Wilder by Far

A look at life with the Wilder family. Updated most weekends and some vacation days. You can contact me at movingnorth@gmail.com..

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Location: United States

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

"They think they're so high and mighty, just because they never got caught driving without pants." - Moe, The Simpsons

The Road Often Taken, by Robert "The Blonde Assassin" Frost

Driving in Alaska is riskier than wearing pork chop underwear in a room filled with terriers.

That'’s because, well, it'’s Alaska.

Only at the beginning and end of the winter are the roads especially slippery. Thati’s because when the temperature plunges below zero, the freeze, thaw, freeze that makes the road slicker than a Clinton selling used cars: "I did not have sex . . . in that back seat."”

I think people in most other locations have it worse when it comes to slick roads. The frozen snowpack up here actually does pretty well for traction, if you have a decent set of tires on your vehicle. Since it doesn'’t thaw, it doesn'’t get as slick. Nice.

What makes it a more treacherous than that sleazy little guy who won freshman class president at your high school is the defining factor of Alaska: the cold. The cold makes it more likely your vehicle will cease to function in the manner that you wish it to, namely, start running or keep running. Case in point, this morning.

I get up to go to work. A normal workday. I hadn'’t driven the car in several days. That's a good thing, since my car uses more gas than India. My car also uses electricity continually, through the anti-theft system and through the remote starter system. As I mentioned before, I park it outside. Given the recent intense low temperatures (-40F) at my place, the electrical systems drained the battery drier than a horsehide flagon of fermented mare's milk in Genghis Khan'’s summer house. And that'’s dry. You know how those Khan kids go after the mare's milk on their Frankenberry'’s.

So, I turn the key, and the clickety-click sound tells me that it's time to go buy the charger that will charge my battery whenever I have my block heater plugged in. That's just one example of the way the cold contributes to a myriad of auto failures, since Detroit rarely gets to -–55F and things are different when it'’s cold.

Not only will this charger charge my car, but also, according to the legend, my jet-ski. Which is great, except that I don't have a jet-ski. Maybe the instruction manual will clarify if one comes with the charger.

This begs the question: If your car won't start or stops running, what then?

This is a very real and very dangerous situation that faces people in Alaska throughout the winter. The first answer is: don'’t be stupid. When I say, "Don'’t be stupid,"” I don'’t mean, "“Don'’t be stupid and date that tramp Britney Spears,"” I mean "“Don'’t be stupid and blow dry your hair while you'’re in the shower."”

The first step starts with clothing. You have to know how far you're away from people. Doesn'’t matter if you know the people, they just have to be human beings. If you're in Alaska, and it'’s -55F out, they'’ll help. I guarantee it. So, if you'’re going to be two miles from the nearest person during your trip, well, dress for that twenty minute hike. If it's 10 miles, think harder. If it's more than that, pack for survival.

That starts with shoes,– good ones, and ones that will keep the snow off of your ankles. If you'’ve gone seriously back country (which, with The New Boy around we don'’t), well, snowshoes or Nordic skis might also be appropriate. I've got a pair of boots rated for, seriously, -100F. Normally, it'’s not that cold around the house unless I'’ve forgotten an anniversary.

A good coat is nice, and layers are better. One of the most dangerous things in the winter is sweat - it cools you in the summer, but it will cause many fabrics (cotton especially) to lose any insulating ability whatsoever. Don'’t know about you, but running around in soaking wet clothing at -40F seems more dangerous than being a Twinkie at Roseanne Barr'’s house.

We mainly travel with a sleeping bag or two in the car when we're just out and about around traveled areas, it shouldn'’t be long until someone comes by. When we've gone to Anchorage in the winter, well, we'’ve packed more for an expedition, with insulated coveralls and more extreme weather clothing and rudimentary survival gear. I'm not talking Everest-caliber stuff, but something that would let us live and keep most of our favorite toes (I like the littlest piggies best, you know, the ones that go wee-wee-wee allthewayhome).

The Mrs. wants me to get a locater beacon for my backcountry wanderings next year, and that makes sense. They don'’t cost all that much, they don't weigh all that much, and if you pull the pin, folks with hot soup and multi-million dollar helicopters can pull you and your broken leg out of a bad spot. I still think that my insurance is worth way more than me, but, she's got a soft spot in her heart. If I get one, that goes in the car with us when we do a long winter trip. By the way, don't count on cell phones - Alaska's cell coverage is less coverage than the typical Speedo covered guy on a European beach has.

Here'’s the real deal. Alaskans have been living in a harsh and dangerous climate for as long as people have been in Alaska. That, incidentally, is far longer than FEMA has existed, and much longer than FEMA has been useful for anything more than spending money by shoving it out of helicopter windows so people can burn it and warm themselves in the glow of hundred dollar bills.

