A recent article in the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer describes how various animals survive Alaska’s cold weather. “Whether it’s a chickadee that weighs less than half an ounce or a moose that weighs 1,200 pounds, animals have different ways of coping with cold temperatures during Alaska’s long, bitter winter,” wrote reporter Tim Mowrey.
Moose and caribou, for example, have hollow hair and their metabolism can drop by 25 percent in cold weather. Ptarmigan have feathers on their feet that act like snow shoes – and they snuggle together under blankets of snow to stay warm. Everyone eats more. (Sound familiar?)
What friends from outside Alaska want to know, however, is how domesticated critters – like people – get along in the dark and cold. I thought about this during a recent ski at the Eagle River Nature Center.
It might have been more reasonable to stay home that day and snuggle with a book next to the fireplace. The world was encased in white. After weeks of cold temperatures and no wind, hoarfrost had begun to form on already snow-laden trees. When I arrived at the parking lot, the thermometer read minus 6 degrees. I pulled my scarf a little tighter knowing the temperature would drop even further as I skied downhill toward the river.
Frost formed on my eyelashes as I moved along the trail. My dog bounded ahead with enthusiasm. Looking up, I saw a father and his six-year-old son skiing toward me and we stopped to chat. Dad and the family were out camping at a nearby cabin. The rosy smile of the little boy told the whole story. This was an adventure! Further down the trail a woman with a baby on her back and her two companions were snow shoeing along the river. Later on, I came across a couple walking their three dogs. All of these people were undaunted by the cold. The reward of their decision to be outdoors could be seen on each of their faces. “What a beautiful day!” one of them called out as we passed on the trail.
On another cold outing at Eklutna Lake, the scene resembled a crystal fairy tale. A rocking-chair moon hung over Twin Peaks and down below the world was nothing short of magical.
There is a deep stillness that accompanies the cold, one that infuses the spirit with a sense of calm. But the cold also demands action. You have to move to stay warm, and therein lies the crisp paradox that becomes an antidote to the winter doldrums.
A warm hearth is a fine place to pass a winter cold snap. But a winter trail, a pair of skis, and a happy companion make winter a time to enjoy, not just endure.