Architecture of a holiday

No Kiwi would travel all the way to America for shorter than 4 week’s holiday.  It’s one of the charming things about the culture, and we took full advantage of it as we applied for a month’s annual leave and our employers didn’t bat an eye.

This time we went to the New York, and, remarkably, got see all our parents and siblings on both sides of the family during the course of that month.  I have three sisters (Kelsey, Rebecca, Susanna) and Jeremiah has 4 siblings (Ben, Missy, Isaiah and Moriah).

We started in the Adirondacks with Jeremiah’s parents.

The Shaws invited the Harros up to join us for a few days

During the Harro’s visit we drove down to Massachusetts to see a circus Kelsey used to work for.  We stayed with Susanna and Dara overnight, then went came back up to the Adirondacks.

(flick between this and the photo above and you can see everyone smiling with open eyes)

I had a work conference in Ohio that I jetted off to for a few days, while the kids stayed with the Shaws and Jeremiah got out on a hike with his brother.

Soon after we visited with cousin Ayla, Moriah and her husband Aaron in Glens Falls,

then went down to NYC for four nights to see my Mom and Dad’s new digs in Harlem, and attend my nephew Emerson’s baptism…..

and ride the subways…

and cool off in fire hydrants, like genuine city kids….

When we went back up to the Adirondacks, Missy and Eric (Jeremiah’s sister and brother-in-law) had arrived down from Nova Scotia

Sue hosted a big family gathering at their place where we got to see some of the extended family, and interspersed during our time in the Adirondacks we paid visits to the grandparents

and great grandparents

and enjoyed casual Adirondack days.


Transformed by white

We’ve had two days of strong southerly rains in Christchurch, making me think with sympathy of the emperor penguin dads huddled in the dark on the antarctic ice, where the weather system originated. This morning a hard frost covered the garden but the sky itself was clear. NZ is a commonwealth country, and, God Bless the Queen, we had Monday off today.

We refurbished some old pairs of gaiters and waterproof pants for the kids, and headed for the white hills.

“How much longer until we get to the snow?” Naomi wasn’t thrilled with riding in the car fully clothed in her outdoor gear. “We’re not sure, hun, we’re just going to drive until we get to snow deep enough for sledding.”

We reached playable snow by lake Lyndon, so we peeled off the main road and drove a little bit around the lake to a mostly smooth hill that didn’t end at the road or pricker bushes.  The snow was crusty and our flimsy plastic sleds weren’t up to the task, but we turned them around and rode them backwards after the fronts had broken apart. 

The highlight of the day wasn’t actually sledding, it was building. As the sun spent time on the snow it became a bit more malleable, and we could cut building chunks. Naomi is posing, but the wind break was really Milo’s project.

Yesterday someone else had been up there and built a major igloo out of snow blocks, most of which was still intact.

Jeremiah occupied the igloo much of the day, making hot chocolate and doling out sandwiches.  The wind was brisk and inside the fort was much more cozy than outside.

Our dear friend Mr. Kennedy has recently shared some photos from our childhood, and among them was this one, a snow cave we made at Sunnymeade circa 2002. The top layer of girls is Jennifer, Sarah, Susanna and Rebecca.  

Another ancient picture of a pair of cheesy grins, just for sh__s and giggles. Today I strapped on my snowshoes and trudged up the hill, eliciting a friendly comment from a woman that “I must be from somewhere cold.” She had never seen snow shoes before. Yep, there’s much fun to be had in the snow.

Memorable Memorial

“She’s sleeping a lot, and not eating much.  If it’s important for you to say goodbye in person, you should plan your trip for the next two weeks.”

Dad’s email was pretty devoid of sentiment. That was probably his coping mechanism to manage emotion.  From half way around the world in New Zealand, mine certainly were raging.

I am the oldest grandchild.  Mommom was only 52 when I was born, and since we lived in Saratoga, only 45 minutes from Delmar, we garnered the grandparent attention like no others.  We spent a lot of special time together.  For me my grandmother’s passing wasn’t a distant fact of life, as it is for so many others who had un-involved grandparents.  It was a bereavement; a loss of a source of identity, a loss of a great love.

