Columns 2009

Baby, it’s cold out there!

I start with a pair of long johns. Then I pull a pair of heavy knee socks up over them. Then I pull on heavy wool sweatpants. Then I put a T-shirt on, then a sweatshirt over that. I sit down and put on yet another pair of socks before finally putting on my walking shoes with Yak-trax. I somehow heave my body up and put on a coat liner, followed by a woman’s parka from Barrow that goes halfway down my calf. I pull up the hood with a warm fur ruff to protect my face from the cold. I tie a scarf tightly around my neck so no wind can blow down. I finally don a pair of wolf mittens made for me by Edna Leavitt many, many years ago. And voila!  I’m ready to walk the dogs.

Of course, if I ever fell while wearing this outfit, I’d have to roll myself home because there is no way I could ever get upright again. Walking down the street with my two dogs, I look like the result of a bad marriage between Lucy from Peanuts and Cartman from South Park.

I try to convince my dogs that they also need to be dressed appropriately. But they recoil in horror. It’s bad enough I expect them to walk with me while I look like an overstuffed bag of potatoes. The simply refuse to participate in my attempts to suit them up too.  Put a sweater or jacket on them and they dance as though they are doing the Twist with ants in their pants. They squiggle and squirm. They rub against the walls. They fall on their backs and act as though the clothing were searing their flesh.  Within minutes, whatever I’ve put on them is so twisted I have to cut them out of it for fear they will choke on the material.

The scene with booties is about the same. If I actually manage to get the booties on one dog, that dog will manage to shed them in the time it takes me to get booties on the second dog.  They will stand in front of me and lift each leg and shake it madly to throw off the bootie. If that doesn’t work, they’ll simply grab it with their teeth and pull on it until it rips off.

So while I enter our frozen world layered to the point where even I can’t find myself under all those clothes, my dogs prance out nude and happy. They remain so until exactly the halfway point in the walk. Then it occurs to them that it’s as cold going out the front door for a walk as it is going out the back door for a bathroom break. They decide that they are no longer amused. Since they are too heavy to carry, we continue on reluctantly. 

They walk a few steps ahead of me, then turn and look back as if to ask if we haven’t gone far enough now and why isn’t home right there in front of them. 

If you live in Alaska, you are supposed to take below zero weather for granted as just another of the reasons why being an Alaskan is so special.  After all, if we couldn’t complain about the cold, what would we have left to complain about besides the mosquitoes of summer, the politicians of all seasons and the cost of getting here from there no matter how far in advance you make your ticket.

And there are definitely pluses to the whole cold thing. Walking down the back roads near my home is like walking in a winter wonderland. Who needs Christmas lights when you have trees that sparkle with white as though Tinkerbell had sprinkled fairy dust on them.  And where else can your walk include the sight of a moose contentedly munching on your neighbors pretty trees as though they’d been put there especially for him.  Look up and you might catch an eagle in flight or a flock of Bohemian Waxwings on their way to the next berry bush.

Happy 50th, Alaska.  Your beauty warms those of us who are thrilled to be part of the 49th state, no matter how cold we are.