I’ve decided to write up posts from Alaska in whatever order I feel like. It felt limiting to try to process photos in order and write them in sequence and so I’ll be sharing as I find inspiration.
My first inspiration was from our last day in Alaska and finally getting some good photos of a black-billed magpie. I know my Mountain West readers are like “Um, Misti, these are super common over here!” and to that I’d reply that we don’t have them in Texas! Range maps look like a straggler or two might show up in the far north of the Texas Panhandle but that’s about it. I do recall seeing them when I’ve visited Colorado and Montana but honestly, I’d kind of forgotten about them.
Even in Alaska they weren’t super common but we did see them a few times. Mostly Chris seemed to be noticing them and I finally caught glimpses of a couple. On our last day in Alaska we spent the day around the Turnagain Arm area and the southern end of the Chugach State Park, poking around the trails there.
We’d stopped at the Bird Creek trail, finding it terribly steep, eroded, and not well marked and managed to find a way to ditch off to a bike trail that paralleled the road to gain some access to the creek. The creek itself was very muddy and we opted not to get completely messy before our flight left Anchorage, and instead we just peered out into the creek for a few minutes from the bike path.
Chris noticed the magpie and I stealthily followed it around from the metal staircase that led down to the creek. The colors of the bird are gorgeous, something you might not glimpse as they are flying away, but up close those blues, greens, and tinges of purples really stand out. This particular bird was picking on the bones of a dead fish while I watched it and then hopped over to the bushes to see what else it could scarf over there.
I’ve always loved the corvid family, the jays in particular of course, but I enjoy listening to the sound of crows cawing when I’m out in the yard or in an ’empty’ forest out on the trail. I wouldn’t be upset if the magpies decided to extend their range into Texas so I could see them more often!
I didn’t mean to leave everyone hanging after the last post but honestly, it was going to be too hard to try to write every day and get a post up here every few days. I don’t know how hikers or other travelers do it on a daily basis, trying to compress everything they are doing into the day and writing it up, editing photos, and getting it out into the world. I suppose if you consider it like an ‘office hours’ type situation, but this was vacation and that wasn’t happening.
(On a more annoying note, I updated my WordPress platform and I am hating the post editor now. Such a small writing block and if anyone wants to gripe with me, please do! I may see if I can revert back to an older version.)
So, where did we go? Well, the grand adventure started in Seattle because of poor planning on our part and then onward to Vancouver where we spent one night instead of two nights. Our original plan was to head up to Squamish to hike and sightsee instead of staying in Vancouver proper, but the lack of time forced us to eat the cost of one night at the hotel and then cancel the following night and find a different hotel out near the Vancouver airport.
Vancouver was our jumping off spot for an Alaskan cruise on the Norwegian Jewel. Aside from a honeymoon Caribbean Cruise and then a summer school at sea program on a converted naval ship (two completely different experiences if you can’t tell) the summer between high school and college, we’ve not really been ‘cruise people’. Ideally I would loved to have sat on a Caribbean island beach for a week or two but Chris needs more activity than that and I wasn’t sure how much enjoying we’d do with Forest at this age. We initially checked out a southern Caribbean cruise but some of the countries/islands we were visiting I wasn’t sure would be kid friendly enough for us and we started eyeing Alaskan cruises.
Chris’ dad and step-mom are seasoned cruise veterans and have taken at least one cruise if not more a year the last 10-15 years, though they are slowing down on that front now, so they had some input as to what ships would be more kid friendly than others.
From Vancouver we sailed the Inside Passage to our first port of Ketchikan. We didn’t have any tours scheduled for this town so we did our own thing, first taking a taxi straight to Carlanna Lake a few miles up to do some early morning hiking. It was a great way to start our trip in Alaska! A taxi back into town let us walk around town to see the salmon migrating back upstream to spawn and die, and do some sightseeing in this small coastal town.
Further up the IP, we stopped at Juneau for whale watching and a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. Next was our final port of Skagway, where we had a long day in that town with a trip on the White Pass Railroad, which meant dipping quickly back into Canada, a lot of strolling around this even tinier town, and a hike along some trails on a point on the outskirts of town.
