Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dirt, and Dark

            Somewhere in between updating my watches and computers to take into account the four-hour time change, my watch, computer, and cell phone have come to a substantial disagreement about what day and time it is. The sun seems to be in on it as well. Today it didn’t make an appearance until almost 10am.   

Welcome to winter in the 49th state.

            I spent the bus drive down from Anchorage trying to maintain a few square inches of clear glass on the window by melting ice from the inside of the window with my hand. Unfortunately, I couldn’t do anything about the dirt on the outside of the window, so perhaps it was a moot point. But, I was stuck in the van for two hours regardless, and driving the Seward highway in winter without the view could be just like driving for two hours through rural South Dakota. Even through the postage-stamp sized viewing hole, the mountains looked brilliant, especially after we got onto the Kenai Peninsula and the ice fog began to burn off.

            On arrival in Seward, my landlord Ben introduced me to the ice-coated luge chute that is the path to my door. My Yaktrax, sadly, are still on order, as is my car, so the trip to the grocery store today was a test run for my theory that it is possible to walk the three miles to the aquarium I work at with only my rubber boots, a flashlight, and enough wooly layers to fully outfit a sheep. So far, the results seem inconclusive – as in, while it might theoretically be possible to do this for the next two weeks, it also strikes me as a very bad idea. Also, as the walk, in ice-free conditions, usually takes an hour, I think the walk with the sidewalks in their current state would take closer to two, as my speed could only generously be described as a shuffle. The good news is, it’s been two days and I haven’t fallen over yet. 

            Alaska, interestingly enough, does not salt its roads – first because in much of the state it’s just to cold for the salt to do any good, and also because once the snow falls, we’d actually be really happy if it didn’t melt until April. Seward, in its enviable location in Alaska’s banana belt, has winters that are just mild enough that the snow frequently melts and then refreezes, instantly creating skating ponds out of any nearby drainage area – such as ditches, parking lots, and the bottoms of hills. All in all, we’d rather the snow didn’t do this, so instead of salting its roads, Alaska dirts its roads.  

            One unsurprising result of this practice is that Alaskan cars seem to be far dirtier during the winter than cars from the lower 48. (Also, no one wants to risk entombing their car in ice by taking it to the car wash.) However, as they’re not being exposed to salt on a daily basis, perhaps the paint jobs are holding out better. Though since the paint itself is entirely covered up by the gravel dust, it’s difficult to be sure.   

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