Everyday that I’ve lived in winterized Alaska, I thank God for the blessing of ‘home’ in Cooper Landing. I never imagined visiting Alaska in my lifetime, yet here I am renting a small apartment with a frozen view of the Kenai River and Mount Cecil submerged in snow. Daily I watch a pair of eagles play above the river or hear their high-pitched screetches when hidden in the trees. And, daily I see the changes of the frozen river, the steamy lake where Trumpeter Swans float below the ever-transforming sky on the Kenai Peninsula.
My little job at the post office ends today. I will no longer collect trash or mop salt-caked floors. I will no longer dust mailboxes or shine stainless steel corners and doors. I will no longer have to remove rust from the porcelain in the toilet because I actually did it! It’s clean! And WHITE! I will no longer have to yell, “It’s only me!” when I trip the entrance buzzer so the postal clerk doesn’t run to help a customer. I will no longer tell locals that it’s okay to walk on my clean floors because it’s ‘job security.’ Yet, I will no longer meet and greet those same locals whose footprints became daily reminders of the unique people who make Cooper Landing their home.
There are many I will remember and hope to see again this summer. Roger the ‘walking man’ who walks everywhere, every season of the year. The man named Rabbit who I thought came in with his friend ‘Pooh Bear.’ The older Alaskan ‘off the grid’- types smelling like ode de stale smoke body odor lingering from months of burning wood and no running water. Kind gentlemen-types who wander in by foot having hiked across the frozen lake wearing ice cleats. Senior men and women who open their numbered square boxes looking for checks and chuckle at the credit card applications that end up filling the trash can. Children who arrive with their dads on snow machines dressed so warmly you can only see their bright Alaskan eyes. Of course there are those I already knew from the maintenance man for the campground to the Cooper Landing fire chief. All come in wearing big bulky coats made from fur, wool or modern-type fabrics stuffed with down, heavy-duty snow boots, and the multi-faceted array of head gear – especially those like mine with streaks of spun rabbit fur topped with a ball of lynx.
I will also leave the warm cozy suite of Lorraine and Mike. They have been the most hospitable ‘landlords’ who own this beautiful property, Kathnu (native for Kenai) Spirit, they rent during the summer. Our two-bedroom suite where eagles soar past and moose graze on trees holds many treasured memories. This is where our grandson slept away from his mommy for the first time when his little sister was born. This is where he learned how to say ‘snowball’ in Portuguese – bola de neve – when we had cotton-like balls indoor snowball battles. This is where he played in the enormous shower and said he was a ‘blue noodle puffer fish’ in the Sealife Center. This is where we read stories, ate meals and lit Sabbath candles. This is where my granddaughter first knew where her Bubbe and Grandpa lived. This place became ‘home’: where I hung my coat, took off my boots, hat and gloves, and watched snow flakes continually fall.
‘Home’ is bigger than this two-bedroom suite, however. Home is also the log house on top of Ptarmigan where my daughter lives with my two grandchildren. ‘Home’ is where I hauled logs into her house to keep the wood stove burning during sub, sub zero temps and shoveled snow paths to the large dog kennel (garage) and the chicken coop with the daily snowfall. ‘Home’ is where I slept on a huge love sac when my daughter had a newborn and where I cuddled my grandson during naps. ‘Home’ is where I helped give my grandchildren baths and dressed or undressed them for snow machine rides, trips to the store, and wherever we were heading together. ‘Home’ is where I sang “Baby Shark” to calm a sleepless baby girl while my grandson hopped around wood floors wearing igloo sneakers.
Cooper Landing became ‘home’ when people who know us began to ask if we bought a house, found land, or were considering a permanent move. Cooper Landing became ‘home’ when I attended a Bible study and was welcomed by women who have lived here longer than I’ve been alive. Cooper Landing became ‘home’ when we went out for ice cream at one of two winter hangouts and the cashier said, “It’s weird to have all locals in here tonight.” We were no longer tourists or even seasonal, but ‘locals.’ Home.
I love sunshine. I really love the sunshine and winters of Colorado. I struggled with the thought of living in Alaska in the winter, but I have learned that it wasn’t as depressing as I had imagined. Yes, it was dark. The winter solstice is the darkest day of the year with only about 4 hours of sunlight. During the few weeks before and after, I didn’t see the sun as our little place is shadowed by Mount Cecil. About February 4, it became high enough to break the horizon between mountain peaks and now the sun shines every day for hours through my south-facing windows, even breaking the summits. I do not worship the sun, nor will I ever do so, but like every Alaskan who passed through the doors of the grocery store in Soldotna last week, I and ‘ooohed’ and ‘ahhhhed’ the strangely bright sun, a little higher than the horizon, warming my face and making me squint my eyes in the late afternoon. The sun really is an orb to behold and not to be taken for granted in arctic cultures.
