Thursday, August 10, 2017

Alaska: The Last Frontier, Part 2

We are now 18 days into our Alaskan adventure and headed to Haines, known as the adventure capital of Alaska. So adventure we did, starting with an afternoon kayaking around Chilkoot Lake. 

Haines, AK, population 1,374

Our kayaking guides, three young men who seemed constantly on the lookout for adventure – or at least mischief – insisted that we should come out to the Southeast Alaska State Fair, which was going on the very weekend we were there. So we adventured out and looked at the livestock exhibits, the art entries, checked out the food stands and partook of some Alaskan spruce beer. About 45 minutes later we left and tried to find dinner in town. But every restaurant was closed so all the townies could attend the fair. 

The next morning was spent on an old school bus searching for wildlife along the Chilkak River. We spotted some brown bears -- and lots of eagles. Never would I have imagined that I would quit looking up when someone pointed out another bald eagle. There were just so many of them!

Icy Straits/Hoonah, population 750

I must be a skeptical traveler because when I heard that our next stop was Icy Straits, a new development built specifically for cruise ship tourists, I rolled my eyes and was pretty sure I wouldn't like it. But, like so many encounters, I just needed to keep an open mind. 

The community of Icy Straits was very nicely designed, with new buildings that replicated old native styles, attractive signage, and nice walking paths. We sat through a cultural program, performed by native teenagers, which I found entertaining in spite of myself. 

We walked the 1.5 miles to the actual native settlement of Hoonah, the largest Tlingit-tribe town, ate Dungeness crab from a boardwalk vendor, and bird watched along a forested nature trail. Turned out to be a most enjoyable day.

Hubbard Glacier

The next morning our ship turned a hard right into Yakutat Bay and made its way as far as it could up the bay. Ed and I bundled up and headed to the top deck as the captain maneuvered the boat closer and closer to the massive Hubbard Glacier, North America's largest tidewater glacier. At 76 miles long, 7 miles wide and 600 feet tall at its terminal face, it is stunning to look at. 

Every few minutes, we would hear a loud boom, crash, splash as parts and pieces of it calved into the waters below. For nearly two hours we were exhilarated by its magnificence, waiting with mighty anticipation for the next chunk of ice to come crashing down. Despite loosing large chucks from its terminal, it is still considered to be an advancing (growing) glacier, an unusual classification among Alaska's 100,000 glaciers. 

Seems like from each of our trips, I have one favorite photo. This is it. Sums up the luxury of the ship with the splendor of the glacier. 

Anchorage, AK, population 299,037

Our final stop was Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. Our ship was anchored for two days and we weren't yet ready to leave our beautiful apartment, so we stayed on until the second morning. We did go ashore the first day to have a look around the town. Turns out, the original town was mostly destroyed by the 1964 earthquake and so was rebuilt in nostalgic early-'70s style. 

After being at sea for the past couple of days, we felt the need to walk. We set out on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, walking from Elderberry Park, along Cook Inlet, to Westchester Lagoon and then on further to downtown. For lunch, we headed to a longtime local favorite: Humpy's Great Alaskan Ale House, where we split a basket of fried haddock and fries. 

That evening, we watched dozens of fisher people casting almost shoulder-to-shoulder for thousands of spawning salmon headed upstream on Ship Creek, before heading to Bridges Seafood Restaurant for a king salmon dinner.

This trip was, by far, our most luxurious travel experience. Thanks to my aunt's invitation, we were transported from port to port in the finest fashion. It took me a few days to adjust to the ease. Normally when we travel, we spend a large portion of our time problem solving: how to get from point A to point B?, how to communicate in a language we do not speak?, where to eat our next meal?...  In addition, we both work physically hard on the farm, so it was strange to wake up and realize that nothing was required of us but to sit back and enjoy the experience. By the time we disembarked in Anchorage, I was sad to say goodbye to our home away from home. 

Train to Denali

The next morning we were up and off the boat early to catch an 8:15 train to Denali, on the Wilderness Express. For seven hours we rolled along in total comfort, watching beautiful Alaskan landscape roll by. If not in our big, comfy seats on the top domed deck, we could be found in the white-tabled-clothed dining car or hanging on to the outdoor viewing platform. If only airplane travel could be so pleasant...

