Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Attempting to pick huckleberries

A huckleberry bush in Snoqualmie Pass
I love to pick berries and was very happy to find a great place for huckleberries in Snoqualmie Pass, only an hour from Seattle. Ryan and I picked here last September and the year before that. Despite a bit of snow and rain, we came home with lots of big, fat berries. Last year Ryan, my sister, and I picked 4 gallons in two trips. We had so many that we didn't even use them all. I've been looking forwarding to my annual huckleberry expedition all summer and decided I would make jam this year to be sure they would all get used.

My friend Natasha and I drove up to Snoqualmie Pass on Sunday, hiked uphill for a half and hour to get to my spot, and were very disappointed to only find a few puny berries. Since I had been there two years in a row and had great berries, it hadn't really occurred to me that they might not be that good every year. We spent about 30 min picking and this is what we came home with:

This year's harvest (note that this is a sandwich plate, not a dinner plate)

The trip wasn't a complete bust though, I got to have fresh berries on my cereal and the next morning and we got to go for a hike. It was raining, but at 57 degrees it was much warmer than two of the other times I've been up there picking in the rain/snow. The fall colors were nice too. Below are some photos of previous trips, it's hard to even believe that those are the same type of berries as the ones above! Here's to hoping next year is a good huckleberry year!

Huckleberries from 2009

My sister, Kelly, picking huckleberries last year

A successful trip in the rain last year

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Almost Fall in Upstate New York

Fresh Veggies from the farm next to Grandma's house

A Northern Spy Apple from Grandma's Orchard
Corn maze in Cazenovia
Critz Farm in Cazenovia

We just returned from visiting Ryan's grandmother and extended family in Morrisville, NY. We had beautiful almost-fall weather nearly the entire time we were there. We got the last bit of summer with a couple of 65-70 degree days even though it did dip down to the 30's at night. Ryan's grandmother buys corn from her neighbor and we were lucky enough to have very fresh sweet corn almost everyday we were there. We also enjoyed tomatoes from Grandma and Aunt Helen's gardens. Ryan's grandparents also had quite the apple orchard, and although his grandmother doesn't have the trees sprayed or pick the apples anymore, we found a couple of good ones. The ones we ate were Northern Spy apples. They were crisp, a little tart, but delicious and Ryan was happy that I got to eat an apple from their orchard.

One day we went over to Cazenovia and went to the fall festival at Critz Farm. The festival features a corn maze (I had never been in a corn field before, so it was kind of exciting for me!), cider press demonstrations, pumpkin picking, and a petting zoo. It was quite the treat to have fresh apple cider, something that's a little hard to come by in Alaska! Besides being a little embarrassed that we were the only people at the festival without kids, we had a great time getting lost in the corn maze and petting the lambs and goats. When we drove up to the booth to pay to get into the festival, the guy selling the tickets couldn't believe we didn't have kids with us. I suppose if you lived around there and didn't have kids, a corn maze and petting zoo wouldn't be very exciting. =)

More photos soon!


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Riding the Alaska Railroad

Broad Pass in the Alaska Range
Ryan in the dining car
The Susitna Valley
Arriving in Wasilla
When we lived in Fairbanks, Ryan and I always talked about riding the train down to Anchorage just for fun and for the chance to see some slightly different scenery than you see from the highway. Three years after moving away from Fairbanks we finally had the chance! Ryan flew up to Fairbanks last week and after my last day of work, we hopped on the train on Saturday morning and rode to Wasilla where Ryan's parents picked us up. For those of you in Alaska, you know we've been having some awesome late summer weather. It's been in the 60's and even 70's all over Alaska. The fall colors are also at their peak north of the Alaska Range. We could not have asked for a more beautiful day to ride the train.

The train ride was 10 hours, but 10 hours on a train is infinitely more enjoyable than 10 hours on an airplane! In the "Adventure" cars (also known as coach), everyone has assigned seats but there is also a second-story domed car with open seating. Anyone can go sit up there and enjoy the view, they just ask you not to stay more than 20-30 minutes so everyone can enjoy it. Lucky for us, the train wasn't too full and we spent quite a bit of our ride up there. The dining car was also really nice with high ceilings and we spent a bunch of time sitting in there too. Ryan spent almost two hours standing outside in between the cars enjoying the fresh air.

Some of the highlights of the ride include the Nenana River canyon between Healy and the entrance to Denali National Park, seeing Dall Sheep, the fall colors of the tundra in Broad Pass, and the (partial) view of Denali from a few spots near Talkeetna.