Yes, it was cold. Though it is cold every year, this area had the longest cold streak in many years. Locals complained about doubled electric bills and heating oil for the season being consumed in a month. Seeing zero on the thermometer after days and days of -13 became a joke that we finally didn’t have a temperature. Then it would fall again to – 8 to -20. Even today the temperature is unseasonably low at +15. I have learned that with the right hat, coat, gloves and boots, cold is not only survivable, but it becomes normal and even exciting. My ‘shout out’ goes to Columbia, REI, and Skhoop of Scandinavia for my new coat, mittens and insulated winter skirt – a must for every Alaskan woman!
Yes, it snowed. I have to admit that I love snow so snow doesn’t bother me. I didn’t even mind shoveling paths through it to our car on a daily basis. The Kenai Peninsula area received more snow than it has in over 10 years. Alyeska Ski Resort south of Anchorage opened ski runs that haven’t been used in years and they are extending their season. As I sit here and write this, small sparkling flakes fall outside with a potential blizzard warning. Someday soon, spring will arrive and the sound of metal roofs shedding snow will be heard piling snow around houses by the feet. The frozen lake will begin to melt followed by the break up and the Kenai River will no longer have frozen snow banks. Winter will be gone for 2019-2020 and I will have lived through it just like Mike who marks the day the sun returns on a calendar as a reminder he survived another winter.
Winter in Alaska does require a certain type of person – one who will get out and be active. I believe my little job at the post office kept me going in the days of darkness (along with a massive amount of Vitamin D). I took walks in the snow to my daughter’s house whenever possible and filled my lungs with fresh, mountain air. I had the privilege of visiting a family’s ice tent while they ice fished. The young woman is the artist who creates all of the hats I and thousands of other women wear. We actually recognize each other all over this ‘small town’ called Alaska.
On my daughter’s snow machine, I rode on Kenai Lake, on mountain trails, and took photos at frozen Juneau Falls.
One erev Shabbat, we created a snow path to the the neighbors who had made an ice rink. When my grandson realized hockey on ice is like playing ice golf, he had a blast knocking around the pucks.
We went to Soldotna and had coffee and waffles in a train car called Brew602 on Whistle Hill. They serve waffles – sweet or savory. We chose the sweet with powdered sugar and no forks – just eat them with your fingers. On Whistle Hill is the Addie Camp Restaurant where we celebrated my husband’s 65th birthday – his official entrance into being a Senior?!
And, it’s always nice to have visits from family. Our youngest daughter came to Alaska to fall in love with her new niece. She did.
We extended our stay in Alaska by six weeks so my husband could become a certified ski instructor. The extra time also allowed us to also go to the Iditarod ceremonial opening events. We will now leave on Sunday. The moment is arriving too quickly. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to close the door on our ‘home’ and drive one last time around the Turnagain Arm that looks like a moon scape waiting for polar bears to climb onto their churning icebergs. Mostly, I will miss the best Alaskan mom, her two children and even her dog.
I don’t want to leave Cooper Landing, Quartz Creek, and even the dump where I take post office trash every Friday. I want to watch spring arrive and transform the white hills into green though I’m not entirely sure that I want to live through the rising temperatures and snow becoming rain. Then, the melt and mud, mud, mud. No matter, this part of the peninsula has a feel of ‘home’ like I felt in Boulder, except better.
Would we spend another winter here again? Absolutely! BUT only God knows the plan for us so we wait on Him to reveal the next phase at the moment we need to know. Last year at this time, we had no trailer as it was in Indiana being repaired and we only had one grandchild. A year later I write about spending a cold, dark winter in Alaska, have two grandchildren and return to the Lower 48 to pick up a new trailer.
By Monday evening in warm Las Vegas, I will look for the snow-covered mountain outside my window where the pine trees sway in the breeze. I will long for this view, the smell of snow and crisp, cold mornings when my hiking boots crunched along the snow path to scrape ice from my windshield. I want to hold onto the memory of snow machine tracks along side the road before they melt into trails of tourists hiking down Bean Creek. I want to feel the little tremors of earthquakes and then check my app for their size and distance. And the Northern Lights? I’m still waiting to see them. Maybe on our midnight flight out of Anchorage. There’s still a tad of time.
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