This weekend it rained steadily for a day and a half, and the high last night was 39 degrees. Just to reiterate, that is a full twenty degrees warmer than it was in West Virginia the same day. As far as I am concerned, Alaskan winter has completely failed to live up to its reputation. Is this really the same state that I read about in Jack London books as a kid? I don't remember the boy from Dogsong ever having to put up with any of this rain-in-January crap. Seward, on the other hand, is continuing to live up to its reputation as a place capable of providing rain even in the most un-rain-like of conditions. I knew from previous years that Seward is capable of providing winter in the middle of July; I was not aware that its climactic idiosyncrasies extended to providing spring in the middle of January.
A few nights ago, I was dog-sitting for a friend, which gave me the opportunity of accumulating more dog hair to add to my clothing. It’s the Alaskan style. If your clothing isn’t made out of animal parts to begin with (leather boots, wool scarf, down jacket, fur hat), it probably still has animal hair covering the outer surface anyway. It's a little like having an extra insulating layer. Base layer, thermal layer, dog hair layer, rain layer. Is it colder than usual outside? Just find a long-haired dog, get him really excited, and encourage him to roll around on your clean laundry.
On Sunday, the weather transitioned from ‘winter wonderland’ to ‘slushy purgatory’ in about five hours, and turned the roads and sidewalks into the water-covered sheets of ice that so terrified me when I first visited the state. (In March of 2007, I tried to get from my room to the Seward library, and slid around on the ice so badly that I eventually gave up and went home. This might have been more understandable if the library and my room were on opposite ends of town. In fact, they were on opposite ends of the same block.) In similar conditions, I decided that I would stop by the library before going to watch my friend’s dogs, figuring that a nice, long, period BBC drama was just the thing to kill three or four hours. I made it there and back without falling on my face, with a six-hour miniseries version of Jane Eyre stuffed in my backpack, and went to hang out with the dogs. The weather was so wet, that even the hyperactive Lab didn’t want to go outside very much. So we ate dinner, and curled up on couches and dog beds for a few hours of English accents and period costumes. Around the time our TV-screen heroine was throwing water on flaming bedcurtains and hearing ghostly laughter in the hallways, I decided to go down to the basement and check the boiler settings.
Not all of the splashing noises were coming from the speakers. Water was seeping under the basement door, between the bottom of the door and the frame, and there was already a sizeable puddle on the floor. I spent the next few minutes moving all of the stuff near (and in) the puddle towards the other, drier end of the room, and left what was probably a fairly alarming message on my friend’s voicemail. Hi. You’re house isn’t actually flooding, and your dogs are fine, but there’s a lot of water coming in your back door. Call me?
Further investigation showed several inches of water had collected in the well of the basement door, which I bailed out with the help of a small trash can. It was the first time in six months that I missed not having a boat pump handy. I never seemed to get the trick of flinging the trash can without spilling some water on my knees.
Eventually, I got the well bailed out, and the dogs settled down (though I think they were still wondering what all the excitement had been about). It was still raining, so I went back outside and bailed more water before I went to sleep. That seemed to work – at least, the basement floor was still dry-ish the next morning.
I am now two for two on ‘bad things happening to places I am house-sitting’ - and I’ve barely been back in the state for two weeks. Perhaps Alaska in the winter is living up to its reputation after all.