Out the Road

Perspective is a tricky thing. It can make or break a situation. A good sense of perspective can help avoid arguments and provide compassion and empathy in difficult times. And gaining a sense of perspective is one of my favorite side-effects of traveling and living in other cultures. It’s easy to get caught up in the rote, minutia of day-to-day life. It’s easy to forget how lucky most of us are. If you’re reading this, it means you have access to a computer and internet. It means you have the time to find and read my quirky, little blog (which I obviously really appreciate!) and these two aspects, along with many other likely characteristics probably put you in a category better-off than many people around the world. This makes you lucky – it makes us lucky.

The other day, while picking salmon berries along the side of the road and watching eagles soar overhead in the sunshine, a friend said “We’re so lucky to live here,” which made me think about perspective. And, she is completely right. This town is so weird but oh so great.

Cordova is a very small town. It’s basically divided into 4 areas, geographically. You have “town,” which is about 2 city blocks and you have the harbor, where all of the boats are parked. There is one main road that goes through town. Leaving town and going west will take you to a hotel called Orca Lodge, where the road dead-ends after about 3 miles. Going anywhere in this direction is called going “out Orca.” Leaving town and going east, towards the main airport is called going “Out the Road.” The road passes Eyak lake, winds along the Copper River and passes the main airport, but mostly it is surrounded by wide-open expanses of land lined with snow-capped mountains. It dead-ends where the bridge which used to connect Cordova to the rest of the world was washed away years ago, about 30 miles out of town.

I love going Out the Road. There’s the Copper River  in all of its glory, there’s Sheridan Glacier (among others), There’s countless well-maintained hiking trails and endless wilderness to explore off the trail. There’s moose. There’s bears. There’s delicious berries. There’s fishing, kayaking, climbing, swimming, boating, and pretty much whatever else you feel like doing. It’s paradise. Running out the road is where I run to train for my half marathon. It’s where I ride my bike when I want to explore something new. It’s where people go to have a bonfire, celebrate holidays, picnic, and relax. And virtually all of the land around here is nationally protected, so it is acceptable to set up a little camp and hang out wherever you please. And, any time I get to say I “went Out the Road” I feel like a local using insider lingo. It makes me smile.

It’s easy to take Cordova for granted. It’s easy to feel stuck; without a road connecting you to the real world it can seem isolated. Mail takes forever to arrive, everything is expensive, and Grub Hub or Uber certainly don’t exist. Sometimes it feels a little like living abroad – for example, one half-mile stretch of road has been torn up and “under construction” for over a month because someone decided to repave the road without knowing that there is a national asphalt shortage. Really? A national asphalt shortage?? In the US? Ha. But it is totally worth it. It’s easy to get wrapped up in these details and forget what Cordova is – a paradise of naturaleza.

Living in this little bubble is unlike anywhere else in the world. I’ve picked 15 quarts of Salmon berries within a 15 minute walk of my house. I have the ocean at my door, grassy meadows and snowy mountain peaks within walking distance. People wave when they pass on the street. People use the phone book to look up phone numbers (which, by the way, is 5″ by 7″ and about 50 pages long). Trump supporters are neighbors and best friends with  Clinton supporters. Different religions, races, and ethnicities coexist peacefully. I can get (almost) wherever I need to go without owning a car, but I am in the middle of nowhere. It’s not perfect, but it is pretty amazing. And I think I am pretty lucky to be here. I am trying to appreciate this, knowing that when I do have access to Uber and Grub Hub again, I will certainly not be able to ride my bike out to a glacier and pick wild berries. It’s just my perspective, but I think it’s pretty great 🙂

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The Copper River

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One of the many, many meadows Out the Road

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Liz, hanging out on the Copper River. We spent the afternoon watching the trout jump and laughing at the kayakers that flipped over (they were ok – only their egos were bruised)

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Midnight Jam Session

Last week we had a midnight jam session – Alaska style. Meaning: we picked about 10 quarts of wild salmon berries and made some homemade jam while rocking out to Beyonce.

Salmon berries, which are about 2-3 times as big as raspberries (and equally large seeds), made an early appearance this year due to the mild winter. Being the competitive person that I am, I wanted to make sure that I got out before everyone else ate all of the berries…so as soon as they ripened, I was ready!

