Talkeetna Winters…Handle With Respect!

I never doubted Alaskan winters in general and Talkeetna winters in particular would be extreme and could be potentially life threatening but once again I approached this concept accepting it from an intellectual perspective.  I’m quickly learning there’s a rather sizable gulf between intellectually knowing winter temps can and will drop into the minus double digits and actually experiencing these conditions to the point you now understand it on an emotional and even a spiritual level.  Let me be clear; I’m built for cold and have always loved it!  My idea of a good summer day would see partly to mostly cloudy skies, low humidity and a high temp in the low to middle 60’s (F).  Once temps rise into the middle seventies I begin to get uncomfortable and I’m just plain hot at 80 F; anything above this – particularly with dew points at or above 62 F – is just plain miserable for me.  I don’t know why I am this way; in 60 years of dealing with this I’ve just come to accept it.

The flip side of this situation is I can walk around outside in shorts and a tee-shirt when the air temp is at or slightly below freezing and feel invigorated.  In SE Michigan I regularly amazed the staff at the Sunrise of Northville facility when I’d show up to volunteer wearing just the aforementioned along with sandals and there would be snow on the ground (although the sidewalks were clear…) and the air temp would be in the teens.  Cold just doesn’t negatively impact me in the same fashion it does so many other folks.  The fact that I chose to retire to Alaska – and do so for the entire year not departing for the winters like so many folks – really supports my preference for cold.  And let’s face it; how many people do you know who at 60 years of age retire to the coldest of the fifty states and just loves it?  As I said I accepted this fact decades back but often my choice in clothing during my working years would mortify my co-workers; they largely felt I was a slob.  But the reality of it was simply I couldn’t dress wearing anything tight around my neck or just about any part of my body and not be extremely uncomfortable in temperatures that most offices deem ‘normal’.  Anytime I had to wear a suit and tie I was destined to be a sodden mess after just a few hours even if the interior office temps were in the low to middle seventies and I was just sitting in a meeting.  That’s just how it was…

However, because I had decades of experience living in this fashion and because I knew I was built for cold temps I arrived in Alaska intellectually knowing it would get cold but somehow not allowing this understanding to translate to a serious review of my outdoor apparel choices.  Thankfully Alaska has been good to me in that it’s allowed me to discover this ‘disconnect’ on my part without taking any fingers or toes!  With this said I’m already amazing local folks who have lived here all their lives with the relative scarcity of heavy winter clothing I’ve chosen to date.  As one old-timer told me; “Boy, you were made for Alaska!”.  Yep, I already knew that..!  But with the onset of some fairly cold weather across the last two weeks I’ve been forced to recognize even I cannot be cavalier when its -13 F or colder outside and I’m going to take the dogs for a walk.  Initially I tried wearing just a long sleeve tee-shirt, fleece vest, sweat pants, heavy socks, my superlative Kenetrek heavy hiking boots, a Gore-Tex rain shell and poly pro glove liners.  At least I had the wisdom to carry my balaclava and another set of heavier gloves because within five minutes of starting the walk I was wearing these upgrades!  To date the coldest air temp I’ve had the dogs out for a walk in was -16.8 F and even with heavier clothing I quickly learned that any exposed flesh will begin to become very cold if there’s any breeze at all.  Surprisingly if the air is calm I’m okay but when there’s even a wind of just three to five miles per hour within maybe fifteen minutes I can feel exposed flesh beginning to ‘burn’ which I know to be a warning its time to either get indoors or cover said exposed skin…immediately!!  I’ve come to understand that when the snow actually ‘squeals’ when I walk on it I need to be outfitted with heavy outdoor clothing.  I have spent perhaps ten minutes outdoors in the yard with the dogs when it was -21.5 F and that was a real eye opener!  Even though it was calm with blazing sunshine the exposed skin around my mouth and eyes was starting to feel that burning sensation and my eyes felt as though they were rapidly dehydrating within just a few minutes.  I was able to remedy these issues with more items from my winter apparel selection like insulated mittens (they really are warmer than similar gloves!), a thick scarf and a heavy watch cap but it was still a real wake up call for me.  With this said I must admit to eagerly awaiting air temps below -30 F as I’m curious as to what I will have to wear to be comfortable.  Without question I will have to cover all exposed skin and I will also have to wear at least three layers of clothing and probably four; no big deal as layering is a way of life in Alaska!

