Columns 2007

Real Alaskans whine

Now that Fur Rondy and the Iditarod have safely made it through Anchorage with all the snow they could possible want, would it be horrible of me to suggest that I’ve had it with winter.  I’m done with ice.  Snow has lost its amusement value for me.  Bragging to my relatives about how low the temperature got last night is no longer fun. 

I’m tired of the twenty-minute dressing routine I have to go through every day before I walk my dogs. My feet long to stroll without little wire grippers between them and god’s earth.  My hands long to feel the air on them and not be stuffed inside fur mittens that have perhaps seen one too many Alaskan winters. I’m tired of the boots and jackets and parkas over jackets and scarves over hoods that seem to be the only sensible attire when outside in single digit temperatures.

I want to bring my trashcan to the end of my driveway without risking serious injury due to the fact that the surface is now one solid piece of ice. I want to go out into the bright sun and experience its warmth, not just the memory of how warm it used to be.

I know. I know. I’m being a wimp. A real Alaskan wouldn’t complain so long and loudly. A real Alaskan would accept that there is at least another month of winter before we can even hope to venture outside for any prolonged activity without being wrapped up tighter than a drum in seven layers of insulated clothing.  A real Alaskan would be strapping on skis, jumping on a skidoo, hooking up a dog team or slogging out in snowshoes. 

Except the truth is that this is my 35th winter in Alaska and in every one of them, real Alaskans are the ones I have heard complain the longest and loudest each year about this time.  Real Alaskans are the people filling the planes heading towards Hawaii and Mexico. Real Alaskans are the ones I bump into at the Las Vegas airport baggage carousel.  Real Alaskans are planning gardens and checking out their fishing gear in the hope that this year their spouse will let them buy even more plants and rods and nets and all those toys that make our short Alaskan summers so great.

I spend a good deal of my winter now wondering how I ever survived my first 28 in Barrow where it is colder, darker and winter lasts ever so much longer.  I remember my first winter in nurses’ quarters at the Barrow hospital, staring out my window at the frigid darkness and writing with my finger in the frost on it, “Help me. I’m from Brooklyn.”

My friend Elaine and I walk together on weekends and marvel at how we complain about above zero weather when, in Barrow, we consistently walked in below zero weather and reveled in the challenge.  Once, after a particularly windy snow storm totally shut down our usual route along Fresh Water Lake Road, Elaine kept insisting that if we just got over the next frozen snow drift, we would find clear road on the other side.  I don’t know why I listened to her.  But she sounded so very sure of herself.

So we climbed up one drift and down another. The only way we even knew we were still following the road was by turning around and locating Barrow’s tiny skyline in the distance.  Eventually, the dogs stopped dead in their tracks, looked at us as though we’d lost our minds and refused to scramble up over another drift.  I took that as a hint we should give it up and accept that we just wouldn’t be able to have our walk that day.

So why is it that here in Anchorage I complain if the city hasn’t plowed the walking path I use? Why do I wear more clothes for above zero here than I did for below zero there? Why, when I now live in a place that gets at least some daylight even in the darkest part of the winter, do I find myself talking more about cabin fever than I ever did during Barrow’s two months of total darkness?

And a little voice whispers in my ear, “Because you are old.”

But I know that’s not the truth. The truth is I complain because I am a real Alaskan and it is my right…nay, some might say my obligation…to whine as long and loudly as possible until the warmth returns.  Then I’ll complain about the heat and mosquitoes and long for the return of winter. 

Because being a real Alaskan means never running out of seasonal reasons to whine.