The paradox is that most people in Alaska understand the dangers they face and act responsibly and accordingly as if no one can help them, yet I have never seen a place where people are as selfless and generous as Alaskans are. I'’ve mentioned before that if you see a car by or off the road in winter, well, it'’s hard to be the first one to stop to help. I should know, since I'’ve now had to resort to running old ladies driving Buicks off the wintry snow packed roads so I can get there first to help.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"Well, it was the Ice Capades and I was hot riveting my knee caps to Peggy Fleming's zamboni..."-Dr. Forrester, MST3K

No, your beer won't get warm in my garage if we're out working.

Alaska and cold. You think about Alaska, you think about how cold it is. Fairbanks has a climate that is unparalleled in the world. As a city, it has the largest low-high temperature range of any place on the planet, officially classifying the climate as "manic-depressive." The lowest recorded there is -65F, and the highest is 99F. If you do your math, that would make the average temperature here 17F. That seems about right.

But it does get cold. I've tossed a couple of pictures up that I took in the garage, showing just how cold it gets there. My garage is colder than your freezer, and my Dad can beat up your Dad, too. One nice thing about the garage being so cold, though, is that I can lick The New Boy's back and just stick him to any metal surface in the garage so he won't get into trouble. Okay, I really don't do that, since The Mrs. would take a baseball bat upside my favorite noggin if I did, but to me it's a great image - babies being stuck on the wall.

One thing that surprised me when we moved up here was the sheer number of people without garages. The Mrs. keeps her vehicle in the garage, but mainly that's because she is the one most often transporting (okay, almost always) The New Boy. It's good for her to walk into a warm car with her precious cargo and not have him stick to the seat like I stick him to the wall think about sticking him to the wall.

As for me, my vehicle is parked outside. There is just too much crap in the other garage stall for me to get my car in there. I would say that I'd have it cleaned out soon, but I know me too well. Major League Baseball will be steroid-free before I get to that one. You'd think another solution would be to obtain additional storage spce for my crap. No. Garage boxes multiply faster than bad poetry and hearts on a lovesick girl's spiral notebook. And that's fast.

Parking outside, though, is better than it sounds.

This is after I added the weatherstripping . . .

When I walk out to my car on a cold day, I can look up at the stars, and see the majesty of all things astronomical on some mornings. The car engine block has been preheating, so it's ready for me to put the pizza in, if you know what I mean (wink wink), when I get inside. There's a stillness at -40F that's hard to describe, a peace that descends upon the soul. It's also friggin' cold, so I don't tarry too long in my moment of Zen. I open the car door, and hear the screech of the cold metal of the door hinges unlubricated by the frozen grease. I then pop up onto the seat, and feel the unyielding foam, frozen to rigidity, beneath me. Only when it warms another fifty or so degrees will it conform to the shape of my hiney.

I then remember that unless I want to drag the house with me to work that I should unplug the car heater from the outlet before I drive off. I jump outside and do so. I jump back in start the car. The cylinders catch and roar to life, and the heater then begins to output a torrent of cold air from the frigid engine. I shiver. I also notice that my muscles tense as I sit in the seat, generating what additional heat they may as I prepare to move out. Perhaps this is partially responsible for my demigod-like physique. Perhaps it was the nachos and beer. I digress.

I notice that if I wish to play a CD, that won't be happening soon. The CD player won't spin fast enough until it warms up another twenty degrees to play a CD so Iron Maiden doesn't sound like Neil Diamond. In fact, the LED's on the front face of the stereo take several seconds to register when I've changed the radio channel. It's like there's a delay placed on my life so that my radio won't suffer from a wardrobe malfunction as it warms up. All due to the cryogenic wonderland of Alaska.

I then pull out onto a driveway as bumpy as John Travolta's film career. My day has begun. And, if all this has transpired and my body parts aren't stuck to metal parts like a baby on a garage wall, well, it's a good start.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

"I'm becoming Brundlefly. Don't you think that's worth a Nobel Prize or two?" - Jeff Goldblum, The Fly

Perhaps my patented "Baby Trap 'Em Alive" baby trap and coffee table will finally garner me that trip to Sweden . . .

I've decided I’m ready for my Nobel. I don’t think that there’s one yet for blogging, but, hey, I’d take literature or physics if they offered me one of those. I’ve got a fairly regular reader from, I kid you not, Aspudden, Stockholm Lans, Sweden. I think he or she is on the committee. Given that, I’m a shoe-in. So, I’m writing up the acceptance speech.