Before Poppop died I had planned a trip back to the states with both my kids; Milo was 3 and Naomi was 8 months.  I had wanted to bring the kids back to meet both grandparents, as a way of honouring them and thanking them for their involvement in our lives.  When Poppop died three months later, I didn’t make a trip back for the funeral; I felt I had already said my goodbye in person.

But with Mommom, I felt differently.  At the end of her life, she wasn’t able to have conversations.  She might have recognized me, but then again she might not have.  I was already too late to say goodbye in person.  And after she died, I wasn’t sure how to move on.  No one in New Zealand knew her.  No one could share special memories to celebrate her life and enjoy her legacy, and that’s how she deserved to be honoured.  I needed the family for that.  I wanted to go home.

My uncle’s statement corroborated: “I will do everything including throwing toys out of the pram to wait until you can make it.  You need to be there and we need you there.”

It’s good to be wanted.

The memorial service was set for the end of May, plenty of time to plan a trip.  This time I went alone; we had a family trip already planned for July, and besides, I wanted to focus entirely on the Harro family.

I decided to fly in to NYC a few days early and spend some time with my Mom and my sister and her new baby.  Kelsey was working, so during the days Mom and I traipsed around Harlem and Manhattan with four-month-old Emerson, navigating the subways and enjoying uninterrupted conversation in the city’s many parks. Here we are at the NYC Botanical garden.

My first day in NYC we met Kelsey for lunch in Bryant Park, Manhattan, near her work.  Kels was home in the evenings, so we got to reconnect then too.

Kelsey is in the process of buying her own apartment, but this is her temporary lodging, and is probably typical of NYC living–tiny!

My major impression of NYC is that it’s HEAVING with people. Surprise, surprise. And on such a lovely spring day, everyone was out enjoying the day. This view is from the steps of the NY public library.

On Friday we took the train to Albany, where the rest of the family was gathering.  My aunt had organized a block of hotel rooms for us all to be close, and under one roof we had maximum time to converse after years of separation.  Some of my cousins have kids of their own, a passel of quick-moving boys, and I spent the first evening reviewing their names, wishing I had flash cards.  Quinn, Mason, and Colton.  Miles and Cooper.  Fox, Macaiah, and Teddy.  There, I’ve written them, I ought to be able to remember them….if they’d only stand still.  I gawked at my cousins Spencer and Crosby; they were young teens last I saw them, now they’re young men.  Does Crosby realize that he looks just like Clayton?  And Riley is driving!  Kevin has bulked out, John now has no hair…..and Duncan has more than his fair share of curly locks.  And the uncles and aunts!  Everyone has aged, and put on some weight.  But their fundamental characters are so stable and recognizable after the decades.

Saturday morning was the graveside service.  Poppop is buried in the cemetery behind their Delmar house, and Mommom’s ashes are there too, in the same sandy soil she fought with in the garden for 40 years.  Poppop did always tease her that she’d be cremated, so she’d be warm at the end.

Saturday afternoon we went to Thatcher State Park, where my aunt had reserved a pavilion, arranged a catered picnic, and set up a tent overlooking an escarpment for the memorial service.  It was filled with family and close friends, many of whom I knew from childhood.  Mommom would have loved it there.

My uncle had invited anyone who wanted to talk to prepare something short to share.  I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but wanted to honour Mommom by saying something.  My uncle suggested sorting some special memories into categories and seeing if a theme emerged, and said to aim for 3 minutes, max, and I had worked and reworked my memories into a theme of sorts.  Then worked on making it familiar enough that I had a chance of delivering it without being a untidy emotional mess.

“How can I look back and encapsulate the gift I had of being the eldest grandchild, of living near Mommom and Poppop when they were young and energetic?

“In three minutes….!

“That’s hard to do.  So instead I’ll just share a few favorite snippets of memories.

“Some of my strongest memories are of the things Mommom LOVED.

-yellow forsythia

-the bright green Weeping Willows in spring

-the cheery Marsh Marigolds

-the Fraser Fir Christmas tree, with baskets of dried flowers and chocolates

-her little green car; “I’ve come to visit you in my “Green Apple,” she’d say

She named the practical plastic table cloth that protected the carpet under the kid dining table her “flower garden.”

