Wednesday, January 18, 2012

manic winter months

We stayed home for Christmas this year and the weather proved to be the coldest I have ever experienced in Alaska. The endless snow upon snow is beautiful but at times I feel like I am drowning in it. Roads become like tunnels and neighborhood streets narrower; playing chicken is a thought that passes through my mind as a solitary oncoming car competes to get by. Mornings are usually difficult because I am not compelled to go outdoors, so I wind up cooking and doing studio work. Otherwise, I am determined to get out to walk, ski or sometimes ride my studded bike on the streets. My outfits consist of wearing face coverings, heavy duty gloves, large boots or sorrels and layered clothing is essential. The other day I walked with a girlfriend and we hiked to a summit close by on O'Malley Road. The sun was brazenly bright and after trudging in the snow for twenty minutes, I became warm and the below zero temperatures became unnoticeable.

In the five weeks however, during our Christmas break, we did manage to complete our house insulation. Endless, long hours and tedious dirty work amounted to Ken working and finishing this job. Hats off to Ken for his persistence and focused energy.

The library, my favorite place in Anchorage, is a great resource of travel books and free foreign films. The other day, I watched a Finnish film set in Helsinki and the environment was austere, existential and empty. It reminded me a lot about where I live presently.

My first remembrances of Anchorage are empty cafes laced with lingering iced air. Everything becomes a contest in the cold and while you fight the wind, you gingerly place your feet carefully because of the chances of slipping on sometimes slick pavement. There is an abstract sense of wilderness; you identify with the fur hats and empty cold banked curbs as a special place. Yet these things produce a remote sense of obscurity, and still begs for a foreignness of adventure. Years ago, Ken and I would sit by Earthquake Park and look out over the dark wide inlet vista that seemed to stretch for eternity. The tinkering lights on the horizon gave you some landing place of perspective. You forget people you have met at one time in the area because they become different looking throughout the year; either in bike gear, scarves, sunglasses or turbaned with the latest winter hat gives sway to another hidden persona. The Alaskan dark is the heaviest and most poignant element, but the one challenge of Alaska that I have seemed to beat. Alaska becomes an indoor place, of wood stove furnaces, fireplaces and engagements that bring you closer to one another. Upon entering my home, I find myself rushing around the house to beat the chill or to replenish the empty firewood box. I rush outside to warm up the truck, race to the mailbox across the street, rush inside from being outside. It is a fleeting place and it has become a restless place for me. My junctions to the college campus become mini field trips and I hole up before class reading and drinking coffee. After the Christmas holidays, flickering lights remain on the window sill to brighten my early morning days with optimism. I look forward to crashing early evenings spending time reading in bed but rise early to make up for any lost time.

Winter has caused me to reflect and feel Alaska; a bitter sweet sensation of living place. It is still a journey living here and it has taught me more about surviving than any other place. Alaska is an acute physical existence. You see the densely packed mountains tops and feel removed from this landscape but you know it's grandeur exists. It is the sense of nature that brings me to feeling powerless and not in control because this magnificent terrain remains untouchable.