Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time


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The Day We Saw the Cherries

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – as an Alaska girl, nothing impresses me more than seeing where food, produce specifically, comes from. In Juneau, with the exception of fresh seafood, most of our food is barged or flown in. Lately, there is more interest in vegetable gardening to supplement the veggies we can buy at the store, at least during our short growing season.

At our house, we divided our space into the front garden of flowers and shrubs and the back which houses our teeny greenhouse of tomatoes, raised beds of greens and root veggies, an herb garden, and tubs of potatoes. This year, we were thrilled with the apples ripening on our very small tree in the backyard. Hubby was concerned the bears might discover them but so far, they’ve not found their way.
All this to say that when we travel, I love finding local produce and products but true happiness is being able to wander through an orchard when the fruit is ripening. We are fortunate to have family friends with orchards in Omak, Washington, who let us stop by on our travels and take the time to explain the process of getting from tree to table. This year, we decided to housesit in the summer – a rare event for us as we prefer to be home fishing and tending our own gardens –so we made a point to include a visit our friends during cherry season. omak-cherry-orchards-8

Cherries are a precious commodity in Juneau. They are one of the more expensive fruits we buy and have a very limited season. It’s a happy day when we see our favorite, Rainier cherries, at the store. To see them growing on trees, to be able to pick and eat them right there was truly amazing.omak-cherry-orchards-48

Walking among the cherry trees was just as wonderful as walking through the apple and pear orchards – even if it was 95 degrees which is way too hot for a Juneau girl.  I love seeing the ladders that seem to beckon you to climb up and pick.

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Some things I learned about cherries:

  • There are so many different kinds of cherries that never make it to our stores or even to the roadside markets – I love them all!
  • They use helicopters to dry the cherries after a rain. It’s a very dangerous job as the helicopter fly very low. You can imagine how very expensive it is for the orchard owner and of course, that cost is directly translated to the price of cherries in the market.
  • Cherries are placed into bins similar to those used for apples but much smaller and the bins are hauled by tractors, just like the apples are.

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  • If you’re lucky, you have a guy with one of these trucks that backs right over the row of stacked cherry bins and picks them up all at once and off they go.

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  • The bruises on unpicked cherries can be caused by wind causing the fruit to bump into other. I know people who have ready access to cherries are put off by this but frankly, lifelong Alaskans are less picky about their produce. I had no problem picking that bruised fruit and popping it straight in my mouth.
  • A rain before harvest can cause the cherries to split at the stem; another blemish that makes them less marketable.
  • Bruised or blemished fruit could be made into juice, etc. but the cost of picking is so much more than the price they sell for so they are frequently left on the trees.

Neglected fruit makes me sad! So we quickly accepted the invitation and took our little bag to the orchards and rescued a few pounds for our trip up the AlCan Highway home.

Nothing beats a hot summer day spitting cherry pits out the window!  Now how am I going to get a cherry tree into the backyard?

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Klondike Highway – A Surprise at the Robinson Flag Stop

On our last day of our summer roadtrip, we were headed from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to Skagway, Alaska on the Klondike Highway.  It’s one of my favorite drives and one I’ve made many times.  There is so much wonderful scenery and historic significance from the Gold Rush.  It still feels almost novel to me because I remember when this highway didn’t exist. There was so much talk around building the road and what a treacherous mountain pass it would be but the economics of transporting ore by road made it feasible.

Before the road was built, there was a railroad that traveled the entire distance – the White Pass Yukon Route, a narrow gauge railroad.  It now runs only as far as Lake Bennett for tourists and and to pick up hikers following the Gold Rush route on the Chilkoot Trail.  Mom and I took the train the year before I graduated from high school and as it happened, the year before the road was built. But the story of the train is for another day.

Inevitably on our roadtrips, we make our first stop not long after we’ve gotten underway – a symptom of drinking lots of water and coffee while we are packing up the truck to head out!  On this day, our morning rest stop was at the site of the Robinson Flag Station, a whistle stop on the original railroad line.  It closed in 1983 after the train quit running the full distance into Whitehorse.   It was a nice day and I grabbed my camera to walk the short easy trail.

I saw this little guy not steps from our truck.  It’s a gray jay but we just call them camp robbers, a name well deserved as they are always on the lookout for food and will steal anything they can find in your camp.  All About Birds by Cornell University calls them “deceptively cute”.

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There are some great signs about the history of the area and I walked slowly along reading each of them.  There is also a lot of discarded stuff,  various remnants of the flag station here and there, including this old stove about halfway down the trail.

