Friday’s snow had that magical, slow, fat feel to it. Winter wonderland, powdered sugar stuff, and it was still warm enough to enjoy walking home from campus in just a fleece. There were a few golden leaves still clinging to the birches, and the Christmas-red bunchberries were still poking up through the snow on the ground. White and red and gold and sublime. I love that three mile walk through the woods.
And the snow kept coming. Alan came over on Saturday to help me wrap up some fall chores and had to stop to help someone out of a ditch just up the road from my place. Inexplicable ditch people are common this time of year. Been there myself once or twice. Here’s the story of this one as best I can tell it:
Alan and the driver pushed and dug and boosted, trying to get the car out of the ditch. While they worked, another truck came up alongside. This truck was creeping really slowly, checking them out and looking like it was about to stop, so Alan took a breather and waited, thinking more help was on the way. As the truck passed, moving at a snail’s pace, the driver rolled the window down. “I’m not stopping,” he said to Alan. Why are you telling me this? Alan thought, sweating and puffing a little from exertion, if you don’t want to help you can just go on by. Then his eyes snagged on the wheels, all locked up: the driver meant to stop, but he couldn’t. The truck was just slow-gliding through the slush at a crawl.
I’m not stopping. I like it. As a metaphor, it works. Brakes or no brakes, the truck just slides by. The inexorable in scene. “I’m not stopping,” delivered matter-of-fact. I thought the first snow would melt off and leave us another few days of fall, but it didn’t. Winter’s not stopping; no sense getting worked up about it. I won’t get cranberries this year; so what? I’m not stopping, I’ll just get them when another September comes sliding by.
In the meantime, this place is a confection of red berries, golden leaves and sugar-white snow and I am reminded to savor the sweetness while it lasts.
Yesterday Alan and I devised a machine for lifting the engine off the boat. It consisted of a hook screwed into one of the beams at the back of his cabin and a rope harness and a comealong. We thought we were awfully clever when we got it all set up and it seemed to be working.
Hot tip: disconnect the battery before you attempt to lift a boat engine off the transom: there’s nothing like having it halfway up and then realizing your battery is still hooked up to the bilge pumps and they’re firmly attached to the boat and that battery is not coming away without a wrench which you don’t have handy, and and and.
Putting everything to bed for the winter is always harder than I expect: the loose axes and shovels need to be leaned up against vertical surfaces so they don’t get buried in the snow, the insulation panels need to be fit just so over the windows, every system needs to be drained or brought inside or fed its own special chemicals to keep from freezing and busting. It’s a whole set of fiddly chores, and they come right when it’s time to go hunting and berry picking.
It was a good summer, full of friends and floats and trips to Talkeetna and projects and craftsmanship and dogs dogs dogs. Alison helped me with the hearth pad mosaic project and we wandered the valley looking for big rocks for her garden. Daazhraii’s leg slowly gained condition, Silna had a near miss with a porcupine in the canyon up Petersville, and Crozier spent the summer escaping from every situation he could, the rascal. I figure he was just out looking for Alan.
Since Alan was away on Kodiak until school started, and I went to Arctic to bring Lyra downriver with Geoff and Tim instead of going down to the Kenai for dipnet, we’re looking at the bottom of the freezer these days, and I don’t like the look of it. It’s too late for moose, and caribou closes before the weekend, so we may be out of luck until winter hunts open. If all else fails, we’ll get serious about burbot this winter when the ice comes in and eat ourselves sick on fish fry.
Meanwhile, look for me out in the woods this weekend dusting the snow off the lingonberries. If we do come into some game later in the season, I want to be ready to bust out the cranberry chutney.
ALSO! If you’re curious about some of the things we’ve been getting up to, check out Alan’s youtube channel – it’s a lot of gun reviews (which aren’t exactly my thing, but I’m learning to appreciate his expertise) and great bonus videos of cute dogs.
I’m sitting on the 2nd floor of the Margaret Murie building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks watching the first snow fall on the green lawns of west ridge. I’m trying to develop a routine of writing here every Monday and Wednesday morning this year. So far I’m having mixed results – the last two weeks have been wild and fun, but not productive writing-wise.
I like the space though–on a clear day I can see all the way to the Alaska Range–and I like the idea of a routine. Maybe it’ll settle on me as the fall wears on.
Today’s project was finishing some copyedits and minor revisions for a forthcoming publication. It feels weird to write that, but I have to say I like it.
When it gets cold, here in Fairbanks, I can feel little jets of air shooting in through little gaps at floor level in the yurt. Like a hot tub, but not at all like a hot tub.
A secret: every fall, when the temperature bottoms out and I find myself stepping outside at night for the first time since the drop, I panic a little. Maybe it’s the sudden immersion in an illusion of the vacuum of space; that darkness in the stars, the empty, icy, weightlessness that threatens to suck the hot breath right out of my lungs and pull me apart. Maybe it’s all that heavy, icy air suddenly settling on me so that for a moment I feel like I can’t breathe under the lead of it, like the night air might force itself into my lungs and harden there. Can it be both at once? The terror of a crushing weight and the terror of weightlessness?
But then, every year, I pull on my Carhartt extremes and slip on my bunny boots. If you’ve never worn bunny boots, you might not know that they make for awkward walking. Each foot suddenly gets a lot heavier, and each step gets a swing to it, so that, like it or not, you’re walking around like an arrogant young cowboy with a brand new shootin’ iron. They say smiling sends happiness signals to your brain, so you can fake joy to make joy. Maybe it’s the same with confidence. Eventually, walking like that makes me feel at home in the dry, cold snow. Eventually, every year, the night and the ice and the starlight become my habitat.
Indoors, though, I wear fuzzy slippers almost all winter. No need to let the ice-jets sneaking in under the wall-cover tickle my toes.
Last night, after an afternoon at the shooting range and a run with Jane on Murphy Dome, I made cranberry chutney with the last of my frozen berries. I thawed some caribou steaks from our adventure with the Fortymile herd, and Alan picked some kale from the garden we planted this spring at his place. I had baked a loaf of sourdough bread earlier in the day, and I sliced a little of that up, too. A perfect dinner, all-Alaskan.
Local ingredients: Wild lingonberries from UAF’s trail system Fortymile caribou from an adventure in the White Mountains Kale grown in the Goldstream Wild Alaskan air yeast
The fireweed flowers are long gone, and the leaves have gone red. The birch leaves are fading, too. We got our last round of blueberries a week ago, and it’ll be cranberries and moose this weekend.
School started a week ago, and I’m struggling to transition to the very different work of studying. I want to be outside, doing my human hyperphagia, coming home and looking into my freezer with satisfaction at the neatly stacked vacuum bags of meat and fish and the jars of frozen berries. Instead, I’m inside doing winter’s work – reading, writing – and looking out the window at the last bits of summer dissolving.