We dropped the bike off—much to the alarm of BikeRentalGuy—we had tied it to the top of her truck. I helped Dear Friend with some errands, namely the installation of a bale of straw in the bed of her truck for her (very big) dog. We met up with a friend of hers for dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse, had a tasty amber ale there and half a pound of king crab legs. It was better than those silly blue crabs, but still not as good as Dungeness! So much for not eating anything but salmon on this trip!

nope, no moose here...

After perfect weather all day (clear and not-too-warm), it started to rain just as we left Anchorage. The rain didn’t last long, and soon it seemed to be just us, driving the highway along Turnagain Arm. The light had faded completely (as had the clouds) by the time we reached Seward and I was treated to a sky full of stars—the likes of which I haven’t seen for many years.
Once at Dear Friend’s house, I nested down on her air mattress with many warm layers (and my feet were still a bit chilly—socks on tonight!), and I awoke at about 4:00am to a perfect crescent moon shining in on me. Framed perfectly off-center in the window, it was so bright, it was squinting to look at it. Alarm woke me at 6:30ADT, but Dear Friend graciously hit the snooze button. Breakfast and walk with the dog.

Dear Friend suggested that I try one of Seward’s fjord/glacier/wildlife boat tours, since I’d have a chance of spotting some whales, and so I have.

Later, in Seward
And she was right! I boarded the Tanaina around 11:00 under clear skies and a comfortable cool. The tour took us south out of Resurrection Bay towards Fox Island, where we saw a pod of orcas (my untrained eye would say 12 to 15 individuals). We watched them (from a legal distance of about 120 yards) for a bit—they were surfacing and traveling. A large male was even spyhopping (a behavior more commonly associated with Gray whales) and floating his eyes above the surface, watching our boat carefully. As the boat returned to it’s regular route, I saw two young orcas (or the individual, twice) breaching (coming nearly entirely out of the water). I got all choked up—their white patches were not quite white, still a light grey. It was wonderful.
Shortly after that, the captain directed our attention to a patch of boiling water and rapid spouting, about 150 yards away. It was a group of Dall’s porpoises, who seem to enjoy swimming directly in front of these tour boats, as they will approach the cruising boats themselves. The captain passed by them, and when they didn’t join us, he circled the boat again to see if we could get the porpoises to “play”. They didn’t, so we moved on.

We passed Bear Glacier and Three Hole Point on our way to Aialik (eye-AL-ick) Glacier. At the glacier—a show unto itself, with creaking and calving sounds so familiar and so otherworldly at once—we saw a black bear roaming the beach and harbor seals floating on the ice. A sea otter served as the greeting and farewell committee as we traveled into and out of Aialik Bay.

The captain headed the boat over towards Harbor, Natoa, and Matushka Islands for some bird watching, but we got sidetracked by the tail slapping of a juvenile humpback whale. We observed him for a bit as he made a wide semi-circle around our boat, then headed out to the open ocean. We returned to our birding.

Bear Glacier...

I especially loved Three Hole Point.... Since they didn't already have one, I just submitted this photo to Google Earth to be included in their next update! I'll let you know if it gets selected!

Aialik Glacier...

a sea bird rookery, where we saw puffins, gulls and murres in the vicinity of Harbor/Matushka Islands

Once there, we saw both horned and tufted puffins, common murres (both of which are flighted relatives of the penguin), and a variety of gulls. In this area, we also saw Steller sea lions (different from California sea lions). The Stellers are expected to become extinct in the very near future, for reasons unknown to scientists. That fact alone made it sad to watch them, basking in the sun and barking occasionally, oblivious to the condition of their species.

Steller sea lions...

Horned puffins...

As we headed back to Seward, it had gotten warm outside (so long as you were wearing your hat and coat) and I was sitting out on the bow with two other gentlemen who chose to embrace the wind, rather than sit inside the cabin. To the starboard side, I spotted more of the rapid spouting that we had seen earlier, with the Dall’s porpoises. I pointed this out to the two men nearby, one of whom immediately jumped up and signaled to the captain, who turned the boat just slightly towards the creatures. In an instant, the porpoises were “charging” the boat! I was already planted on the bow of the boat, and before I knew it, sure enough, there they were, swimming directly under us, darting back and forth, staying just ahead of the boat. The captain told us that they are the fastest marine mammals ever recorded, being regularly clocked at 40 knots (that’s over 46 mph). It was so special, I got all choked up again. Finally, the porpoises headed off to do their own thing, and we sailed back to shore, where the captain assured us that this day of wildlife sighting and “total cloud failure” was atypical of this time of year.

Dall's porpoises swimming right off the bow of our boat! look closely, there's two in this photo...

Thoroughly pleased with my contribution to the Alaska tourism machine, I arrived home, took the dog for a walk, returned home again to Dear Friend (who had to work), and who then cooked us the very best salmon I have ever had. I had heard about how fresh Alaskan salmon is in a class of it’s own, and based on this dinner, I would have to agree.