Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Stori: frozen mouse

The very first thing we do every morning is go look what the temperature is. While most people may go to the bathroom, let the dog out, or pour the coffee, we thermometer watch. My house has 4 inside thermometers, and 3 outside the house. We have 3 because the heat coming from the house changes the temp, only by maybe 4 to 5 degrees, but enough. This morning we woke to -30F. That's below zero. The temperature dictates what we will do during that day. I find myself looking at the temp probably 10 to 20 times a day. My husband and I talk about whether or not folks in the lower 48 really understand what cold is. My sister in law emails me from Minnesota the other day saying how it was horribly cold, almost -10 below! I'm thinking to myself, -10 barely dictates a coat, I don't even wear a hat at -10. The borough school district has a recess policy for the schools, any temp down to -20 below, the kids still go outside for recess. The weekend my husband and I met for the first time, it was -62 below. That has been the coldest I have seen it so far, and it was absolutely terrifying. We were camping and I had my 4 year old daughter with me. Now I don't say this to prove how tough we are, or to make it sound worse than it is, the cold is just a fact of life.

In order to exist this far north, there are certain things one has to put up with on a daily basis. My husband refers to this as your acceptable level of discomfort. We, obviously, have to deal with extreme cold. Then we also have to deal with the darkness. Never before I lived here was I so aware of Winter and Summer Solstice. Summer Solstice, June 21st, is near depressing since that is the day we start losing minutes of daylight a day. That is the day that it doesn't get dark at all. Winter Solstice almost feels like the halfway mark in a marathon. That is the day we start to gain minutes of daylight once again. It is the darkest and shortest day of the year. But once you have hit December 21st, it's almost a sigh of relief, that's the worst of the darkness..whew. It the deepest of winter, we are lucky if we even see the sun itself, it does get light, but almost dusky. In the height of summer, the darkest it ever gets is the same level of dusky. The sun never rises overhead, just circles around you along the horizon. There is no such thing as high noon in the interior. We also have 2 to 3 months, twice a year, when our light to dark ratio is almost normal.

Now there is more to dealing with the oddities of the arctic than just brrr, it's cold, or wearing sunglasses at 2 a.m. Driving a car during the winter requires either a heated garage, or 3 separate heating pads on your engine. You must have your vehicle plugged in at least 2 hours prior to actually driving or the fluid in your engine is frozen. If you didn't plug in early enough, you can always resort to a blast furnace pointed to the undercarriage of your car. You must be very careful though, or you can end up melting the plastic and rubber parts of your engine.
Every other time you gas up, you need to put in a fuel additive called Heat. This prevents condensation in your gas tank which causes water in your fuel in the winter. There is also "square tires". When a car is parked in the cold for any period of time, the rubber in the tires hardens which causes a flat spot where the tires touch the ground. Once you start driving, for a couple miles, it feels as if you have square tires since that flat spot stays there till the air can heat up inside the tire. A person must also ALWAYS carry a cold weather pack for each person in the car. Inside this pack you must have enough cold weather gear, water, food, and light to allow you to survive walking 1 mile. Now that may not seem like very far, but a mile at -40 is not as leisurely a stroll as you would like.

This may all sound like a horror story, and granted, it can get pretty miserable. But I cannot let myself forget all the beauty and advantages to living here. The clouds here are the most breathtaking I have ever seen. The amount and level of green-ness in the summer. Falling asleep at night watching the northern lights put on a brilliant show, or falling asleep listening to the birds putting on their own version of a great show. Never knowing what you may run into around the next corner, or who is behind those trees. Moose are almost a guarantee, but wolf and bear are also a very real possibility. This is a place of hardship, beauty, struggle, and adventure.l

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