Life in Seward, Alaska: A winter update

The weak winter sun shining through the trees on Lost Lake trail

Winter has settled in, and with it, so have we.

Nested is more like it.  We love our cozy little apartment, and we curl up here like two hibernating bears.

The urge to hibernate is in part due to the darkness.  Today we had less than six hours of light (sunrise 9:59 am, sunset 3:50 pm), but unlike some places north of here, we still see the sun, and we can watch it rise and set on the mountains each day.

It’s also been cold.  On December 1, the temperature dropped below freezing, and it stayed below 32° for over two weeks.

The cold, however, doesn’t bother us; it’s the windchill that’s done us in:

For days, the wind blew at a steady 20-30 miles an hour, with gusts well over 40 mph, making it feel like the temperature was below zero.  The cold was biting, and it pretty much shut down any outdoor activities, with the exception of a hike up Lost Lake Trail a few weekends ago:

The winter sun shining on Lost Lake Trail; the trees shielded us from the brutal winds.

I have watched with torpid fascination as my work pants, which were loose when I started my job six weeks ago, grow a smidge tighter each week thanks to the inactivity.

But it was a balmy 36° yesterday (and no wind), so we went for a long walk along the waterfront trail, sloshing through puddles of melting snow that stood inches deep in some places.

View from Seward’s waterfront trail

There is a family of bald eagles that lives in Seward, what we assume are parents and two babies.  We know that they are babies (“juvenile” is the correct term for birds that are not fully mature) because they are covered in dark feathers, and their beaks are just starting to turn yellow.  We see the birds often, perched in trees along the water or on light posts along the main road through town.

During yesterday’s walk, we paused to admire one of the juveniles, which was perched low in a tree.  We were surrounded by crows and seagulls feasting on rotten apples that someone had left for the birds, and suddenly the enormous eagle took off and swooped down, heading straight for us.  Dale ducked (foolishly, I did not).  We weren’t his target; it was a crow sitting on a picnic table behind us, eating one of the apples.  The young raptor either misjudged his distance from us or didn’t see us as a threat; either way, it was thrilling to hear the beat of his wings as he passed within inches of our heads.  Unfortunately the poor kid didn’t get his apple (or maybe it was crow he was after); the crow fled, the apple fell to the ground, and the eagle flew away, talons empty.  I’m hoping he managed to find something else to eat.

Straying from the basics

When we left Texas and started our road trip, we were truly aimless, living out of our car and sleeping in a tent not because we had to, but because we didn’t know what else to do with ourselves.  It was time to leave Texas, but we had no idea where to go next.  Having so few belongings made life simple, and we enjoyed being mobile, but by the time we reached the end of the trip three months later, we had realized two things (OK, maybe three): that we didn’t enjoy living out of a tent, that we missed hot showers, and that we wanted a place to call our own.

Now that we’ve found our home, I crave stability with a ferocity that surprises me.  Last year at this time, we were priding ourselves on downsizing and getting rid of our crap, but this year, our urge to nest—and to invest in that nest—has been so strong as to seem primal.  We’ve been tempted to buy all kinds of stuff—furniture, artwork, dishes—and we actually bought a TV.  Anyone who knows us knows that this is a big deal; we haven’t owned a television since 2011.  Granted, we bought a small, inexpensive TV, but we were tempted by the glitz of the more costly ones and almost spent a lot of money.  At some point, we both developed a squirmy feeling in our stomachs, and we realized that we need to slow down and stop spending money.  With a few exceptions, stuff hasn’t made us happy; in fact, in the past it’s only made us feel trapped, so we refocused on our goal of saving money for the important things, like experiences, and butter.

Digging in

Before we moved to Seward, several people asked us, “Do you need a passport to enter Alaska?”  The answer is no, the Last Frontier is a part of the Union, but it’s true–it does sometimes feel like we’re in a different country.  We sit in the northwest corner of North America all by our lonesome, separated from the Lower 48 by the Gulf of Alaska and Canada’s vast terrain.  Seward feels even more isolated, and living here, watching the snow fall, it almost feels like the outside world is irrelevant.

But because it’s so isolated, Seward lacks many of the services that bigger communities have.  Mental health services are limited, and those people experiencing troubles often end up spending days in a jail cell, not necessarily because they’ve done anything terribly wrong, but because there’s nowhere else for them to go.  There’s no hospice or home health, no neurologists or gastroenterologists.

All of this is to say that specialists are in short supply.  Turns out, however, that in a town where no other speech pathologists are available, I am a specialist.  Some of my patients have gone to Anchorage to see a speech pathologist, a two-hour-plus drive on a two-lane highway that is as remote as it is stunning, a road that is periodically shut down by avalanches.  But now, it’s me.  I like being needed; I’m a lifeline for my clients.  I’ve developed a deep affection for my coworkers and the people that I am serving, and I’m quickly becoming entrenched in the community.  For someone who has enjoyed flexibility and mobility, this is also scary, but I can’t resist the pull of roots that grow deeper each day.

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I can’t say right now whether we’ll stay in Seward forever or if it’ll just be for a few years; Dale, however, just accepted a position as Admissions Coordinator with my facility, so soon his investment in the community will be as strong as mine. There are other places that we’d like to experience living in one day—New York City, Paris, and a village along the Spanish coast all come to mind.  But for now, we’re loving everything about Seward, including the isolation, the sense of community, and even the windchill, because it’s all a part of life in Alaska.