Living in Alaska always comes with challenges. When I heard of a snow front moving its way into the interior, I didn’t think much of it. It was just before Christmas. We were too busy stringing up ornaments, wrapping gifts and planning what side dishes should accompany the roasted duck on Christmas Eve to contemplate the weather. Plus, we are typically prepared for snow events that can seize us at any moment. Our cars have winter tires, the generator is on standby, and the pantry is filled with foods with a longer shelf life. Like the carol on the radio, we would just “let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
Cheerily, my friends Tara and Dawn and I set off with the dogs for a walk in the woods. We were past the winter solstice, gaining daylight again. Soon we would have Spring. A soft new snow blanket covered the peaceful terrain, marred only by the dogs’ romping and our own deep imprints on the trail. A barn was festively decorated with twinkling lights. Its equestrian inhabitants came up to the fence to greet us. In a landscape so exquisite, how could our spirits not be lifted?
After our walk we loaded wet dogs into car trunks and exchanged good wishes. My friends were leaving Alaska for the holidays. Driving home, I hoped that their travels amid Covid flight cancellations would go smoothly. I shrugged off the forecast I heard on the car radio. What would a few snow flurries matter compared to what they might have to deal with on their journey?
The first of the snowstorms arrived formidably that night. Great flakes swirled in the air and the temperature plummeted. A foot of snow accumulated by morning. I started shoveling out. Many hours later, with aching arms, I surveyed my efforts. I managed to clear a path to the front door, part of the deck and a narrow aisle to the woodshed. I was ahead of the game. I felt tired, but of an accomplished type. I went inside for a well-deserved cup of tea. Now I could curl up in front of the crackling fire with a good book.
When I awoke the next morning, it looked as though I had not even shoveled. My path was filled in again. Our steep driveway was covered with even more snow. I called Kyle, our snowplow man, but he told me the fuel pump on his truck was broken. He would not be able to come until the end of the week. Never mind, I said. We would park one of our cars at the pullout on the top of our driveway. That way, in the event of more snow, we would not be stranded. With much skidding and hammering hearts, we managed to get Nick’s car to the needed spot. Relieved that we had not slid off the driveway, we trudged back down the mountain to the house in the deep snow.
A second front moved in. It snowed and snowed and snowed all day. We got yet another twelve inches. Snow was piled high against the windows, obscuring our view. The dogs, reluctant to pee in deep snow, doubled back in hasty U-turns. Nick’s grill on the deck resembled Artu Ditu with extended snow-covered arms. We listened to the news and were advised not to attempt the roads until the plow trucks had passed through. Nick cancelled his patients’ appointments for the rest of the week.
We tried to encourage each other. It wasn’t all that bad. How often was it that we had a real snow day and could spend a whole day watching Netflix?
Then the power went out. Nick, in the middle of dinner preparations, cursed his opinion of this, not quite under his breath.
“It’ll come back on,” I reassured the family, more jovial than I felt. I went in search of candles and flashlights. I should have remembered to fill the bathtub with water because, without the jet pump, we couldn’t run faucets.
A third snowstorm in two weeks brought even stoic Alaskans to their knees. We awoke to the sound of rain in December. The temperatures had risen. Everywhere else in the world this would have been a sign of reprieve. In Alaska, it translated into the horror of ice. An inch coated the landscape. Ice glittered on the spruces and creaked beneath our ice-cleated boots. Birch branches snapped and broke. We worried about the snow load on the roof made heavy with moisture.
Fairbanks had turned into a world of the condemned. We were advised to not to leave our homes. The impassable roads had turned into ice sheets that resembled hockey rinks with no traction. Emergency vehicles were pulling cars out of ditches. Graders were sent ahead of them because roads were so bad. Power outages, due to heavy snow, were reported throughout the entire town while crews worked through the night. We had no power, no internet, no water. Our cell phone batteries were dwindling.
We hunkered down. When the temperature cooled in the house, we pulled on snowshoes and hiked down to the woodshed for firewood. We shoveled snow into buckets and heated it on the propane stove. We ate what we our freezer held in store for us. All in all, we resembled the Ingalls family in “Little House on the Prairie.”
When did we sign up for this? We complained nonstop. We couldn’t watch a movie because the power was out. We couldn’t flush the toilets because we had no water. We couldn’t even go out on a walk because the ice was treacherous beneath our feet. Should we consider moving to Hawaii?
Eventually, when we exhausted our reasons for griping and moaning, we settled into a different routine. Without choices, our evenings quickly became easier. The weather would do as it chose. We would abide. Eventually, the snowfall would taper. The ice would melt. Helen and Yanni finished the puzzle of Linderhof Castle that had been stowed on a shelf for years. Nick settled into his reading of Renaissance history. And I wrote a blog, simply for the pleasure of writing it.
This year’s winter storms, trying as they were, might just have anchored us.