Denali National Park

We somehow managed to plan our stay at the park for the two most beautiful days of the summer season. Of the half million annual visitors to the park, 75 percent are disappointed to find the namesake mountain shrouded in mist and clouds and not visible from the park's only road. Not us. The sun was shining; the mountain was clear – even if it was 60 miles away. 

We stayed at the Grande Denali Lodge and took a half-day natural history tour, going about halfway into the park. If we had it to do over, we would consider the 12-hour trip that takes visitors closer to Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. Instead, we spent the afternoon hours hiking around Horseshoe Lake, where we saw lots of evidence of beavers, some ducks, dozens of wildflower varieties, and lots of breathtaking views of the lake and mountains. 

Very early on the morning of August 7, we started our journey home, landing in Louisville that evening. We are amazed at how much the farm changes over the course of just three weeks when we are not watching it day-to-day. I had to hack my way into the garden as the gate was blocked by a profusion of sunflowers and zinnias. 

As always, it was good to be home. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Alaska: The Last Frontier, Part 1

Ed and I are home from our latest travel adventure -- and what an adventure it was: Alaska, the last frontier, and Ed's final state to color in on his U.S. map. (I'm not too far behind him: Oregon, Washington and Hawaii: here I come.)

A bit of background

We have always wanted to visit Alaska, but it is far away and the window for decent weather is narrow. How would we travel there? What was on our must-see list? How long would we stay? We vowed that 2017 was the year to figure it out and make it happen. Imagine our delight when an invitation to travel to Alaska aboard The World came unexpectedly from my Aunt Gina. 

We would fly out to Vancouver, spend the weekend exploring the city, then board the ship on Sunday, July 16. We would disembark 20 days later in Anchorage, then take a train to Denali National Park for a few days, before flying home on August 7. We would be away from Farm Dover for 25 days – a long time for me to be away from my vegetable, herb and bee gardens. But, as Ed pointed out, there would be other years to fuss over tomato plants – and this was shaping up to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. We said, "yes" and "thank you."

The World is the world's largest privately owned residential cruise ship and our three-bedroom apartment was luxurious, with a deck running along the left back of the ship (or, as they say on board: the port stern). We could chose from a number of restaurants on board or make simple meals in our kitchen. When we were anchored or docked, we went ashore for our meals and to explore. On the days we were cruising, I did a morning yoga class and sometimes we would attend a lecture, but the rest of the time we mostly sat on our deck reading and watching the world flow by. All in all, it was a delightful and stress-free way to travel. 

As in past travel blogs, I offer perhaps more detail than you may care to read. So feel free to skip over parts; it won't hurt my feelings. The details are included to help me remember this special time and for those who might plan a trip to some of these same locales in the future.

Vancouver, BC

We hot-wired a hotel in downtown Vancouver and spent three days getting to know this bustling west coast seaport in British Columbia. We took a city train and then a boat taxi over to Granville Island to check out the incredible Public Market; we hiked the scenic loop at the 1000-acre Stanley Park, and headed to Chinatown for Sunday dim sum. In between, we (twice) found a coffee shop that we loved, sampled some local craft beer in a Gastown cafe and enjoyed a wonderfully creative meal at Forage

Mid-afternoon on Sunday, we boarded the ship.

Ketchikan, AK, population 8175, salmon capital of the world

The next two days we spent sailing up British Columbia's west coast and acclimating to life on the ship. The first port of call was Ketchikan, the place where Ed could officially declare that he had visited all 50 United States. T-shirt and jewelry shops greeted us – but didn't entice us. Instead we made our way over boardwalks to the colorful old houses and watched as floatplanes, boats and ferries came and went from the shore. 

Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary where we saw a dozen black bears in the wilds of the rainforest and nearby salmon hatchery, got up close with a bald eagle, peregrine falcon and barred owl at the aviary rehab center and watched a master carver at work on a totem pole. 

New York Cafe. Perhaps an odd name for an Alaskan cafe, but a great local bar/restaurant serving salmon benedict for breakfast; so good we came back the next day for dessert. 

Alaska Fish House. Hot crispy fried fish (trio of salmon, halibut, and cod), cold craft beer and live music, complete with a dancing toddler.

From Ketchikan, the ship headed out along the inside passage, traversing the length of Misty Fjords National Monument, a vast protected rainforest, part of the Tongass National Forest. It gets its name from the light fog that perpetually drapes the coast -- sure enough, it was foggy, but beautiful. 

