Well, the weather outside is … two inches and still coming down at my house. The son showed up with his two-year-old. I picked up some snow and threw it at the little guy. He handed Dad his piece of pizza, and started firing snowballs back at me. A ferocious battle ensued, which I lost, I believe because my antagonist was closer to the ground and therefore better able to quickly grab, pack and fire his snowy spheres.
I’ve lived in Alaska only a couple years, so I’m not, of course, a real Alaskan Sourdough. I was on Naval Station Adak, about halfway out the Aleutian Chain. The Navy shared the island with a Coast Guard station and a Naval Communications Station and another facility that if I remembered what it was called I’d have to kill myself.
The Aleutians are a divider between the Bering Sea and the Japanese current, the latter which, on its way northward, is bent to the east and back down the coast of Alaska and the western U.S. The collision between the warm northward current and the cold of the Bering made the weather constantly change. I think it was there that the saying was invented: If you don’t like the weather, wait a few hours and it will change. Average temperature for the year was about 60 in summer and 30 in winter. Snow wasn’t often or deep, but when it came down, those at work stayed at work, and those at home got the day off.
Our kids spent their pre-school years learning about such pastimes as halibut skinning, in which a 200-pound flatfish was, of necessity, shot dead before being winched into an 18-foot runabout and hauled, eventually, to the garage floor. The year we left Adak, our son started school in Maine, where a teacher refused to believe any fish caught by human hands would be large enough to require a bullet to make him ready to be taken home.
Adak had two seasons – Winter (when a day was about 20 minutes long) and not-Winter (when it was significantly longer). Maine, where I was raised, had Winter, Maple syrup Season, Mud Season, July 4th, Leaf Peeping Season and Hunting Season. We would go on a long walk a day before Christmas, equipped with an axe and a kid-size buck saw (also called a “bow saw”). To get one the proper shape, one typically cut down a tree way to huge, then trimmed it top and bottom so it fit in the stand without requiring a hole cut in the roof.
It was a bit of work, finding and cutting the tree, then taking turns dragging it home. One might have thought, since we lived pretty far into the woods, a tree could be found close to the house, but it looked way better after being dragged a half mile or more. And aroma it gave to the home was worth the effort, surpassed only slightly by the turkey and pies that festooned the dining room table.
The tree was left au naturel until we had returned home from Midnight Mass, and we kids tucked in to await the big guy’s arrival. Or departure. Santa arrived and dressed the tree with multi-colored strings of miniature lights wired so that if one bulb expired, the entire string died. Icicles were strips of shiny lead-based metal that reflected the lights about the room. And at the top was a star, similar to the one in the movie, “A Christmas Story.” The star from our family tree of my youth now adorns the family tree of my elder years.
Dad and Mom would go to bed to await the Jolly Fat Guy’s arrival. The trouble was, they’d go to sleep, and by the time the reindeer’s hoof-clops on the roof awoke Dad, the old fellow was done with his task. We three youngsters — my sister, brother and me, in reverse seniority, awoke to Dad calling after the old fellow to Wait! Come back! My children want to meet you!
We’d hear the bells jingling off into the New England sky, but we never saw the man himself.
Years later, I had the privilege of talking with S. Claus while in the Navy, flying ice patrols over the North Pole. I was outdoors one day after returning home from the deployment, when Grandma called me. My cousin, maybe 8 or 10 at the time, was crying because her older brother was insisting there was no Santa Claus. Not so, said I, the illustrious world traveler. There was, indeed, a Santa Claus and I had talked with him on a radio. Wendy was right, as her brother Steven would learn Christmas morning.
Now, winter is outside the window, trees sketched in charcoal against a moonlit overcast. A blanket of white lies across the fields, insulating the new flora that will decorate the ensuing seasons. Even the air seems comfortable and safe, belying the tale told by a thermometer hanging from a post on the back patio.
It’s like the Earth presses the Reset button.
Photo by DJ SINGH
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