Winter in Barrow

Like the rest of the world, Barrow has recently been dealing with winter weather extremes. In Barrow, however, this is expected. After all it is winter and we are well into the Arctic Circle. One day last week we went from -28 degrees to 14 degrees above zero in the space of an hour. This was the Arctic’s dramatic way of announcing that snow was on the way. We had maybe 4 inches, but along with it came howling westerly winds and negative wind chills. Again, this is pretty typical for our location.

One of the older gals I work with came in and announced, “It’s COLD!”  This never ceases to amaze me. We live in the Arctic. It is always cold. Even summer temperatures seldom climb above 55 degrees. Saying its cold in the Arctic is like announcing that water is wet. I should say that the gal protesting the cold was born in the Philippines, but she has lived in Barrow for about 10 years. A short time later she announced in tones of absolute outrage that it was SNOWING. (The outrage would almost have caused you to believe that snow was somehow an affront to nature and God.) She glared at me as if I were personally responsible for both weather and temperature.

This is an old game. We have been reciting our lines for, well, this would be my 6th winter here. I raised one eyebrow and we stared at each other for a while. Then she laughed and she is over it like that. “I will retire.” She said. “When?” I asked. We eye each other some more. “Tomorrow.” She said. “Okay.” I said. And we go back to work.




Later that day I stepped out on the back loading dock to take a look at the weather. Sitting on top of one of the snow dunes was a lone Arctic fox –shivering. He looked at me. I look at him. Neither of us is disturbed much by the other. I’ve seen him around for the last two winters.. A couple years ago, I first caught sight of this fox, limping in the snow. He had either been in a fight or more likely been caught briefly in a trap and wasn’t putting any weight on one of his fore paws.

This was the first wild animal I ever saw pull the sad, saucer-eyed trick on people. Some of the more tender hearted employees decided he was like a puppy and fed him bones and scraps. He survived his injury and proved intelligent when it came to distinguishing between the marks, who would feed him and the locals who would shoot him on sight. Foxes are vermin up here. Foxes carry rabies. Sad but true. Up here whole villages are quarantined when rabies shows up. This fox was sly, but predictable.

He shivers some more and I swear with same outraged expression as my fellow employee he sends a message. “For REALZ?” he says looking around at the blowing snow, “Gimme a sausage or I’ll crap on the deck.” As I said they are sly and predictable. We have a continual scat and piss war going on with foxes. They claim ownership to the deck and so crap and piss accordingly and we shovel it of right back to ground level.

“No way.” I said, “You will crap on it anyway.” The fox let out a bark –don’t think bark as in dog, but more like a raspy wheezy tubercular sound instead. He turned and stomped off – Yes he did stomp. His feet actually made crunching sounds in the snow. Foxes apparently do get huffy, and disappeared under the building. (Most buildings up here are on timbers or pylons to keep the buildings off the permafrost.)

I opened the door to go back inside. My fellow employee instantly wraps her arms around herself, announcing in even greater outrage; “IT’S COLD!” I sigh and close the door. The employee disappeared into dry storage and came back wearing her winter coat. I force myself to ignore her instead of asking for the millionth time why she did not bring a sweater to work. I also ignored her when she announced to each employee, as they came on shift, that it was cold and snowing in the same outraged tone of voice. That was okay by me. One of them could be responsible for the weather for a change.

At the end of the shift I stepped back outside to check on the weather. Lo and behold! There was the promised scat –just out from the door, all small and dark. I grabbed the shovel and scooped of the dock and over the side. “Here’s your sausage.” I called, and headed back indoors to- “IT’S COLD!” I looked her for a moment and I said, “I will retire.” It’s going to be a long winter.

Category: Alaska
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2 Responses
  1. Maria Falvey says:

    Gretch this is awesome. I can easily picture the scene, the snow, the COLD and the fox. Miss the Arctic very much and you, much more!

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