For a closer up look at Misty Fjords' scenic Smeardon Bay, the ship lowered a number of inflatable zodiac boats into the waters and took small groups of passengers out to see eagles, sea otters and jumping salmon. 

Next stop: Wrangell, one of the oldest non-native settlements in Alaska...

Wrangell, AK, population 2,411

The town looked old-fashioned, perhaps a bit forgotten, but ended up being one of our favorite places. We arrived early on a Saturday evening and the town seemed ghostly, with its few shops already closed up for the day. The Elk Lodge was hopping and some good-smelling grilling seemed to be happening, but it turns out it was a private affair. The only other option for dinner on shore was the Stikine Inn Restaurant, so we headed there and were pleasantly surprised by the selection of draft beer and deliciousness of the food. In fact, it was so good, we went back the next night and I ordered (again) the grilled rockfish tacos. 

While walking around on Saturday evening, we found a Presbyterian Church up on Church Street (of course) so Sunday morning found us worshipping with 15 others -- 17 if you count the minister and piano player. After church, we climbed Mt. Dewey, affording us an incredible view of the town and bay. 

While there, we headed out on a jet boat for some sightseeing of the Stikine River and the Shakes Glacier. I had seen a glacier on a previous trip to British Columbia and I have to admit, I was unimpressed. It was cold, and hard, bare and dirty, and it wasn't going anywhere fast. My opinion of glaciers changed as we worked our way past floating chunks of blue ice and came alongside a magnificent mass of ice that seemed very much alive. 

From Wrangell, we cruised northward with a stop in Frederick Sound and Tracy Arm to check out the icebergs and mountain goats, via Zodic boats. Then it was on to Juneau, capital of Alaska...

Juneau, AK, population 32,766 

When we pulled into the Juneau docks, there were already five huge cruise ships anchored. That meant thousands of tourists, acting touristy. The town was full of souvenir shops, many owned by the cruise ship companies. I knew we would have to work hard to figure out the next couple of days on our own terms. 

First stop: Mendenhall Glacier where we spent the better part of a morning hiking the trails on our own and marveling at the glacier. No tour guide needed. 

Because it had started raining, we looked for something we could do that didn't involve getting drenched. We found the Alaska State Museum and spent a couple of hours wandering through it. It is not mentioned in any of the "top things to do lists" but I believe that is a serious omission. It was a fascinating look at the history of the early native tribes, the state's Russian colonial eras, and its more recent past of becoming the 49th U.S. state. It included some fine art, natural history and exhibits of industry and trades. The museum was recently renovated, reopening about a year ago. It is a real jewel.

Next stop: Glacier Gardens, which is a strange place indeed. Not exactly a botanical garden, it is a private 50-acre rainforest property that is best known for its upside down trees. (Fallen trees that are sunk upside down into the ground and the tops -- formerly roots -- planted with annual flowers). Interesting...

One of my secrets to finding non-touristy places to eat is to google: where do locals eat in _____ town. High on the Juneau list was a small cafe called The Rookery, and like in the last two towns, we ended up eating there twice. Really good, creative food, with an Asian twist.


We had plenty of time to read while on the ship. When we travel, we like to read books that take place in the region or are otherwise related to our journeys. On this trip, I took along Driftwood Valley: A Woman Naturalist in the Northern Wilderness,  by Theodora C. Stanwell-Fletcher. It proved to be a good choice. The book journals the three years (1937-1939 and 1941) that the author and her husband spent in the wilds of northern British Columbia, collecting plant and animal specimens for the Smithsonian. It is one of Wendell Berry's favorite books, as he explains in the Introduction, 1989 edition. 

Ed chose to tackle Herman Melville's Moby Dick, all 578 pages of the epic whale tale. Talk about a tough read, but Ed is always up for a reading challenge and seems to have enjoyed the story of Ahab's obsessive quest. If nothing else, it added a dimension to our own obsessive quest to spot a whale from our deck.  

Our next port of call was Haines, adventure capital of Alaska. But you will have to wait until my next blog post to find out how we managed kayaking around Chilkoot Lake. Stay tuned...

Monday, July 10, 2017

Some day

Before she even gets out of the van, she whispers: Aunt Debbie, can we can go to the garden? She says she wants to eat a flower, like she did the last time she was here (when she was only four), and the time before that (when she was but three). She finds an old straw hat and a wooden bucket and announces that she is ready to go see what there is to see in the garden.