The following two days were spent traveling to see glaciers, first into Glacier Bay National Park, where park service employees boarded the ship and gave the ship a tour and presentation via the ship’s intercom system. The following day we had a few hours at the Hubbard Glacier, which I think is actually in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Overall the entire cruise had nearly perfect weather, sunny and mild, except the last day which turned cloudy and a bit rougher on the seas on our way to Seward.
From Seward we took the scenic Alaska Railroad to Anchorage, a five hour journey that paralleled the road for a short bit before detouring into a scenic roadless area for a good while. We had plans to stay in Anchorage just for one night. Coincidentally our friend Eliana was in Alaska as well. She and her husband Marc had been working on and off all summer in Alaska and Marc was working in the remote island in NW Alaska and she happened to be doing some work in Eagle River just north of Anchorage. We met up for dinner on Monday evening and Eliana mentioned that her field work to Izembek NWR was delayed until the weekend and she thought she could tag along on our journey north to Denali National Park.
So, for the next few days we added a member to our party! On the 3rd, Forest’s birthday, we drove a few hours north to Denali National Park where we had a small cabin for two nights outside the park. We did a few small things in the park on the 3rd, hiking the Savage River, looking for wildlife from the road, and on the 4th we took the transit bus out to the Eielson Visitor Center. There was no view from Denali that day—our clear weather days were not around any longer, and well, when dealing with a 20,000′ tall mountain you never know what weather you will get! The park was gorgeous, though!
Our last day in the Denali area we drove down the gravel Denali Highway so Chris could fish in some of the streams that crossed it and the rest of us did some poking around in the woods to take photographs. We dropped Eliana back off that evening and we drove down to the Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage to stay at a cozy motel there for our final night in Alaska.
We tried to pack what we could into our day on Friday, hiking, looking for beluga whales, one last hurrah at an ice cream store in Anchorage, and then boarded our overnight flight for Houston via Atlanta. Yesterday we were completely zombies around here and Forest was probably one of the worst he’s been tantrum related, in maybe ever, due to the poor sleep and his decision not to take a nap because he was so high on all of the new toys for his birthday that were awaiting him when we returned home.
We’re waking up late this morning and will slowly unpack, clean up, and give some watering attention to the yard—I don’t think it rained while we were gone and some of our trees looked rather stressed. A hummingbird just swooped by the salvia so migration season is in full swing. It will take several more days to adjust to being home again and transition back into work and school. Another day in Alaska would have been nice but I’m glad we had this extra time to adjust before moving back into ‘real life’.
Here are some photos from my phone—some of you have already seen them—and as I process the ones from my camera (I think there’s going to be around 2500) I’ll start the process of sharing more detailed posts.
This is a mola mola, aka: ocean sunfish! It was a complete and total surprise for us to see and we were so ecstatic! We ended up seeing about 4 during that first full day at sea in the Inside Passage!
Just a quick update because I’m not going to be able to write like I had intended—the app isn’t working right. We did get to our destination and then onward. I’ll update again when we return to Summer—for now we are going to continue enjoying early autumn!
More in a week or so.
We arrived at the Motel 6 at around 3:30 am after landing and sitting on the runway for about 20 minutes because of a backup in Seattle.
While waiting for our luggage I’d begun feeling poorly again. I’d felt bad since the day before when our flight issues had occurred but I’d chalked it up to nerves. It had settled later that day and I had felt better when we left Houston. But as we settled in for what meager sleep we could get that night I knew I wasn’t doing well at all.
Morning came and we slept in as long as possible but our bodies were still on central time. We had all gotten little if no sleep on the plane and I think the only person who slept extra well at the motel was Forest.
You know that feeling when you aren’t sure if you are extra hungry or if you are going to be sick? Well, that was me. Stomach grumbling and I was hungry but it wasn’t long before my body said SICK!!!!
Luckily, if there is a luckily, we had woken up several hours before we had to be at the car rental at the airport. I had time to expel my guts and rest and thankfully there was kid tv available so Forest could be distracted.
Chris fetches Sprite for me to drink and ice for me to chew and I alternated between sipping and heading to the bathroom. Eventually I told chris to take the shuttle to the airport by himself and come back to pick us up so I had more time to rest.
