Forecast: Winter

DSC_0274It was still dark when I woke. I could hear the surge against piling below so the tide must have been up. Several times during the night the wind had tried to peel off the metal roof, the screeching making it impossible to sleep. Eventually, though, I must have dozed because things were quiet now other than the slap of water against wood.

Days ago the cold had settled in and frozen the surface of the bay. An undulating cover of ice moved sluggishly up and down according to the moon’s pull, an eerie sight in this saltwater world. Everything was muffled; even the birds seemed suspicious of the silence, and the only sound to be heard was the swish and creak of the soft ice bending and breaking on the rocks. Yesterday morning, though, a breeze had begun to blow, increasing in force throughout the day until, by nightfall, gusts were roaring into the bay, the rushing wind a locomotive that smashed into the hillside and mountains beyond, creating a cauldron of salty slush that clumped up on the rocks and boulders until everything on the beach was covered in a thick, briny rime, a blanket of slickness covering the jagged beach underneath. Now I could hear water; it must be warmer.

Under the bed, the dog stirred and I heard a bony part hit the wooden floor. She heaved a big sigh and settled into a new position of comfort. I reached down and a tail thumped, then silence again. I could feel the air was cold and knew the fire had gone out so I laid there, savoring both the darkness and the nightlong warmth of the bed, until the dog groaned and stretched. Straightening one leg, then the other I followed suit, then pushed off the covers and stood, barefoot, on the wooden floor that held no hint of heat leftover from last night’s fire banked in the woodstove. With a shiver, I grabbed the heavy flannel shirt from the arm of the chair and walked into the kitchen.

The old propane refrigerator rattled as I pulled the handle. Every morning it was the same thing: check to be sure it still worked. It did, and I closed the door and reached for my mug. It was a faded salmon-rose color, a slender handle fitted into the full height of it, the imprint of a building the only barely discernible decoration. I liked the weight of it, the way it fit my hand and held just enough that by the time I got to the bottom whatever I had been drinking was still warm. Here I found a slipper, kicked in the night to skitter into the kitchen. I slipped a foot inside and went looking for the mate, which lay under the rocker by the stove. Reaching out, I felt the metal side and was grateful for the residual warmth. I tugged open the door to find a good bed of coals. In went the kindling along with half a dozen thicker pieces of dry wood, and fire sprang to life. Pushing the door almost shut, I sat down in the rocker to watch it blaze up, hoping there was at least cup of coffee left in the pot to rewarm before I would have to brew a fresh batch. Five minutes later, one lone perk bubbled up and I poured what was left of the strong, dark liquid into my cup and drank.

Before long, the room was warm, and darkness began to fade. Inky blackness gave way to an impenetrable gray, then shapes, and a quickening sky silhouetted mountains on the other side of the bay. By the time the fresh pot was perking, I could see down to the water where the tide and surge had nearly cleaned the beach of yesterday’s ice shroud. The big wind was gone, leaving behind straggling gusts to rattle remaining snow from the branches of spruce and hemlock. A lone eagle has perched atop a dock piling, surveying what the night’s windstorm had shaken out of place. Standing at the window, the marine forecast for inside waters was a familiar one this time of year – northwest winds 15 knots shifting to southeast late; gusts to 35 knots near ocean entrances; seas 3 feet except 5 feet near ocean entrances – nothing to get excited about. In the winter you could expect heavy weather at night letting up during the day, and today was beginning to look like it might return to normal. As long as everything holds together and I have heat, I don’t mind if things get carried away – but I only say that because it’s been worse.


2 thoughts on “Forecast: Winter

  1. Oooo- makes me shiver just reading about it. I think that being on the water can be a colder experience than some days in the interior, though I can’t say for sure because I’ve never been in the interior in the winter. I just know the damp chill that can creep in and if you’re out working around the water it seems like somehow, you always end up getting some part of you wet. is the picture from Chatham area? It almost looks like the outside coast- Hocktaheen on a calm day. You’re tough as nails gal. I happen to like my Toyostove. With a torn rotator cuff in my left arm I’m afraid my wood chopping days are over. So far it hasn’t kept me from landing Kings though! I assume this is from the book you’re working on. What is the status of that? Is it for sell yet? Let me know.

    • This particular photograph was taken on Chatham, yes. I agree with your assessment of cold; this up here at -40 is less uncomfortable than any November wet, blowy day on the water. Yesterday’s snowstorm, however, dumped the heavy, wet stuff I’m so familiar with; one shovelful could have weighed 30 lbs. Glorious blue overhead and still air bring today in line with the typical winter wx of Interior – and I’m very glad I got snowblower duty out of the way yesterday, despite it’s being the dense stuff of southeast. The give and take, one extreme or the other, makes Alaska the complete State for me. Even though I’ve been here all my life, there’s more to experience than anywhere else in the Union. I have no desire to be elsewhere. See you in the spring!

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