I couldn’t believe that my hot water pipes froze when it was only 13 below. I’d lived in Barrow for 28 years and never had my pipes freeze, even in 40 below. My first thought was what wimpy houses we have in Anchorage.
Then it was pointed out to me that the little room in my garage that contains my hot water heater and furnace was freezing because I had the door shut and the garage heater set at one degree above frigid. It was an expensive lesson to learn.
While waiting for someone to come thaw my pipes, I put a call in to my friend in New York City for the sheer perverse pleasure I would derive out of her moaning and groaning about the cold. No matter how cold New York City was, I knew that Anchorage could beat its lowest temperature. Finally, four winters after I moved here, I was able to be competitive again in the “my winter is more miserable than your winter” contest.
When I lived in Barrow, I used to win these contests hands down every year. No matter what complaint someone had about their weather, I’d be able to come back with some snappy reply like, “Well, it finally got up to 20 below here and the sun is almost back so I’m out walking the dog again.” Slam dunk. Another win for the Arctic winter.
When Anchorage was going through it’s Seattle phase these past three years, I was blamed by every friend and relative I have on the East Coast for their Arctic-like weather. They’d be freezing in the single digits and I’d be looking at green shoots coming up on my lawn. They were sure that I had sent them my winter in response to some mad revenge fantasy I was weaving. I thought they were simply the biggest wimps in the world.
I am one of the few people I see on the streets when the weather gets this cold, which means Mr. T, and I have the whole walk to ourselves, except for the occasional moose. But I’ve found that even moose are apt to pause and then go the other way when faced with something wrapped in fur walking backwards screaming “Oh My God” in successively higher and louder pitches.
Actually, my long Barrow parka with fur around the bottom and a big warm fox ruff, which makes these walks not only bearable but downright enjoyable, has given pause to more than just moose. While I strolled the back roads enjoying the scenery a few days ago, I ran into another hardy dog walker. Well, she was either a hardy dog walker or her dog had such a case of cabin fever that it was either take him out for a walk or watch him go crazy.
At any rate, as they approached me on the road, the dog started growling and barking. My first thought was that he was reacting to Mr. T – a schnauzer not known for gladly sharing this earth with others of his species. But it soon became clear that he was growling and barking at me.
His embarrassed owner apologized saying that she’d never seen him react to someone like that before, that usually he was very pleasant and friendly. It was about then that we both realized he wasn’t growling at me, he was growling at the strange animal with the wild fur around its face that I appeared to be in my parka with the ruff up.
Walking in Anchorage when it is so solidly frozen takes some will and determination. But you are rewarded by scenes of unsurpassing beauty. Trees are frozen crystals; the mountains are impossibly white and then pink when the sun hits them at the right angle. Everywhere you look the land has a frozen beauty that must be experienced to be understood.
As my New York friend told of her dash from the subway to her office; of working in a climate controlled building where the air conditioner is on when it’s 3 degrees outside; of snow turning to dirty black slush almost before it hits the ground; when I hear these things, I smile a smile of pity for her. Then I put my coat on and walk out my door into a winter wonderland that she will never be privileged to know. And I am once again glad I am an Alaskan – with or without a dividend check.