By the time he got back I felt semi-well enough to get in the car for our drive to Vancouver. We planned a stop to the Safeway to get supplies, snacks and something I could barf into should the need arise.
I should preface all of this with going back to last week. Early in the week Forest and I both had some tummy ailments but it seemed to pass and then on Thursday I picked Forest up from school and his cheeks were bright pink. We’d gone to the beach that previous Sunday but it seemed far too late for a sunburn to appear. A quick google of “pink cheeks in children” automatically resulted in 5th disease.
5th disease is a human parvovirus that in kids presents first as a rash on the face and later moves to the other parts of the body. By the time the rash appears you aren’t contagious any longer. I’d mentioned it to daycare too the next day but they hadn’t noticed anyone else with it. And in kids there’s not much to do but let it takes its course over 1-3 weeks.
By the time Saturday rolled around it had faded from his face somewhat and started appearing on his arms which to me sealed the deal. Otherwise he had no complaints.
In adults, if you catch it later in life it can be worse, mostly presenting as stomach issues and possibly joint pain towards the end. My guess was I had the adult version. Good times.
Leaving Seattle was slow on I-5. I remembered that traffic was horrible here when we came in 2012, too. Forest pointed out the people “camping” along the side of the highway and we had to explain what homeless people were and why they couldn’t afford to live in a house. Houston has a few encampments and Austin has even more since real estate has skyrocketed there, but it hasn’t been so blatantly visible to him before this.
It was slow going until we got north of Seattle and still not super fast between the smaller suburbs up until we got close to the Skagit Valley. I had started feeling alright after we left town and worked up a bit but soon began feeling bad again. We stopped at two gas stations which conveniently only had port o potties and I wasn’t going to hurl in those. I eyed nearby bushes with desire but we moved on down the road and managed to find a decent gas station with a bathroom. Outside a farm trailer was loaded with fresh corn from the valley for sale. If we weren’t traveling it would been a great stop to pick up some for home!
One last hurl before the border, I told myself. I didn’t want to show up asking Canada to let me in as I was barfing. Thankfully my stomach settled once again and despite one moment later that evening I thought I wouldn’t make it, that’s the last time that happened.
I had been mentally keeping track of when/if Forest had gone pee—he tends to not go first thing in the morning and then forget after a while. I’d thought he hadn’t gone so we asked and sure enough he hadn’t—it was 2pm. The highway had a wait time for the border of about 40 minutes and we found the last roadside rest area and pulled over.
Everyone’s bladders empty, we headed the last few miles to the border.
Saturday –posts are being drafted in real time and posted a few days later. Or I’m trying at least.
On the way to the airport.
Chris and I have a poor track record with passports. Back in 2008 we showed up to MIA with tickets to La Paz, Bolivia with our friends Marc and Eliana only to find out my passport was fine because I’d renewed it recently, but Chris’ wasn’t because it had less than three months left on it. Queue us rescheduling our flight for the following Monday so we could get a new passport last minute for him and us flying later into Bolivia and meeting our friends there. It worked out but we lost a couple of days.
Earlier this summer we began planning a vacation. It involved traveling to Canada for a short period of time. We renewed our passports and looked into if we needed one for Forest but it appeared like we only needed a birth certificate for him. We even tossed around going ahead and getting a passport but because of that birth certificate language we didn’t.
Tickets were bought, reservations were made and it come down to departure. We are at the airport at 4am, checking into Air Canada. We hand the ticket agent our passports and Forest’s birth certificate and he asks if Forest has a passport. We of course answer no because of what we’d read on the websites and because of what Chris supposedly heard from an airline rep when he called.
But no. That’s for land or boat travel into Canada. Air travel requires a passport for minors too. *expletives* Of course we find this later when digging on a different page–so infuriating that the websites are quite cryptic and never spell it out directly on one page. How about bold and highlighting? Bullet points?
Now we are scrambling to cancel flights, hotels, car rentals, and reschedule to fly into Seattle to drive into Canada. Oh boy. And rechecking rules for minors getting into Canada. Finally Chris calls the border station and asks for clarification, to verify the things we’ve read online. And yes, we should be good. *crosses fingers*
The pit of worry in my stomach eases a little but not much. We settle into naps and lazing about for the day at home while waiting for our late evening flight. Let’s hope thunderstorms don’t delay flights this evening.
