My Commute

Rob and I work part time in a small outpatient clinic in the community of Metlakatla, which is home to about 1,400 native Alaskans. Metlakatla is approximately 15 miles from Ketchikan, where we live, by water, via ferry, or about a 10 minute ride in a float plane.

I often grumble about the rainy weather of SE Alaska, but we do get postcard days as well. This was my commute a couple of weeks ago when I flew over for the day, via Pacific Air, a float plane company that provides service all over SE Alaska. I got the co-pilot seat, and this was my view. The first and last images are of Ketchikan, the community mid-way through the photos is Metlakatla. Really, this is the way to go if the sun is out and the sky is this blue!

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Mid-town Ketchikan

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This is a fishing community, lots of boats here!

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We start to tilt making the turn…

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Here we go!

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Flying over the muskeg.

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Muskeg and bogs.

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Cockpit view, Pacific Air.

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Blue water out my window.

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A little clearer view.

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Metlakatla in the distance.

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Getting closer…

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See the peaks coming into view?

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Tilting again.

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Shooting through the propeller.

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The horizon rights itself.

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The airport, Metlakatla style.

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Pacific Air sends a van to pick up and unload; my ride to the clinic.

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No wonder it’s so expensive to ship something here!

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The fish plant, mountains in the background.

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Whales play here in the summer.

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Water and sky are the same blue.

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Float plane dock.

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Close up of the fish plant. Love the mountain backdrop!

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Coming in!

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Smooth landing.

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Churning water.

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Taking off…

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Heading back over islands.

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Small islands are everywhere!

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Sights of the Inside Passage.

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Colors are amazing!

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Looking straight down…

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More peaks…these mountains are all around.

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Back to town.

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Coast Guard base is below.

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Ketchikan downtown docks.

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Getting a little reflection here.

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Water, homes, boats…it’s all here.

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Touchdown!

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Perfect view of Deer Mountain.

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Mountains across the Tongass Narrows.

I realized I didn’t get a photo of the clinic in this series. This is the Health Center of the Annette Island Service Unit. As you can see, the day this photo was made, the sky wasn’t quite so blue! This is the more typical weather-look for this region.

AISU Health Center

AISU Health Center

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Standing Still

Home again, and I’m finding my balance. After two months and five days of travel, I’m in my own bed, my own kitchen, again. The RV doesn’t quite rest, or cook, the same. Still, it offers options the house doesn’t. Haven’t found a way to put wheels on this 90-plus year old home yet.

Ketchikan in September can be wet and wicked, or beautiful, as the past few days have been. It’s perfect fall here, cool, with that certain something in the air that tells me, more clearly than the calendar, that summer is done and October is around the corner. I celebrated by pulling out a few of my favorite things: pumpkins, and a cozy recipe or two, and an arrangement of oranges and browns for the dining room. I put away a few things. Summer clothes and sandals are stored, suitcases are emptied, backpack cleaned out. The fridge is restocked.

The externals are tidied up. Now comes the mental game of tucking back in. Back to work, back to routine. I used to have a hard time doing it after a week or ten days away. But with the new rhythm to life, I have to be more flexible. I kept a few threads of work going while we traveled, the beauty of email and internet access, even if it was somewhat fractured. But the majority of what I do, how I make a living, was on pause while we were going full speed. Funny how incompatible pieces of living can be.

I’m still in the process of creating this life for myself. My husband is more practiced at it, has been doing it longer. For me, the on-again, off-again of work and travel is still a novelty, still a little unsettling. I don’t have it down to a science. I don’t have an automatic feed for employment. The travel is the easy part. Who wouldn’t enjoy rambling for weeks at a time? As long as the money holds out, sign me up!

But on the other end of the trip, I am spent. I love the road, the new places, re-visiting old favorites, and seeing family and friends along the way. That’s a joy and a privilege, and one I don’t take for granted. But at the end of movement, I crave stillness. For a time, I need a time-out.

I am grateful for internet I don’t have to search for, laundry I don’t need quarters for, a full size kitchen, the homey tasks of tidying and puttering that are small in meaning, yet oddly satisfying to my down to earth self. After the last two weeks in Canada, I appreciate using my cell phone without cringing at the added fees for an international call or text. I loved hearing French in Quebec and Montreal, but I’ll admit it’s nice to hear English and know what is being said. I can even admit that I’m ready for a little predictability again.

