My strongest visual impression of a rural Alaskan winter is the narrow color palate. It is a black and white world. Deciduous birch and willow, and black and white spruce trees stand still and strong in a landscape of white snow and mountains against a thin blue sky. Even in snowy cities and suburbs, the color range is expanded exponentially by brick and painted houses, cars in parking lots, colorful billboards and shop signage, and the colored lights of stoplights, seasonal decorations, and flashing “open” beacons. Out in the bush, we have none of those things. The only color, really, is our laundry.
The impact of this view is a greater awareness of shapes - the triangle of a bleached out sky outlined by bent branches, shadows cast by an icicle or a corner of the cabin, or shallow or deep animal tracks puncturing the snow. The landscape is so still, that movement startles, as when the wind blows snow. We can track animals more easily than in the refulgent summer: snow shoe hares tracks dive under the snow, martins tracks skitter among and up trees, river otters slide along the banks of water courses not yet frozen. One day we came across a mass of dark blood at the base of a tree. As detectives, we looked for predatory footprints and found none, concluding that an owl or other raptor had swooped down and impaled a hare with its sharp claws and beak before the furry fellow could dive into its warren below the tree. The long, straight lines of diagonal trapping poles and horizontal supports of hunting stations catch our eyes as foreign objects we do not see the rest of the year, when they remain hidden in the woods.