I grew up moving around a bit (between Belgium, New Jersey, and London). All of those places have rather temperate climates. I decided that when I got old enough to choose where I would live, it would be somewhere with snow and mountains. I went to college in Vermont, which has both. While I was there we also had many winter months where it rained and rained, and all of the snow melted.
After college I decided I wanted a more consistent cold and snowy winter. I decided to try out Alaska, just for one winter to see how I liked it. That was 2008, and I am still here, but I’m not sure if winter is.
Jack enjoying some proper winter snow (left) before it got really warm (right) and started raining
I’ve learned that even in Alaska we get events called Chinooks, where it gets warm and rains. It seems like every winter it goes from 20 below to 40 above in 24 hours. Then it rains and pretty much ruins everything for a while. I’ve come to terms with this and accept these events as somewhat normal. However, the thing we just had was unreal. It poured for a week. My neighbor measured 4 inches of rain in McCarthy in December.
Winter weather in the north keeps you humble. We know the classic Jack London story, To Build a Fire, where a young man too inexperienced and confident heads out in weather too cold. In the end he gets so cold he can’t start a fire and dies. Well warm temperatures can be just as humbling. Not that you’ll die necessarily, but it will turn your life upside down. And there is nothing you can do about it.
Rain, rain, rain. Also the hill of ice.
In the winter almost everything I do is by snow machine. I use it to get to mail, to get water (because the creek on our property freezes to the ground I go down to the river), to get to my car to drive anywhere. If the snow machine breaks, my back up plan is to ski with a sled. When all of a sudden there is no snow then it feels like nothing works.
We recently got a winter subsistence hunt because in the fall, which is normal hunting season, it is so warm that it’s challenging to save the meat. The issue with the winter subsistence hunt is that you have to get to the other side of the river, and the river is rarely frozen. Last year was the first time I heard of it being successful and we had a properly cold December. This year I think the river is flowing.
Before the worst of the rain I brought some orders to mail. The mail shack is surrounded by a giant slush puddle (left). Stuff in the mail YAY (right).
I had planned to make the 300 mile trip to Anchorage to participate in a holiday craft fair on Saturday. I stressed all week about weather to go, how to go, how to put chains on my car, if I could even get to my car, and how I was going to get my art fair wares, dog and other things to my car (if I could get to my car). I looked at the weather forecast every hour wondering if the rain was going to change to snow. It did one night, and then promptly started pouring again the next afternoon.
Eventually I decided it wasn’t worth it to drive all the icy roads there and back. That was a relief.
Canceling a trip, taking twice as long and ten times as much effort to get my orders to mail, slipping on my way to the outhouse. All those lessons keep you pretty grounded. I do appreciate the lessons in not being able to do everything. I also hope that winter comes back soon. I’m writing this Friday afternoon, and the temps are in the mid-twenties. The sun even came out today which felt nice. I hope the clouds come too and bring us some snow. But at least the ground below my feet might be solid.
My booth partner Kayla is still trying to make the trip, so if you are in Anchorage please stop by the Dena’ina Center and support her work. She worked hard to get there!
Since I decided not to go, here is what I’m doing instead. I’m offering a 20% flash sale on everything in my Etsy Shop Saturday and Sunday morning. The sale officially runs from midnight on Friday until noon on Sunday AKST.
Caveat: Your orders should make it to their destination by December 24th. They will be at our mail shack on Monday, and if the mail plane comes they will get to the post office on the 18th, which is two days before the USPS cut off for shipping from Alaska. So there are two days of leeway. And if the mail plane doesn’t come, I have a back up plan for getting stuff to Anchorage. But really I can’t make promises except that I will do my best, and it will be an adventure.
The sale is over now, but thanks to all who shopped and to Kayla for selling some of my wares at the craft fair.
Further reading and recent news about Alaska’s winter:
Scenes from winters past. Being able to get up, down, and across the river via snow machine and skis. Also a proper snowpack makes life better for other creatures too. The last photo is of a vole tunnel.