If I am broadened by travel, home is sweetened by travel. I know that after a few months, I’ll be rested up, ready to go, excited to look at a map and make a plan. But for today, it’s ok that my big outing took me to the hardware store and to get a haircut, and that I’m on deck to make dinner. For now, the everyday has a new glow about it, and it will take more than a few weeks to wear off. For today, I’m standing still.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer”  ~anonymous

                                          Nomads on the road

                     A Quebec landmark, Chateau Frontenac

Bright lights, big city

The first stop of our trip was Seattle. That’s required when you leave Ketchikan. Alaska Airlines is the only carrier that flies from Ketchikan to the lower 48, and all flights stop in Seattle…sort of like all roads lead to Rome.

In our case, it works out nicely since our daughter lives there, and it gives us an automatic opportunity to connect with her family. Well, ok, the star of the show is Riley, but that’s just the way it is…no offense to the adults in the world. Give me a two year old any day!

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While we were there, we took in a ball game…Seattle Mariners vs the Texas Rangers, at Safeco Field.

20120722-111446.jpg Guess who won? I hear the Mariners are having a bad year, and this game didn’t help. Didn’t score one run! Lucky for us we were there more for the ambience and experience. There’s just something about a baseball game on a nice summer afternoon…always makes me hungry for a brat! We haven’t gone to a professional game since we lived in Colorado, and occasionally made it to see the Rockies play. Weather cooperated, Riley cooperated, and we got to enjoy the whole show. Did the 7th inning stretch, got popcorn, chocolate dipped fruit, and ice cream, and enjoyed a little people watching.

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Our other big event was a trip to the Space Needle for dinner. But this wasn’t just a dinnner…it was a 30th birthday celebration for our son-in-law, Matt, along with his parents.

20120722-111840.jpg It was a perfect place for the celebration. The views are amazing…the outer ring of the restaurant revolves, so you get a view of the city and the Puget Sound as you eat, and the mechanism is so smooth, you don’t even feel the movement. You just watch the views change. And the food was pretty good too.

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After dinner we went up to the observation deck and got a few more photos. This is the 50th anniversary of the building of the Space Needle. It was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair that was held that year in Seattle. It is the city’s iconic landmark, and it’s fun to experience the retro feel of the structure itself…sort of a step back in time/step into the future thing.

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Seattle is a fun place to visit, and I feel fortunate to have a connection there. I’ve learned that as a parent of adult children, where your children live, a piece of you lives. It’s not about owning a home there…it’s about a part of your heart belonging there.

There’s only one thing that I don’t like, and that’s the traffic. I’m reminded that there is a price to pay for all the lovely attractions and shopping opportunities so conveniently clustered together. Thank goodness, we don’t have to drive when we visit. We’re along for the ride, and our daughter or son-in-law does the heavy lifting with regard to navigating the big city bustle.

Well, on to the next!

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Summer day, summer planning

It’s almost 8:00 pm, but the sun is still bright. Here in Alaska, the summer sky stays light later and later, until you only have a brief time of true darkness. The summer evenings are long…really the afternoon is just elongated until 9:00, 10:00 at night, when twilight falls. Mornings begin about 4:00, with the light peaking in the bedroom windows, waking us up, causing us to turn into the pillows, burrow under the cover, block out the too-early dawn.

This is the season of activity, or increased activity, here in Ketchikan. The big cruise ships are once again in town on a daily basis, the seasonal businesses are open, and the fishing tourists are here in force. Not for nothing is Ketchikan the salmon capital of the world. And the fish know it. Soon I’ll be freezing salmon and halibut, vacuum sealing the fish I buy from local vendors, putting a little of this Alaska treasure away for coming months.

I look out and see the rain falling through the sun, a rainbow is on the distant horizon, and the sun and shadows fall mixed across my living room floor, even as I listen to the sound of the rain pouring out of the gutters. This is the season when the rain doesn’t feel too cold, and the showers are more gentle than the downpours we get in the fall.

