And then there was wind…


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The recent wind storm summoned memories of my childhood in Seward,when a few times each winter, north winds ferociously swept through the small town, rattling our windows and creating mountainous snow drifts. During those spells whenchill factors were well south of zero, I doubt there was a warm house anywhere.

Creating heat for our small, 1,000-square-foot home was an oil stove located in the kitchen, which doubled as a cook stove. The warmth it generated seldom reached the far corners of the house, or the upstairs, where my sister slept. Luckily, my room was located just off the kitchen, and with the bedroom door open, some of that warm air drifted my way.

My sister had a weekly radio program at the local station, KIBH, called “Teen Time Serenade.” To reach the station, she had to walk the equivalent of about nine city blocks, due north—directly into that ravaging wind. On many occasions she walked the entire distance backward, barely able to stand against the shrieking gusts. At that time my parents didn’t have a car.

The wind would polish the snow-packed streets into glare ice, which made it great for thrilling rides in our sleds—no sails required. Sometimes, all we needed to do was stand in the middle of the street with our arms spread out, making ourselves into human sails—vying to see who could stay on their feet the longest as we careened down the street, completely out of control.

As kids we didn’t realize that wind like this caused severe hardships for our parents. My dad, for example, worked on the docks as a longshoreman, High winds accompanied by bitter cold made his already long shift seem even longer, particularly when the docked ships were heaving and jostling at the mercy of the capricious, wind-whipped Resurrection Bay.

My dad usually worked the night shift, and sometimes when I saw him the day after a storm, he looked like one of those guys in the movie news reels who had just come back from Mt. Everest. I would bet that wind-chill factors during those storms were -30 degrees, or colder, and back then we didn’t have the excellent outdoor clothing that’s available today.

I recall a few lines from a poem my father wrote many years ago:

 

“It was the wind again leaping from the peaks,

Sweeping the glacier with sightless fury,

Scouring the crags with vengeful shrieks

And down, down to attack the spruces in a hurry…”

 

My mother was a private piano teacher, and on storm days like this, students

just didn’t make it to their lessons. Snow drifts around our home transformed it into a fortress. As kids we loved it, because as soon as the wind subsided we began digging forts and tunnels in the huge mounds of wind-packed snow. Since it was below freezing and the snow wasn’t right for packing and making snow balls, we cut out small chunks of “ammunition” for our protracted battles. The larger chunks we called “artillery,” which could wreak severe damage on even the strongest of forts.

For our parents and once a week for my sister, struggling to walk to the radio station, such wind storms were an inconvenience—something that made you grit your teeth and push on. I suspect it was the same for those of us in Eagle River and Chugiak on the morning of November 16, Wednesday, when with little sleep, we discovered snow drifts blocking our driveways, or that we no longer had electrical power and that garbage cans were missing.

I took the day off and made sure that nothing from my property went flying into my neighbor’s yard. About mid-point in the day I cranked up the snow blower and attacked the three-foot-high drift across my driveway. Later in the day I got out the shovel and dug out chunks of drifted snow to build a kind of wall on the windward side of the driveway. A few hours later I peered out the window and my windbreak seemed to be working.

As evening progressed I kept looking out the window, feeling strangely drawn to the street, where ghostlike wisps of windblown snow were dashing to and fro, materializing and disappearing under the street light. Reflecting on my boyhood in Seward, all these years later, I wanted to go outside and do something. I wanted to be out there again, playing in it, being a part of it.

I turned away from the window and sought the comfort of the couch, where my Beagle “Parker” was sleeping. The television weather reports talked about the wind and wind chill factors. But they didn’t know the wind like we did when we were kids. I think we knew it better than anyone.

 

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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