Monday, September 6, 2010

“I Like Projects”

When we bought our house I had more than one person tell me with a dreary voice that home ownership was a lot of work, to which I would reply something along the lines of “I like projects”. This is true, but more correctly I like working on home improvement projects that I come up with and plan in advance, as apposed to those which are thrust upon me: leaking roof, leaking toilet, leaking sink, ect… In fact I would even go as far as to say that I hate anything that leaks. Anyways, with all the time I have spent away from home this summer I was looking forward to a long holiday weekend at home. A chance to work a few projects I have had on the back burner. Of course the weekend actually started with one of those “thrust upon me” jobs fixing the brakes on the car, but that’s another story altogether.
We have done a lot to improve our house since buying it less than a year and half ago. For me the most fun has been converting the garage from a dark “not much more than an enclosed carport” into a nice workshop from which to base my projects out of. When we moved in the garage literally had one outlet and one light. Since then with the help of Molly, my Dad, and a few friends, I have wired, insulated, installed a window, sheet rocked, painted and basically done everything to make a living space a living space. I even brought in plumbing and added a utility sink. Cabinets and a counter top which are still under construction are the final touch. This weekend’s project in the shop was installing a lumber rack/storage space above the garage door. This allowed me to finally get extra lumber off the floor and organize my limited space a little better.
Garage with new lumber rack and also this weekend new shelf for parking my bike above Molly's bike

Old wiring of  two switches using one 3 strand wire
Once that was done I was ready to move inside to the next project. At Molly’s request the bathroom needed more light. The obvious solution was to change the bath fan out for a combination fan and light. Sounds simple enough, right? Not really. This job involved crawling around in the attic, cutting sheet rock, duct work, and quite a bit of wiring. Working on the garage last year I learned a lot about wiring, but new wiring is always much easier that working with old wiring. I had to find a way to add an additional switch for the light without making a mess of the walls and without disturbing the existing wiring. I new I had it made once I was able to pull a new wire through the wall from the switch up into the attic and using the old wiring and then pull the old wiring back into place using the new wire, successfully emplace a new wire that could be used for the new switch and light. Until that point I really didn’t know if this whole project was going to pan out or not. Actually, I really didn’t know it if was going to pan out until I turning the electricity back on and almost to my disbelief everything worked just the way I had planed. And I guess that’s part of what motivates me, every good project is chance to learn something, a chance to challenge yourself and hopefully in the end create a better living space. So bring it on … “I LIKE Projects”
The Attic.  My second least favorite place after the crawlspace.
Success!  Three switches where there use to be just two.

The final project.  Got to love that wide angle lens.  Out bathroom looks huge!

A Whale Bone and Sod House

  Last week when I was in Point Hope, I had the opportunity to go inside a whale bone and sod house in the old town. Point Hope used to be located at the very western tip of the spit, but due to severe storm erosion, the village was moved inland in 1975/76. People in northwest Alaska have been living in sod houses for thousands of years and before the village was moved in ‘75, a few people were still living in sod houses. Only one of these sod houses is still standing today.
This house was occupied by an elderly Inupiaq woman in the 1970’s. I’m not exactly sure how old it is, but I read somewhere on the internet that this house has been occupied since before white people arrived in Point Hope. It was probably continually fixed up to keep it habitable. In 1975 it even had electricity! Going in an old sod house like this was a very special experience for me. I’ve excavated sod houses in Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Iceland, and on the Alaska Peninsula. I’ve also seen sod houses in the Kuril Islands in the Russian Far East and on the Kuskokwim River. The size and construction techniques all vary a little across these areas, but the general design in the same. In Kodiak and Iceland people used wood frames, in the Aleutians people used a combination of stone, wood, and whale bone, whereas in Point Hope where there was very little large wood available, people used almost entirely whale bone.
As sod houses are abandoned and begin to collapse, they usually cave in, often the building materials get re-used in newer structures, what’s left of wood and bone often decomposes, and the layers of sod blocks mush together. The result is that what archaeologists often find hundreds or thousands of years later doesn’t look a whole lot like the house I went in in Point Hope or Erik the Red’s reconstructed house in Iceland. What is special about the house in Point Hope is that it is in the middle of falling down. You can see in the photo of the inside, that a lot of dirt has fallen through the cracks in the walls and part of the ceiling is about to collapse. Seeing this helps me imagine what some of the sod houses I have excavated looked like before they completely collapsed.
I don’t know how long this whale bone house will still be standing, but if you are ever in Point Hope, it is definitely worth a peak!
IMG_1221A portion of a sod house excavated this summer on the Alaska Peninsula at the Penguq site (1500 years old).
S-7 Final Photo
The foundation of a sod house in Dutch Harbor (3000 years old).
A reconstruction of Erik the Red’s house in Iceland (Erik the Red lived about 1000 years ago).

Friday, September 3, 2010

September in Northwest Alaska

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P9010544 P9010498
I finally made my first trip north of the Arctic Circle. I just returned from working for three days in Point Hope, AK. When I left Seattle two and a half months ago, I had no idea that I would end up in the Arctic in September. It wasn’t terribly cold, but it was windy and on our last day it rained. For the most part I had the appropriate clothing and raingear, but I did not have the right kind of gloves! I only had Atlas rubber-palmed gloves and a pair of finger-less wool gloves. Both were pretty useless while driving a 4-wheeler in the wind and rain. What I really needed was snow machine-ing gloves! It was 50 degrees though, not exactly frost-bite weather so my fingers survived.
Point Hope is an amazing place. The town is located out on a spit made of beach gravel and it is completely exposed to the storms of the Arctic Ocean and Bering Sea. The beaches along the spit are beautiful and I saw my fare share of stinky dead whales and bloated walrus carcasses. I got to see the polar bear hide above, possibly as close as I’ll ever get to seeing a live polar bear in the wild. The cloudberries, also known as low-bush salmonberries, were ripe while I was there and I got to munch while I worked. I’ve picked cloudberries in other parts of Alaska, but I have never seen then as thick and big as they were in Point Hope!