And I have not forgotten about my four-legged companions!!  I watch Qanuk (my German Shepherd Dog) like a hawk when the air temps are in the minus double digits and I’ve already learned his energy and exuberance will cause him to ignore signs of over-exposure to the cold.  Twice now he’s returned to the house only to then whine and complain about his paws.  Anana, being an Alaskan Malamute, is much better suited to these extremes but with this said she is an indoor dog and is not really able to weather extreme cold for long periods of time.  For Qanuk’s sake I’ve come to realize that when the air temp is -10 F to -16 F we need to hold our walks to 40 minutes maximum.  I extrapolate that if the air temps are -17 F to -25 F we’ll probably be forced to head inside after just 30 minutes.  In temps below -30 F we just will not take walks…period.

Experiencing such cold has truly opened my eyes to the potential for suddenly finding one’s self in a serious situation; while walking along East Barge Drive when it was -16.8 F I wondered what I would do if I slipped and broke an ankle or a leg..?  During my 60 to 80 minute  walks with the dogs along these local roads I rarely see more than maybe one vehicle so waiting for a car to drive by most likely is not an option.  At those air temps lying on the hard packed, icy road surface would be a death sentence within an hour if not less.  The smart move would be to drag one’s self to the snow just beyond the road’s edge as it’s almost a foot and a half in depth and hence would offer both cushioning and insulation.  The boreal forest could also possibly offer downed branches which could serve as a crutch but finding them in such snow could be problematic.  I’ve often wondered if I could get Anana and Qanuk to pull me back to the house..?  Anana is a Mal and hence a freighting dog but I am more than twice her weight.  If the two of them worked as a team I know they could do so but that’s a big ‘if’.  All told not a lot of good options; I do carry my cell with me while taking these walks but service can be spotty and relying strictly on it, in my opinion, would be a mistake.

The very fact that I am considering such scenarios and options highlights to me the potentially serious nature of just slipping while on these walks but it also pleases me that I recognize the possible dangers and am thinking about alternatives.  I do not dwell on such scenarios; I moved up here because I love Alaska and I was already familiar with how quickly things could ‘go south’ even in the summers.  To this I need only add that the annual number one killer of human beings in Alaska is hypothermia; that pretty much sums it up.  Without question I am learning – intellectually, emotionally and spiritually – that the incredible beauty of Alaska especially in winter should not blind one to the inherent dangers of this magnificent land.  A cavalier attitude is something to leave at the door of one’s house regardless of the season!  But a willingness to understand the situation as well as the risks and to work with Nature rather than against her can remove a lot of the risk.  And for someone like me managing these risks is well worth the effort and the reward of exploring my new home!

Snow Covered Power Lines

Snow Covered Power Lines

Perhaps the best example I can give of the lack of wind in this area is this image of overhead power lines covered in snow from two days earlier. With almost no wind during the snow events and none afterward the snow literally collects where it falls. Today was a cold one with our warmest reading of -9.5 F occurring at 00:40 AKST and the coolest reading of -17.5 F observed at 10:40. This gives us a mean temp, to this point, of -13.5 F

Dogs & Deep Snow

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Anana at a bit over two years of age and Qanuk at nine and a half weeks

During a number of my postings I’ve either mentioned my two canine companions (Anana and Qanuk) or shown them in images but I’ve never really gone into what I perceive as their feelings regarding our relocation.  First a little background:  I’ve always been an animal lover in general and a canine lover in particular.  I’ve always been drawn to big, active dogs and even at 60 years of age still love to get on the floor and play or wrestle with my four-legged companions.  Because of a single lifestyle coupled with jobs that required frequent long-term travel for many decades I could not have an animal companions.  Only with my retirement did this finally change and within a year or so I decided I was ready to bring a new canine into my life.  I spent hours looking at possible breeds and finally narrowed it down to German Shepherd Dogs (GSDs), Black Labs, Huskies or Alaskan Malamutes (Mals).  I’d shared my life with GSDs growing up and even in college so I was very familiar with that breed and they remain one of my two favorite breeds to this day.  I’ve always loved the appearance of Huskies but upon reading more about their physical requirements I ruled them out.  I’d recently met a wonderful Black Lab and really liked the breed.  I was clueless regarding Mals other than knowing they were a large, powerful freighting dog with an affinity for cold and snow.  I finally ruled out a GSD because I wanted to try something new.  Therefore I was left with either a Black Lab or a Mal; at this point I started searching for breeders of both in the general SE Michigan vicinity.  I found many for the Labs but very few for Mals.  However, the one I did locate (Sindi at North Country Kennel) was someone I immediately liked and as we talked about her breeding philosophy, her experience with Mals and the litters she would soon see I became even more impressed.  In the end it was my regard for Sindi that helped me decide to go with a Mal.