Can I eat a flower? Watch me eat it.
Are there any peas in your garden? I love peas.
I love okra! Can I just eat it now?
Look, there's a bunch of baby yellow squashes. How many can I pick?
Green beans! I love green beans. Can I eat one now?

There's one. There's one. I see it. It's a pink potato. There's another one, and another one. 
Purple? I've never heard of a purple potato. Can I get one for my brother's bucket? 
Can I wiggle out another carrot? One more? One more?

Look onions! They were almost growing right out of the ground. 
Oh look, it's a teeny, tiny pumpkin. It's so cute. 
I found a beet! I found a beet. I love beets. 

I love caterpillars. 
But I love worms more. 
Which do you love more?

I like to catch butterflies.
I don't mind the blackberry prickles; it's kind of like getting a shot. 

Guess what Aunt Debbie? she says as she slips her five-year-old hand into mine and turns toward the waterfall path, Some day when I grow up, I want to be a farmer.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Happy Bees and Butterflies; Come See What's Blooming

I've been waiting and waiting for the perfect time to show you our bee and butterfly garden. Turns out, there is no perfect time. If I waited until the plants filled in, or all bloomed, or the rain stopped, or the weeds magically disappeared, you would never see it. So, as they say, there is no time like the present...

Here's what it looks like on the 29th day of June, 2017. Enjoy.

Bumblebee seeking nectar from Purple Coneflower

Monarchs on Boneset

Common Milkweed

Rattlesnake Masters
Thimbleweed. Reminds me of Grandmommy's many thimbles.

View down the drive; Slender Mountain Mint in front of Purple Coneflowers;
St. John's Wort just beginning to bloom (yellow) next to bluebird box
Closeup of Devil's Walking Stick. I know how it got its name!
Trumpet vine against Wild Quinine.
On Maggie's wedding day, she wove the Wild Quinine into her hair. 
Bumblebee on Bee Balm. Yes, it is the bees' balm!

The garden is just steps from our front door.

Here's how the garden came to be: Daughter Maggie, who is Farm Dover's head beekeeper, Ed and I had talked about wanting a bee garden for as long as we have had beehives. We wanted to plant a wide variety of native flowers and grasses from which the bees could find a ready source of pollen. Our intent was to design a flower-rich habitat that would have a concentration of blossoms from early spring to late fall, ensuring that our bees would have a constant source of food. As it turns out, what is good for the bees is good for the butterflies – as they also flock to the garden.

We got serious about our garden planning in spring of 2016 and engaged Margaret Shea of Dropseed Native Plant Nursery to help us plan and plant the garden. Ed and I prepared the ground, adding newspaper and mulch to an area that adjoined our front field of native grasses and wildflowers. Our idea was to have it flow seamlessly into the field.

Note to my readers: No matter what size yard you have, it is big enough for a native garden. Even a few plants in a ceramic pot can attract a surprisingly large number of pollinators.

Margaret Shea helped us design the garden.
She provided all the plants from her native nursery in Goshen, KY.
Dropseed Nursery's Elizabeth planted each flower/grass according to the plan.

The tiny native plants needed some time to take hold. And they looked so pathetic, I didn't want you to see it yet.

We watered and weeded the garden last summer and slowly it began to grow, and grow. This summer, there is barely any room to move between the plants. In fact they are so big, I'm already planning to move some of them to other smaller bee gardens that we have started in and around the yard.

Sure enough, the bees and other pollinators love hanging out in the garden. From honey bees to bumblebees to sweat bees, they happily buzz around from flower to flower. I try not to bother them; and they don't seem all that interested in me.

The garden changes almost daily. The Foxglove Beardtongue and Eastern Bluestar have come and gone; the Boneset and Bee Balm are bursting with blossoms. The Ironweed and Joe-Pye Weed are reaching skyward, but not yet blooming.

I love to spend time in the garden – especially early in the morning, or just before the sun slips down – inspecting each blossom, prying out a weed or two, watching the bees and butterflies come and go. I'm working hard on identifying the plants in the garden and learning their scientific names.

