Columns 2008

An Anchorage winter walk

I was getting dressed to walk the dogs.  I put on my sweatshirt. Pulled on a fleece liner.  Hauled into my winter parka. Tied a scarf around my neck. Sat down to put new cleats on my shoes.  They didn’t fit.  Despite the sizing information on the box, the cleats bent my boots in half when I was finally able to stretch the rubber out far enough to get them on.

So I took off the parka. Took off the fleece liner. Took off the sweatshirt. Put on a regular shirt. Put on my regular shoes. Got back in my car and drove back to REI to exchange the cleats for the next size.

The dogs were hysterical. It was time for our walk. I’d gotten dressed for our walk. Now, for reasons way beyond their canine ken, I had disrobed from my walking outfit and was heading for the car again. They’d already been in the car for their daily ride to Caf� Loco to get their dog bone and my latte.  They was no reason to be getting back in it.

I got to REI, went to customer service, waited in line, got my exchange receipt. Went up stairs, got the next size cleats, went downstairs, stood in another line, exchanged one slip of paper for another, got back in the car, drove back to South Anchorage and started all over again.

Off came the regular shirt, on went the sweatshirt.  On went the fleece liner, the parka, the scarf tied tight around my neck.  I sat down and, after ten minutes of struggle and some very questionable language, had the cleats on my boots. Then I put the extra socks on, put the boots on, put the mittens on.  Took the mittens off because you can’t hook up the dog’s collar to the lead with mittens on. Hooked both dogs up. Realized I needed to stop in the bathroom because the whole process had taken so long.  Put the leashes down, kicked the boots off, took the parka off.  Dogs are now even more hysterical. Not only were they almost out the door when I stopped the process, but I was disrobing again.

As I take care of nature’s business, they pant and bark frantically at my side, dragging their leads into the bathroom to see if I’ve totally lost my mind.  I go back to the entryway, put on the parka, retie the scarf, put on the cleated boots, untangle the dogs and their leashes and finally, more than two hours after we started, we are out the door and walking – straight into weather hovering somewhere in the teens with a gentle wind blowing right at me. And I wondered, as I do so often right around then, why I live in Alaska in the winter.  Or, an even more likely thought during this dark and cold season, why I live in Alaska at all.

The dogs, so eager to head out the door, lose a good part of that enthusiasm after the first few blasts of the gentle breeze hits them. They sniff a little, mark their way home and then make it clear they think its time we headed that way. But for all the effort it took to get ready for this walk, it will be our full and regular three miles. There will be no compromising. We are, after all, Alaskans. The cold does not stop us – mostly.

Then, just as I come to the conclusion that I have lost any rational part of my mind if I think walking in below freezing temperatures is a sane thing to do, I turn the corner into the woods. The wind dies off. The trees are covered in frozen white and still as death. Ravens watch me cautiously as I pass their perches.  The ground is crunchy from my cleats. The sun casts that strange winter light that has such an eerie glow. I could be in the middle of nowhere as easily as in the middle of a big city. I could run into a moose or a jogger.  I could see an eagle flying overhead or a flock of Bohemian waxwings stripping a mountain ash of its berries.  Then I remember why living in Alaska is worth it. Because there is no other place on earth I’d rather be.