At this point I feel it necessary to defend the breed mainly because I’ve met so many people with negative views of Alaskan Malamutes.  Right up front Sindi was very honest about Mals not being like other dogs and also the fact that not everyone could, or should, own a Mal.  First off is the incredible amount of fur they possess which will eventually be all over one’s house and clothing; there’s just no way around this fact.  If you cannot live in dog fur then a Mal is not for you.  Secondly, the breed produces large freighting dogs who require loads of regular exercise especially when they are young (ages 3 months to 2 years).  Thirdly, they are very intelligent and absolutely must have lots of mental stimulation on an ongoing basis.  If they do not get this they will become very destructive and trust me, this is something you do not want to see!  Finally, they truly are different from other canines and you must accept this and indeed learn a whole new paradigm regarding training and living with this breed.  They live to be a part of the family they are with; this is all important and provides the tool for training them.  More traditional learning techniques (i.e. rewards, negative physical contacts like a smack on the butt, raising one’s voice, etc.) are ineffective with Mals.  Instead, one must insure that when a Mal has done well or is doing well you praise them to the sky and really let them know they are a part of your family.  Similarly, if they’ve done wrong I found forcing them to be alone and away from human interaction, even for just a brief time, provided the best negative reinforcement.  It’s these breed characteristics that have led many professional trainers to opine that Mals are ‘not trainable’.  This is nonsense; they are indeed not trainable via the methods used with other breeds but they are eminently trainable when you understand their breed’s characteristics and what really drives them.  Its imperative to both recognize and accept that you will not win every battle with a Mal; indeed, they are the basis for the wisdom ‘pick your battles wisely’!  To this day Anana has habits or routines which annoy me but I also know I cannot change them and so I’ve learned to live with them.  In turn Anana has learned to live by my rules in many areas like taking care of business outside, coming when I call, walking under control on a lead and coming to my dog whistle.  In this sense most of what I forced Anana to accept was based upon maintaining her own safety; beyond this we pretty much reached our own agreements.

I had decided to take a female pup from a litter due in a matter of a few weeks and put down my deposit.  Perhaps a week later Sindi called me with an intriguing offer; another family who had taken a pup from a littler just born was forced to delay taking their Mal because of family issues.  They, instead, would take one from the soon to be birthed litter.  Therefore Sindi had a ten week old female and she was wondering if I was interested.  At first I was hesitant but as we talked I became more interested.  In the end Sindi knocked $100 off the price and it was a done deal.  I was heading out for a week of camping in lower Michigan but made arrangements to stop by and pick up my new ‘little angel’ on my way back to Dearborn.  I made this happen and the rest is indeed history.  I went through some very tough times with Anana (pronounced like ‘banana’ except drop the ‘b’ and go short on the ‘a’s’) as a pup but Sindi was an invaluable resource.  As she warned me I had a lot of previous experience with canines which really wasn’t relative to raising Anana and I also had loads to learn.  However, I persevered and with Anana doing her best to teach me about Mals we really did meld as companions.  She grew up to become a true ambassador for the Mal breed; she loves all humans to the point she’s useless as a ‘watch dog’ (this is a characteristic of the breed) and came to join me in my volunteering work at an assisted living facility in SE Michigan working with dementia residents.  She was given the title ‘visiting therapy dog’ and she made many friends and brought a lot of joy to so many residents.  She is stellar with children; while being part of a team that transported the aforementioned residents to outdoor concerts for children – they loved to watch the kids – I started bringing Anana along.  By this time she was over two years of age and fully grown; she is a big girl and technically a ‘Giant Malamute’ as she tips the scales at 124 pounds.  Because of her gorgeous black and white markings, her perfect mask and her size young kids were just drawn to her.  Many of their mothers were tentative at first but when they saw Anana drop to her side and roll over exposing her belly so the kids could scratch her they recognized Anana was no threat.  I saw as many as fifteen children clustered around Anana all petting and scratching her; she was completely calm and just loving every second of the attention.  She is indeed a very special canine and as one of my four-legged companion I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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Anana at eleven weeks of age; quite spoiled but she deserved it!