We drank Red Zinger tea from her special collection of tea cups

Her favorite word was “Lapis Lazuli.”

“She delighted in beautiful things.  In warm and colourful beautiful things. And in names…she loved naming things.  There is feeling in the names.

“My enduring memory of Mommom is that emotion counts.  The feeling of a thing matters.  And the words we choose to describe things have the power to shape how we feel about them.

“So in her honor, I will pause to admire beautiful things.  I will name them.  And I will take time to savour them.”

I had expected lots of grandkids to say a few words, but only one other put their hand up.  If I had known I was representing Grandchildren in general, I would have added some more.  I would have gone into more detail about the things they did with us—the overnight canoe trips at Follensby, the sizzling apples roasted in the wood stove, the quilt making and car trips to Charleston, getting tossed into huge piles of leaves raked up in the fall, and the birthdays and school performances and music recitals they celebrated with us.  I would have pointed out that the activities themselves were fun, but the real value was the love they gave us.  It’s a wonderfully secure place to be, when you know your family loves you, unconditionally, regardless of personality faults, achievements, or lack thereof.  I was reminded on this trip just how powerful that is.   Grandparents and extended family add layer upon layer to what parents can possibly offer.

My dad and his brothers all had something to say.  Their stories certainly illuminated who Mommom was, but interestingly enough what they chose to share and how they shared it was also uniquely characteristic of who they are.  Stewart made us laugh and didn’t need any notes to carry his tale.  Dwight (and Laurie) had show and tell items and a themed story.  My dad had a long story with a back story about where Mommom came from with fear and loss to fullness.  Ted made us laugh too, and incorporated some philosophy along with sincerity.

The day after the memorial we went on a hike at Rensselaerville, along a waterfall and to a little lake.

Jack in the Pulpits were blooming just as I remember as kid, hunting them out in the woods behind Mommom’s house and peering beneath their little flap to the preacher inside.

The walk’s destination was a little lake with a stony shore, perfect for stone chucking.

That afternoon we headed back to 10 Sylvan Ave, the old family home now owned by family friends, for a picnic.  I had been worried about going back to the beloved house.  Sometimes a place is changed beyond recognition, and a return visit is sad.  But this time, despite changes made by the Jerebek family, it still felt like a family home.

A week is a short time to travel all the way back to the USA, but surprisingly it was long enough to be refreshing.  The shared history of family is pretty special, as is their love, a love that’s independent of performance and undented by personality foibles. The oldest generation is gone now, but I’m still wearing their affection, an invisible cloak against the wear and tear of daily life.  Thanks, Family.

Sometimes Motherhood is Sweet

There are plenty of disadvantages to being the primary care giver for kids, but a few days ago even I had to admit that I had a pretty sweet deal.

It’s school holidays right now, the two week break between each quarter of the school year.  It’s always a juggle with working parents, but this time some friends and I decided to take a day or two off, pack up the kids, and head into Rod Donald hut for an overnight.

It’s a hut that you have to book, so we took a gamble on the weather.  Last time we walked in there it was wet and misty, but the hut has a nice cozy pot-belly stove and the walk is so short that we could bring luxury food and games; even a hut-bound overnight is fun.  And these two friends happen to be English, where any weather is good weather, so I knew we’d be ok.

Look at that blue sky! We “lucked out” with the weather. That’s a term I never really contemplated,, but the Kiwis find it really confusing….and for good reason. I don’t mean that I was out of luck, but rather that I got lucky!
It doesn’t look like we’re on our way to a hut in the hills, but we kinda are. We stopped at Birdlings Flat on the way to Little River, where we admired the stones and searched for agates.

Sally is a geologist, so you can see why she’s happy.
The little gem and mineral museum at the end of the dead end road is really worth a stop. The book there said that agates are formed in the voids left by gas pockets in lava. Water laced with minerals finds its way into these bubbles and slowly deposits crystals. The resulting agates wash up at Birdlings Flat as they are eroded out of the mountains, washed down the Rakaia River and tossed up on the beach. I love them almost as much as the kids do.

