It’s usually sometime around December that I begin to feel the first stirrings of cabin fever. This is not the sort of cabin fever by which I am being driven batty by living in a confined space, it’s the kind of cabin fever that comes of wishing that I were in a cabin. It’s the beginnings of the itch to be back in Alaska, where there are real cabins, scattered about in the middle of vast wilderness. Usually when January rolls, I’m getting a little sentimental, because the summer is still a long ways off, and I’m starting to really miss the Great North.
One of my jobs in McCarthy is to fetch the mail twice a week. Twice a week the mail plane arrives, a small bush plane (or two) — aka a “puddle jumper,” the kind that seats four, with a propeller on the front — but instead of passengers, the little puddle jumper is filled with all the mail for the summer community of a few hundred souls.
George is the cranky old guy who is in charge of mail at the mail shack. It is my personal opinion that the crankiness is largely an act — well, mostly — because a healthy dose of grumpiness comes in quite handy when pilots screw up or when clueless tourists wander into the mail shack while we are trying to sort the mail. Locals know that George’s bark is worse than his bite, but tourists don’t.
Now that it’s 2018, my sentimentality for returning to Alaska has another outlet. I’ve got a fresh and fancy 2018 Alaskan Weather Calendar hanging my wall next to my two maps of Alaska, one of which is a groovy reprint of the state map from 1909. (More on that in another post.)
At “high noon” the sun will make it only about 3 degrees above the horizon, not acounting for mountains
The weather calendar has great pictures and lots of details about Alaska’s strange and wonderful weather patterns, and it came to me thanks to George. I heard through the grapevine that he had a few of them. (Not sure how he got them or why.) So I asked George for one, in passing, as we were shuffling around together along the plywood floor, in the small mail shack, sorting the letters together with a few other local mail sorters.
In reply to my request I thought I heard a grunt or a grumble, undicipherable to me, and so I kept sorting the mail. The next time I came back to the shack, however, there was a shiny new 2018 Alaskan Weather Calendar with my name on it.
To indulge my sentimentality and give you a little taste of what life is like in January if you live up north near Fairbanks, I’ll leave you with the January script, from the calendar:
The sun breaks over the Alaska Range as it starts its four-hour, seventeen-minute appearance over Fairbanks. At “high noon” the sun will make it only about 3 degrees above the horizon, not acounting for mountains. Yet it is an encouraging improvement of a half-hour duration and one-degree elevation just two weeks past the winter solstice.
With the virtual absence of sun, the ground loses heat rapidly throgh radiation. Air loses heat through radiation much more slowly, but the lowest layer of air cools quickly from ground contact, leaving the air above warmer, hence the common cold season temerature inversion. The inversion bends light rays in complex paths, leading to the fata morgana [see below] mirages seen along the horizon in this photo.
A Fata Morgana is an unusual and complex form of superior mirage that is seen in a narrow band right above the horizon….Fata Morgana mirages significantly distort the object or objects on which they are based, often such that the object is completely unrecognizable. A Fata Morgana may be seen on land or at sea, in polar regions, or in deserts. It may involve almost any kind of distant object, including boats, islands, and the coastline.
Often, a Fata Morgana changes rapidly. The mirage comprises several inverted (upside down) and erect (right side up) images that are stacked on top of one another. Fata Morgana mirages also show alternating compressed and stretched zones. (Wikipedia)