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I emerged from the brush next to the railroad tracks and was rewarded with this view of the original building.

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I thought I might be able to get a good picture from the railroad tracks and once up there, I turned west but the view was mostly of an overgrown rail line.  Still hopeful for a good picture, I turned around to look down the tracks towards the east and there it was:

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I was surprised to see him and from this look on his face, apparently he was surprised to see me too.  How long had he been watching me?  Fortunately, the bear wasn’t too close and he wasn’t moving at all – just standing there staring at me.  I zoomed in and snapped a couple more pictures before backing off the tracks and heading down the trail towards the truck.

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I hollered for hubby to let him know there was a bear in the area and at first he thought I meant a black bear which we see all the time both at home and on the highway, in fact we saw a baker’s dozen alongside the highway in just two hours a couple nights before.

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When I told him it was a brown bear,  we had to walk back to the tracks so he could see it for himself.  Surprisingly, it was standing in the very same place and looked back at us again before ambling off into the brush.

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We’d been talking just the day before about all the wildlife we’ve seen on our recent Alcan Highway drives and realized one thing we had yet to see was a brownie.  They are pretty rare in Juneau proper so we only see them when we are outside of town or traveling.

Happy we’d seen some wildlife, we returned to the truck and got back on the road.  Not too far along, we came across these two.

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Not as exciting as a brownie, but a couple of nice deer who thoughtfully posed for my pictures.  What a great end to another fabulous drive on the Alaska Canada Highway!


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THE SERENDIPITY OF OKANAGAN WINE TASTING

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We spent a couple days in Banff doing all the touristy stuff – visiting Bow Falls, taking pictures of the Fairmont Chateau, walking in the pine forest, and pretending we were twelve years old racing through the streets of downtown on bicycles on loan from the hotel. But it felt like time to move on so we drove back to Lake Louise, across through Revelstoke and on Vernon where we rested up for the wine country to come.  We were fortified by a visit to the Okanagan Distillery where Peter shared with us the workings of the copper still and some very fine spirits and liqueurs. Do not miss this place if you get to Vernon or Kelowna where they have a second location.
The next day we began wine tasting in earnest. Anyone who knows me knows I like wine so the hundreds of wineries stretching from Vernon to the border seemed like heaven. We visited several on the drive from Vernon to Penticton where we decided to spend the night so we could venture up onto the Naramata Bench before winding down to Osoyoos for a last bit before we crossed back into the U.S.
When touring wine country where the options are vast, it is often difficult to choose where to stop. Recommendations from friends or locals help and a stop by the local visitor center can net a map and a few ideas. I’ve asked hotel clerks and restaurant waitstaff for ideas and I’ve had strangers offer up a suggestion. But sometimes the best thing is to drive through an area, stopping where the whim strikes – a neat logo, a funny name, or a beautiful property. But our favorite experience tasting in the Naramata Bench area of the Okanagan, northeast of Penticton can only be described as Serendipitous.
While we had recommendations, we attempted some other wineries that looked inviting only to find they were not open. Then we spied the sign…Serendipity…and I knew we had to stop. It looked small, my favorite kind of tasting room, and the name was perfect. When we hopped out of the truck, a woman walked out of the vines – we’d obviously disturbed her at work and apologized but she brushed it off saying that it was her job to both work the vines and to serve tastings.
Now what most people don’t know about me is that the part I like most about wine tasting is finding a small operation and learning the story. And the story of Serendipity was no exception and the owner was happy to indulge me.
She had been a lawyer in eastern Canada but has hesitations about returning to work after a bad car accident. She loves food and cooking but was physically unable to be a chef. On vacation in Kelowna, she saw an apple and pear orchard for sale, made an offer on it while at the airport for her return flight and by the time she reached home, she was the new owner. She went to farm school, ripped up the fruit trees, planted grapevines and started making wine, the kind of wine that goes well with food. If she couldn’t be a chef, she could provide the wine that went with the meal. Every bottle had a picture and a quotation that meant something to her. A picture of Sir Isaac Newton’s apple and gravity moment, the inclusion of Alice and her Wonderland companions, a wine named Devils Advocate, and intriguing Red-Handed, bearing the quote “Don’t regret the things you do, regret getting caught.”
She named the winery Serendipity because that is how she came to trade her life as a married lawyer for that of a strong woman running her own business, owning a winery, sharing that experience with her children.And indeed it was serendipity that brought us to her door and had us packing several bottles of her wine in our truck and that has kept this story in my head.