Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Freeze-Up - Part II


Our coldest morning to date marks the official freezing up of the river.  By the time it gets down to -37.7 F, few things stand a chance of maintaining their original character. 

Cold this intense changes everything it touches, leaving frosty impressions in your heart and mind.  The mighty river flowing free for weeks at or below freezing temperatures finally succumbed to the elements and nestled itself beneath a thick blanket of sparkling white ice.  

A thick layered quilt of boarder ice and grew and grew until the two sides finally came together and formed one solid continuous sheet of sparkling snowy ice. 

This week we finally broke down and tried out the propane heater on the third floor after waking up to another 44 F degree morning, in our bedroom.  The heater is doing its job and keeping the 3rd floor at a cozy and comfortable 60 F.  Prior to moving here 60 F inside would have felt cold, now it feels like heaven.  Curled up in bed, tucked in beneath heavy quilts -- the reality that a 97.7 degree temperature difference is a play, the contrast between life on the inside and the great outdoors.  What a wild life.

The furnace project in our basement gets closer every day to being ready to “fire”, which is good because it’s in the mid-to-upper 30’s in our basement, with the aid of an electric heater.
We are still experieincing random power outages.  The lights went  dark at 5:25 PM last night, 5 minutes before my online class was about to begin.  Parke and the kids went to the community thanksgiving dinner, as planned, while I held a silent vigil by candlelight, waiting for the power to come back on.  Once the power went off, the reminder that our basement is being heated by a small electric heater sunk in and I started to pray for the power to come back on.  

I curled up in my office with Robbie cat and wrote in my notebook, by candlelight with a pen.  Something I rarely do, as I am tied to my Mac Book.  Spell check, cut, copy, paste.  Convenience.  Writing with a pen and paper seems like slow way to write and I generally seek it out as a last resort.  I have carpal tunnel and writing by hand exascerbates things and my handwriting gravitates between being clear and ledgiable to completly indechiperable, even to my eyes.  
The Kerosene Lamp from Parke's Dad has taken up permanent residence in our kitchen due to the frequent, unexpected power outages we've experienced since: What Would Laura Do?
Last night I wrote and wrote until my handwriting became scribble and my wrists began to burn with fire and finally seize up.  Then I sat there, in the dark, watching the big orange moon rise above the Mentastas framed in by black spruce, listening to the huskies howl at the moon.  I went outside for a few minutes, it was -24 F and I bundled up accordingly and was surprised that the cold was not as debilitating as I had anticipated it would be. 

Standing outside on our porch looking out at the landscape -- the five houselights we can see off in the distance - vanished.  The landscape laid out before me, bathed in orange glowing moonlight with a soundtrack of huskies howling and the sounds of silence.  The landscape covered in only natural light, existing in its most natural state.  Wonderment. Awe. Thanks.
Parke Kicking Snow Off the Deck at Sunset @ -24 F, 11/19/13
The occasional traffic that does roll on past The Moose Lodge sounds different when the temperatures are nearly -40.  The sounds is more audible against the silence of the night.  Crunching snow and whirring sounds emitted from vehicles pushed to their very brink of functionality.  Everything is the same, yet completely different at -40.
Sunset 11/20/13 @ -24 F
The river has finally completed it’s freeze-up cycle and now a new chapter begins in our first winter in the wild Alaskan interior. 

Here is a refresher on the definition of “freeze-up”  and the link to "Freeze-Up, Part I" from 11/10/13.
Sunrise 11/20/13 @ -37.7 F

1: a freezing over of a body of water esp. when marking the onset of winter 
2: a period during which the bodies of water in an area are frozen over

1. Frazil Ice: Ice crystals form and mix with river water forming a slush.

2. Pancake Ice: Sheets of frazil ice cluster together and form "pancakes" of ice that float like rafts down the river, bumping into other pancake rafts, creating rough edges along the pancakes boarders.