Within a couple of years of bringing Anana into my life I realized she needed a pal to play with and keep her company when I had to head out and couldn’t bring her along.  By this point I was very familiar with the Mal breed and I seriously thought about getting another Mal but I also wanted more of a watch dog and that pretty much ruled out a Mal.  Because of this I elected to go with a German Shepherd Dog; I was hoping Anana’s easy-going and friendly temperament might tone down the natural protectiveness in the GSD breed.  I once again started my on-line search and finally selected a good breeder in the general area.  In early November of 2011 I brought Qanuk (Ca-nook) home and my life has never been the same since doing so!  He immediately bonded with Anana and as he developed and grew up she was the center of his existence.  This bothered me a bit at first but I was also betting that once Qanuk really started to develop the characteristics of the breed he would come to focus on me as the alpha male.  Indeed, this did happen and I started the amazingly difficult process of rearing a young GSD with an adult Mal.  I knew the two breeds were about as polar opposite as one could find:  Mals love people, are innately friendly, just want to be part of the family and play via physical contact while GSDs are notoriously unsure of anyone outside their immediate family, tend to be protective of their families, live to be trained and taught working chores and tend to favor playing with ‘things’ like tennis balls and Frisbees.  I thought I was prepared for these differences but while I understood them intellectually I really didn’t grasp the subtleties on an emotional level.  In dealing with each dog I had to use different methods of approach and reasoning; it made for some ‘interesting’ times as Qanuk grew up.  He is fully grown now at a bit over two years of age (Anana is now a few months past her fourth birthday) and an incredibly strong and healthy GSD at 88 pounds with a gorgeous Sable coat.  Poor guy’s ears never fully stood up thanks to a series of ear infections from age 2 months through age 6 months; these were exacerbated by Anana’s licking of his infected ears which caused secondary yeast infections.  His ears are fully up when he’s really curious, chasing something or really vigilant but otherwise they just flop around.  I’m quite okay with this actually as they fit his puppy persona which I’m beginning to believe will never leave him.  He is an incredible athlete and lives to run; he loves pounding through the current 15 inches of accumulated snow and will venture far off the plowed roads into the boreal forest any chance he gets.  Even Anana will only follow him so far into the forest; I can tell she thinks that running through 15″ of snow ‘for fun’ isn’t that much fun.

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Qanuk at three months of age

As he developed he naturally started to feel his male genes and as such he recognized that Anana was female and thus he should be dominant.  As an aside, both Anana and Qanuk have been spayed and neutered.  Its healthier for them and in my opinion it’s just responsible pet ownership to do so.  Anyway, at around ten months of age poor Qanuk, now weighing maybe 75 pounds to Anana’s 117 pounds, started trying to exert his dominance.  At first it was kinda comical but later I started to wince as I’d watch Qanuk repeatedly try to show Anana he was dominant; Anana would take just so much before she would bowl him over, pin him to the ground with her massive chest and let him know the score.  Qanuk was nothing if not persistent but even he finally accepted he was not the alpha canine – with both these breeds its vital the human establish themselves as the alpha male and do so at an early age – and Anana would always be able to best him.  I think this was a very difficult situation for him to accept but ultimately its simple physics; as of today Qanuk weighs 88 pounds and Anana has bulked up to 124 pounds.  This means poor Qanuk gives away 36 pounds to Anana in weight and that’s 41% of his total body weight.  He has learned to play with Anana very well and can hold his own in their frequent ‘play fighting’ but if it were to get serious he’d be in a world of hurt.  However, because of breed differences he can and does run rings around Anana outside; the Mal build is upright, massive and powerful but they are not really runners while GSDs are true athletes and can run and leap with the best of ’em.

