Mid-winter Chinook disdained by outdoor enthusiasts

Wednesday, January 9, 2013 - 19:00

“The ice was here, the ice was there, the ice was all around…”

— From the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Coleridge


Back when it was cold and our snow had a lovely fluffiness, I recall people bemoaning winter’s frigid grip and wishing for warmer weather. Their wish was granted at the end of 2012. And now, moving into 2013, our ground is covered by an endless sea of ice — smooth, glare ice; ice covered with water, ice covered with sand, gravel and kitty litter. We’ve been glaciated.

My dark side tells me to construct voodoo dolls representing those who wished for this warmer weather, and to poke holes in them with miniature ice chippers. But my more positive side prompts me to do something constructive: acquire a U.S. Army M2-2 Flamethrower to do some serious ice thawing.

With military-style assault weapons so easy to acquire, it would seem that getting my hands on a flamethrower wouldn’t be that much of a problem. Mounted on the front of my truck, I could melt three-inch-thick ice on the street on a drive through our subdivision which, by the way, didn’t receive enough sand to fill a cat litter box until after New Year’s Day.

I’d thought that with all the money the Municipality of Anchorage was saving because of our lack of snow, the sanding trucks would be out in force. Guess they’re saving the budget for upcoming snow storms — whoever has that weather crystal ball.

With a flamethrower, I could offer my melting services to folks who have huge glaciations due to ground saturation following September 2012 rains. Too bad I didn’t have it on New Year’s Eve, when Eagle River Valley was lit up with enough illegal fireworks to make one think they were still legal. A few aerial blasts from the M2-2 Flamethrower would have certainly impressed my neighbors. Perhaps not so for the two police officers who live a few doors down.

The ice creep: No, I’m not talking here about an obnoxious person who’s out melting ice with a flamethrower or shooting off fireworks 20 feet from my bedroom window. I’m referring to the unique way one has to walk on ice — called the “ice shuffle.” One doesn’t lift the feet, moves with small sliding motions and is careful not to put too much weight on the heels. It’s akin to “walking like a duck.” Some professional ballet dancers never achieve the sheer physical grace of Alaska’s veteran ice-shufflers.

If you’d like to walk a bit more normally on ice without risking a visit to the hospital Emergency Room, outfit your shoes with grippers, spikes, coils, Kahoola spikes, crampons, lag screws — anything you can find around the garage. I have a friend on the island of Kauai who has 1/4-inch spikes built right into her shoes that provide traction on slippery, muddy trails. Not a bad idea for ice. Knee and elbow pads aren’t a bad idea either.

Even dogs, which have a form of positraction with their four feet and claws, are having a tough time in this slippery world. My beagle “Parker” pesters me continuously to go outside for a walk, than careens around on the ice with feet flailing in all directions. But it doesn’t deter him from wanting to go. Maybe in some devious, diabolical way he wants to see how I slip and slide.

Generally, when I don’t like the weather in southcentral Alaska I drive north like a crazed madman until I find weather I like. Not so during the last week of December 2012 and first week of January 2013. The weather in Cantwell, 160 miles to the north at the edge of Denali National Park, was the same as it is here. Perhaps one could find winter at Prudhoe Bay, or Greenland.

We all know that eventually the snow will come and cover up most of this icy mess. Then we’ll be able to go back to skiing and snowboarding and snowshoeing and all those things we’re supposed to be able to do during our long winter season. Maybe we’ll be able to walk down our driveways without fear of compound fractures.

There is a “sweet spot” in our winter weather that I wish would last longer than a couple of weeks. It’s a foot or two of fluffy snow, temperatures between 10-25 degrees Fahrenheit, and partly-cloudy to sunny skies. Wouldn’t that be nice?

While people are planning out the New Year, making goals and objectives and resolutions, I am dreaming about that meteorological sweet spot. I don’t really think I’d want to own a flamethrower. Besides, with the jackhammer in my garage, there wouldn’t be enough room.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank: [email protected].

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