Here's what we planted:

St. John's-wort, Hypericum prolificum
Devil's Walking Stick, Aralia spinosa
Little Bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium 
Prairie Dropseed, Sporobolus heterolepis
Big Bluestem, Andropogon gerardii
Switchgrass, Panicum virgatum
Cut-leaf Prairie Dock, Silphium pinnatifidum
Ironweed, Veronia gigantea
Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium fistulosum 
Stiff Goldenrod, Solidago rigida
New England Aster, Aster novae-angliae
Eastern Bluestar, Amsonia tabernaemontana
Foxglove Beardtongue, Penstemon digitalis
Maryland Goldenaster, Chrysopsis mariana
Slender Mountain Mint, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium 
Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis 
Thimbleweed, Anemone virginica
Rough Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa 
Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum 
Wild Quinine, Parthenium integrifolium 
Smooth Blue Aster, Aster laevis 
False Blue Indigo, Baptisia australis
Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium
Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea
Orange Coneflower, Rudbeckia fulgida
Bee Balm, Monarda fistulosa
Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum
Lanceleaf coreopsis, Coreopsis lanceolata
Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
Swamp Milkweed, Aclepias Incarnata
Trumpet Vine, Campsis radicans

Would love to show it to you in person. You know where to find me...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Traveling with Adult Children

Over the past couple of months, Ed and I have had the joy of traveling with each of our grown children. And what a delight it has been. Maggie, Jack and Mary are all highly independent, savvy travelers, who are exceedingly kind to – and patient with – their sometimes befuddled parents.

Faster than I can blink, they can book an airline ticket, make a near-impossible reservation for six at a Brooklyn restaurant, tap for an Uber, or communicate with the locals in any number of languages. Ed and I are flattered that they are willing to let us tag along.

Our latest adventure involved driving to Brooklyn, with a stop in Valley Forge, to meet up with Mary and then head up the Hudson River for the weekend.

Our children lead busy lives. The fact that they are willing to travel with us allows us to spend large blocks of time with them, catching up on their lives and watching them navigate the world. We are impressed. As an added bonus, we met Jack's friends in Berlin and Mary's friends in Brooklyn, giving us a chance to get to know those that are important to them in their faraway-from-us lives.


Highlights from our Hudson Valley Trip

Valley Forge National Historic Park
We spent our first night on the road in Valley Forge and were far more comfortable than George Washington and his Continental Army were in the winter of 1777-78. We woke early and walked along the Park's trails as the sun came up, stopping to see the reconstructed huts of Muhlenberg's Brigade and Washington's headquarters.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden
While Mary was still at work on Thursday, Ed and I spent the afternoon at this century-old urban garden, wandering through its rose garden, native flora garden, herb garden, bonsai museum and cherry esplanade.

Mary made a reservation at this hip neo-bistro Brooklyn restaurant, invited friends: Alena, Matt and Brian, and ordered for the entire table. It's so nice to have someone so competent take charge! All we had to do was pay for it...

Brooklyn Walking Tour 
While Mary worked on Friday morning, we walked. We joined a two-hour tour of historic Brooklyn Heights and trendy DUMBO. Great way to see parts of the city that we didn't know.

Stone Barns Center I've long been interested in seeing this non-profit farm and since it was on our way up the Hudson, we stopped to check it out. The Farm Store alone was worth the stop!

Dia Beacon Our next stop was the museum for Dia Art Foundation's collection of art from the 1960s to the present. The museum, housed in an old packaging factory on the banks of the Hudson River in Beacon, is about an hour outside of NYC.

Hudson, NY We planned this trip at the last minute and were unable to find a hotel in Hudson, but managed to spend most of the day on Saturday wandering around the town – beginning with the morning farmer's market, then lunching at Little Deb's Oasis, taking in the Flag Day parade, and as the sun set, sitting on the back porch of Ca'Mea Ristorante enjoying an alfresco Italian dinner.

Saugerties Lighthouse We had an hour or two to kill before dinner on Saturday and so we took a drive, stopping for a short hike to the Saugerties Lighthouse, an 1869 landmark beacon on the Hudson River. It is also a bed and breakfast.

Hyde Park, NY On Sunday, we headed to Hyde Park to visit the home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and Presidential Library/Museum. FDR planted more than 400,000 trees on his estate, so it held special interest for us. I also appreciated the FDR quote that greets visitors on the museum's entrance wall: "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those that have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

On Sunday afternoon, we dropped Mary off at the train station in Poughkeepsie – she headed back to the city; we headed back to the farm.

Thanks Mary for spending the weekend with us. We loved every minute of it!