The hut is perched on the side of a hill overlooking the town of Little River, but the track to it actually starts above, at the pass. Since we were driving past the hut access road on the way there, us mommies hopped out of the car and carried the bulk of the overnight gear up the steep drive to the hut. That way the hike with the kiddos was really more of a stroll through pasture than a tramp.

Look at these hooligans! We were three moms and six kids, a passel of noise to be sure.  The boys walked along brandishing sticks at imaginary zombies and kicking a rugby ball, while two girls tied themselves together with a tow rope and sauntered along in a pair.

The hill top trees are warped by the prevailing wind into grotesque shapes, nice to contemplate on a pleasant sunny day, but fearsome if you were faced with the prospect of an exposed overnight in bad weather.

There’s our hut. Such a lovely site.

The kids made themselves at home with games….

…and with drawing

The mommies played on the slack line.  It’s a funny thing when I stop to think about it–why do I find this balancing game so fun?  I’m not sure.  Balance is a skill, it takes practice, and every time I make it to the other end I feel accomplished.  Yeah, I probably just crave gratification.   

What a friendly view. Last time we were here we just had to imagine it, swathed as we were in mist. This time the kids played hide and seek for hours in the grass outside the hut.

It’s interesting sharing kids with other moms, watching their styles. Milo spent–no joking–45 minutes trying to get this 2 meter long domino train of cards to work. They’re very touchy, and he kept knocking them down before he was finished. Emma took pity on him and used a pencil to make a safety stop so he wouldn’t lose the whole thing if a section fell over, a well as fended off the rest of the gang from coming too close and accidentally setting them off. I was ready to call it an exercise in futility and move on at the 15 minute mark, but both Milo and Emma were determined, and they eventually got it. Boy, are they pleased with themselves!

Failed attempt number 572:

Success at last:

School holidays end this weekend, and Naomi’s sojourn at school starts on Monday.  The times: they are are a-changing.


Unseasonable Taste of Summer

No, no, no, I KNOW it’s not summer. But it sure felt like it this past weekend. Sunday we played at Rapaki beach and even dabbled in the actual ocean.  Of course we displaced dozens of crabs and scores of snails in digging out the warm pools as well.

It barely hit 20 degrees on Saturday, but Milo got all red in the face on our little port hills hike, and said it was “Too HOAT.” Little kiwi, he has no heat tolerance! We told him to toughen up or else he’ll melt come summer.

Jeremiah packed the barbie and we charred some sausies for lunch at Sign of the Kiwi, along Summit Rd. Did you know that flax sizzles and pops when grilled? Milo now does.

Troup is having a feed.  The roof was burned off the Sign of the Kiwi last year, but it’s fixed up just like new now.  Actually even better than new–the underneath is lined with metal, maybe making it more fireproof than before, but the old fireplace is blocked off. 

The ball’s ricochets are a little unpredictable off the stones, but Milo didn’t care.  

See that gorgeous trunk that looks like a crepe myrtle? It’s the fuchsia that is native to NZ.

I apologize for the out of focus picture….but this is vaguely what the fuchsia flowers look like. Not quite puffy ballerinas like the ornamental varieties, but recognizable nonetheless.

Testing, testing, NZ medical system

When we were expecting Naomi I thought to myself “Good.  I’ve had one baby in the USA, now I’ll try the prenatal care and birthing system in New Zealand.”  I was pleasantly surprised how well the NZ midwifery system worked.  I felt that if I had run into complications that care would have been efficiently referred to an obstetrician, but the midwives I worked with were professional, skilled, and personable.  And the post-baby support beat the US system all hollow.  I’m a NZ birthing system convert.

I recently got to test the general medical system in NZ out….not that I have much personal experience with major medical problems in the US, so probably not a fair trial.  This test was a bit more rocky than the baby test.

