"Changes" is a good title for today's blog entry, because a lot of changes are in store over the next few weeks. First, I only have a couple more days here at my place of employment. Then I'll be chaning from my "occupational" mode to my "recreational" mode. During this upcoming R&R I'll be starting my fall dog training and conditioning season with only a few interruptions. The second weekend of this R&R will be the Alaska Dog Mushers Association annual Sled Dog Symposium. Since I will be off-duty I am free to enjoy it, and will be both a participant and a presenter.
Perhaps the most monumental change is the seasonable change of winter. We have been getting our early snows, and here at my place of employment, north of town and at higher elevation, the snowfall has remarkable. There are a solid three or four inches of snow in the woods, though it is melting on the roadway and other bare surfaces at about the same rate it is falling.
Things will start getting much colder much more quickly as a result of albedo. Albedo is not my buddy from some exotic and previously unkown island. Rather it is a term used by physicists to describe the reflection of solar radiation by snowpack. The combination of fewer hours of possible daylight, increased cloud cover and albedo results in temperatures that don't just turn a bit cooler - they PLUMMET. Ned Rozell of the UAF Geophysical Institute has a nice little article about albedo effect in today's issue of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
In his article, Rozell reference the very early winter of 1992. I remember it well as I arrived in Alaska in late October of '92, right in the midst of the earliest snowfall and coldest September temperatures on record. One of my favorite local mushing trails goes through a section of birch that I call the "Bentwood Forest" because it is populated with birch trees that were doubled over by the early snow of '92 and have never straightened back up.
When we moved up, my wife had a full-time job but I was unemployed. I spent that first wintering 'hustling' for a living. I wrote and sold a lot of magazine articles, taught quite a few CPR, first-aid and EMT classes, and shoveled snow from overloaded roofs. I earned quite a bit of money shoveling off roofs and I must admit I'm proud that I was able to use a variety of my talents to earn a living during that first winter in Alaska.
Some people say that the Spirit of this Great Land demands that newcomers pay some dues and prove their ability to live and thrive in this environment. I can't recall meeting very many people up here who have been able to claim that they had an easy time of things during their first winter, so there may be some truth in that. Whether so or whether no, I do think my experiences during that first Alaskan winter went far toward shaping my attitudes and philosophies about our 7 to 8 month snow season.
Of course I wasn't a total stranger to long, cold winters. From November 1985 through September of 1989 I lived in Crested Butte, Colorado, a destination ski resort community that is the same altitude as Vail, but an attitude that is a lot more down to earth. When I moved to CB I was warned that anyone who doesn't like to play in the snow won't like living there. During my time in C.B. I learned to ski, and got pretty good at it. I see that there are a couple of dog mushing tour operations based in Gunnison, but none in the Butte. I wonder why that is? In any event, that was a long time ago, and it feels like it was "a galaxy far, far away".
One of the changes in store will be my annual change of wardrobe. It's time to put away the cotton and break out the woolens. Although still a bit early for mukluks, insulated bibs and parkas it is time to inspect them, mend any rips or tears and set them out where they're handy. Most of my truly cold weather gear is in great shape, largely because Wiggy's makes really good, durable gear. I probably should order a couple of new woolen shirts and pants, though. By purchasing 2 of each every year I seem to be able to keep my wardrobe in pretty good condition.
Of course the biggest change is a change in thinking. It's no longer accurate to say "Winter is coming." Winter isn't just coming, it's here, and it's time to start thinking in terms of snow, cold and the inevitable challenges that come hand in glove with winter in the harshest climate in North America.