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My ‘little angel’ Anana just home from her second TPLO surgery

But back to my original purpose in writing this piece; just how are my companions adjusting to Alaska..?  Without question they are in seventh heaven!  While both had some experience wandering in wooded areas and they both like to chase deer they never experienced anything like the huge boreal forest that surrounds this area.  Nor had they enjoyed being able to just walk out of the house and immediately be immersed in a wild and natural setting.  Neither of them liked the insect hoards we endured in August and September but their thick coats gave them good protection.  When the snow came both loved it although at this point I’d have to give Qanuk the nod as the reigning ‘snow dog’.  Anana loves to just lay in the snow but its Qanuk who cannot seem to get enough of leaping and pounding through the deep snow cover.  To be fair to Anana, my ‘little angel’, underwent two major TPLO operations within a year back in SE Michigan; these are very invasive surgeries which require a breaking of the tibia and a slight repositioning of the bone through use of a metal plate and bone screws.  In the first occurrence she blew out all her cruciate ligaments and destroyed the meniscus as well in her right leg; thankfully I was made aware by her exemplary surgeon (Dr. Kyle Kerstetter, I cannot recommend he and his staff enough!!) of the likelihood she would experience a second occurrence in her left ‘knee’ within 18 to 24 months and so I was extra vigilant.  Indeed, within three months of her recovery from the first operation I observed her favoring her left leg and immediately had her in for a complete examination; it was the same situation which is analogous to an ACL injury in a human being.  Because Dr Kerstetter had warned me of this possibility I was able to get Anana in for another TPLO but this time only one ligament was damaged and the meniscus was still intact.  She required a full 16 months to recover from these two major surgeries and she is still slowly getting stronger and more agile on her back legs even now.  Without these surgeries Anana would have had to be put down because the injuries leave the dog with a virtually useless rear leg.

Not everything is perfect regarding my four-legged companions and their acceptance of our relocation.  I can see Anana truly misses the varied social interactions she had while joining me at the assisted care facility.  She just loves humans and when volunteering with me she had more than 80 residents and staff to interact with and to enjoy.  Socialization is vital with Mals and it’s not something you accomplish and then you’re done; it’s an ongoing thing.  To this end I need to find ways to allow Anana to interact with more different human beings.  Qanuk, being true to his breed, really only needs me although he truly does dote on Anana.  In addition both dogs have a penchant for chasing moose and this is not good.  When I walk them I control them with my voice – both need the exercise they get from not being on a lead – and this works fairly well unless they are really excited, then it gets tenuous at best.  I’ve known moose are all around this area and regularly see them in the forest.  However, since the foot of snow arrived in a weekend storm the moose have become much more prevalent leading me to speculate they are being forced to explore new areas to find food based upon the snow cover.  I remain very concerned about injuries or worse for both Anana and Qanuk should they really tangle with a moose.  For now all I can do is work to keep them from chasing after these huge ungulates; because of the snow depth Anana cannot even come close to catching one but I’m not so sure this is true with Qanuk.

All told I believe my canine companions truly love their new home and are still learning about life in Alaska just as I continue to do so.  I know the lifestyle is much healthier for them as they need not be concerned about cars and trucks although they do need to watch out for snow machines and they can get out and roam to their heart’s content.  I cannot imagine living up here and not having them along with me to provide company, a reason for exercise and the means to observe wildlife I’d never have seen on my own because of their extraordinarily sensitive noses.  The fact that virtually everyone I’ve met up here has at least one dog and most have two or more just lends credence to the idea that Alaska is made for dogs and all the better to experience in their presence!

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Qanuk and Anana playing in snow (depth is around 15″)

I Be Alaskan!

I Be Alaskan!

I finally managed to get my Alaska driver’s license, plates, tags and voter registration. I will confess to failing the written exam the first time; I was warned it was very difficult but figured since I’ve been driving for 44 years and had licenses in five states I could handle it. Boy, was I wrong!! Without question it was the most difficult driver’s license exam I’d ever taken!! Thankfully I was given a manual and came back the next day and aced it…

A Whole New World..!