Don't tell me that you've never thought about winning the Nobel. I mean, when we were kids on the playground, we'd sit around and think of ways that we could start wars and then end them gracefully to win the Nobel Peace Prize. I was always fixated on the Nobel Physics Prize, because I was really jealous of Einstein's hair. I figured he spent most of his Nobel loot on hair care products. And Night Train.

I'm ready for winning, though. And, I've decided that I really should have the speech ready, too. Here it is:

Ladies and Gentleman of the Academy, thank you.

I have been championing the rights of Angelina Jolie and Bradd Pitt to be free of the rules that the rest of us have to live by, since they are so damn pretty. I must report some success in my efforts. They now have the ability to live without shame. This is a victory for shallow people everywhere. Thank heaven that they no longer have to live by the rules of society, despite having the morals of Amazing Sea Monkeys. This is something worth fighting for.

I have been reporting from the front lines about the battle to increase beer consumption in Alaska, and must also report some success. I look forward to a time when all men can have a cold beer on Saturday night, without fear of brutal repression from the The Mrs., or cutting fingers off with a table saw.

I have been the only person on the planet working for peace, justice, and the American way, and must also report some success. I slept in peace last night. Still working on justice and the American way.

Despite my nearly heroic efforts, I must admit that much is left to be done. There are shallow people who are still scorned in this world, men without beer, and other bad things that somebody should do something about.

I'm planning on sending a huge portion of this check to Brad and Angelina. They need money to avoid common decency folk. I'm planning on blowing the rest on beer and tools. And duct tape.

Thank you.

Yeah, that's the speech. If this doesn't work out, I can just fall back on the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant. You know, the one (hint, hint) that I'm still waiting on.

(The hint part is that I would so take the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant money. And I'd help puppies or buy The Mrs. something nice with the part of the money that didn't go to beer.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Land For Peace

Above is a picture of the Mecca Bar in downtown Fairbanks. I'm not sure if that puts us up high on some sort of list of places that some evil people don't like, but it sure does give a new twist to "worship at Mecca."

Just thinking (as stolen from Rants and Observations) that the United States should swap the dangly skinny bit of Alaska (including Juneau) for the Yukon. The Canadians would get the bureaucrats, and we'd get some elbow room up here, finally. I know people who have to live within 30 miles of other people - it's just not humane!

Oh, I know those Canadians look all happy and Mountie-like, and you expect them to break in to song at any minute about how much they love the forest, but they can fool you. I just was reading that they eat kittens. Kittens!

I don't think that the swap of Juneau for the Yukon will ever get a chance to go, though. Then the Yukon would be just like a dagger aimed at the heart of Ottowa. Since Alaska has about 17 times the guns that haven't been melted down in Canada, I think this would be a short war. Sorry for the short post, I've recieved notice that I've been activated for "Operation Leafblower."

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

"Construction isn't exactly my speciality." - James Bond, The World is Not Enough

Okay, okay, that stuff has been there since spring. I promise I'll move it before the carpet goes down.

***Temporary Note*** Due to some family activities, regular posting/commenting might be a tad oddly scheduled, but should be similar to usual. Should be normal by Monday.

So, when we bought the house, we knew there were issues. The first was one with the roof that created a situation where it took nearly two additional months to close the house. I fixed it, come spring, for less than $100. It’s now tight as a drum. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t accept the bid from that contractor to do that work for $2800. I’m very worried about his family, since he didn’t get that $2700 difference from me.

Some of them are exterior, and still unfinished. Since I live in a log house, It needs chinking.

What, you might ask, is chinking?

Chinking is the process of sealing the gaps between the logs that form the walls o fthe house. These gaps, if left open, could allow ghosts drafts in, or moisture out. When they built this house, they put a stiff foam product in between the logs, and it has worked wonderfully in the 20 years this house has been here. The gap between the roof and the logs is another story. It has the tendency to leak water vapor out.

I suppose I’ll get to that next summer.

Inside, however, we’ve been looking at redoing the basement family room. It’s been fun doing that. For whatever reason, the last owner took a hammer to the drywall in one section. An argument? No, it appears that they did this on purpose.

Since The Mrs. was preggers during that time period, and I needed some way to get away from the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Hormones, I spent large amounts of time downstairs refinishing drywall. You know, because it was preferable to getting yelled at because I’m blonde.

The original drywall had been put in by people who either drank far more than me, or had far less skill at drywall, and I’m lousy at drywall. But I’m patient. I’ll work a joint that someone skilled could do in a few minutes for days to get it right. Because I’ve gotta live with it. And I'm stupid like that. I was one of those kids who wouldn't play with a little jet and a G.I. Joe - they weren't the right scale. So, I guess the combination of poor skill and high standards has its price.

