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As the longest winter ever nears an end (we think), conflicting perspectives abound

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: March 26
  • Published March 26

A bicyclist rides along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. Port MacKenzie is visible in the distance beyond the pan ice in upper Cook Inlet. (Bill Roth / ADN)

I’ve done plenty of reflecting and writing about the beauty and simplicity of noticing. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve admired the way light falls on the trees in my yard. I’ve watched dew drops sparkle a rainbow of colors across a green lawn. I’ve appreciated perfect, tiny snowflakes falling on my black mitten.

This is all great. But in the spirit of presence, here are some other things I’m noticing:

The temperature outside is consistently very cold. I am cold for much of the day.

My laundry is basically always going because of an endless cycle of washing the many sweaty layers needed to brave the outdoors. This means there is a constant whirring of the spin cycle, inevitably followed by my least favorite chore: folding.

And, more snow keeps coming.

I went outside for a run a couple mornings ago and the mantra in my head every time my feet hit the pavement was: this is the longest winter of my life.

It was about 5 degrees outside. Faced with the option of not running and feeling grumpy and (more) pent up all day, the choice was clear. But in this case running in single digits was more to buoy myself into the rest of my life and less about enjoying a pleasant outdoor experience.

I know, I know. Where does complaining get me? That mantra — this is the longest winter of my life — does nothing but dig my heels, literally, into that perspective. This is contrary to my usually optimistic nature. But it’s also very real.

What happens when I ignore my feelings or perspective because I would prefer for it not to exist? It wakes me up at night. My brain whispers, “Hey, Alli, let’s spend some time dwelling here because you ignored it before,” around 2 a.m. and keeps it up until about 4 a.m. The next day — you guessed it — I’m crabby and sleep-deprived and the cycle starts anew.

So, I’m owning it. Here are the things that are simultaneously true for me:

• Alaska is the only place I’d want to be for a pandemic. It’s stunning here. There is plenty of outdoor space for everyone. We are now on the leading edge of the entire country for vaccine distribution, thanks to tribal leadership and public health coordination. Jabs are going in arms, and I am going outside for runs maskless (well, I’m wearing a balaclava, but that’s to protect my lungs against the cold, not COVID-19).

• I feel trapped in Alaska. I’ve had recurring dreams about being in New York City. Most of my daydreaming is about the desert. I miss family and friends who live in other places terribly. Sometimes looking at the walls of my home makes me feel slightly nauseated, they are so familiar. I feel completely fed up with sameness, even though that sameness is objectively amazing.

• I am incredibly lucky to lead the life I do during this pandemic. I am fine. I am not a front-line worker. I work remotely. I am halfway vaccinated. I have a positive relationship with my spouse. We don’t have kids in the house. From a Maslow’s pyramid of needs perspective, I have absolutely no complaints — far from it.

• Pandemic life is hard and I’m over it. This is a grueling marathon that seems to get harder the closer we get to its vague finish (which looks, by the way, nothing like its start — let’s not talk about going “back” to normal, that’s not how life works). I don’t spend time wishing I could revert to this or that. I know in my bones that there is a discrete “before” and “after” that will evolve in many novel ways I can’t yet predict.

But whatever “now” is — watching things play out, taking in new data, negotiating with friends/family/work, remaining largely restricted in movement — stinks.

My husband and I burned through all of our carefully rotated firewood this winter because we’ve been home so much, and our primary mode of entertaining guests has been bonfires. Recently we had a fresh load of wood delivered but it’s still pretty green.

When friends invited us to their home for a fire provided we bring the wood, we loaded up the truck. This new wood is working serviceably in our wood stove. Why not for an outdoor bonfire?

So there we were, clustered around failing embers as dusk and cold set in on a recent Saturday night. The fire pit was dug and beautiful; the hot beverages were out. All that was missing was the actual fire. Despite adding kindling, paper and splitting down the wood to twigs, it simply would not light.

We stood around the failed fire for about an hour longer as the temperature plummeted until I cried uncle and we drove home.

The familiar refrain echoed in my head: longest winter of my life. Of course we couldn’t get a fire started. Of course.

Alaska, though, always seems to laugh last. As we got closer to home and into darkness, I could see northern lights flickering across the sky. We pulled over along the Knik River to stand in the zero-degree temperatures and gawked as Pioneer Peak rose, steep and daunting, under green ribbons.

I was mollified that night. Then the next morning came around and it was time, again, to run — now at minus-5 degrees.

I pulled on every layer I own, grumbling every step of the way. At some point this winter will be a long-forgotten memory. For now I grit my teeth while living in this place I am so very fortunate to be, one day and sometimes one hour at a time.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.