Saturday, March 10, 2012

Arrival to Deep Snows and 15 degrees

While the lower 48 experienced a mild winter, the 2011-12 season brought record snows to much of Alaska.  Valdez and Cordova made national news with over 300 inches, but even Anchorage, which usually only gets about 5 feet of snow per winter, had double that amount by early March and expects to eclipse an historic record with the anticipated late season dumps of additional inches.  Several older commercial and church roofs have collapsed.  (I look askance at the number of flat and gambrel roofs, neither of which seems sensible in snowy country here.)   The snow berms around parking lots top building door height, and now that the afternoons are warming and the daylight lengthening, so too are the icicles, which from many eaves drip precariously two to six feet long, pointing toward unwary walkers on the sidewalks below.   Talk about the sword(s) of Damocles! 

We flew out to our cabin about 10 am, seeing four moose along the way.  Our goal was to make use of all the remaining daylight hours before sunset at 6:30 pm to get settled and to warm up the ice cold cabin before bedtime.  A cabin in the Bush is certainly not a turnkey operation.  Onto the frozen lake we unloaded weeks’ worth of supplies and a new piece of furniture, stationing them beyond the wingspan of the Cessna 206 ski plane’s turn radius.  The day was overcast but bright, and from repeated, recent snow falls, the snow was pillowy soft not only on the ground but also, since it was so still, in little bubbles of white remaining on the spruce and birch branches.  Once the plane took off, Bryan pulled on his snow shoes to tramp up to the cabin to retrieve the little plastic sled we use for hauling groceries et al.   

It has snowed so frequently this winter, and at such optimal temperatures for powder, that even in big, flat snow shoes Bryan sank 12-16 inches with every step.  When he couldn’t find my snow shoes, I knew I’d have a tough time traversing the snow in the boots I was wearing, but it had to be done.  Besides, at 15 degrees, my feet were getting cold so I was motivated to get to the cabin and start a fire.  Bryan carefully retraced his footsteps, stomping down with each foot to compress the snow further so I could follow more easily, but even so, the smaller footstep of regular boots caused me to sink below my knees with most steps.  Halfway to the cabin, huffing and puffing, I decided to crawl, in order to disperse the weight better across four limbs than two.  That helped.  Welcome home.              

 Once I stepped carefully across the spiky bear mat into the dark cabin, I was able to light a fire quickly in the woodstove, and feed it for about an hour with tinder and kindling to get a good bed of coals so larger chunks of birch wouldn’t suck up the heat and put it out.  In two hours, the cabin had warmed up from +15 to +40 degrees F,  but there the temperature sat for the next several hours.  I shed my gloves, parka, and hat, but retained three layers of socks and tops and two layers of pants as I went about my interior tasks. Someone told me that the log walls have to warm up before the air within can do so.  Perhaps that is the reason that it took the next five hours (!) for the temperature to inch up from 40 to 53.  Meanwhile, I started a ham and pea soup (with water brought from town) in a cast iron pot on the woodstove. My theory is that half of staying warm is smelling warm scents – like smoke from the chimney and cooking and the cider I offered my thirsty husband when he rested occasionally between a dozen round-trip sled deliveries.  Fortunately, he was able to retrieve all of the food before it started to snow.  We left the new furniture on the iced lake until the next day. 

All needs and wants are clearly triaged out here, and groceries are no exception.  First, Bryan hauled the foods most vulnerable to freezing, like fresh produce and eggs.  Once those priorities were completed, he left the products that could freeze and shifted to cabin projects.  As he unscrewed the bear shutters from all the windows, he brought in welcome light and the illusion of warmth. Packed down under its own weight, the fourteen feet of snow that had fallen in this vicinity reached about 8 feet high along the sides of the cabin.  Since this height is about even with the bottom of the first floor windows, Bryan was able to walk from window to window with a screwdriver -  making the task much easier than in the summer!    The lovely views of the frozen lake and the mountains beyond helped remind me of why I was enduring this chilly homecoming. 

Next, Bryan carved makeshift steps through the snow down to the back porch.  His goal was to clear away enough snow from the back door to remove the bear bar and mat and open the door to reach the ten days of wood we had piled next to it.  (The main woodpile is buried- a task for another day). Then he chopped steps down to the doors of the outhouse and the power shed.   He was relieved to find that the battery bank, which stores power from the solar panels and wind turbine, was fully charged.  In the outhouse, the toilet seat and top were frozen together and to the wooden bench below by a three inch deep circle of frost.  I eased up the seats, knocked off the frost and installed a two inch thick ring of Styrofoam, which we use instead of the wooden seat in the winter.  (The air pockets keep it from getting cold).   

Needless to say, we were tuckered out by early evening.  After a meal of Manchego cheese and easy homemade dishes of ham and pea soup, coleslaw, and bananas with a chocolate rum sauce, we tumbled into a very comfortable bed under a very thick comforter and a sound night’s sleep.  Tomorrow is another day. 

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