I reworked all the drywall joints and textured the walls, and The Mrs. and I painted it. Now, the drywall actually looks good. Soon, we’ll attempt the carpet (another winter project) and then we’ll have a perfectly wonderful downstairs family room. With the exception that it’s a nearly constant 50F, summer or winter.

50F is a good temperature for, say, a football or rugby game. For relaxing in the basement doing family things, it’s a bit chilly.

If it weren’t for fire codes, perhaps we could circle a few stones and toss some firewood down, and have a campfire. But, I’m concerned that would just kill all of us, though we would be toasty-warm as we asphyxiated.

My options aren’t all that great:
o I can put in electric heat for the most inexpensive construction cost. Give the price of electricity, however, four minutes after I turned it on, however, I would have to sell my sons into indentured servitude for the bill.
o I could install a wood stove, but given the construction of the house, that would be exceptionally complicated and costly.
o I could just stall until The Mrs. demanded that her sons not come back upstairs with frozen limbs after ten minutes in the basement.
Like I said, none of the options are great.

I think I’ll stall. Upside, The Mrs. loves me enough to put up with some of that. Downside, don’t want to stall too long. All of my bad (or slow) construction work apart, I like living here.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

"Now the Sheriff is dead, the mayor is running a brothel and the minister is a drunk. My kind of town!" Big Smith, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr

Proof that watching paint dry is still more exciting than watching the NBA.

During the summer, I attempted to convey the furious urgency of our work to prepare for winter. If it was outside the house and wasn’t done, it was going to be very difficult to do when it started to get chilly out. That’s because:
Frozen paint doesn’t dry very well.
It’s hard to pour asphalt at -20F.
My beer forms beer slush when it’s too cold out.

Those things make it just intolerable to work outside.

I got most of the things that I had planned on doing done. That was a good feeling. July was the turning point – the point where we felt we were getting ahead of the game. Now, as the temperatures first fall farther than the approval rating of a President named ‘Bush’ after an invasion of Iraq, I’m basking in a month or so of relaxation. I’m not pushing it.

Soon, though, we’ll embark on an entirely new batch of projects around the house, but those will be inside projects, interior renovation.

I started on those last winter, and finished most of the ones that I’d planned. These projects are nice, since they give you goals and things to do as the days grow ever shorter, other than go mad in a fit of drunken cabin fever and begin carving pictures of former Attorney General Janet Reno eating coffee cake on your body to relieve the boredom with a machete from Raiders of the Lost Ark that you got on E-Bay. I don’t want to do that (I’m out of room after carving that likeness of Strom Thurmond riding a Harley on my thigh), so we have projects.

Not that this place doesn’t need them anyway.

Now, when I’m talking projects, I’m talking ones that will make our house nicer. My buddy Oz talks about a house near where I grew up where the owner, confined to a series of very long and exceptionally cold winters, undertook interior building projects every winter. The result was a chain of rooms, each one more filled with beer cans and more inexpertly and strangely finished than the last (like evolution in reverse), linked in odd ways (going through the closet of one room to get into the next room) so that you had to walk through multiple bedrooms to get to a garage. This may not be exactly correct, Oz, but I’m attempting to give the sense of drunken winter carpentry gone wild over the course of years.

Fortunately, The Mrs. and I work well together on projects. She’s quite handy, and we actually enjoy each other’s company and rarely get into Three Stooges-type comic mayhem where The Mrs. ends up eating pancakes that I inadvertently made of drywall mud and retaliating by hitting me in the forehead with a hammer with the satisfying moderately high-pitched “bonk” sound.

But, all of that is in the future. Today I’m having a bit of coffee before we head out to an adventure of some sort, since the weather is more than warm enough (10F!) for playing outside.

What magical adventure will we embark on in the frozen north? Will we ski? Will we ride a snow machine into the wilderness? Will we mush a dog team through the frozen tundra? Will we go drill in ANWR just for the heck of it?

No, none of those things. We have a baby.

We have to go to the store, to buy formula and diapers. And beer. I’m getting ready to start working on the basement . . . and I don’t want the walls to be too straight.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

"UFO's caused the Gulf War Syndrome? That's why we like you, Mulder. Your ideas are weirder than ours." A Lone Gunman, X-Files

Fire: After 250,000 years, it still ranks as our coolest use of rapid oxidation.

It’s two AM. I wake up.

My right arm has attained the temperature of a slab of beef in your grocer’s cabinet.

It’s cold. Colder than any living flesh has a right to be.