Afternoon nap vibes.
We made it to our gate! Bummer is that our plane still hasn’t left Florida. Before we left the house Chris said that the incoming plane was early. And as we approached the airport he got a message on his phone that there was a delay. Good times.
1:37 am PT Sunday morning. On the ground in Seattle.
Let’s find some sleep.
About our upcoming vacation! It’s a good one with a lot of moving parts involved so I’m hoping it all goes smoothly!
And generally having an existential crisis on the creeping fascism growing in the world and the rapid state of climate change.
I spent most of the summer heavily working in the edible garden on the soil solarization of the paths. So much was involved in this process:
-from first removing the weeds in the path
-then scraping up several inches of years of decomposed mulch that had turned into dirt and transporting it to the backyard in one of our low spots to raise it up
-cutting and spreading out the plastic
-moving rocks to hold it down (this involved shuttling by wheel barrow rocks we have stashed for future garden projects—my dad helped me out with this one weekend back in May)
-and finally moving mulch to put down into the path after the section was complete.
-wash and repeat three times.
I still have a small section I’m solarizing and will need mulch for it in a few weeks. In addition, I was trying to keep on top of the weeds in the beds themselves and just do some general gardening. Over this last weekend I prepped some of the empty beds with bat guano (from our bats!), biochar (Chris made it from a tree we had to cut down back in the spring), compost, and then mulch on top. I had also added in some new soil into a couple of the beds earlier this summer as they had settled/lost soil over the years and I didn’t have enough compost to fill beds.
Something we’ve also been lacking for quite a while are greens for the compost. Leaves are easy to come by every autumn and we get bags of them from Chris’ mom or we rake up ours, but greens are usually just whatever we cut down from the garden, which doesn’t happen that often and isn’t enough to get the compost hot. I haven’t picked up bags of grass from neighborhoods in years and that’s really what I needed. However, I mowed the yard last week after maybe six weeks of it not being mowed and I was able to blow enough of the cut grass into piles that were easily rakeable and I moved several loads to the compost to help that get started.
The flower garden was weeded once or twice this summer and I tried to work on the paths twice this summer but the paths needed a blow torch or solarization as well. I’m about done with them. At this point a grass path that is weed-eated once or twice a month would be less time consuming then ‘weeding’ it multiple times a year. Less tedious, that’s for sure.
Sparkling water. I’ve never been a fan of the plain stuff but my mom has been on a Bubly kick for a while now and when she was down with everyone else over Memorial Day I tried one of her lime flavored ones—and I was a convert! Another brand I had been hearing about was Spindrift but it is usually a buck or two more than Bubly and I was leery about buying a whole case of them if I didn’t like them. Luckily one of our grocery stores had a can in their drinks fridge and I bought one and really love it!
I stopped drinking soda many years ago and sometimes I want something different. I’ll make iced tea on occasion but I primarily drink regular old water as I just generally love water! However, having the sparkling water this summer has been a nice treat on the super hot days and a little change in pace!
Since I’ve not been writing my book reports here much this year I’ll share a snippet of what I’ve been reading this year.
Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton: I’ve been reading this one on and off for like two years, mostly because I was savoring it and partly because I couldn’t focus at first. But as I got reading I fell in love with this journal/set of essay by poet and author May Sarton. This book focuses on her mid-life settling down into the small town of Nelson, New Hampshire. It’s a quiet book, writing about the people and happenings of a small town but she also captures these delightful paragraphs about the way light falls in her house—and as someone with an affinity for the way light falls in my own house (or previous houses), I was lapping up all she could give to me!
Sarton has several other fiction books, poetry, and other journals and essays that I will be dipping into soon.
Upstream by Mary Oliver: I used some birthday money to order this book of essays, something I’ve had flagged to read for several years now. The book was a lot thinner than I imagined it was going to be but it was so delightful. I was a bit dismayed at her noticing and then stalking a freshwater turtle who had come up to nest from a waterway and then digging up some of the eggs and making a meal out of them! And I did get a smidge cross-eyed as she analyzed some poetry and poets in a couple of middle essays and had to skim through those, but her natural history essays were perfect.
“For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.”
