The Wright Choice

northern exposures

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We departed Fort Yukon on Saturday at 3:30 pm on Wright Air, headed for Fairbanks. There are 3 carriers out of the Fort and Wright’s is the only one we will fly. Their Grand Caravans are reliable even in extreme cold and so are their pilots.

Saturday’s pilot warned us that by the time we passed Birch Creek, about 30 miles south, we wouldn’t be seeing much. That was an understatement! Thirty seconds beyond the Yukon it was a white out, so I leaned against the window and fell asleep. At some point I awoke and saw this unknown creek cutting across the landscape below me, so I snapped a quick picture of it just as the snow clouds closed in again.

That was the last thing we saw until the runway lights guided us onto the East Ramp in Fairbanks. The flight normally takes 55 minutes; strong headwinds and zero visibility added another 25 to ours and you should have heard the moaning about that!

Our flight may have been slow, but one of the other planes carrying teachers to Fairbanks lost engine power briefly and began descending over the mountains. I heard there were some screams on that one! The problem apparently had to do with a vapor lock or something as the pilot switched fuel tanks. They landed okay. By the way, that wasn’t one of Wright Air’s planes.

And now you know which airline is the Wright Choice!

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Shopping For Valentine

northern exposures

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Just a week ago we were still in the embrace of a long & bitter cold spell. We had experienced 40 to 50 below for thirteen days out of sixteen when the forecaster called for -2˚F the next day. It turned out to be -3˚. Pretty good guess – good enough to save the weatherman the one way trip to Siberia that some of us were planning for him.

It is Valentine’s Day today. What do you do for your girl in a place with one general store and the only other form of entertainment is checking your mailbox at the post office? I opted to shop at the store.

The extension cords for keeping your car warm look nice, but we don’t have a car anymore – gave it away to a friend who needed it more. Wait, maybe a paperback romance! No, their space on the little revolving wire rack has been filled with chips. Surely there’s something here that will make Lindsay feel special…

They have needles and thread. Come on Dave, you can do better than this.

Canning jars? Momma said never give work disguised as a gift.

Hey, what’s this? N-e-t-i P-o-t. What the #@&* is that?

Isn’t there some perfume here somewhere, or some bath powder? Girls love bath powder, don’t they? Haha – here??? Not within 150 miles! There’s bar soap. Yeah, Valentine will implode if I give her a bar of Ivory.

Look at all those little Valentine heart candies on the shelf! Too bad we already ate a trillion of those at school yesterday.

Hey, ice cream, they have ice cream! Oh, but all of it melted (I mean it totally liquified) earlier this week when the store freezer went kaput. That’ll taste like disappointment.

Look, there’s still some chocolate on the shelf! Oh, thank heaven for chocolate! One Almond Snickers, one single serving package of Oreos, one Fig Newton bar.

One very grateful and contented girlfriend! I am so lucky!

11 of 15

northern exposures

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Forty nine below. Again! That makes 11 of 15 days that we have been in the forty’s or fifty’s. Most of the planes have stopped. Morning church services are cancelled. Haven’t heard a snow-go all morning, or a car for that matter.

It’s so cold, even the ravens are off shivering somewhere. At thirty below, their fly-bys outside our living room window are so frequent that I sometimes think of naming my backyard “Raven Alley”. Maybe I’ll post a sign out there and make it official. But I haven’t seen them lately.

I think we are ready to run our weather forecaster out of the country. I hear Siberia is nice this time of year. He says it is supposed to warm up this week, though, so I’m giving him one last chance. It’s 10 below by Friday or else!

Shaking Hands At Forty Below

northern exposures

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Today is a really cold day, as most have been recently. It began at -50˚F.

The temperature has fallen below the -40˚ mark ten days out of the past fourteen, all the way down to -50˚F on six of those.

We’ve weathered colder temperatures for two or three days at a time but I don’t remember such a prolonged period of cold during our lifetime here.

No long walks right now. Breathing comes hard and stabs like needles. Super-chilled air shrinks the skin on contact. One of my students came to school with frostbite on his face last week.

