“The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around…”
Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Ed. Note: By the time this is published, conditions in and around Eagle River could have improved. But during the last part of November and early December, ubiquitous ice was annoying many residents, especially those who had taken serious falls, those sidelined from outdoor recreation, or people like the author, who just likes to complain.
These days you hear people at the post office and grocery store: “I hate this! No skiing or snowshoeing. No fat-tire biking. It’s dangerous just to walk on my driveway. I would take Fairbanks’ cold or Ketchikan’s rain over this!”
Actually, I lied. I haven’t encountered anyone who said this except me. This tenacious advance of ice has finally gotten to me. According to The Alaska Almanac by Nancy Gates, ice covers about three percent of Alaska’s landmass.
But with recent weeks of rain-freeze-thaw-rain caused by a stationary jet stream bringing warm air from farther south in the Pacific, I estimate that ice now covers about 3.4 percent of the state. It cakes our driveways, it’s on our roads, it covers our parking lots and glazes our trails.
It’s as if 500 people got on Zamboni machines and drove around in the cover of darkness and fiendishly coated every space they could find with ice!
Rain that shouldn’t be falling at this time of the year turns to ice on contact with the ground. Even though the ambient air temperature is above freezing, the ground (which is inefficient in retaining heat) often remains below freezing—thus the term “freezing rain.”
The act of walking on glare ice becomes a death-defying feat rivaling the high-wire exploits of the Wallenda family. We develop new motor skills to create what some have called “The Alaska Shuffle.” It involves not picking up the feet, but carefully sliding them forward in small, rhythmic movements. (Younger readers won’t remember this, but a sketch on the old Carol Burnett television show portrayed actor Tim Conway as a very old man shuffling across a room in true Alaska Shuffle form).
Veteran Alaskans, of course, are equipped with cleats that attach to their shoes. But taking them off before entering stores and other buildings and then putting them back on before for the expedition to their car can be quite a hassle. During local glaciation periods that occur in southcentral Alaska every few years (instead of the big ones that come in the thousands of years) some people elect to stay in their homes and order everything online, including food. They figure that not always receiving what they expect by delivery is better than venturing out and risking bone-splintering falls on slippery ice.
I abhor weather keeping me inside. When there is no snow, I drive north until I find it—sometimes as much as 200 miles. Instead of seeking higher latitudes, one can also find snow at higher elevations such as Hatcher Pass or Turnagain Pass. Avalanche danger has been high in those areas, however, so I opt to just drive, and drive some more.
Desperate measures: I’ll be honest. A snowless winter with only ice makes me angry, even desperate.
I start thinking radically, like somehow acquiring a U.S. Army M2 Flamethrower and going crazy on the streets. I start thinking about jack hammers and other large tools that are neither legal nor easily obtained. Finally, I shrug my shoulders and admit defeat. I suggest moving.
“Where would we go?” My tolerant wife asks.
“I don’t know. I believe that during winter it stays cold and snowy in Siberia.”
“Maybe, but I’m not sure their cable television is very good,” she observes coyly.
I know of only one person who complains about the weather more than me. He is a friend who has collected weather data for the National Weather Service on Anchorage’s Hillside for about 30 years. With an intimate knowledge of weather trends going back decades, perhaps he is too close to it. He knows too much. He raves about his visits to Colorado in winter–the powdery snow and great cross-country skiing.
“So why don’t you move?” I ask him.
“Because I like Alaska’s Summers and Falls,” he replies meekly.
In truth, we sacrifice quite a bit so we can live in a place that has unsurpassed beauty, excellent fishing, friendly people, a PFD check and unlimited space to roam. We buck up and endure these windy and wet winter “Chinooks,” even though they seem to visit us more frequently. Climate change?
Two months ago, I bought stock in an Ice Melt chemical company and with the millions I’ve made, am buying a winter home in the Fiji Islands.
I lied again. I’m not nearly smart enough to do anything like that. Instead, I buy more cleats for my shoes and better studded tires for my car. I sharpen my ice chipper and buy more and more Ice Melt for the driveway, which eventually leaches onto my lawn and kills the grass. I watch YouTube videos of people gloriously recreating in white, puffy snow. I refine my version of the Alaska Shuffle.
But mostly, I complain.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer and ECHO News team member who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired Birchwood ABC school teacher. To reach Frank, email: firstname.lastname@example.org