My little front garden…my secret garden, I call it, because the small space in front of the house is enclosed with a shaped hedge…has blossomed with the warmer weather, and now looks a little overgrown and in need of a trimming. My rhubarb, tucked away in a corner of the little square, has flourished, and I’ve already cut it twice. There are small blue flowers growing, and the lilac has leafed out, getting so bushy it has hidden the street number mounted on the house. I’ll have to cut the lilac back if I want FedEx to find me with future deliveries. The clematis vines I planted (to replace the one that died from January’s week of single digit temperatures) are growing and already climbing the trellis.

I have painters coming this month to repaint the garage door, sand and paint the front step bannister, and touch up any exterior walls that are showing signs of wear. This is an old home, “historic,” built in 1920, and although it has been remodeled periodically, the exterior is still a wood siding. That translates to a lot of painting, over the years, and though we can get by this summer, maybe even another year, with touch ups, our turn is coming. Yes, we’ll get to paint, or pay to have someone paint, all three stories of this fine old place. Can’t wait for that one!

We now have two sump pumps and a dam in the back corner of the basement. I cautiously believe the episodic appearance of a lake down there has ended. We won’t know for sure until the fall rains, but we sustained some pretty wet weather this spring. The concrete dam joins the other great oddity of the basement, the huge granite boulder that the house sits on, jutting out into the unfinished portion of the bottom floor, reminding me that this island is indeed a rocky place, and some of the rock was too large for early builders to remove. So they built around it, and over it.

I make my list of chores to complete in the next few weeks. It’s June already, and summer is here. We leave to go “down” for a summer ramble (read rv road trip) July 14. We’ll be back mid-September. We’re hunting for “next,” doing some casual but focused exploring during the time we’re away. But first, my lists have to be made, checked off as I work through them. I’m working for income the next several weeks, storing up like a squirrel saving nuts for winter. But there’s more too. I have indoor and outdoor to-dos; weeding and writing; sorting, cleaning, thinning, organizing. I love this time of renewal, preparation, expectation. I’m not just cleaning out my fridge or trimming my hedge, or writing a blog post: I’m ordering myself, preparing for “next.” When I do the physical chores, or have a burst of creativity that allows me to write, I’m clearing my thoughts, centering myself. I’m rising, like the Alaska sun in the early morning, eager to begin my parade of adventures, wherever they take me.

Community at The Point

There’s a little art gallery/beading store/restaurant that I love here in Ketchikan. It’s called The Point, Ketchikan’s only “waterfront art cafe,”

The Point

and it is housed in a building that overlooks the water. You can have lunch and watch float planes landing, or see the big ships docked down the way. On a nice day, the water looks so blue it’s amazing.

The food is just the simple fare of lunch: soup, sandwiches, quiche, cookies. They serve artisan freshly baked bread with their soups, and the cookies are baked in house as well. In fact, from what I can tell, everything is done in house. Which is amazing, when you realize that it is more an arts business than a food business. Or at least that’s the way it began. Not sure these days that the restaurant side of the business isn’t taking top billing.

You can eat at The Point, or if you have a work meeting and want to order, they’ll deliver their full menu for the day to your office. Simple as a phone call and a credit card. And the food is so good, if you let staff know where you’re ordering lunch, they’ll show up with appetites.

But the best thing about this restaurant is that it’s local. Owned and operated by people who have been here for a long time, it reflects the personality of the place. Local artists are prominently featured in the gallery displays. Classes are held there, and at lunch you see a mix of people from town, from all ages and walks of life.

I think the success of the restaurant side of the business is a bit of a surprise to the owners. They seem to be growing in popularity and in menu offerings. I and others have asked if they plan to publish their recipes. I have a sense that they’re on to their own little “overnight” success story. And it’s refreshing to see a small town enterprise doing well…not a chain, another fast food place, not linked to national advertising: just a local effort that is paying off and is the result of hard work and risk taking.

Good for the entrepreneurs! And good for me at lunch!

Afternoon sunshine

We’ve had a break in the rain. Either the notorious climate of SE Alaska is getting to me, or we really have had more rain than usual this spring. Not sure, but either way, I’m excited to have a window full of sunshine to enjoy. I saw friends from Colorado posting on Facebook that they have snow. Yes, that happens sometimes in Colorado this time of year. I’ve seen it snow there on my son’s birthday, which is in June. And the first summer we lived in the Denver area, it snowed on the 4th of July. I love that state! And I miss it. But I do not miss the late spring snows.