I begin to panic. This has happened before. Now, here it is again. Is this a medical problem with a name like “Cold Arm Syndrome” that’s threatening to kill me deader than evolutionary theory in Kansas?


The fire is low.

My right arm tends to be outside the covers. In actuality, Cold Arm Syndrome is just Nature’s way of waking up Dad so he can get up at two AM and shove some more wood on the fire.

We heat the house entirely with wood during the winter. That has good points (fewer dollars spent) and bad points (getting up at two AM). I really don’t mind getting up and putting wood on the fire. There’s that bit of a ten year old boy in me that senses the great deal of destruction in cutting down a whole tree with a friggin’ chainsaw, cutting it into bits, and then . . . BURNING IT. It’s a fairly healthy way to get that sort of thing out. I’m thinking that if world leaders and terrorists spent more time getting and burning wood, well, then they could, you know, burn the wood. Pretend it was whatever country they didn’t like. Then they could just go back to sleep. In a warm house. And there would be world peace through wood burning.

Regardless, I’ve got to get up and put wood on the fire.

The Mrs. is glad that I do this, but would prefer that I were able to do it like a Charlie Chaplin film: no noise. There’s a slight problem with this. She won’t trust me to feed The New Boy at night because I just might try to feed him steak instead of formula, but she doesn’t quite understand that I can’t hear the noise I’m making as I burn things in our house. On the ranking of biologic intelligence, I’m slightly above the mold that grows on Courtney Love at that time of the night. So, at least some of the time, I end up waking The New Boy and incurring the justifiable wrath of The Mrs.

Since we heat our house with wood, it’s nearly always warm by our Earth Stove. The Earth Stove, despite its name, doesn’t burn earth, just wood. This model was popular in the 1970’s, when “Earth” meant “Green.” Back then, it was good to burn things. Now, I think we’re just supposed to huddle and shiver.

But I digress. The Earth Stove makes the room it’s in very warm. The Earth Stove, unfortunately, is only in one room. And, through a series of calculations that The Mrs. would likely disagree with, my right arm is the farthest piece of living flesh in the house from the stove. It’s also not under the covers. Hence, when it gets cold half the house away from the Earth Stove, Cold Arm Syndrome is the result.

My right arm is our thermostat.

Now, I suppose that those of you that have fancy automatic electric controls that keep you warm and cool find it a bit ironic: I live in one of the coldest spots in the United States, yet my technology for keeping us warm is entirely dependent on how cold my arm gets while I sleep. Yeah. It’s old fashioned, but standing next to a roaring fire in an Earth Stove when it’s -55F or colder outside does something good for your soul. Maybe it’s closer to an “Extreme Soul Makeover,” and not the Stevie Wonder kind.

You look outside and see temperatures that humans simply cannot live in without shelter, and you’re warm inside, and your family is quietly sleeping in the night, warm and safe. Making this even more “Leave it to Beaver” is that you cut the wood, stacked it, and even started the fire. That’s a deep fulfillment. It’s better than shampooing with Pantene, or whatever that shampoo is that makes the women on the commercials feel really, really good.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"Note to self: never vacation on an active volcano."-Crow, MST3K

High noon at the Wilder house in November. Note the alien ship from the planet "Sony" materializing in my front yard.

The picture above shows a bit of high-noon up here in the Great Land. As you can see, there’s very little high about noon this time of year. In fact, the Sun is never very high in the sky during any portion of the year; sometimes it’s just out all of the time. At high noon in the beginning of November, the Sun’s rays stream horizontally through our windows into the house. Before long, the sun will be below our trees, and we won’t see direct sunlight in our windows again until February. So, for two months, the days will be shorter than the amount of time that Terrell Owens will spend with his next team. We won’t have any Sun-created shadows in the house. The reflected glow from our pale skin serves as our primary illumination during these months.

We’re also getting ready for the time when the daily high temperature occurs essentially randomly. The Sun has surrendered its battle with the air coming down from the Arctic, much like the French Foreign Legion surrendered its battle with that quick, perky Roadrunner. The Sun’s rays become so weak that they no longer warm up the air outside, and the major influence is wind movement from the north or from the south.

It’s also this time of year when we stop hearing many stories about global warming, since it’s a hard sell with newsfolk standing around in -45F temperatures attempting to convince people it’s getting warmer. I can see that now . . .

News Babe (On Location In Alaska): “Yes, L-l-l-arry, it’s –45F here, and w-w-well it was –43F here last w-w-w-winter on this day. S-s-s-o you see it’s g-g-g-getting warmer up here in Fairbanks.”

Larry (In Studio): “Ummm, isn’t that colder than it was last year?”

