Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Come the Thaw

If you're going to move to Alaska, do it in November. It lets you ease into the thing. Sounds insane to put it that way since you're right in the middle of the cold and the dark, but to us those things weren't where Alaska was extreme - it was the unrestricted, utterly overwhelming life of the place. If there is anywhere human kind is simply allowed on sufferance, anywhere nature doesn't pay us mind, it's Alaska. Sure, you can throw down a road, but leave it untended for a year or two and the green will already be gobbling it up again.

Alaskans have a quote about Anchorage - it's a nice place, and only a half hour from Alaska. It's the easy version of the North, the soft version. The roads are always scraped and sanded, there are Starbucks and Safeway stores, Walmarts with enormous packs of genuine toilet paper. And you do feel a bit removed from the rest of the state. The city lights block out the aurora, and some of the amazing amethyst skies in the winter nights. But that doesn't mean that you won't come around a corner to find a moose contemplating your ornamental tree.

Living in Anchorage, arriving at the start of the real winter, we were introduced to it all slowly, easily. Like the hard-core ducks. Even in the coldest time of year there was a creek behind the kid's school that never froze over, and twenty or so ducks opted to tough it out there rather than migrate. So how serious can a winter be if there are still ducks hanging around? Not to mention that ducks are a pretty cozy, domesticated sort of animal to come across in the wilds of Alaska. We fed them regularly, feeling like that sort of fortitude deserved a bit of recognition, even if it was only handfulls of corn. (yes, we were probably contributing to their delinquent behavior and encouraging all sorts of anti-social stuff. Undoubtedly they ended up getting flipper tattoos and little mallard mohawks) Of course Child 3 fell in and had to be hustled home to be rubbed down, swaddled and comforted with hot chocolate (and sympathy hot chocolate shared around naturally, to alleviate the mental anguish of the siblings).

But Spring came eventually. We didn't yet know what it would bring so we enjoyed the entire process, rather than feeling it was agonizingly slow like more experienced Alaskans. One day we were driving around the back of the base, on one of the small, rarely used roads that access the remote wild bits, when Kirk pulled quickly over and leaped out. He was back in a second, his hands cupped around something.

'Look,' he said, holding it out, 'just look at this.'

It was a handful of deep brown earth, covered with rich, dark green moss. It smelled of soil, and water, and freshness and after the arid desert tan it was amazingly beautiful. We examined it for a few minutes and then I felt guilty and insisted he put it back, quickly before it died. He carefully tucked it away where it came from and we drove away, marveling that right under the layer of snow there was so much life.

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