One of the reasons I chose Alaska as my new home was its extreme weather in general and its extreme winter weather in particular.  Growing up in SE Michigan I was no stranger to cool temps and some snow but I always yearned to see temps in the minus double digits and snow measured in feet.  These extremes just didn’t often occur in any of the places I’ve lived from south central Wisconsin to northwest Ohio.  I believe the coldest air I’ve ever experienced was the record-setting Arctic outbreak in Chicago during the winter of ’84 – ’85 when the city set it’s all time low at -27 F.  Surprisingly the most snow I’ve ever experienced came from a blizzard in Greenville (IL) which dropped 28″ of snow overnight and paralyzed the city of St Louis – roughly 70 miles to the ESE – for three days in 1982.  Both of these events were very unusual and extreme in the max for their respective locations.  Still and all I wanted to live someplace where these conditions were not so unusual and in fact could be almost guaranteed to occur once or twice a winter.  In this sense Talkeetna fit my needs quite nicely.

Of course there were many other reasons why I chose to retire here and said choice required many weeks of deliberation and research as I narrowed down my options but the likelihood of heavy snow and cold temps was a definite factor.  As I’ve written earlier I was dismayed by the wet, warm September and October; it seemed we would never see winter.  But then we received a foot of snow across the weekend of November 9th and 10th followed by extremely cold air filtering into the region the following weekend.  And so I discovered a bone chilling low of -17.8 F on Tuesday (11/19) morning.  The previous day the temp barely cracked 0 F even in brilliant sunshine and Wednesday we topped out at -2.7 F.  This is the kind of weather I’d been dreaming of experiencing and now its just outside my door!  Imagine my excitement when I saw a low of -21.7 F the following morning and saw -20.6 F early on Thursday morning before the temp shot up to 0 F in just four hours in response to an approaching snow event.  I was finally seeing the bitter cold I’d hungered after and I could hardly wait to get outside and experience it.  When I let the dogs out around 06:30 Wednesday morning I observed something I’d never previously seen; upon opening the door a thick cloud of condensation formed right at the interface.  It was sudden and thick enough that I could not see through it.  In hindsight that shouldn’t have been a surprise as given it was around -20 F outside and the indoor air was 60 F there was an 80 F temp differential and the cold air was very dry while there was much more humidity with the inside air.  Still and all it was downright impressive to witness.

During the extreme cold on Tuesday and Wednesday I did manage to get outside with the dogs a number of times and in so doing I discovered the entire world is different in minus double-digit cold!  The air is so much more clear and colors are so much more vibrant; everything has a ‘razor sharp’ clarity to it.  Sounds seem to carry much further and even soft sounds have a fullness to them which seems abnormal.  There’s also the incredible silence; while its normally very quiet up here that sense of immense silence is amplified by both the extreme cold and the thick layer of snow which acts as a sound damper.  The snow creaks and groans as one walks upon it; I’d heard these sounds previously when the air temp would dip below zero but at -13 F it was much more pronounced.  My walking produced far more noise than anything else in my vicinity and at times it seemed almost deafening.  The dogs just loved the extreme cold; while my GSD Qanuk is normally excited about any opportunity to go outside he was absolutely ecstatic when it was so cold.  He repeatedly ran deep into the boreal forest leaping and driving through the foot of snow that covers the ground.  Anana, my Alaskan Malamute, had a real spring in her step and she too wandered off into the forest at regular intervals although I could see she just didn’t think wading through a foot of snow for fun was all that much fun!  I did have to cut our outside time to less than 50 minutes mainly out of concern for Qanuk; while he has a solid coat his breed lacks the thick double layer design that allows Mals, Huskies, Chows, Akitas, Samoyeds and similar breeds to laugh at extreme cold.  Even so we had a marvelous time in the extreme cold.

My relocation to rural south central Alaska has been an amazing adventure to this point and I suspect it will continue to be so for some time to come.  In addition I’ve thoroughly enjoyed partaking of the myriad of learnings associated with making this transition.  After the brief spate of extremely cold temps I’ve had the knowledge I need to construct a garage or similar shelter for my car next fall solidly reinforced.  I’ve also ordered a battery blanket and oil pan warmer to assist my Escape in starting on such brutally cold mornings.  I will be applying window insulation to the second floor windows as the upper floor was easily ten degrees cooler than the main floor where the furnace is located.  I learned that while the mud room gets very cold – it was down to 41 F on early Thursday morning – it will not freeze the water pipes if I activate the crawl space heater whenever the air temp drops below -15 F.  I know I have a myriad of upcoming experiences and learnings to discover and for me that’s part of the magic and mystery of living in rural Alaska!