The late afternoon sun is a luxury of only a few months. So much of the year here, the sun appears late and leaves early. And on rainy days, you get a sort of twilight effect, although this region of Alaska doesn’t have the extremes of dark and light like the far north of the state.

This afternoon, as I sit looking around, I notice the light catching on things that I don’t usually see. It plays with the color of paint on the wall, the clear glass vase on the dining room table, makes the room too bright to sit in my favorite chair looking out over the water. I can’t see my laptop screen with the light pouring in through the picture windows. On the way home I noticed more trees leafing out. And the most sure sign of spring? The clearest indicator that the season has come? The construction workers have descended on us. The main road through Ketchikan is under seige, with cones dividing the space for traffic and speeds reduced to the one lane crawl.

The construction boom is in evidence at work. The hospital is getting a new roof. I’m in a different mind set. I’m hoping to sell a house, and spring is the season for homes to be shown and sold. People are moving, new people come to town. Opportunity is on the horizon.

It’s a bit like pregnancy, except there’s no known delivery date. You just sit with the process, waiting for a call from the realtor that there’s a showing, then hoping for an offer to come along. Every morning I leave the house ready.

This afternoon, I pause. I would love to have an offer in hand, to be able to look at the next chapter in life. But nothing yet. Maybe tomorrow. For today, since I don’t have a choice, I’ll enjoy the light streaming in, the blue of the water, the view in front of me. The sunshine reminds me that a new season has arrived, that days don’t stay dark.

How’s your view today?

They’re back

MS Volendam docked in Ketchikan, Alaska, Unite...

Summer begins in Ketchikan

I saw the first cruise ship of the season Sunday. I looked out my front windows and saw a huge boat slowly and surely making its way toward the downtown docking berths of Ketchikan. The morning was sunny, inviting, fortunate. Booking a cruise to Alaska in the shoulder season (first or last of the cruise season months) can be risky. Passengers may experience the beauty of May or the chill of a late spring storm. Raincoats and jackets are sure to be required before the trip is done.

But that’s all from the passenger’s point of view. I’m a local, at least for a while longer. Until the house sells, I have a place in this community. Passengers can look into my front room windows with binoculars…the view is that good, that close, as the ships move slowly, majestically, toward the docks.

The ships bring tourists, tourists bring money, money brings jobs, jobs bring a bounce to the local economy. It’s heartening to see the downtown come back to life. Many of the businesses shut down in the winter months, only a few locally owned stores stay open through the off season. But everywhere in the past few weeks, I’ve seen fresh paint, new flowers, construction, the signs of rejuvenation.

Come up and visit if you’re looking for a little easy adventure. The Inside Passage is beautiful, the communities along the route are eager to entertain guests, and the weather is turning. The welcome signs are out and we’re ready for business.

Find of the day

So today was disappointing. May 2nd, and instead of a beautiful sunshiny day (like last Thursday…a warm postcard of a day in Ketchikan) it was chilly, rainy, gray. I had turned the heat off earlier in the week, but today, I had to flip the switch back on. It was just too cool in the house to be comfortable. Not the way to welcome May!

I was sitting around feeling sorry for myself this evening, and in a bit of random surfing, I ran across a site that celebrates the little things in life. Hey, that’s what my blog is about, at least some of the time. The truth is, it’s about whatever I want it to be about. Because, that’s right, it’s my blog. I read some of the posts, and each one brought a smile to my face. I felt my sunny side up coming back. Just because the day outside is dreary, that doesn’t mean I have to be down.

I looked around to choose what to celebrate now, this very minute. Hmmm…nothing jumping out at me…

Ok, how about this? I’m uploading Riley photos to Flickr, getting ready to make a photo book of her first year of life. Looking back at the photos is an amazing review of her little face, her rapid growth, her changing smile and emerging personality. That’s a good thing!

Or this? Made a cake, chocolate, with cream cheese frosting, and after giving away most of it, I still have a decadent piece saved to treat myself for the next few nights.

