Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Clear Skies

We have had several days of beautifully clear weather, which generally means colder temperatures. This morning the thermometer was reading about 15 degrees below zero. Everything outside is coated in a thick layer of hoar frost, and it sparkles like diamonds in the sun. If you brush against the branch of a tree, a fairy dusting of snow comes floating down. The wind is blessedly still for the moment, so the cold feels crisp without being piercing.


The sun’s arc across the sky is still low, from southeast to southwest, and the slanted rays give a rich light to the frozen land. When the light is like that, it has a magnifying effect on the Kilbuck Mountains, which are about 75 miles to the east of Bethel. They look so much bigger, so much closer. Traveling by snowmachine, one can reach them in a day; traveling by sled dog team, it takes two to three days. There is a common story here of a newcomer who asks an old musher, “how far away are those mountains?” The musher studies the mountains for a moment and responds, “Good dogs? Not so far. Poor dogs? Long way!”


The deep cold of the past few weeks has hardened the Ice Road on the Kuskokwim River nicely. People from the surrounding villages are able to drive to Bethel in cars and trucks. Transportation is much easier and cheaper when people don’t have to depend on airplanes. Getting on and off the river can still be tricky, as high tides may bring water oozing over the edges which can be a foot deep or more. The surface of the overflow freezes quickly, but won’t support much weight. Even snowmachines can break through, and suddenly you find yourself ankle deep in water on top of several feet of river ice. Wet is bad, even if it is not deep, so great care must be taken. Blazing new trails onto the river is often not a good idea.


This morning, just as it was getting light, I looked out our front window to see a minimally dressed runner jogging along the snowmachine trail in front of our house. “Holy cow,” I thought. “Is he dedicated or just crazy?” To be out jogging at 15 below, I think one would have to be a little bit of both.



Photos by The Tundra PA.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Still reading and love the stories and photos. I love the colors of the clouds in the shot of the mountains.

Thursday, January 03, 2008 1:43:00 PM  

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