Creaking Snow & Cold Valleys

Winter finally arrived in south central Alaska a week ago Sunday with a snow event that dropped around a foot of snow over the Talkeetna area.  However, the same ridge pattern that has been keeping the temps so warm as well as pushing moist air into the region held on until this weekend when it finally broke down; with its collapse the cold air from the Arctic began filtering into the state and it appears to be making up for lost time.  Early Sunday morning I recorded a low of -2.7 F but thanks to continuing clear skies and almost no wind this morning I saw -10.1 F just as the sun began to paint morning in the east.  That’s quite a bit cooler than normal for November 18th which is a high of 27 F and a low of 12 F.  On Sunday our temp ranged from 10.4 F to -2.6 F giving us a mean temp of just 3.6 F even though there were crystal clear sky conditions.  So it appears that after an exceptionally wet and warm September and October the ole scales have swung back and now we’re seeing air temps that are more common for January and February.

While walking the dogs yesterday late morning with the air temp right at zero I was delighted to hear something I haven’t heard in ages; the snow was creaking under foot!  Anyone with experience in snow and air temps below 0 F has heard this sound; with each step the snow emits a grinding, creaking noise as one’s sole presses down upon it.  This phenomena becomes more prevalent as the air temp drops and is also effected by the snow’s moisture content although once you get much below 0 F the snow is almost always dry and relatively low in water content.  Although I’ve heard this effect many times in my life it was extremely noticeable up here; I could hear the creaking over the Huskies barking at our passage down by John and Ruth’s place.  It dawned on me that the reason for the apparent volume was really due to a number of facts; first off, its just plain very quiet up here.  I’ve written of my love of the extreme silence which just seems to wrap this area in a thick, comfortable blanket.  Secondly this effect is heightened by the thick snow cover which still remains on all the foliage and ground; there has been no wind strong enough to dislodge it!  The thick layer of snow acts a an additional layer of sound absorption and so heightens the perceived silence.  Lastly, the very cold air temps have now been in place for a couple of days and the snow exposed to the air is dehydrating; this really increases the ability of the snow to groan and creak when compacted.  All these items add up to allowing the snow to really make noise as my heavy weight size 11.5 Kenetrek boot soles dig into the snow for traction.  It will be very interesting to see just how the snow noises will change when I walk the dogs this morning; I’m betting the sounds will be sharper and more pronounced.

During yesterday’s walk I observed the long shadows even though it right around noon; I also could feel a definite chill in the areas of the roads that were shielded from the sun by the trees or landscape.  This really became apparent when I would walk into a low area that was shaded; the air was noticeably cooler.  Of course cooler air is more dense and hence heavier so it will sink into the low spots of the terrain; if in a survival situation in cold temps its always better to find a location to overnight that is a bit above the lowest areas in order to be just a bit warmer.  While I’ve felt this condition in the past it is much more noticeable up here.  Any road running east-west feels cooler than another that runs more north-south because the latter will feel some effects from the sunlight; in this area the boreal forest is just too tall and dense to allow any sunlight to filter through and strike a road running east-west.  This is exacerbated by the very low angle of the sun this time of year; while I didn’t actually measure the sun’s angle at it’s high point it cannot be much more than twelve degrees above the horizon.

I’m learning that so many situations are amplified up here and there’s a message in this recognition; while cold can be deadly anywhere in the world up here it can and does kill very quickly.  What I could get by wearing in a Michigan winter can be completely ineffective up here in terms of keeping me warm.  Making just a quick run to the local grocery or hardware stores still requires one ‘suit up’ for the weather because there are sections of the Spur with no houses or buildings visible for at least a mile and based upon the weather trying to walk that after one’s vehicle breaks down without proper clothing can easily lead to frost nip, frost bite or even death.  This is an amazingly beautiful land with wonders of sight and sound to fill one’s soul but it can also be a very unforgiving land to those who would be careless or too cavalier.  Just another learning that I best take to heart and always keep in mind..!