Or this? My hair has grown long enough I can pull it up in a pony tail, and my bangs are long enough that I can pull them back…ok, I know this is only of interest to me, but it’s a small personal triumph.

Or this? I’m downloading books left and right on my Kindle. What a kick!

Or this? Did a good deed Saturday. Made me feel good all the way to today!

Or this? Listened to great music all afternoon on Pandora.

Or this? Ticked off several to dos last weekend and feel ready to start the week.

Or this? Added the link http://1000awesomethings.com/ to my blogroll. Take a peak for yourself. Can’t vouch for all of the content, but it seems like a great source for celebrating the good and the small. As Julie Andrews sang, “these are a few of my favorite things.”

Well, well, well…May is looking up. How about you? You don’t have to find 1,ooo things to celebrate. But how about one? Or two? Have a good time listing your own awesome things.

April Saturday

Ketchikan, Alaska from the east channel of the...

Ketchikan

Here in SE Alaska, spring sometimes forgets to behave as the season it is and moves back and forth between late winter and early summer. Actually, that’s pretty typical any time of year. This is a place where the weather really can change dramatically in five minutes. We’ve had sun/rain/sun/rain/sun today. At the moment we’re back to sun, but it probably won’t last.

But it was clear enough for a lunch-time walk down to Burger Queen, a little local dive of a place that has great food, milkshakes, and a tiny dining space. I think there are a total of five tables in the whole place. For anyone who knows Ketchikan, it’s located next to the tunnel on Tongass, before you pass through and enter the “downtown” part of the community.

Burger Queen makes a “Seattle Burger” and a Polish sausage sandwich “Solidarity” that is our standard order when we eat there. We order one of each and split them. Sometimes we add onion rings for a perfect Saturday lunch. This is the kind of place that’s been open for decades and multiple generations have experienced. Nothing fancy about it, but when you eat there, you know you’re getting authentic food…no chain menu, no fancy dining area, no waiters coming to your table to introduce themselves. No, you just sort out what you want from the big menu on the wall, then give your order to the kid at the cash register; you can see into the small kitchen just beyond the counter.

We’ve taken our kids and other guests to eat here. It’s a small experience, but the kind of place that I know we’ll talk about years from now, as in, “do you remember the little burger joint in Ketchikan?”

I’ll remember it, for the burger and the atmosphere, but mostly, because it was a place we experienced together. And whether it’s a big event or a simple lunch, sharing is the charm that adds the magic, even to a little lunch dive in Alaska.

Happy Saturday!

Craig, Alaska

You never know where you’ll find yourself if you don’t mind a little adventure…This week Rob and I are in Craig, Alaska, on Prince of Wales Island. The island is about a three-hour ferry ride from Ketchikan, or a 30 minute flight from Ketchikan on a Cessna aircraft. Rob is working for the next two weeks at a clinic in the small town of Craig. I am along for the ride, working at the clinic here in the same admin role I have in Ketchikan. Nice that this facility is part of the PeaceHealth system! It’s a rare opportunity for me to work in the same environment as Rob, and the bonus is that we can spend the evenings together.

But back to Craig…small town Alaska…there is a grocery, a hardware store, a school, a health clinic, a rec center, a few additional stores, a harbor, lots of bed & breakfast options, a pizza place…this is a fishing heaven in the summer. Not that I would know about that personally, but that’s the main attraction of the community. Southeast Alaska was once about lumber, now it is more about commercial and recreational fishing. There are lots of roads on this island, a remnant of the past logging industry. It is a popular destination for hunting and biking, as well as fishing, and the population ebbs and flows with the season. In summer it can be hard to find lodging…not a problem in January. The rain is a regular presence, a reminder that southeast coastal Alaska is rainforest.

I am fascinated by what draws people to the small villages of Alaska. You can never tell by looking…some people come and stay forever, most don’t. But some are raising families, making a life in these small outposts. They are connected by modern technology, separated by the isolation of geography and climate.

These places are not for me long term…like most people, I find the isolation too much. But it is interesting to get a glimpse of this blend of past and present. These communities are living history museums…better come see for yourself before they’re absorbed and changed by modern life. But take my advice and try to come in the summer…just be sure to book your lodging in advance!