polar vortexes

by Rian

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These days all we talk about is the weather. Last week it was colder at my friends wonderful goat farm in Virginia than it was here in the Yukon.  The rest of Canada and parts of the US were comparing their weather to conditions on Mars.  I can’t hear the words “polar vortex” without picturing a whirlpool of polar bears (am I the only one?).

But, here in the Yukon, things were a balmy balmy and beautiful with the mercury hanging out around -10. After weeks of -30 or colder, long, long walks and relatively summery wear (only one pair of long underwear!) was a welcome treat.

Sometimes I feel like an old man on the porch, speculating about clouds. Will it get colder? Will it warm up? When will it snow again? We check meteorological predictions against the hairs on the backs of our necks. There is, of course, no way to know what tomorrow will bring. But when your everyday activities are  controlled and affected by the temperature, what else would you think about?

When it is 40 below wood splits like butter. Your truck needs to be plugged in to start, and needs to run for at least 15 minutes before you can shift gears or easily turn the steering wheel. The skies are clear and bright above the ice fog in the river valley bottom, and the wood smoke that hangs in one dusky layer above cabins, unable to rise through the frozen sky above. Sometimes, the cold temperatures inexplicably make the rivers burst over the ice. Warm temperatures do the same. The overflow freezes your snowmobile track, leadens your snowshoes, and coats your dog’s paws. It can be an incredibly unpleasant surprise.

If you have wood heat, your day revolves around the fire. I once lived in a small cabin with an incredible homemade barrel stove. It did not look like much, but that brilliant beast could hold a fire for 26 hours before my cabin would start to chill, the dogs water freezing solid in the bowl. I spent my first winter off grid courting my stove, burning fires too hot and to fast before I figured out how to shut it down to last a night. It is still a thrill to wake up and find a stove bottom filled with coals and embers.

People often ask what we do here in the winter, what you can do when it is -40. You can do most things, with a little extra effort. But best of all, you have a legitimate reason to sit at home beside the stove, read, knit, draw, contemplate your own toes, write, listen to the radio, learn to play an instrument. The best part of living in the bushes, in the cold, and the often dark, are the many opportunities to stop and sit and be still.

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