Saturday, April 21, 2007

Winter Blog Update


As November ticked by, the sun hung lower and lower on the horizon as the land became quieter and quieter. At times it seemed it was only us and the grey jays that were left in this immense land. We were struck by the silence and stillness- nothing seemed to move and our footsteps seemed to echo off the mountains.

On November 19th, the sun rose above the mountains for a mere 2 minutes before sinking out of our site for the next 2 months. Over those two months our indirect light shrunk until we reached the darkest days. During this time a pale bluish light began to bathe our world around 12 pm and began to creep way at 3 pm- giving way to stars.

Without direct sunlight, changes in our visual environment were drastic. We could no longer tell whether the trees sported green needles or black twigs until we were close enough to touch them. The subtleties of color disappeared with the sun. Shadows were non-existent, making our trails in the snow disappear quickly from view. During the days when the snow fell and the clouds seemed to touch the edge of the lake, we experienced ‘white outs’ where the horizon would disappear and sometimes our equilibrium and depth as well.

But where the lack of sun flattened our world, the moon, stars, and northern lights made up for it. The moon literally replaced our sun, casting long shadows and lighting up the landscape. Our world became defined more by nightscapes and with all the light bouncing off of a world cloaked in snow we rarely experienced true darkness.

In December, we were lucky enough to be hiking on the frozen lake, when at midday we looked up to see the large bull moon rising. The moon rose straight our of the north over the Brooks range mountains and began its full 24 hours circle above us.

Our arctic winter will be represented by memories like that forever.

The dreaded cabin fever never got to us. Instead we both fell in love with the calm, quiet, routines of winter life.

We went outside everyday to gather wood and water and look for the tracks of what little critters had passed by recently.

Our long nights were taken up with board games and popcorn, reading, writing, knitting and learning to play the harmonica (Thanks Stacy!). Ryan read the whole Harry Potter series and Heather read all of Sherman Alexie’s short stories and the two of us plowed through over 50 books, from hunting and building, to Native and Arctic history, to Tolstoy and Steinbeck.

On December 22nd, we celebrated Christmas, Chanukah, and solstice. It was the darkest day of our year and we eagerly awaited the sun.

Breaking the silence and stillness of December 24th, we were visited by Richard Wein (from the family of bush pilot pioneers) who once flew Heather’s parents. Richard and his son-in-law swooped down like a modern day Santa and brought us a Christmas basket full of fresh fruit, cheese, chocolate and the Fairbanks Newspaper! It was wonderful to see them and to eat fresh fruit after so long! Thanks Richard and Sally!

Several weeks later, after a bout of bad weather, our faithful pal Max and his lil’ plane came bumping down our homemade runway laden with mail and gifts!

We had a wonderful evening opening packages and mail from friends and family, and felt more than a little bit of homesickness. On New Year’s we drank rootbeer in the middle of the lake to watch the northern lights bring in the new year.

Ryan also celebrated his birthday in January and Heather made him a chocolate cake covered with donuts and promised to finish a pair of slippers she was knitting him. We had a grand time and got thoroughly sick to our stomachs from ingesting too much sugar.

In January with no sun to warm the land, the temperatures dropped significantly, hitting days as low as -47 degrees.

We were surprised to see how fast our bodies adusted to the lower temperatures and had a good laugh at what we once called cold.

Although the air in the cabin was kept cozy warm, the old arctic joke that if you drop a pencil in winter you have to wait ‘til it unfroze in spring to pick it up began to apply as the door, floor, windows and walls began to freeze.

This was a time of many little surprises such as buckets of water left on the floor that froze solid- not to mention the now slick splash puddles around them, or when Heather closed her eyes to rest them from the wind, and then spent the next several minutes picking ice off her eyelashes so she could open them again, and of course everything plastic shattered. Heather went through two tripods and was only saved by mass amounts of duct tape and string.

Then to keep things interesting we had a spike in temperature hitting plus 20 degrees and sending us out in the snow with buckets of hot water. Our bodies, so recently adjusted to negative degree temperatures, thoroughly enjoyed our rustic showers.

In January we also experienced our first sunlight which bathed the land for 2 brilliant minutes.

It was strange how incredibly impressive its return was after its absence had become so ordinary.

That night we celebrated with a bonfire and a bottle of our own homebrew: DEAD VOLE ALE.

But even with the sun back the temperatures would not follow suit. After a warm first half of February, we met the cold again with temperatures of -40 degrees for ten straight days.

In February, Heather also joined Max in his little faithful plane for a quick jaunt to Bettles to take care of some business. She immediately contracted every flu bug in town (and there were surprisingly many) and returned gratefully to her bed cursing the germs of society loudly.

As we begin Spring the sun is returning quickly, we gain about 45 minutes of sunlight a week and currently (Feb. 22) can read a book @ 9:30 pm.

Soon April will come bringing us 24 hour daylight and the melting of ice and snow.

With the warming temperatures and long days our world is making drastic changes. Our once silent and still environment is quickly giving way to the flurry of animal life, fresh buds and new leafs and the sound of water. The speed at which things are changing is mind-boggling.

We hope all is well with our friends and family and thanks again, so much, for the wonderful gifts and letters.

(No cabin fever, but Heather did make snow people to keep us company.)

(Drinking water being melted on stove after it froze during a cold night.)

(Heather sits weighing mail for proper postage in order to reply to all of our letters.)