Saturday, December 20, 2014


Getting ready for winter in Alaska can be easy for those living in the cities. Anchorage residents like all-weather tires so they don't have to go through tire change-over, but that usually applies more to those who only travel within city limits. Others line up for studded tires and change-overs at the nearest auto shop after studded tire season begins. For a lot of these people living in cities, the biggest issues for winter survival are tires and winter gear, maybe an auto-start or heating block for the car and perhaps some winterization for home-owners. Then there are those who live away from civilization. 

The true Alaskans must think about heating fuel, food, animals (pets, livestock, predators), winterization, transportation, etc. Though I don't have to worry about all of this in my current situation, I have in the past, and I intend to do so again. I prefer the remote wilderness, being trapped in a cabin while the blustering snow piles against my door and windows, while I watch the fireplace flames dance and crackle. A solitude weighs upon the land, lifted only when the drone of a small plane flies somewhere overhead or the sound of snapping willows cut the silence as a moose grazes outside. It's a lonely season for those living off the grid in Alaska, but it's certainly not some silly new "trend" so many people in other parts of the U.S. are discovering. Unlike many other areas of the United States, Alaskans never abandoned the age-old methods of hunting, gathering and subsistence living. There are still plenty of us who know how to gather food, chop wood and build pretty much whatever we want, whenever we want. 

There's a documentary I find to be a fantastic example of remote Alaskan living, and I highly recommend it to everyone. It is called "Alone in the Wilderness" and it was filmed by, and stars, Dick Proenneke. This man was amazing and watching the film will make you feel like a lazy buffoon, but will also inspire watchers to be more industrious. He built himself a cabin in Lake Clark National Park, and the cabin is still there, for inspired hikers to inspect with awe. There are still some people who live in the ways of Proenneke, although most Alaskans now use snowmachines (don't you dare say snow-mobile to an Alaskan) and four-wheelers to make life a little easier. Of course, these conveniences also bring along their own sets of issues for seasonal preparation. 

With our winters come terrifying winds, strong enough to blow over semi trucks and trailers, motorhomes, campers and remove roofs. I was unfortunate enough to have the roof of my home blow off during a particularly bad wind storm. In the nearby town, a fire raged across an old homestead, blowing out of control and erupting in huge bursts of flames, visible from miles away. The fire hit the main transformer station and caused a large power outage. At my own home, the metal roofing ripped off the trusses and landed in my parking spot, which was empty at the time. I had driven further up the mountain to view the massive blaze ripping through town. When I arrived home, a live wire was flailing dangerously in the wind, sparks shooting across the yard. The electricity had been wired into the house through the roof, so naturally it ripped off. A street over, another home was shredded by the same wind gust. All of this left me without electricity, water and sufficient heating in the middle of winter. Mailboxes were ripped off the posts and mail was lost to the drifted snow banks. Bills were lost and creditors unforgiving (despite a great credit record) of this natural disaster implemented extra charges and increased rates of those of us just trying to survive. I cancelled those accounts, by the way. FEMA gave a little support and combined with the insurance payout, it was still not enough to fix the house properly. Even with all of the chaos and lack of amenities, I didn't feel defeated or sad. Living rough is the Alaskan way of life, and a lot of us are prepared to do so at any time. 

This is probably why, every fall season, I tend to drop off the radar. I go without internet, travel and shopping and instead, focus on a long haul through winter. My husband picks up perishable food once a week and we venture out for a supply run every 4 or 5 months. Any other shopping is done online when necessary. My basement's cold storage is filled with the garden's harvest, windows are sealed, the property has been scoured for items which may become lost in the snow or blown over, room is created in the arctic entry for the surplus of winter items necessary for even a short walk, trees are trimmed or downed before their branches or the tree itself destroys property, outside water supplies are winterized (if you have any plumbing, that is) and the list goes on and on and on. 

Winter in Alaska is tough, but fall is brutal. The pressure to accomplish everything which makes it possible to sit and enjoy a crackling fire during a snowstorm can break a person. Compared to fall, winter can be sweet relief to an Alaskan. For some, it's like a vacation. There's nothing more you can do once the snow hits and temperatures plummet. Just sit back, listen to the wind howl, and let the flames of a cozy fire lull you into a contented sleep. Enjoy the break, because when spring arrives, it's time to prepare for the next winter. 

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