3. Boarder Ice: Solid ice that forms as the temperature drops, the water at the rivers edge freezes first creating a frozen boarder framing in the river.  
4. Freeze-Up Ice: Rapidly dropping temperatures cause the pancake ice, frazil and/or boarder ice to freeze together and create a mass of ice, which can create ice dams and lead to flooding.  There is a spring that enters the river just down from our boat launch, that combined with the beaver family that shares our river frontage has meant through the process of freeze-up the bend in the river in our back yard has grown wider and wider.  A cycle of flooding and freezing has created a wide bend in the river.

5. Sheet Ice: At first blush the river appears to be covered in a thick sheet of ice, but the thickness varies widely making the river an even more dangerous and unpredictable force than it usually is, “the flow is turbulent, slightly warmer water is upwelled from the river bottom which melts away at the underside of the ice. As a result, the ice will be unpredictably thin in places, making walking on the river extremely dangerous”.  

 6. Candle Ice
 7. Break-Up Ice

The completion of the first five steps of freeze-up marks the official start of our first interior Alaskan winter.  By the time spring arrives and the river ice goes out we will rejoice and give thanks for our survival.  The cold, -40, just sounds intimidating.  You need not step outside to gain an appreciation for how delicate and ill-prepared humans are to survive in the wild, without the aid of wood heat, a structure with 18 inch thick walls, and a cache of food to get you through the long, cold winter.  
Sunset, 11/19/13, -24
Last night Parke went to let the dogs out before bed.  Petzl took one look at the door and ran in the opposite direction.  We were finally able to coax her outside for a quick bathroom break.  When the dogs are outside now, they move with swift persistence, no dawdling.  Honey generally wanders around, impervious to our calls, and does her own thing.  Now she runs shoulder to shoulder with Petzl, huddling together to stand up against the cold, employing the buddy system to ensure survival. I’ll take that their lead as sage advice and huddle up shoulder to shoulder with Parke and the kids, and stand strong against the cold and endure the darkness, giving thanks for the freedom the cold has given us.  

What’s the coldest weather you’ve endured?  
How did you manage? 

Share it with me at:  
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Black and White Sunset, 11/19/13

Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.” 

Full Color Sunset, 11/19/13

When it’s your first time in Tok and you’re broke and just limping down the line
And it’s forty below and you know that they know that you’re a hopeful from Outside
And people speak distinctly as if you’re foreign
And you forgot to plug your car in
And you’re clearly overdressed, even for winter
And your self-assurance slowly starts to splinter
Oh it takes a little effort to keep your head on straight
To laugh as if you mean it, to whistle while you wait
It takes a little effort to warm up one more smile
To bear another stare, to brave another mile

When it’s the first time you could get to West Hollywood and you’re slathered in sunscreen
And you drive really slow, so you know that they know that you’re another Joe with a dream
And you’re wearing your old secondhand blue jeans
And you keep turning your head at limousines
And everybody else looks so damn pretty
And you’re feelin’ extra grungy and extra indie
Oh it takes a little effort to hold your head up straight
To dress just like you want to, to whistle while you wait
It takes a little effort to not avert your eyes
To trust that you belong there — it might just be yourself that you surprise

And when you’re hopelessly lost in downtown Austin and the crowd’s too cool for words
And you don’t wanna go but you know that they know you’re one of thousands of songbirds
And you can’t hardly be heard above the racket
‘Cause everybody there is tryin’ to hack it
And you’ve never been compelled to sleep outdoors yet
So you’re feelin’ all establishment and corporate
Oh it takes a little effort to keep your head on straight
To laugh and really mean it, to whistle while you wait
It takes a little effort to sometimes plug your ears
To play without pretensions, but also without fear

Because some of us will never quite feel the thrill of being safe in our own skin
When it’s your first time around you might flounder a bit ’til you fit in
And although I do heartily admire
Folks whose natural graces seem inspired
I expect the truly confident are fewer
Than I am generally inclined to think
And it’s worth a little effort to look ‘em in the eye
To whistle while you’re waiting, to flutter ’til you fly
Oh, it’s worth a little effort and a lot of honesty
It’s worth some work believing

It takes a little practice to learn to be