April 2016 I started a problem that was eventually diagnosed as disc between two vertebrae bulging out and pressing on nerves, causing leg pain.  It sounds so simple in that description, but living with the problem was misery for months last winter, and I wallowed around in the NZ medical system waiting for one appointment or another… 4 months before getting an MRI (and therefore a correct diagnosis) and 9 months before getting approval (funding approval) for a surgery to correct it.  I’ll spare you the details of the wallowing.  I might do better the second time around, but probably not.  Basically the problem wasn’t an emergency (not life threatening), so rather than your first port-of-call doctor (a general practitioner in this case….well, after physiotherapists couldn’t do any more) ordering an expensive MRI scan, they order an appointment for you to see a specialist…and 6 weeks later when your appointment comes, they order and MRI for 4 weeks later….then wait again for a follow-up appointment.  You get the picture.  Health care is slow because it is rationed.  Economics is considered.  Unlike in America.

But in January when the approval for a surgery finally came through, I was actually feeling better.  Gradually, ever so incrementally, my back had improved to the point where I could mountain bike, and after that it got better on its own, slowly but steadily.  By late summer I was back to standing straight, not to mention back to hiking and rollerblading and all the stuff I love, and feeling that perhaps the slow-and-economical health care system was ok after all.  It’s financially sustainable at least, unlike the American system.

BUT THEN, that disc bulged again.  I don’t know why.  I didn’t DO anything.  But all of a sudden I was right back to where I was a year ago, limping around, not sleeping well, unable to do anything fun.  The only difference was this time I took more pain killers, because we were booked for our big trip back to the States and I just had to cope.  And this time, I already had all the contacts in place.

While in the States I was able to organize a new MRI appointment for the day after we got home, and an appointment with the surgeon two days later.  The funding approval was still valid from January.  He didn’t really have space in his surgery list for me, but he said it was a quick job and he’d squeeze me in the next week.  I felt like you do when you’re 40-weeks pregnant, when even the process of childbirth sounds better than the prospect of staying pregnant.  Cut open my back and take out that lump of the disc?  Yes please, that sounds great!

I don’t have many photos to share of that process.  I suppose I should have taken a picture of the knitting I was working on for hours before it was my turn for surgery, looking forward to the relief of the anesthesia.  Or the cheerful OR nurse with the bright blue eye shadow who said she had had the same problem (“It’s horrible, isn’t it?” she commiserated.)  No picture can show the relief of waking up and having the squirmy-can’-t-sit-still leg pain gone.  Just gone.

Sorry, this might gross some folks out….but did you know that disc cartilage is fiberous? That is the little piece that was causing me so much grief. “Can I see that piece of disc?” I asked the recovery room nurse. “You’ve already seen it twice!” she exclaimed. Had I? At least the last time I could focus properly.

I lucked out that the operation was at St George’s hospital. It’s pretty posh, and I even had my own room. Just one overnight stay, and then I was home.

That was a week ago, and I’m back at work now.  (Not back to vacuuming yet….thanks Jeremiah.)  Moving a little slowly, but feeling tremendously much better.  The surgeon says there’s a 95% chance that that will be the end of the saga.  A few cases re-occur, but if it does, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  In six weeks from now I should be able to get back up into the mountains to backpack, maybe in time to catch the end of the snowy season.

I guess the NZ medical system did work for me this time….eventually.

Alaska distilled

We returned from the States July 31 and I’m just managing to get photos up of the second half of our vacation in Alaska, which could be distilled as “Fish and Cousins.”  At least they aren’t fishy cousins!

About a year ago Jeremiah’s oldest brother, Ben, moved with his family from upstate NY (where we grew up) to Sterling, Alaska.  Ben and Jeannette have 13 children, so in the interest of travel efficiency we decided to make Alaska Hub Shaw, and asked Jeremiah’s parents and siblings if they could join us there.  Plus, July happens to be Salmon Season in Alaska….

Our friends Mark and Maria drove all the way to Anchorage to pick us up in their campervan, which became our home for the next two weeks. We stayed with Mark and Maria when we came through Alaska five years ago on our way to New Zealand.
They live in Soldotna, a town 15 minutes down the road from Sterling.

I’ve never before experienced a road trip in a campervan–it’s quite a luxury to relax on the bed in the back while the miles slip by and someone else drives. Thanks Mark!

