Growing up, I had a good relationship with cold. It was so good I'd egg cold on. Once school started I expected fall to be in full swing, which is why in early September I'd wrap myself in my scarf and mittens and pile onto the school bus. The problem was, that time of year in New England still gets pretty hot and humid. I closed my eyes and imagined that what I felt was that tingling chill on the tip of my nose, not sweat running down my face.
When I moved to New York City, I found cold. Cold whipped around the corners of buildings and gusted up the avenues. This wasn't the kind of cold I'd seen in movies that took place in New York City, where actors strolled Fifth Avenue and went ice skating at Rockefeller Center under gently falling snow. This was the kind of cold that scraped off the Atlantic Ocean before raging through Manhattan on the wind, icy tentacles trained specifically on my face.
Still, my love of cold and winter stayed, even if New York wasn't the right fit. One Christmas I boarded a plane and moved, as people do, from Brooklyn to Anchorage. I figured I'd find true cold in Alaska.
I got what I wanted. That first winter was the coldest I'd ever experienced. My first day in Anchorage, snow fell gently and consistently, as though I were in the same snowglobe I'd first imagined for New York City. Then, the temperature plummeted to minus 20 and stayed there for three weeks.
Pipes all over the city froze. People complained. I bought a pair of classic skis and stayed out as long as I could in an inappropriate winter coat I'd bought in some basement in New York. I was enamored by the sparkling white hoarfrost on the trees and the intensity of the sunsets. My eyelashes and eyebrows froze white, along with any loose strands of hair. By the time I got back inside, my legs were lobster-colored. I didn't care. I loved it.
I love it now too. Cold in Alaska is the still, quiet kind of cold that I looked for growing up. The dawns that slowly light the sky in frozen blues and pinks are among the most awe-inspiring parts of living in Alaska.
But cold in Alaska isn't consistent anymore. Last winter we had the first in several years that felt like true winter. Snow fell at a reasonable time, and temperatures were consistently low enough to maintain it — unlike years prior when it poured rain on New Year's Eve. That one good winter last year was almost enough for me to forget my unease.
Now that it's actually cold outside and I'm happy, I hate to bring up several short weeks ago. Perhaps you will recall: it rained. Several times. What little snow there was melted. The trails got muddy. I got incredibly grumpy. It was dark, with no snow to reflect the little light in the sky. As my husband will attest, my mood was the same.
The punchline is, of course, that more snow fell and the temperature dropped and here I am happily waxing poetic about my beautiful love of cold. My head is once again safely in the sand (or maybe the snow). I like it here, because the alternative is painfully un-winter like.
I don't want to remember or acknowledge those unseasonably warm days. They make me uncomfortable. I want to live in the Alaska I moved to for its winters, not the one that's warming at twice the rate of everywhere else and that for me calls into question the state of the planet and my place here. That's all way more existential and confusing than gently falling snow and sharp mountain vistas.
I've realized that the best way, for me, to stay sane is to take Alaska winters day by day. That way I can feel angry on the bad days and still be free to enjoy the good ones. Yes, I warily scan the weather forecast, trying to brace myself for what could happen next week.
But for now, it's cold outside. It's the kind of cold I always looked forward to as a kid, and I've finally found it. Even if it's less consistent these days, I'm enjoying what I can while it's here.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.