I’ve been working on this post, a look back at our first winter in Alaska, for weeks, but I didn’t publish it sooner because winter just wouldn’t go away.
This happened just last week:
Snow, on May 1. Seriously???
But now, a week later, I think it’s safe to publish. I don’t want to jinx anything, but spring seems to have arrived. Most of the snow is gone, the ice has long since melted, and microspikes are no longer needed to walk across the driveway. The trees are starting to bud, and tulips and daffodils are blooming in our front yard.
Whew! We survived our first Alaskan winter. Here’s a look back:
Snow… and more snow
Dale and I wished for a real Alaskan winter, and we got it.
Boy but did we get it.
There was so much snow in January and February that people scrambled to keep up with it all. The City of Seward declared a state of emergency. City employees and locals with homegrown snow removal services worked extreme hours to keep roads, driveways, and parking lots clear. The roadside berms grew higher and higher, blocking the view of anything beyond and making it feel like we were driving in a tunnel.
Rooftops burdened with snow had to be cleared to prevent collapse. At our place of work, maintenance spent over a week clearing the roof. The densely-packed accumulation came up to their waists and in spots was as high as their chests.
Using chainsaws, they cut the snow bank into blocks that weighed up to 200 pounds, and these frozen cubes were then dumped over the edge of the building, like this:
As the snow removal progressed to my side of the building, I was temporarily buried:
It felt extreme, but the winter of 2017 wasn’t even a record-breaker. In fact, a “normal” Seward winter should have lots of snow, but it’s been minimal in recent years. Most locals were happy that the snow returned, and of course Dale and I were ecstatic. There’s something mesmerizing about watching snow fall, and Seward in the winter is like being in a Christmas card. Our drives to and from Anchorage were magical trips through the wonderland of Seward Highway, which was lined by solid-white mountains and tall evergreens heavy with snow. Avalanche warning signs popped up here and there. In some places, the snowbanks pressed right up to the road, covering the shoulder so that walls of snow towered over us.
Winter had a strange effect on us, and the months of January through March are hazy. We went to work, then we came home; we ate, I wrote, and we rarely went outdoors, which is unusual for us. It seems as if we didn’t do much.
And yet upon review, we had some iconic Alaskan experiences in our first six months here. We saw a humpback whale and dozens of eagles and all manner of sea life. We went to the Iditarod, walked on frozen Bear Lake, and traveled to Bethel, a town so far off the beaten path that even many long-time Alaskans haven’t been there. Not a bad start.
Moose, moose everywhere
The moose, forced to use the roads because of deep snow in the forests, came to town and stayed. They were everywhere: in people’s driveways, walking down the middle of the street, peeking into windows, and wandering into areas of town where one wouldn’t normally expect to see them, such as Waterfront Park. And the snow was so deep in some places that moose walked right over fences and into people’s backyards.
A head injury
For months, ice was a constant part of our day-to-day lives. A thick, slick coating covered everything and just begged our feet to slip out from under us. We often wore our microspikes to walk across our driveway. Even a trip to the grocery store could be hazardous, as I learned one afternoon in January:
I knew as soon as I’d stepped out of the car that I was in trouble. We had parked on the side of the building and, as it turned out, the area was not well-maintained. My destination was a strip of snow only a few feet away, but I had no traction. I reached for the car but fell forward instead and hit the ice with a thud.
The moments immediately after were blurry. I’m not sure how Dale got me to my feet and onto the snow bank, but he did. I was then overcome by nausea and had to sit down. From there, I drifted into a warm, beckoning dream state and was annoyed when Dale prodded me out of it and then confused as to why I was sitting in the snow.
Oh yeah. I’d just planted my face on the filthy Safeway parking lot.
Dale helped me to the car and then drove me to the ER.
The physician took me through a battery of tasks, checking my motor function and neurological status. By that point, fortunately, I was lucid, and, while I was diagnosed with a mild head injury, she declared me safe to go home, saying that I didn’t sustain a concussion or need a CT scan. Excellent news.
I’m sure there’s a lesson here somewhere; as a speech pathologist, I’ve seen brain injuries that resulted from the most mundane of accidents, such as a trip over a slumbering dog or a slip on the ice. A brain injury can alter your life forever, changing who you are and how you spend the rest of your days. I felt gratitude that all I sustained was a knot on my forehead, a wicked headache, and a hefty ER bill. It could’ve been worse.
Looking forward to spring
Seward is a quiet little town in the winter; the tourists leave and all that’s left are the locals. But spring is here, and Seward is no longer quiet. The town becomes a major tourist destination in the summer, and seasonal workers have started arriving. Restaurants that were closed all winter have once again opened. Tour boats can be seen crossing Resurrection Bay, taking people on whale-watching and glacier viewing trips. The few brave RV’s that spent the winter here, marooned by the ice and snow, have now been replaced by a slew of trailers and tent campers lining Waterfront Park.
I find myself missing the cocoon of winter, just a little bit, but I’m also excited about the upcoming months. We have epic hikes and weekend road trips planned, and in September, we’ll be camping in Katmai National Park with some of the biggest brown bears in Alaska. I’m so excited about that trip that I have to put it out of my head, otherwise I’ll wish the whole summer away just to get to September faster.
At some point, we started to feel like real Alaskans and not just transplants from somewhere else. Maybe it was when we had to shovel our car out for the umpteenth time. Or after we walked on a frozen lake and drove on a frozen river. I’m not sure. No matter. We’re in love with our new home. We’ve become invested in the community and our co-workers have turned into friends, and we’re excited about what the rest of this year brings. Life is good.