On our way out of Anchorage we stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where all manner of Alaskan animals are kept, some destined for re-introduction into the wild, and others enjoying a long-term home because for some reason or other they’ve become unfit for wild life. We happened upon the bears at feeding time, both brown bears and black bears. A brown bear was chomping on a whole (plucked) chicken, bones and all….it certainly gives a good demonstration of not only its appetite, but also the power of its jaws.  Once arrived in Sterling, we parked up the campervan outside of Ben and Jeannette’s house along side the campervan where Nana and Papa (Jeremiah’s parents) were staying.  Maria even lent us her car, so we were all set up for both a place to stay and for transport–super generous!

We caught up with Mark and Maria a few times, this time at Kenai River Brewery. Maria is about as interested in breweries as the kids, but Mark is a big brew fan.

Over at Mark and Maria’s house for dinner one evening, we admired all their Alaska artwork on their walls. They have amassed quite a collection since we were there five years ago. It’s neat to see how they celebrate their local community, whether it was in Owego, NY (where we met them) or whether it is in Soldotna, AK.

It’s been two years since we’ve seen all the cousins, and we studied names ahead of time. I’m from a family of only four, but I remember appreciating if people could get our names straight. Here (left to right) is Andy, Boaz, Luke, Nathaniel, Ben (father), Mercianna,

The nice thing about a huge family is that “running the kids through the showers” doesn’t actually involve me doing any showering. The olders are quite capable and paired up with the youngers, resulting in clean scalps without any input from Aunt Molly. Uno with the youngers was a civilized affair, turns taken and rules followed. Uno with the olders was a contact sport, I’ve never seen the game played quite like it! But then again, I never had brothers.

Speaking of never having brothers…my own mother always warned me about water fights with boys, and watching the shenanigans of this crew I can see why. Talk about escalation. Ben and Jeannette remain as peaceful as Buddha though the war may rage around them. I suppose as a parent you would have to, to preserve one’s sanity. It brings up an interesting question about child rearing–is it better to let kids feel the natural consequences of their actions (if you throw water at your older brother, he will drag you face first into the frigid Skilak lake), or to intervene and attempt to teach a less-natural-but-more-wordy way of dealing with conflict? I don’t know.

The adults, enjoying the water show.

Naomi had a great time with Elizabeth (three years old, same as her) as well as with Mercianna, who is a little older than Milo.

Naomi is stubborn. Surprise, surprise. Sometimes when something doesn’t go her way, she just stops in her tracks and refuses to walk. With my uncooperative back I couldn’t carry her, but often Merci would come to her rescue.

Despite being rough with one another, the big boys were really sweet with the little ones. Here Naomi is perched on Elijah’s lap.

One evening we brought our kids into town, and Caleb, the oldest son, came along.
We stopped at the town market and wanted to have a wander with the kids, but ours were crabby and just wanted to sit in the car and watch the tablet. “If you come out,” Caleb wheedled, “there might be something nice like ice cream.” He treated them to the ice cream truck, and afterwards happily sat in the car with them watching Octonauts. That’s a pretty special 18-year-old!

S’mores with cousins, definitely an experience to treasure.

POPCORN and s’mores, to be complete. There’s quite a gang of popcorn thugs! Clockwise from the hat are Levi, Luke, James and Nathaniel.

One evening we went on a hike with some of the olders. Well, Jeremiah and his sister Missy went on a hike, I puttered along behind the gang nursing a sore back and hoping that the loud crew ahead of me had cleared out the bears from the vicinity of the trail. How in the world are you supposed to tell the difference between a grizzly bear attack and when he starts to eat you? ? Wouldn’t missing an arm be a bit too late to start fighting back? This helpful sign was at the trail head.

There is some fantastic hiking to be had in the Chugach Range, and originally Jeremiah and I had planned to take a couple days away and explore….but my back going bad just before our travel put a kibosh on those plans. However, I did make it up this far along the Skyline ridge.

Here’s the hiking crew at the top. On the way back, barreling down the trail, they nearly ran headlong into a bear. Fortunately it was a black bear and not looking for trouble, and it moved off.

Jeremiah spent quite a bit of time fishing, both with the cousins and his dad, and with our friend Mark. The reds weren’t at full tilt until nearly the end of our trip, but here he is with his three-fish-a-day limit out of the Kenai River.

If only every day dawned blue like this….

