Wednesday, January 4

Northern winters

In response to yesterdays picture post, Brooke asked what life at forty below is like. I can't speak for everyone, but I can sure ramble off a list of what it's like to me. This is my seventh Fairbanks winter and the coldest temperature I've experienced is 55-ish below. It was when I lived in North Pole, go figure.

 Our front door last winter

Living alongside an extreme climate opens your eyes and burns your face with new experiences. Here are some highlights:

Ice Fog. A disorienting, glittery mess to drive in. Luckily, I live on a hill and regularly celebrate inversion and no fog.

Outside sounds become dramatic and appear closer than they are. For example. When standing outside, the traffic that I normally wouldn't hear becomes heard. Like coming down your driveway heard.

You wake up to square tires.

You are a slave to plugging in your vehicle and warming engines. There are no fast get aways here.

Your world becomes adorned with frost.

Weekly chores, like getting water and hauling trash, require full winter gear. Hats, gloves, long johns, bunny boots, and a good attitude. I mean, you did just pull yourself out of bed and  a warm home to tackle the to do. Bonus points for doing so in wicked cold.

Nightly dinners feature butter and bread. You crave pasta, potatoes, casseroles, any  comfort food. It isn't unusual to go on a baked goods bender or find yourself drinking lattes late in the day.

The workout and sauna become prozac and a spa treatment.

You learn that hand salve is your friend. No one likes cracked finger tips. Ouch!

*    *    *
That's the short of it anyway. It's pretty surreal. Sometimes I feel like I live in another world. I like to say Alaska might as well be America's Europe. Often when Alaskans refer to the rest of the states, we say "outside" or "lower 48." When I lived in Texas and Arizona, Alaska's weather is rarely included with US televised weather reports. If it is, it's bottom left hand and rarely gets a peep. 

I'd love to hear what your winters are like. Anyone else out there want to chime in?


  1. I hear the north east to Florida is going to get a cold snap... Hate to tell u this but California is in the upper 70's and in some places 80.... sowwy!. But hey, this is Cali!. we get the unexpected... El Ninos, earthquakes, weird, sick people who set apartments on fire in 3 days... I love the warmth, otherwise the cold makes me depressed and I end up feeling sick..

  2. I love how sound travels. Last week my BF was walking the dog down in the valley and I walked the other dog up on the ridge. I'm not sure how far away he was, but he had been gone for about 45 minutes (3 miles would be my guess). I could hear him talking to the dog as though he was standing right next to me. We joke with the neighbors that we have to watch what we say about them when we are outside in the winter!

  3. Wholeheartedly agree with all of your list. Here in northern Canada we haven't hit -40 yet this winter, but it is on its way. We call southern Canada "down south". Its fun to hear the similarities.

  4. That sounds very intense! I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to live that way!

    We i live in New Zealand our winters are very mild in comparison! The lowest temps we have here (middle of the North Island) are about -5c with a hard frost. Those days end up quite beautiful and sunny usually. Sometimes we have a fog that can last a week or so. It's nothing compared to yours!!!! NOTHING!

    Are your homes warm during winter?

  5. Oh Chris! I might take my chances with a crazy arsonist if it meant 70 - 80 degrees right now. Haha!! Yes, cold and dark can make me pretty sad too. BUT - I've got full spectrum lights, liquid vitamin D and a gym membership - so fingers crossed!!

    Nicole you made me laugh!! I so hear you!

    Dee! We're neighbors!! It's neat to hear northern Canada refers to south as "down south"...What do the southerns refer to northern Canada as? "Up North?"

    Umm Michele, let's trade winters! Traveling to New Zealand is on my list. I've been aching to check it out. Hmmm...maybe next December!?? I can handle hard frost that gives way to sun : ) Yes, our "habin" is very warm. We heat with wood and have a toyo stove as back up. When it's so cold like this it takes hours to get the temp up to 70 (which is how we like it!) My mister built the place a decade ago and he did a great job insulating, which is great b/c I've lived in cabins that were mighty cold at - 40!!

  6. uh....yeah. i can attest to *everything* you listed.
    i have found that small-very-small drops of superglue fix up my cracked fingertips. [smile]

    living in alaska doesn't really bother me.
    quite the opposite: i love alaska.
    what bothers me are the people who complain....
    and i want to say: go away. move out. i love alaska.


  7. Great Post! .. and I remember OHHHH so well what 40 below was like. I moved to Fbks 1989 (from sunny hot Arizona) when they experienced the "Siberian Express" - it was -40 for 6 weeks.. that was the high.. it got colder.. we saw 60 below .. in North Pole OF Coarse!
    I feel almost spoiled as here I sit in WA .. to day it is high 40's .. we moved down 8 years ago.. I still miss Alaska .. sometime the winter even.. It brings people together I think.. When you SuFFer an extreme .. ALL are affected in one way or another. ~:o) Enjoy your saunas! That kept me going and we love the x-country skiing at Birch Hill .. and right out our door off of Chena Hot Springs Rd! ... sigh........

  8. Foxy - the super glue trick! It makes sense. I'm all over it!! Thanks for the tip!! I wonder the reaction... if you politely responded to someone complaining about Alaska with, "Have you considered moving away?" Ha!

    Lisa - -40 for 6 weeks deserves full bragging rights! That's hard core!! Of course -60 in NP!! Yowsa!
    Your 40 degrees today in WA sounds delightful. Alaska gets under your skin so I understand you missing it. When driving out in 2005, I must have gotten off the I-5 3x's to rethink moving south for a few years. I pulled back onto the Interstate thinking "I can always return anytime I want" and I did!! AK Love story : ) xo

  9. Our winter at the moment isn't nice. We used to get cold winters with ice, snow and fog. This year has been wet! I live in the north of england and everyday is very dull, grey and raining. The temp is cold but damp cold. It has been good for curling in front of the fire and crocheting :-)

  10. Oddly warm. Currently we have three windows swung open to keep an ear on the puppies outside and between tights, hot tea and a 3/4 sleeve sweater I'm comfortable.

    God do I miss COLD though. It's such a funny thing to say when it's positively gorgeous out, but it's so true.

  11. Also, I was just reading a bit of the post to BC and his response? What on earth was she doing out in -55 degree weather? Helping Santa?

    He likes his sunshine.

  12. this past week has been fluxing between 30 and 60... i hear this is normal? still figuring out the whole Colorado winter scene, this being our second winter here. i welcome the snow and cold... the arizona sunny and warm winters never settled well with me... i need the cold and wind and snow to fully appreciate the warmth and growth of spring and summer.

  13. Here in Oregon the winter is pretty mild so far. It's a bit boring...but nice in some respects I suppose. The biggest test for me is the lack of sun. I don't like waking up in the dark, and I lose motivation. Your comment about working out is tickling my brain, since I haven't done that in weeks, yet I know it helps me out tremendously! Not only physically, but mentally/emotionally. Ok, done rambling! I love your pictures. :)

  14. I remember cracked fingertips from a weeklong canoing trip in the boundary waters years ago. Around here I can usually keep on top of it with a little homemade beeswax/jojoba oil hand salve applied often.

    We've had a weird winter so far ~ it'll be freezing at 17* and then suddenly days of 60*. Not sure what to think! The garden lasted forever. I'm looking forward to spring already :)

  15. HA HA! This is all so true! As a Saskatchewan girl, I'll testify to the pain of -59C (with a wind chill on top of that). Life just kind of stops....stops being normal and easy.

    Life in Idaho is bloody warm right now. It's quite freakish actually. Even when it's properly wintery in my valley, I still complain that the winter weather in Pocatello is too temperate for my personal tastes. :)