News Babe: “E-e-exactly as s-s-some predict, it’s getting colder, which shows that it’s getting w-w-warmer.”

Larry: "So what's the forecast like now?"

News Babe: "W-w-we're predicting a hurricano."

Larry: "A hurricano?"

News Babe: "Yes, L-l-larry, a combination of hurricane and volcano."

Larry: "Did you just make that up?"

News Babe: "Y-y-yes."

Larry: “Umm, shouldn’t you be wearing a coat?”

News Babe: “M-m-my contract prohibits that. It says I have to w-w-wear a sheer silk blouse no matter the outside conditions.”

I do know that Leonardo DiCaprio is very, very concerned. He’s like the poster-actor for, I guess, Concerned Hollywood Actors About Scientific Thingys. He’s got the Global Warming Committee. Thank Heavens we have him, since I know his intensive acting training has prepared him to understand the nuances of climatologic phenomena. If I were looking for a spokesactor on a complicated subject, well, who better to pick than DiCaprio? For global warming, he’s a natural: he had intense training with ice-related issues in filming of Titanic. I don’t mean to spoil it for you, if you are one of the three people (including The Mrs. and I) that never saw Titanic, but in the movie the ship hits an iceberg. That almost never happens anymore, so, that’s another sure sign of global warming. And, in what I’m sure is his biggest qualification, Leonardo cares.

But, caring won’t stop the Sun as it dips lower and lower in the southern sky, with correspondingly fewer hours of daylight. It does tend to make you sleepier in winter, since we still react like the big mammals we are to the amount of ambient light that’s available.

Pretty soon it’s 6PM, and you yawn and say, “Isn’t it time to go to bed?” And not for the fun stuff, but to sleep.

Some people buy “anti-depression” lights that they stare into for an hour or so a day to deal with the omnipresent darkness. The Mrs. and I buy “anti-depression” beer. It seems to work okay, and it doesn’t use any electricity. My brother worries about that, since he’s part of some religious cult that doesn’t drink (Christians). We’re Christians, too, but we read the part of the Bible where Jesus was kicking back with his buddies having some wine. The reason Jesus was drinking wine? No beer.

One other thing that changes is that people become concerned. They stop when you have car problems. Last winter about this time, I stopped to see if I could help several people. In all cases, I was the third, fourth, or fifth person who had stopped to offer assistance. The cold does something good to people – it allows them to be their best, since we’re all in this together.

So, if your city is as impersonal as an ATM machine, a 120 day cold snap might be just what you need. But, watch out for the News Babe. And the hurricano.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

"Ooh, it's cold. Like that planet Hoth in 'Empire'." -Jay, Clerks, The Series

There's a reason I didn't buy the thermometer that only went down to -20.

Blue is the color of the Arctic.

The extension cords that we use to outside in these low temperatures are predominately a sky blue color. The hoses that go from the nozzle to the pump at the gas station are predominately that same blue.

They’re not made of the same stuff as is used in non-Arctic climates: these are rated to –65F. Common hoses and cords would break like your mother’s back after you step on a crack. These blue cords and hoses remain as supple and pliable as a drunk Scientologist down to a temperature lower than Brad Pitt’s IQ. And that’s low.

Another thing that is that same blue is the insulation that I used to insulate the hot tub. It’s not fiberglass – since fiberglass doesn’t work really well here. If there’s any moisture, fiberglass will soak it up, and soon just be an icy block with at bit of fiberglass in it. The blue foam is a closed-cell poly-iso-somethingorother. This blue foam is legendary in Alaskan construction, and I’ve seen the exteriors of some homes made up in this blue foam and Tyvek. Hell, for all I know the things are entirely made of blue foam and Tyvek.

When it starts to get cold, and pass some critical point in the atmosphere, tiny snowflakes can fall from a bright blue sky, shimmering in the sun like diamonds. Now, you might be confused, since I said that they were like diamonds. It’s really not a bunch of diamonds falling from the sky, that only happens at Madonna’s house. In this case, it’s just snow. But it looks cool. And you don’t have to smell Madonna. I always thought she’d smell like a garlicky old cheese. By old cheese, I mean stinky old cheese that smelled like Abe Vigoda’s feet. And that was after she took a shower. The Mrs. thinks that she’d smell like sweat and pepperoni, with a hint of cheap perfume. Either way, well, eww.

But, how Madonna smells has little to do with the weather in Alaska.

When it gets cold enough to be unusually cold, the air gets thicker than a good salsa. Cold air is denser than warm air, so it creeps around the countryside here. You can drive a mile and see the temperature drop 10F (that’s 200C) on a regular basis. The cold seeps under the doors, through cracks in the wall smaller than Brad Pitt’s IQ (just driving that point home). That means those are small cracks.

