Friday, December 3, 2010

We're not in Alaska anymore

Yesterday afternoon, I walked home around 2:30. The sun had already begun the drop to the horizon. The low-angle light had the ineffectual pinkish quality that I associate with mid-Winter. My brain insisted that the cloudless sky and the thin sunshine meant that the temperature ought to be somewhere around zero. Even though I was only wearing a sweater and a vest, and did not feel in danger of losing body parts.

I checked the thermometer when I got to Chez Sarah and the instrument insisted that it was forty degrees in the sunshine. My eyes and brain insisted that they were Alaskan and, as such, knew better.

The picture above is not Seattle, that's the view from my parent's house a couple of days ago. My mom took it. The temperature in the picture is ten below. It's that quality of light that tells me that I need to go grab my warmest clothes. My bones knows that clear days are cold days.

Even when they aren't. Even when I spend the day hauling around coats I don't need. During the recent snow storm and cold snap, I spent a lot of time fighting with that instinct. I didn't pack my heavy parkas or snow boots. I didn't even need them. But on a dark night with the wind blowing, even though I knew the wind chill was only fifteen, I could not bring myself to sanguinely go to the grocery store. Too many English classes hashing over Jack London's "To Build a Fire."

Teachers would ask, "What is the conflict in the story?"

Alaskan kids always came back to not "man vs. nature" but "man vs. stupid." Always pack a hat and gloves. Always prepare for the worst. Don't leave shelter when the weather's marginal and you don't have gear.

I went to the grocery store anyway. I did not fall through the ice in a river. I didn't attempt to build a fire under a spruce tree and have the warming spruce dump it's load of snow on the embers. I came back. It was fine.

The next morning a couple of kids were skating on the reflecting pool in Cal Anderson Park. That at least was exactly like home.


  1. I titled this picture (taken with my phone) "Before sunrise on garbage day". Your Grandma thought that sounded like a subject of a poem. I'm waiting for someone to write it!

  2. I felt gleeful reading the first part of your comments here because the second I laid eyes on this picture I thought, "Oh, that's the view from Sarah's parents' house." Nice to know that I recognize it.

    Also, I have to agree with you on the "To Build a Fire" comment. I haven't even ever lived in Alaska, but I want to shake the guy every time I read it. First of all, he says that none of the oldtimers will go out in the weather because they say it's too cold (or too something; I can't remember if they commented on something else along with the cold). The thing is, the fact that they've made it long enough to become oldtimers should mean something, especially in such a harsh climate. Anyone can be killed at any point by sheer bad luck, but not just anyone will make it that far. And then he gets all cocky for no reason other than he thinks he's smarter than everyone. I guess he got what he deserved.