I believe we flew very near to where we call "home" in the summers. Thousands of feet beneath me were the familiar forms of braided rivers. But all that is usually a murky brown, carrying glacial silt, had become pure white contrasting the dark grey peaks. In the magic light hour before dusk, a thin layer of coral colored clouds intermittently shrouded the landscape making me strangely homesick for the cold, lonely land below. When we're in McCarthy, a portion of my heart wishes to enjoy moments of Colorado summer with friends and family. The reverse is true in winter, though what I miss in Alaska--the midnight sunshine, community, and vacation-feeling even while working--doesn't exist in the bleak winter. So for most of the year, I enjoy the go-go-go life of the lower 48 with a few interspersed weeks of beautifully slow-paced, winter-Alaska that serves as a distant reminder of my lovely summer "home" that will return in a few short months.
This is my third trip to work in the Denali Borough School District. I get to spend time with lovely children and a fantastic speech paraprofessional. I try to get as much paperwork done during my school hours so that evenings can be spent leisurely working on Kennecott store to-do's and, this week, updating a continuing education article I wrote a few years back.
I fly in and out of Fairbanks and make the two hour drive to the school at the beginning and end of the week. Along my route today, every tree glittered with white frost that turned baby blue in the premature onset of night. I became increasingly grateful for high beam lights as I, twice, observed two hulking cow moose lumbering along the side of the road in the pitch black night. When I made it safely to my lodging, I heeded the advice of the gal who'd handed me the rental car keys: "you'll want to plug it in on nights like this when it gets to -37 degrees."
I don't think I've ever felt cold like this--a deep inhalation almost chokes. Ted Lambert, a famous Alaskan painter recorded a memoire of his first year spent in Alaska (in the, now, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park area--where we live in the summers). In the book that resulted, Ted Lambert: The Man Behind the Paintings, he quoted a woman asking an old sourdough, "How on earth do you people living in the North endure the terrible cold?" To which the weathered, leathery Alaskan replied, "Madam, we have more sense than to attempt to endure the cold. We protect ourselves from it." So, I'm tucked away in my room for this week, thankful for a warm home-away-from-home.