Thursday, November 29, 2007

And We Think it is Cold in NM!

The cold has arrived. It’s time, if you haven’t already, to make sure your antifreeze is charged up, dig out your gloves and ice scrapers, and brush up your winter boots.

This time of year makes me homesick for Alaska, where I lived from 1993-2001, on the Kenai Peninsula about 200 miles south of Anchorage. There the term winterizing is a bit more serious. Every Alaskan’s vehicle must be equipped with studded snow tires because the road surface is solid ice all winter. State road crews do a great job of plowing the roads but without the metal studs, cars and trucks would have no stopping power. The crews also use a special grader that carves a texture into the ice.

We had at least two solid weeks each year when the temperature went down to less than 20 degrees below zero and stayed there! It was important to have a good supply of wood or coal to burn in case the power went out. Also necessary was a relationship with the local snowplow guy who made his living digging folks out of their driveways, which, believe me, is not something I could do with a snow shovel up there! And of course, one didn’t step outside in the winter without gloves and a hat, preferably one with ear flaps.

I used to run the school library in a village about 20 minutes drive from my house. Often just getting to work was an adventure that provided a serious adrenaline rush! The staff would all congregate at the top of the big hill leading to the village. There we’d shout back and forth through cracked pickup windows about whether the plow had been through yet. Then, one by one, we’d put it in 4 low, first gear, and creep down the hill. In all the time I was in Alaska, school was never cancelled because of the weather! Even in the bitterest temperatures, kids would be bundled up carefully and sent outside for recess. It was important to get out while the sun was shining because of the reduced hours of light.

It might sound horrible to those of you who hate the cold but for me it was a thrill; every day was an adventure. Natural beauty was abundant, the air was bracing, and it was vital to be fully awake and aware. One mistake in temperatures that extreme can lead to another, and two or three mistakes can be deadly so you have to stay on top of your game. People look out for each other in an environment like that. And simple survival feels like an accomplishment.


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