I thought I knew about cold. I’ve been skiing since the age of six. I survived four years of marching band, sitting on the metal bleachers in all weather conditions. When the so-called polar vortex hit the eastern seaboard last year, the inside of my apartment windows froze over and I spent a week bundling up for my daily commute. My family jokes that I’m part polar bear because the cold doesn’t bother me as much as it does others. I love winter. So when I announced my move to Alaska, a lot of people echoed my sister’s comment of, “Better you than me.”
I thought I knew about cold. Then I moved here.
When the temperatures began dropping in September, I smiled. I did a little happy dance when the first snow fell in October. My wardrobe grew to include a number of new flannel button-downs and things like lined jeans. By mid-November, my daily outerwear included warm boots, what I thought of as a good winter coat, knit hat, facemask, and gloves. My bedroom got a little cooler, and once or twice the pipes into the house froze. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for that: The dryer exhaust vent is right above the pipe. Turn on the dryer and within an hour or so the water usually starts flowing again. Until recently, this was as extreme as it got.
Towards the end of January, temperatures around here began to drop. The entire staff of the school went to Anchorage for a conference the last weekend of the month. We returned to a village in the middle of a deep freeze. In the weeks since, we’ve rarely had a day where the temperature rose above zero. Even if the high is supposed to be above that point, the wind chill frequently pulls it back down by twenty or so degrees. My insulated overalls have become an addition to the daily wardrobe, as has my heavy-duty parka and the liners for my gloves. I’ve learned what -40° feels like, both outside and inside. The house is a good house, but in the extreme cold the insulation leaves something to be desired. Before the deep freeze, Cole and I would frequently run around the house in short and t-shirt (him) or pants and socks (me). The night we returned from Anchorage, we both wore hoodies and sweats, and Cole even added a knit hat. I have never been so happy to have flannel sheets and a down comforter!
A pitcher of water now lives next to the sink, for those mornings when the water won’t flow. Two more pitchers reside in the fridge for the same reason. I’m getting used to how cold the bathroom floor feels even through the thickest socks, and I keep my toiletry kit handy in a small duffel for the nights that I have to shower elsewhere. I’m almost used to the amount of clothing I put on each morning. At school, I’ve had several talks with my students about wearing proper outdoor gear, and remind them about gloves, scarves, and hats each day at dismissal. I’m also learning the importance of some lessons Dad taught me years ago, like making sure all the layers of my outdoor gear are dry. It’s amazing how the wind can cut through the layers, find even the tiniest wet spot, and freeze a finger or toe.
I thought I knew about cold. Living up here has just added a whole other layer to my knowledge. One thing’s for sure: After living here, winter in the Lower 48 will seem tame by comparison.