Salmon berries are pretty common around here and apparently less interesting for the locals. Blueberries and Nagoon berries, however, are all the rave. People get really serious about their berry spots, and it is apparently rude to even ask others where they go to pick their goodies. Oh, Cordova…

I couldn’t find the recipe that I wanted…so I tried to piece together pieces of different recipes I found online that matched my memory. I also thought I was supposed to use gelatin instead of pectin (oops) but it all worked out in the end.

Hot tip to thicken jam that comes out a little syrupy (courtesy of Jam Master Brenda): add chia seeds!!

Here is the process in photos, from berry bush to jam jar 🙂

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There are three varieties of salmon berries here: red, pink, and yellow. I think the yellow are the sweetest.

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After filling my bucket (and then filling Liz’s and Annabelle’s buckets) we were ready to head home and make jam.

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Step 1: wash berries and sterilize jars.

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Step 2: mash up the berries to strain the juice away from the seeds.

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Step 3: heat to a rolling boil with sugar, lemon juice and pectin (NOT with gelatin)

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Step 4: I like to seal the jars the easy way by inverting them. Our jam/jelly (because almost all of the seeds were strained out) was mostly a success. And…we have about 10 more cups of juice in the freezer to make the next batch, ready to go!

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Do you have a salmon berry jam recipe or hot tips? Let me know!

 

 

Walkin’ On Glaciers

Seeing a glacier has been on my to-do list for quite a while now. A month or so ago, a friend and I hiked to a glacier only to find a pool of teal water in its place. Thanks a lot, global warming. Yes, the disappearance of a glacier was inconvenient for me – that’s the real problem. I kid. But it was disappointing.

Last week, I finally got my chance. Sheridan Glacier is about 10 miles outside of Cordova and is pretty accessible to the public. And…like the rest of Cordova…it looks like a page straight out of National Geographic.

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Sheridan Glacier is named after the US Army General Philip Sheridan. He was a Union General in the Civil War who used some pretty questionable tactics to win his battles. Naming a glacier after him is a little like celebrating Christopher Columbus…but it is what it is. Regardless of the name, Sheridan Glacier is a breathtaking sight to see.

With a little extra attention given to where you step…you can easily walk right onto the glacier for some up-close exploration – which is exactly what we did. A close look at the surface of the glacier will reveal thousands of little black squiggles: ice worms. These little, creatures live in the glacier, burrowing little tunnels with their enormous mouthes.

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In Cordova these creatures are somewhat famous. February 3rd is Ice Worm Day, which is celebrated with the Ice Worm Festival – a winter carnival with lots of family activities and competitions, like putting on survival suits and jumping into the icy harbor for a little swimming race. Sounds fun…

Ice worms are cool…but nowhere near as cool as the view. Small, icy peaks gave way to jagged, looming mountains in the distance. And walking across the crisp, crunchy surface and stepping from one giant chunk of ice to another is quite humbling to say the least.

It was all pretty amazing…and I can’t wait to go back. Here are some other photos from the adventure.

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Updates from Alaska

Wow – how is it already June? Time sure flies. May was full of mostly rainy days with some adventures squeezed in whenever the sun would grace us with its presence. April showers don’t bring May flowers in Alaska – they bring May showers. One sunny day I had a minor mishap involving a steep mountainside filled with sharp rocks and my hand…so typing has been a little tricky. But – nothing a little super glue can’t fix 🙂 And I’m almost back to normal, so I thought it would be a good time for a month in review – in pictures! Enjoy!

Back to your regularly scheduled blog posts next week!

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Possibly one of my all-time favorite shots. This was the view that I wrecked my hand for – totally worth it!

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Morning sunrise on my run

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View of the harbor on a sunny day

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I found a waterfall on my hike!

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The salmon berries are coming! Now if I can just get a strategy to pick them before everyone else in town…

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Selfie on top of the ridge

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Visibility: about 20 miles.

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The seagulls here are ridiculous

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The other day I made a “mobile office” and lugged my lunch and my computer up to a meadow. Not a bad view.

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Seagulls hoping for salmon scraps out on the dock

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This ridge was filled with mountain goats climbing around in the snow

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Boats headed out into the sunset for the first salmon opener.

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Sneak peak at Sheridan Glacier – post coming next week!

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