Forty below is the magic mark when Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius finally shake hands and agree upon something. But only for a moment. By the time Gabriel is declaring the temperature to be -50˚, Anders is arguing that it is only -45˚.

So how do we combat the bitter cold? We curl up with popcorn and a good movie. Today’s feature? Charade, starring the impeccable Cary Grant and the adorable Audrey Hepburn.

Stay warm!

Tell Me a Story

northern exposures, Reflections

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Once, Fort Yukon boasted a hospital, hotels and stores; they are all gone now. But we do have abandoned cabins, lots of them. I like old things. I must get that from Dad. Old homesteads intrigued him, and he would always muse, “I wonder what stories those walls could tell?”

This winter there seems to be no end to the rosy hues the sun casts over our village. You can see it in the pictures above. I’m an almost die-hard realist when it comes to my photography and usually take a less-is-more approach to editing, especially when it comes to color and contrast. I tend to fudge more on brightness levels.

Dad was a realist with his photography, too. He often told me so. I’ll never forget the time he was walking around an old abandoned homestead when he found a patch of lantana, a pretty flowering plant native to much of Texas. He took a few pictures of it, but this twig from some tree was right in the middle of his composition. It really bothered him, so he reached in there, removed it, and took his last and best picture of that plant. A few days later, that hand broke out in the most awful, itchy rash. We looked at the picture together and I started to laugh. Not only was there a twig messing up his composition, there was poison ivy in it, too, only he hadn’t recognized it. “I’ll never mess with a picture again,” said Dad. That one never made his favorites list.

Two Old Men

northern exposures

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There he goes, rolling along the horizon, studiously reluctant to climb the heavens. Old Sol’s a bit shy this time of year, probably embarrassed to have been bested by Old Man Winter. A pale blue light, sometimes faintly dusted in rose, is about all Sol can muster. But everyday he peers a little higher over the willow banks and holds his wink a little longer, and someday he will send his “forever foe” packing.

Yesterday afternoon the temperature hovered around -10 ˚F; pretty nice, so I layered up and headed down to the river in search of something to photograph. Where are all the wildlife this year? I saw no rabbits, no ptarmigans, no tracks of any kind, apart from those of a few ravens and stray dogs.

People have been out on the Yukon – I could see where they had cut trail with their snow-gos. But I could see open stretches of water, too – some dark & forboding (“I’m deep and swift and can swallow you whole!”), others catching feeble rays from the sun – daring me to risk the ice. No thanks! I followed the shoreline and finally turned homeward.

A pleasant outing, but my efforts earned me more chilly toes and fingers than good photographs. It seemed colder on my return. Sure enough! Within hours the temperature plummeted to -44 ˚F. It’s still in the 40’s, in fact. Finally, it feels like winter around here!

Darkness of Another Kind

life in a village
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the Yukon River in winter – sun at zenith

Nine days to winter solstice. Six hours of half light, eighteen of darkness. Snow fell through the night lightly, and continues even now. Temperatures hover around 0 ˚F (-18 ˚C). One year ago today the mercury fell to -52 ˚F, so we consider ourselves blessed by this comparably warm winter.

The whole village has been on electrical short rations since Wednesday night. The situation is expected to be fixed by tomorrow. Of course, if the situation worsens, we may experience darkness of another kind – pitch black.

In the meantime, city and tribal offices are closed. The post office and clinic are closed. The gasoline station and the AC, our only store, are opened for only several hours a day in alternating shifts. Runway lights at the airport have been turned off so planes can only land for  a few hours around noon. And our school is closed.

Hooray for five day weekends – life is so exciting!

Of Woolen Blankets and Hot Creamy Cocoa

northern exposures

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Today, gusty winds whip through the spruce woods surrounding our cabin. The upper boughs bend to and fro and even the lower branches sometimes shudder.

I don’t mind the cold. I like it, actually. But I don’t enjoy blustery, winter winds. And while they aren’t very common here on the Flats, today they have intruded upon our world with their intemperate bites and blows. Still, I am grateful for days like these.

Because blustery, winter winds make woolen blanket cozier and hot cocoa creamier.