Copper River Record January 16, 2020
By Robin Mayo
It has been a while since we had a good cold snap, and although I do not enjoy dealing with frozen fingers, frozen trucks, frozen pipes, and all the other tribulations, there is a certain fierce joy in this kind of weather. The alpenglow is gorgeous, the creak of the snow under your feet enticing, and there is a deep satisfaction in seeing the plume of woodsmoke rise from your chimney. And hey, the best part of going out in the cold to do chores is coming back in, defrosting your glasses, and settling in with tea and a good book. And a 160-degree sauna at 40 below, earning membership in the 200-degree club? Priceless.
This cold snap is treating me pretty well. The scores so far: Of the five Toyostoves I am responsible for, four are working. Of the three water/sewer systems, one is frozen, one is thawed, and one is good but may be out of water soon if the water truck can’t roll. Of the four vehicles I am responsible for, one is fine, one is startable (although I suspect each start takes years off its life,) and two are mercifully parked for the winter. Of the two woodpiles I am responsible for, both are fully stocked with well-seasoned spruce, cut to the right length. Of my two offspring, both are in tropical locations.
But I’m reminded that it isn’t easy for everyone. We took some extra propane tanks to a neighbor in a wheelchair who is going through a 20-pound tank almost every day keeping his water room warm. He figures he may have to go to Valdez for refills. Driving to work today, I noticed freshly cut branches where someone had been cutting firewood from the road right of way. Every one of us is just a split pipe, a broken fan belt, a gelled fuel line, or a chimney fire away from disaster.
Yet we lean into this weather instead of fleeing. I grew up in Fairbanks during the 70’s and 80’s, when very long cold snaps were more common, so it is tempting to dismiss this current one and tell some stories about the good old days. Were we just tougher back then, or are our memories short? Midwinter cold snaps bring back the smell of starter fluid squirted into a carburetor, the distinctive sound a vehicle makes when it barely turns over but it is not going to start. Not after being plugged in for 12 hours, not if you blast it with the propane weed burner, and especially not if the flame gets too close to the wiring.
I turned a mountain of moose into sausage and watched some football this weekend, ate too much bacon and cupcakes. My Mom has been wishing for some extra warm mittens, so I cut up an old sweater, layered it with polar fleece and quallofil, and stitched near the fire. In other words, a perfect winter weekend.
On Friday, town was full of dog mushers, hardy souls who know how to dress for winter. It is impossible to recognize anyone in their winter garb, so I waved to every round figure waddling about town in the smog from all the idling vehicles. And I waved to the teenagers in their hoodies, warmed by the energy and fire of youth. Some things don’t change.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.