The cold flows. It follows the low spots, and oozes. We’re in a local low spot. It gets cold here, and the forest we live in traps the cold. Cold air stays lower, so the people who have the houses on the hills are typically 10 to 20 F warmer than it is down here. The little thermometer on the site is normally 10F higher than temperatures here at Casa Wilder. But, the folks in the hills have to deal with the wind. I can cut wood to warm the house, but beyond that, unless bitten by a radioactive Hillary Clinton, I cannot control the wind. One day in the last year, you could have called it windy here, and that was a 30MPH day of wind. That wasn’t winter, and it was easy to deal with.

Hill or valley? I’ll take the valley. But, I’ll sweatmby blonde butt off in the summer cutting wood for the winter.

We heat our house entirely with wood. We have a backup of an oil forced-air furnace, but resorting to that costs money, so we don’t do that. The Mrs. (mainly) and I (sometimes) bring wood up to the house. I mainly bring it in. We have a single wood stove that does a fine job heating the house, but you have to get up during the night to put wood on it. That’s okay, we have a baby and I have a job, so, not a lot of time goes by before someone shoves a few sticks in the fire.

Wood is a good heat source. I’m not “Green” by any means. But, I am cheap. Wood requires sweat and effort. It makes you strong, and you can’t keep a lot of weight on you doing as much work as we do cutting, hauling, unloading, cutting, and stacking wood. I still think I should charge Hollywood Starlets heaps of cash to come here and help me move wood – heck, you can see what it’s done for me.

The first actual picture of John Wilder on the Internet. Training method: hauling wood, drinking beer.

So, if you got tons of cash, let me know. I can help you knock off a few pounds. I’ve still got some wood I need to split. Heck, I’ll only charge you $150 a cord to split it . . . .

Saturday, November 05, 2005

"No, I said it was cold, as in, 'Oh, my left arm has snapped off like an icicle and shattered on the floor'!" - Londo, Babylon 5

Is it proof of bigfoot? Of Fairbanks Man? Or, just proof that The Mrs. and I were out barefoot at -17F?

It’s finally starting to get a bit chilly outside.

We began our plunge below zero on Sunday, but since then we’ve managed to hit even colder temperatures. For instance, The Mrs. and I went hot tubbing the other night at –17F.

Hot tubbing in –17F is, like many things Fairbanks, different. First, there’s getting in to the tub. The Mrs. and I popped the top and jumped on in. We didn’t linger in the fifteen or so feet between the doorway to the cabin and the tub, but, you can’t sprint on ice, so we gingerly made our way to the tub. Quickly.

The hot tub cover is made of a plastic/woven fabric material that’s fairly floppy. Looks like a similar material to the vinyl seats in an old GMC pickup. At –17F, the stuff is no longer floppy, and the ice makes cracking noises as you flip the lid up.

The Mrs., in her wisdom, has noted that there is one way to make a 62F house hot in a hurry. Go spend five minutes outside at below zero temperatures. When you come back in, 62F is balmy. That’s an easy way to quickly heat a house.

The hot tub is no different. Getting into a 100F hot tub when you’re surrounded by –17F air is a good way to feel warm in a hurry.

The Mrs. took a soda to the tub, I went without a beverage. Normally, I’d take iced tea. The last time I’d taken iced tea into the tub in similar weather, it was just ice in a matter of minutes. Besides, you don’t really have to worry so much about overheating when your head is dumping so much heat to the environment. In fact, from time to time I’ll put my entire head under the water to warm up the bits on my face that are starting to assume ambient (frozen) temperature.

The downside of this strategy is that you soon have wet hair. Unless you’re a freakish mutant in the X-Men who has the power to self heat your own hair with brainwaves, soon your head will be swathed in a protective covering of frozen hair as rock-hard and concrete-like as Pamela Anderson’s implants. Not as bad as it sounds. I mean the hair, not the implants. I imagine the implants are just freaky. Plus there’s the hepatitis. Anyway, football was invented in Fairbanks because, well, everyone already had an ice-helmet, so, why not. Another notable invention from Alaska was the water-powered car. No gasoline, no emissions, and 20 miles per gallon of water. We abandoned that invention when all of our fuel kept freezing. Now we use gasoline, and as a bonus, we still get to sell you oil.

The best thing about the hot tub in winter in Alaska is the sky. It’s beautiful. Given the darkness, given where we are at the top of the world, whenever we’re in the tub on a clear night we either see the Aurora, shooting stars (not the Christian Slater with a gun kind, but the meteorite kind), or satellites. Tonight, it was shooting stars – three of them.