Barbara Lavallee is an Alaskan artist who I love. Her characters look so cheerful and full of happiness and wonder. Here’s her take on salmon season in Anchorage. Pretty spot on for Soldotna too.

Papa (Jeremiah’s dad) is not really much of a fisherman, but even he squeezed into a pair of waders and got into the action. He even managed to catch some salmon, eventually!

If you are an Alaskan Resident you play under different rules than the sport fishermen. You are allowed to “dip net,” or stand in the river with a giant net scooping up salmon as they migrate up the river. As “head of household” you are allowed 25 fish, and 10 or 15 more per additional person in the house. In other words, you can fill up your freezer. I have an enduring memory of the dip netters at the mouth of the Kenai from visiting 5 years ago with Mark and Maria. Mounds of fish heads on the beach. Children running and playing in the frigid ocean water. We made a pilgrimage back to the site this time, and though the fishing wasn’t quite as lively, it was still a sight to behold.

Someone was well on their way to bagging their harvest.

Alaskan residents from the interior come to the coast and set up camp to get their yearly quota of fish. Jeremiah thought it looked like fun, camping with a purpose. To me it looked cold, fishy and uncomfortable….but if the kids had buddies and it was a family tradition, I guess I could imagine it.

The beach had a tide-line of scales. The level of fish carnage made me wonder how any managed to get far enough up stream to spawn.

When Jeremiah asked me what I wanted to do and see in Alaska, my number one desire was to see salmon spawning. To that end we made a pilgrimage to the Russian River, to a well-known viewing spot at some falls. Sure enough, the fish were jumping. They’re crazy! They launch themselves up these waterfalls, crashing into rocks and getting swept back down in the current. A bunch were stacked up in the pool below the falls, scales turning brilliant red. I took a little video. It probably won’t look as exciting in replay as it was in person, but for me seeing these energetic fish was definitely a highlight.

The walk to see the fish was about 5 miles round trip, and the kids did great. Here’s Aunt Missy with Elizabeth and Naomi.

Nana and the kids, at the fish waterfall.

My other obsession was glaciers. Portage glacier was accessible with a boat tour, and we dragged the kids along. Glaciers are receding rapidly, they won’t be as easy to see in the future….but the kids don’t grasp that. Neither do the Alaskans, apparently, who drive massive trucks and don’t bother about recycling.

Cheese! Nana, Papa, Aunt Missy, and us at Portage Glacier.

Cheese again! This one is Exit Glacier, and one of the most interesting things about it is that along the access road to the tourist parking lot are signs that show the end of the glacier in the late 1800s and through the 1900s. It’s been shrinking rapidly. It feels a bit funny to be posing with big grins in front of what is essentially an endangered species, gleefully ignoring the rising ocean and the part we just played in it, flying half way around the world on a big jet.

Homer Spit is about two hours from Sterling, the halibut fishing capital of the world. Ben has a beloved boat he dragged to Alaska all the way from NY, and he had been working on getting it going the whole time we were there. Just at the end of our visit the engine was given the thumbs up and all twenty of us hove off with two campervans, a boat, a truck, a car and a ton of fishing gear for an overnight at Homer.

I think it’s a challenge packing for a camping trip for our family–I was very impressed with the logistics Jeannette managed to get her crew fed and bedded down in Homer.

The boat was launched promptly upon arrival, and a contingent went out in search of halibut.

Moms and youngers stayed back on the beach, admiring the boats….

…..walking around the spit….

…and chatting while the kids played. I haven’t spent a lot of time with Jeannette before this trip, but this time we really enjoyed each other’s company, talking about families, relationships, children, husbands…the stuff of life.

No halibut on that first run, but they came back with a good haul of salmon.

The next morning a second shift went out early and this time they found halibut.

Here’s the less glorious part of fishing–cleaning fish. None of the kids were that keen, but the dads did their duty and packed all the fish away.

The local authorities at Homer provide very nice fish cleaning stations and big bins for disposing of fish scraps. I suppose if the scraps are left around it becomes a major bear hazard. I think all these unsavory parts go to the land fill…..tells you we live in a country where people have plenty to eat.

So there we have it, Alaska distilled. Cousins.


Cousins and Fish!