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Unremitting Cold

I’m not sure why it’s so important to know the exact temperature when it’s extraordinarily cold outside. It’s the same as when it’s a real scorcher in Texas, and the high temp leads the nightly news.

Early in the fall of this year I wanted a thermometer for my cabin in Circle. The temperatures were getting cold, I knew they’d get colder, and I was curious.

First I had a small plastic thermometer attached to my sleeping bag. It had a comically inadequate low temperature of twenty above. When it got cold, the red alcohol would huddle desperately in the bottom of the tube, one scared red dot. Then I had one of those digital thermometers, but after a while it got so cold that the digital display stopped working. So during my next trip into town I stopped at our local super center and looked in the lawn and garden department for a new thermometer.

I was looking for a large, white, round, plastic, outdoor one with a bottom temperature of 60 below. I've seen a number of them around Alaska. Unfortunately they didn’t have what I was looking for. All they had was a smaller white round with a bottom temperature of only fifty below. I knew as I stood there in the isle that it would get colder than that, but it was all that was available. So I bought it and hung it up in the cabin.

When I returned to Circle after the Christmas holiday, I arrived back at the cabin, walked in, and went straight to the thermometer. Of course, the needle was pegged to the extent of its range. It was some unknown distance below 50 below. Inside.

One extremely cold day is fascinating. It’s exhilarating. It’s a natural wonder as big as the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains. It’s a great thing to experience.

A couple of days of cold can be endured. But day after day of unremitting cold is different. It’s brutal. Relentless. It is the cold over time that works on people. And on things. Plastic snaps. Then so does metal. Pipes freeze. Widows glaze over on the inside. Propane freezes. Diesel fuel gels. Cars won’t start. Patience wears thin. Despondency grows.

I want to sit of an evening by an open window and feel the breeze flow in, moving the sheer curtains lazily. For the air to be refreshing but not bring a chill. For the darkness to bring a quiet and a certain peace over the neighborhood. For it to rain.

It’s that time of year again. That moment on the calendar when we in Alaska ask ourselves why we have chosen to live here. Under these conditions. We all must be crazy.

Last Sunday I stopped for lunch at a local fast food joint and overheard a telling conversation. Two guys sitting at a table. One says to the other, “I guarantee, before next winter, I’ll be somewhere else.” “Where you gonna go?” His buddy asked. “Anywhere but here!” he replied.

But I know that spring is coming. And coming fast. And it will be explosive and wonderful. And all of our doubts about Alaska will thaw and spring back to life in riotous color. If we can all only endure until then.

It’s been over ten days so far of lows ranging from 45 below in Fairbanks and 55 below in Circle.

Come spring. Come soon.

Posted on Thursday, January 8, 2009 at 09:07PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell in | Comments4 Comments

Reader Comments (4)

Yeah. I know how you feel. umm...wait. no i don't. i have no idea.
January 9, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwatson
I'd be the person saying "somewhere else". Doing this alone in a cold shack with the Alaskan winter, I just can't do it. Have a safe travel home today. Love, Dad
January 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDad
I can't even imagine what that feels like. I was just thinking about the fact that if it was 100 degrees warmer there - which is the difference between about as hot as it ever gets in Texas and as cold as it ever gets in Texas - it would still be chilly.
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarry
BTW I don't know if you're all crazy, but the ones of you living in an unheated cabin definitely are!!
January 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBarry

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