September 11, 2014
It’s a beautiful fall day in the Alaskan “Interior,” as they refer to this part of the state. (It’s like saying the South or the Midwest or New England, because this state is HUGE, and the regions distinct.) The birch and aspen are turning a brilliant gold, reminding us of home, but among recent happenings that differ starkly from Colorado include:
- Experiencing an earthquake, a 5.1 on the Richter scale. No damage but definitely palpable.
- Going to a friend’s house only to see the antlers of half a dozen freshly-harvested caribou splayed out in the yard for drying. The rest of the bodies were in the garage, for later “processing.” I did not venture there.
- Having to divert much time and many miles due to a hostage situation (the roads are few and far between here, so one problem intersection can create an exhaustive detour).
- Hearing the jet boats scream up the nearby Tanana River, carrying hunters to remote stretches of wilderness during this prime moose-hunting season. Luna and I like to walk along the river, and it’s strange to see guys getting in/out of their boats with rifles, not fishing poles.
- Contemplating how best to use the 1933 ceramic wood-fired cook stove that’s in our kitchen.
- Wondering if the outhouse on our new property would make a good backdrop for a Christmas card.
- Marveling at how quickly water boils and food cooks at this low elevation.
As I said, the weather has been divine, giving us a gentle little kiss of welcome to Fairbanks. However, I can’t help but panic when I’ve heard the following in recent days:
- From a Craig’s List guy selling his crap: You moved here NOW? Haven’t you heard about our winters? That’s why I’m selling and leaving!
- From our title company lady: How long have I been here? Let’s see…it’s been 41 winters now. (Notice she didn’t count years, but WINTERS.)
- From some Mexican cooks at local restaurant Taco King: Pero no sabes lo que es 40 menos cero! Translation: you can’t even imagine what 40-below feels like! (They are from Jalisco state in Mexico; we must invite them for dinner to learn more of their story.)
- On a sign at a mom-and-pop store with their posted hours, which included the notation: Closed if 20-below or colder.
- From locals who know where our new house is: That’s a good area, as you’ll be above the ice fog in the winter.
One of the many chores to be completed soon is to have the Ford Escape winterized. With an airplane in Colorado, you get a little dinky heater for the engine, and plug it in during the coldest days of winter a couple of hours before flight. Cars in Fairbanks, Alaska, require an engine heater, an oil pan heater, a transmission oil pan heater and a battery “blanket.”. (Yes, that’s what it’s really called.)
Oh, and I also read something about making sure we have the “right grease” in the “differential.” I think I will leave this task for Collin’s to-do list.
You can tell which cars belong to “Fairbanksans” (as we’re apparently called), because they have a little electrical cord dangling out of the hood. This is to plug the car in so that it will actually start when you need it to. (You could say that all cars are “electric” here, at least in the winter.) Many businesses provide plug-in posts in their parking lots for their customers.
Companies here like to incorporate the trade name “Arctic” into their name. Our home inspection was completed by Arctic Engineering, and a local chiropractor regularly advertises his business—Arctic Spine—in the newspaper. Our local paper, by the way, is the Daily News Miner; I guess the journalists are digging for gold nuggets of news.
The big box stores (Sam’s Club, Walmart, and Fred Meyers—called “Freddy’s” by the locals) have recently made sweeping changes in their inventory. Gone are the lawn chairs, fishing and camping gear, mosquito repellant, etc. and, in their place, are wool socks, hand/foot warmers, electric blankets and the ever-popular “happy lamps” which you’re supposed to be exposed to at least 15 minutes/day in order to stay relatively sane.
I am told there are lots of options to pass the cold and dark days—for those who dare go outside—such as symphony concerts, visiting comedians, the Eskimo winter games, hockey matches, curling leagues (I always wanted to hurl a tea kettle down an ice rink!), dog-sled races, and—according to the neighbor I met yesterday—cross-country skiing down the frozen rivers. Oh, plus the annual fireworks display here happens on New Year’s Eve instead of Independence Day because the sun never really goes down in early July, so you wouldn’t really see them, so they don’t bother.
Suffice it to say that all in all, we’re doing well. Luna is reserving judgment as to whether or not to “settle in” as we’ve slept in so many places, in so many towns, during the past two months. She’s not quite believing me when I assure her this 1,500 sq-ft. log cabin and one-acre plot in the Alaskan Interior is, indeed, home.
For now, anyway.