Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It's 36º today in Valdez.  ABOVE freezing.

The temp in Valier today (if you include the night as part of the 24 hours) is teetering back and forth between cold 2º fahrenheit and extremely cold -15º.  This will persist for another three days.  The sky is low milk-glass, sifting snow now and then.  Last year this first tongue of polar air came licking down in the first week of December, so it’s early this year but not unfamiliar.   Yet I am never prepared.

In this weather safety and comfort depend upon a lot of small maintenances and observations.  My pickiup won’t start if it’s below ten degrees fahrenheit unless I plug it in for an hour or so.  The windshield will be very hard to scrape if the cold has followed warm weather and then rain which turns to ice and then snow.  Running the motor long enough to melt it off will use up expensive fuel.  

Such an expense doesn’t amount to much for the households with major incomes so in the morning there’s a two-step wave: pickups starting (esp. the big diesel ones) and then a half-hour or so later the actual revving and leaving for work.  Sometimes one sees wives dart out to start the engines for their husbands.  Younger wives wear sweats to bed anyway, so they just throw on a jacket.  Probably the husband is in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt in a house much warmer than mine and full of the swirl of little kids and dogs and pounding music.  

"Old Charlie" froze to death in 1898.  
They took one last photo.

Even the high school students -- the ones with no cars -- will beg for a ride when it’s so cold and the outlying ranch-serving school buses will be carefully maintained and driven, even though these days they are all in communication via radios and so are the kids with their cell phones.  (Kids monitor and critique everything these days.)  Where there’s wireless support, they can do homework (well, the nerds can) on tablets.  Electronics are like automobiles: you need the road. 

The two aging indoor cats demand to go outside, take one whiff of the cold, and back away.  They eat a little more than usual and a little more often.  Smudge, the feral cat, seemed to be missing -- no tracks in the snow except for the plowing of the rambunctious pup from next door and its equally vigorous mother -- but I put her catfood out in the back building anyway so I could close the door and it was mostly gone this morning when I took out breakfast.  I could hear her but not see her until finally her head popped up from the midst of the yard-high tangled pile of windfall branches I keep in case I have to rely on wood heat.  There's a cat hole so she can get in and out of "her" building.

Through the piped natural gas supply lines the town must be sucking fuel about as fast as it can travel.  Someone must regulate or at least monitor that -- there’s some kind of building a couple of miles out of town. (I assume because then if it blew up, it wouldn’t take the town with it, the same as the transformers -- which are basically electrical bombs -- are always located away from town if possible.)  In summer the doors of that little building stand open, I assume to let any leaks escape harmlessly.

Today there’s a tiny bit of a breeze to bend the smoke over.  Some people here rely on pellet stoves, which will feed wood automatically, and a few enjoy wood heat esp in the evening, but a fireplace in this country will suck heat out rather than warming the room.  I’m wondering whether I should have invested in a new “tower” infrared heater, now that the prices have come down, but they’ll come down more after Christmas and there will probably be long milder stretches after this. 

These early intrusions of cold air haven’t been around for a few decades -- forty years, say the weather people.  Forty years ago we were just discovering snowmobiles, but they weren’t perfected yet so you couldn’t go out of town unless traveling as a group.  Hopefully one of the drivers would be a decent mechanic.  Our little dog slept on top of the seat.  Otherwise, the sponge rubber was like a cement block.

Snow motorcycle

The most life-threatening situations of my life have been cold-weather related, starting with my family in the Fifties crossing the Dunsmuir Pass one Christmas trip, equally endangered by 18-wheelers jack-knifing and the fragility of the ancient chains on our wheels that broke and flailed the wheel-wells with nerve-fraying rhythm.  Circuit-riding was always risky because it had to happen regularly -- if I canceled, people would stop coming.  But once on the way to do a one-off pulpit supply in Washington State, I ran into weather so bad that I holed up in a low-rate motel for three days, dozing in front of Ted Turner’s TV reruns of Fifties Westerns.  

Here and now I live in an old house because it is cheap and in the center of town because it was built when the town was centered here -- the new, nice, expensive houses are three times as far away but the occupants can all afford dependable transportation.  I’m only a couple of blocks from the post office and the grocery store.  The Senior Citizen lunch program will deliver meals and the library will deliver books.   

People on this street have turned over at least once since I moved here fifteen years ago because they were old and either died or went to protected care.  Until that happens, people watch each other.  If I died, they would notice, probably because the cats would go to their houses to beg for food, or because the newspaper would stop being taken in.  A broken leg might be a little trickier if I couldn’t crawl to the phone.  Maybe the answer is a cell phone but it wouldn’t call emergency.

Why I live in a one-story house.

I skipped the town meeting last night because it was so cold, but also because last week I threw the rock of delinquent tax liens into the frogpond and they might have needed to talk about it without my opinion.  I am finding them defensive: they will need to demonize and stigmatize anyone who is delinquent.  (I’m paid up now.)

The game animals, the ones to eat, not just supplying trophy heads, have been up in the mountains too high to track conveniently.  This storm should push them down, but the bears haven’t had enough to eat yet.  Inevitably, there will be misadventures, partly from danger but more often from human stupidity of guys who over-reach their experience and skill.  Those aren’t usually the ones who eat what they kill, so they’re not as honorable as bears.

How we love the adventure stories about those with the skill, comrades and general vitality to survive dangerous stuff!  It’s Veteran’s Day but PBS is not playing mournful music, but rather telling the stories of survivors and heroes.  (First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit" by Patrick K. O'Donnell)   The town of Butte is in a tizzy over the hometown SEAL who claims he shot Osama bin Laden.  Another SEAL claims the same thing.  These guys come with ego, as though it were a survival belt knife.  But then, we’re talking about Butte, where now the whole town claims they killed Bin Laden.  It makes them feel warmer.

Several times through the day I could hear airplanes at our little airport.  I suppose that in this weather it's safer than driving on the highways.

1 comment:

JHD said...

There's enough hot air in Butte to warm the entire hi-line