The other great feature of night skies in Alaska is our flag. It’s there when you look north. This picture should explain.

Not only is our state bigger than yours, it’s got a better flag. Plus, ours was designed by a 13 year old. Yours was designed by a bunch of old guys wearing wigs.

When it was finally time to get out of the tub, we walked to the door, steam rising from our bodies like it was attempting to escape from a PETA meeting wearing a fur coat. As a polite husband, I let The Mrs. walk in first, after opening the door for her. The doorknob, at –17F, acquired an instant affinity for my wet hand. My hand froze, briefly, to the door knob.

So, in the spirit of all things stupid, after getting my wet feet on our carpet, I reached out to close the storm door. You know, the one with the metal handle? My hand really stuck this time, and I had a vision of being stuck to the storm door all winter long, like if they’d left that kid with his tongue stuck to the flagpole in A Christmas Story all winter long. In Alaska.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Every Halloween, the trees are filled with underwear. Every spring, the toilets explode." Dean Vernon, Animal House

A throng of people waiting to get into Spookytown. Despite the minutes-long wait, no riots. Perhaps we're just not trying hard enough.

Halloween in Fairbanks is different.

It has to be. It gets darker, sooner. And, it gets colder.

One of the adaptations for this weather is that one of the indoor malls (we have multiple malls) has a vacant store. In it, Spookytown.

Spookytown is nice, because it's heated, and because it was on Sunday. After the football game was over. That's another nice feature of living in Fairbanks - the NFL's second game is done about 3:30PM.

Imagine (if you're old enough) when school gyms used to be turned into haunted houses, with tons of games for the little kids. Spookytown is like that. It's a wholesome charity event (benefiting Special Olympics) where kids come together and shout and wiggle and wander about aimlessly, getting scared about nothing. It's like a miniature version of Congress, except the kids at Spookytown had adult supervision.

We got in the line, as pictured above. A smiling Gypsy sold us tickets, and Crocodile Dundee let us in. As usual, I saw several people I knew at the event.

Spookytown was good for The Boy. He bagged some candy, and got scared witless in a haunted house. I think the Christopher Walken exhibit scared him the most, man, that guy is creepy. His rendition of Lovealot Bear in a stage version of "The Care Bears on Ice" was enough to give me nightmares for the rest of my life. Driving home from Spookytown was the first sign that fall had finally hit Fairbanks. We saw the thermometer in The Mrs. car drop down to 0F (that's -725C) on the way home.

Monday night, though, really was Halloween. Keeping 'em inside was just silly. So, we got the car going again to hit the neighborhood. Most of the lights were out, except we swung by and hit the house of Coldfoot and Dame Coldfoot where The Boy jumped through the front door, shimmied out of his coat, and proceeded to run off and play with the Little Coldfeet. We had left The Other Boy to watch the car (nothing's better to guard a car than a nearly-six-month-old, since you'd have to change it if you stole the car) so we had to scoot off. Besides, The Mrs. had dressed him in so many layers of clothing that it was impossible for him to move anything but his eyeballs, and I had to get back to the car to move his eyelids so his eyes wouldn't dry up.

We scooted off to another friend's house, and, again The Boy shimmied out of his coat to display his Bob the Builder outfit to the world, and again we chatted for a few minutes.

At this point, I'm fairly certain that The Boy has developed a twisted view of Halloween - to wit, you go and visit friends with Ma and Pa, and then you play at the house. For some reason, they give you candy. Not a good combination if Dennis Hopper were to move to your neighborhood. Perhaps I'll have to start the "Keep Dennis Hopper out of Fairbanks" movement. Let's face it: Dennis Hopper is the founder of the "Just Say Yes" movement. Think what he would do to property values.

As we drove home from putting a spleen's worth of gasoline in the car (it takes a pancreas in trade to fill mine), the thermometer began to plummet. By the time we got home it was -5F (76C). We turned on the light, but no trick or treaters arrived. One of the more surreal sights of the evening was when we lit candles in the jack-o-lantern and put it out on the deck. Steam from the pumpkin rose through the moisture hungry air, making it look like the pumpkin was on fire.

Here's what happens when you leave your dog out all night at -20. Oops, no, that's our jack-o-lantern. You can see the frost around the pumpkiny eye sockets, from bitter tears over the idea that someone would remake Predator.

So, I ate the Hershey's from our candy bowl, and The Mrs. ate the Kit-Kats and the Reeses' Peanut Butter Cups. That leaves The Boy to suck down about 1296 Whoppers Malted Milk Balls. In packages containing three balls.

Three balls? That's just wrong.

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