Sunday, February 2, 2014

Alaska: Musk Ox and More

What a fantastic adventure! There is so much I want to share that I’ve had a hard time deciding how to write about it. So, I’ve decided on the tried-and-true chronological narrative.

My flight to Anchorage involved two layovers: in Detroit and in Minneapolis. All my flights were delayed, but I managed to arrive in Anchorage only a couple hours later than expected (about 11pm Alaska Standard Time, or 3am Eastern Standard Time). On the leg from Minneapolis to Anchorage there were members of the Northern Michigan University hockey team. It’s been a long time since I last was in the company of athletes. Wow! They were, um, physically impressive. (I don’t know if they won their game, but I hope they did.)

I managed to make some progress on my travel knitting (a pair of socks), and I got about half way through the book I brought with me: The Master Butchers Singing Club, by Louise Erdrich. A good read.

I was met at the Anchorage airport by Karen Williams. She is the woman responsible for getting me this gig. I met her a few years ago at Rhinebeck. And I saw her again last fall at SOAR. A very nice woman. She drove me to Palmer, AK, which is about 1 hour north of Anchorage. That’s where Sandra Cook lives. And that’s who I stayed with for the next five days.

It was very late when we got to Sandra’s. She was gracious enough to let me go immediately to bed. Her guest bedroom has a very comfortable bed. I slept for over 12 hours, I think. Anyway, I slept well and comfortably. A few days later, Sandra let me know that the comforter on that bed is stuffed with silk. Sleeping under silk. What a luxury!

When I awoke, it was still dark. The sky was beginning to lighten, but it was far from sunrise. Regardless, I was able to make out the mountains nearby which had been obscured by complete darkness when I first arrived. The guest bedroom window provides a terrific view of Pioneer Peak.

Palmer, Alaska is in what everyone refers to as “The Valley”, the Matanuska Valley (rather like folks in Los Angeles referring to the San Fernando Valley as “The Valley”). It is a very flat area, which makes the nearby mountains look very in-your-face big. Pioneer Peak is about 8 miles from Sandra’s house, and it rises to over 6000 feet. Impressive, don’t you think?

I had scheduled a couple of days to be a tourist, and Sandra was kind enough to take me to a few tourist destinations. Our first stop was the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. Although they are not officially open during the winter, they were kind enough to give us a tour. The young woman who toured us around, Ashley, was incredibly knowledgeable. She answered our dozens of questions with fabulous detail. This farm is dedicated to the domestication of musk ox, and to the production of qiviut, the amazing undercoat fiber of this animal. The domestication process involves getting the animals comfortable with human contact (so that the qiviut can be brushed off without incident). Several of the musk ox walked up to the fence to get a close look at us, and to let us get a close look at them. The youngsters are especially cute, cute cute!

Musk ox typically give birth in the spring, but the farm got a surprise baby last September. Here’s a picture of that babe with its mom:

You can't quite tell how cute the baby is, so here’s a copy of a postcard I got.

And here’s another picture I took of a musk ox with the mountains in the distance.

You might notice that there was very little snow on the ground. Right. While temperatures in Lake Ann, Michigan were kissing 0degF, temps in Anchorage and the valley were well above freezing. Highs in the 40s and 50s every day I was there. Most of the snow had melted. And I can tell you every single Alaskan I met was spittin’ mad about the warm weather and lack of snow. They take winter seriously!

At the Musk Ox Farm, there was a lot of ice on the ground. Karen had smartly provided Sandra and me with pairs of “yaktrax”-like cleats to put on our boots. How smart!

The Musk Ox Farm did have a bit of raw qiviut for sale. Raw, as in unwashed and not dehaired. I decided not to get any. Now, of course, I could kick myself.

But one of the reasons I did not buy any fiber is that I have a tunic knitted of 100% qiviut yarn. My mother had given it to me several years ago. I’ve never been crazy about the tunic shape/structure, so this lovely piece of Alaskan lace has languished in storage. I’d been thinking about unraveling the tunic and using the yarn for something else. Well, this trip got me going. When I got home, I pulled that tunic out of storage and started taking it apart.

And I feel good about it. Even though I did not get this qiviut yarn while on this trip, it will always be associated in my mind with my Adventures in Alaska.

On the way back to Sandra's house after our Musk Ox visit, Sandra pulled off the road to let me take pictures of the Knik Glacier. I'd never seen a glacier before. It's the small blue smudge way in the distance in the middle of this picture:

There was more to the day, but I'll put that in the next blog entry.


  1. Amy, have you seen the current issue of Wild Fibers - 10th Anniversary issue with a terrific pic. of a Musk Ox on the cover? There are 2 good articles about Musk Ox and the farm in Palmer.