The coming week holds three holiday concerts and an opera with a Christmas theme, entertainment guaranteed to offer an infusion of holiday spirit. And despite the lack of snow for winter sports enthusiasts, there is a positive side to the warm winter weather for outdoor lovers.
I realize snowboarders and skiers are frustrated by the lack of snow, but the current conditions are ideal for hikers. Bushwhacking through the Southeast rain forest these days is as easy as it ever gets. The devil's club patches and impenetrable berry-bush thickets are fully passable. The massive walls of alder, ferns and skunk cabbage are gone or reduced to twigs and stems.
Normally, a couple feet of wet snow comes with the autumnal thinning of the underbrush. Not now. Hiking is easy and if it freezes up before it snows we'll have the added bonus of solid footing instead of mud and spongy muskeg.
Last year conditions were similar and I hiked a number of the side valleys off Fish Creek and Eaglecrest Road, areas that otherwise are a real struggle.
The only downside is the short days. When it's overcast and you're in the forest, it's pretty much dark at 3 p.m. Out on a beach you can push it to about 4 p.m., but it's not much fun to be caught out in the dark unprepared. One way to maximize the day is to hike areas adjacent to places such as Salmon Creek or Montana Creek, places that offer a wide road of a trail to safely stumble down in the growing dark.
One nice area is the Treadwell Ditch Trail and Dan Moller Trail, accessed from the top of Blueberry Hill in West Juneau. (Go up Cordova Avenue to Jackson Street and stop near the big antennae). The local snowmobile club has made tremendous improvements in the access to the trails, and they don't ride until there's a foot of snow to protect the ground. The trail is wide, groomed and easy to follow in the lingering twilight.
Holiday concerts abound this week. "Amahl and the Night Visitors" wraps up its second and final weekend and runs at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, and 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, at McPhetres Hall. This 50-minute, accessible opera is in English and appropriate for kids.
Four choirs from Juneau-Douglas High School will perform at the Choral Extravaganza next Tuesday. The jazz choir, treble choir, men's chorus and concert choir will perform, beginning at 7 p.m. Dec. 17, at Northern Light United Church. A reception will follow the concert.
The Singing Christmas Tree, a multimedia Christmas concert that's also a full-blown choral extravaganza, kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday at the Juneau Christian Center. There will be four performances, all at 7 p.m., Friday through Monday, Dec. 16.
The Singing Christmas Tree is a 40-person choir in specially constructed and decorated risers that present the group in the shape of a giant, 25-foot-tall, decorated Christmas tree. The program includes dancers, a re-enactment of the nativity scene and live-action video.
The last event I attended at the Juneau Christian Center, a Halloween play about Hell, wrapped up with a fair amount of preaching by Pastor Mike Rose, and it's a safe bet that there will be sermonizing as well as singing.
For folks who want to sing as well as be entertained by singing, the Alaska Youth Choir presents two performances this weekend that include audience participation. The young singers will offer an international mix of holiday music, with a holiday sing-along included. The concerts will be at 7 p.m. Friday at Northern Light United Church and 3 p.m. Sunday at Chapel by the Lake.
For folks who prefer to stay indoors, here's a tip. "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is a new movie out on video that never made it to Juneau theaters. It is an excellent coming-of-age story about two Catholic school boys in the mid-1970s. It's very funny, largely because teenage boys are often genuinely comical characters in spite of themselves. The dialogue is dead on and hilarious, but the film has its serious sides. This is not "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" by a long shot; it's closer to "Election."
Kieran Culkin (the son in "Signs") and Emile Hirsch star. Jody Foster plays the boys' nemesis, the head nun at their school. The boys and two friends have a kind of comic book club where they work on "The Atomic Trio," a set of superheros they've developed. At times the film morphs into their comic world and follows their superhero counterparts' battle with "Nunzilla."
A budding and unpredictable romance develops between one of the boys and a neighborhood girl. The film traces a few weeks in the lives of the boys as they set out to pull an especially ambitious prank on the head nun. The film is great for anyone who survived being a teenager, even if you didn't come of age in the '70s or attend Catholic school.