The Royal We by Heather Cocks: A total chick lit book that I devoured. Hat tip to the gals at Friendlier Podcast for getting it on my radar!
The Whole Okra by Chris Smith: Finally a book about one of the most maligned edibles there is! I previewed this book on NetGalley first and then ordered it after it was published. It’s very good with great historical context on how okra came to this content plus talking about how it is used in other cultures throughout the globe. I did not grow a bunch of okra this summer but will get it back on my growing agenda next summer. I did have a couple of rows of smaller growing plants but not the big harvests I was getting last year.
I had plans for studio time this summer but that didn’t really happen much. I managed to finally get curtains for the windows after all these years and it has made a difference with the temperature in there. Despite the room being connected to our a/c, it just never stays as cold or warm over there. I’m thinking we’ll head over there more as the evenings get darker earlier.
My desire to crochet is returning after a three year hiatus. So, I expect some projects this winter on that front.
Watching & Listening:
The Americans: I spent the last part of June and most of July binge watching all six seasons of this show, which originally ran on F/X. It was a show I had wanted to watch when it originally aired but I never got around to seeing it and didn’t want to start in the middle. It’s currently on Amazon Prime. The premise if you aren’t familiar is that there are deep cover Soviet spies living and working in the US in the early to mid-80s. There’s lots of violence and sex so if you are at all averse to that this isn’t for you—but there are great storylines as well. Honestly, it is in my top 10 tv shows I’ve ever watched and I was stuck thinking about the ending for weeks after. And! it’s partly based on a true story from 2010!
Orange is the New Black: Oof, this was a hard season to watch. I knew the ending wouldn’t tie up nicely because well, all of the ladies are still in prison doing their time. Some of the storylines I didn’t particularly like how they detoured or left them (Red, Carla, Maritza) —with Carla’s storyline you know that’s based in truth and that hurts to think about. And I’m sure Martiza’s as well. I just hated seeing Red end up how she did. It was a great season and I’ll be sad not to have it as my summer watching every year.
Stranger Things: I finally managed to get around to this last week. It was tied up nicely in case the show isn’t picked back up again but there’s that sort of cliffhanger at the end where you just wonder…and I’m not going to give anything away.
I don’t have any particular podcasts for you to listen to but I was glad to find that 91.7 KXT based in DFW has an app so I can listen to their music from my phone now! I’ve been put off with Spotify recently as their algorithm has gotten stale—same for Pandora—so being able to listen to my favorite radio station from afar is awesome! I have listened on the computer before but this makes it easier to take it with you.
What’s up with you?
In late June we took an evening out in the middle of the week, dinner at a new to us Tex-Mex restaurant and then a walk/hike over at Kickerillo-Mischer Preserve. The park is down near The Vintage in the Willowbrook area of NW Houston off of SH 249—so it is rather urban/suburban but once you get into the park it doesn’t feel like it unless you pay attention to the background noise of the roads in the distance! The park itself was very busy with joggers, strollers (not the baby kind–well, probably a few of those, too!), and fisherfolks. If we lived closer than a 25 minute-ish drive I know we’d be around the park much more often.
Driving up and down 249 over the last few years I had noticed the park being built but it wasn’t until recently that I put some effort into figuring out more information about the park. In early summer I had the intention that we would get out and do some evening hikes in the middle of the week but here it is the middle of August and this was our only foray into the greater world beyond our house during the weekday evenings. It didn’t help that for about half of July Forest and I were recuperating from an upper respiratory infection. Summer whizzed on by and I don’t know what happened.
Alas, there were some great things seen in our couple of hours spent circumnavigating Marshall Lake. Let’s rewind to June for a lovely post-rain stroll!
After getting out of the car we took off down a peninsula that juts out into the lake towards the west. We ended up having to make a loop out of it because there was no access to the main trails from there.
The buttonbush were in full bloom and an enticing stop for Forest to check out. A highly underrated shrub that really should be utilized more in the landscape.
While Forest and Chris were poking around looking at something else I meandered to a grassy clearing to look for wildflowers and spotted this tropical checkered-skipper…
and this pretty wedgling moth, Galgula partita.
