I periodically feel obligated to note that without some pretty amazing friends, I would probably not be able to continue to live in Alaska as I approach the furthest reaches of middle age. Alaska is especially famous, and rightfully so, for friendships that replace the families so many of us left behind. While family still wonders what the possible attraction could be of a state where it's dark for months on end, temps hover at zero or below for equally as long and bears roam our backyards freely, our friends understand that being an Alaskan is something that simply cannot be explained to someone who is not.
So when I fell on my driveway recently, I knew three things for sure. One, it was my own fault for thinking I could sneak down the edge of my driveway in my slippers and not hit an icy patch under the newly fallen snow. Two, I was going to be in a lot of pain for a long time. And three, I had friends who would help me all they could by doing things like moving my garbage can to the end of the driveway in time for pick up, getting my mail, discussing with me the benefits of actually putting shoes on before walking on an icy, slanted driveway and, perhaps most importantly, re-enforcing the idea of spikes on my shoes. They did all that and more and they did it without making me feel as though I was closing in on my last winter in Alaska.
I used to walk in 20 below weather, thinking it was perfectly normal and OK to do so. Now, despite wearing three layers of clothing, I get cold in my house when the temp outside is anywhere near zero. I have never put my thermostat up to 70 degrees so often in any past winter, and that includes the winters I lived in Barrow. I find myself standing in front of the thermostat and carefully adjusting it to exactly 70 degrees on the theory that as long as it stays below 72, I'm not old.
When I moved here forty years ago, I didn't plan to make Alaska my home. I was from New Jersey. Chris Christie is still my idea of what most politicians are, or should be. Jersey peaches are still my idea of heaven, despite forty years of exposure to King Crab, salmon and halibut, to say nothing of caribou, moose and goose soup. Real highways have tollbooths and four lanes, with rest stops named after local politicians who managed to strong-arm the state transportation department into putting one in their county.
But a funny thing happened as the years went by. As much as I still say I'm going home when I'm planning a trip east, I only have to be there a short time before I understand that it no longer is. At some point, Alaska became home.
I realized highways should be one lane in either direction with death and destruction looming around every icy curve. There should be no tollbooths but only acres of traffic signs shot up so badly that whatever they originally said has been obliterated. Rest stops become much more frequent when any point on the side of the road with enough tree coverage can be one.
To have once lived with honey-buckets and still be able to wax poetic about this state is a sure sign that I've gone completely over the cliff about it. To have slipped down my driveway more often than I would like to recall without wanting to run screaming from an Alaska winter means there is no hope for me. My infatuation with this insane state is total and complete.
As the cold weather continues and the ice builds, we need to keep in mind why we live here and that insanity is not necessarily the main reason. Fur Rondy is just around the bend. The Iditarod will follow. The sun is returning even if it isn't bringing warmth with it. And all our politicians have been confined to Juneau so the streets are safe for the rest of us.
If there is one thing I could import from New Jersey to Alaska, it would be naming rest stops on the highways after politicians. That just seems appropriate.
Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.