As we rounded the corner on the east side we came across a stunning display of American Buckwheat Vine, Brunnichia ovata. I’ve always loved this vine but haven’t really been able to enjoy its full blooming glory before. The scene was perfect with a grey-ish sky and the darkness of the forest behind the vine to get some interesting shots. In my reading about the vine, it is/was apparently used for honey production in Arkansas but a producer was shutting down because the vine forage material was continuously being damaged from herbicide drift.
Eventually we came to Cypress Creek itself, a creek that flows quite a ways through northern Harris county before merging with the larger Spring Creek and not long after, the San Jacinto River.
This side of the park was heavily dominated by Passiflora incarnata vines, which were in full bloom and lovely as can be.
Another Clematis crispa, this time with some mood.
The suburban/creek interface.
Look at that passionfruit forming!
Halloween pennants are one of more common dragonflies I saw in south Florida and while I know they are in Texas based on iNat observations, I just do not see them. So, when I saw this one I was ecstatic! They are one of my favorite dragonflies!
We arrived back at the car close to dusk, hoofing that last quarter mile or so before it got too dark to see. It was a great feeling to have done a mid-week excursion like that and as I said, I had ever intention to do more but it just never came to fruition.
I think this late blooming foxglove covered in mold sums up what the garden overall looked like in July. I was finally able to spend some time on the flower garden over this last weekend, weeding two of the beds and tidying up a bit. I started working on the garden path again after having gone through it back in May. The grass issue in the path is aggravating and honestly I think we need to get one of those flame torches for weeding to keep this path in shape.
Frostweed, Verbesina virginica. I threw out some seeds from the frostweed that grows in the ROW around here because it is so lovely and the pollinators love it and I now have several plants growing in the garden.
Yellow star grass, hypoxis hirsuta. Another native, this one I bought in a gallon pot from a nursery and then divided the pot into three plants, which was rather hard to do as the corm was giant and tough to cut. I worried I was going to kill it but the plants bounced back. The deer have browsed once or twice but otherwise have mostly left it alone. I may divide them again in the spring so I can have an area fill out a bit more with them.
It is found throughout temperate North America east of the Rockies. Females prey exclusively on nymphs (immature stages) of true bugs (Heteroptera), predominantly stink bugs (Pentatomidae) and leaf-footed bugs (Coreidae). A female seizes a nymph, paralyzes it with her stinger, and clasping it beneath her, flies to her nest, a chamber she has excavated underground in sand. She uncovers a hidden entrance hole leading to a tunnel connecting to the chamber, and, clutching her prey, disappears down the hole to her nest. She lays an egg on the first nymph she brings to her nest, and then returns to stock the nest with additional prey. Her offspring feed on her prey, while she feeds on nectar at flowers. All other members of the genus
Bicyrtes are sand wasps that specialize in hunting true bugs.27 Biddinger et al. reported that prey of Bicyrtes wasps include brown marmorated stink bugs.28
From here—click through, there are interesting photos of them and their prey.
I haven’t been taking a lot of garden photos lately but after my weeding of the two flower beds I need to get the camera out and take some photos of a few things I found that I didn’t know where hiding in the jungle.
A little fishing, a little Easter.
Now that it has been many months and moons since we visited Inks Lake State Park (February 2019), I’m now yearning once again for those spring ephemerals. Though, autumn blooms are coming our way (SOLIDAGO, I SEE YOU!)—to revisit this site now would be an interesting study in contrasts!
We hopped onto the Lower Fisherman’s Trail on our way out of the state park after our long weekend camping. You can easily complete a loop of the lower and upper, which is what we ended up doing this time around but I skipped taking a ton of photos on the upper since we had already hiked that a few days prior.
Last week we had a tinge of cool air come in, highs only in the 80s. For once London was hotter than Texas! It gave everyone a pause and some excitement about cooler weather. Of course we’re back into the dripping humidity of high 90s and heat indexes in the 100s this week—so, a typical Texas summer. But seeing these photos again and remembering the temperatures for great hiking weather—well, it has me itching for a cool down again. And I’m loving the photo of the fairy swords up against the hollowed out rock—it looks like a magical place to play, something enchanting with the ‘fairies’!
I think I can eek out one more post from Inks Lake and then I’ll move onward to some other hikes and adventures!