Notes from the North
By Miranda Weiss
November 25, 2015
It’s Thanksgiving and there’s so much to be thankful for. For—knock on wood—the health of my family. For the warm house we live in, even when it’s nine degrees outside. For the community we are a part of, where I have nearly a dozen people I can call on to pick my kids up from school if a cold snap kills my car battery or a dentist appointment runs over. I’m thankful that cold drinkable water runs out of our taps (and hot water too). That we can take airplanes to be with the people we love who are far away.
But I thought I’d pare it down—this thankfulness, I mean—to what’s on my mind at the early hour at which I write this—five things I feel lucky for at this moment:
1. Lake ice. We’re coming off a week of perfect skating ice on nearby lakes. My kids and I and a friend and her kids made first tracks about 10 days ago on the pond near the airport. We skated for five days straight. One day, I went skating twice. You never know which day will be the last ice for a while and, maybe, for the winter. Some of the ice was rippled, but on the far side of the lake, across a bumpy seam in the surface, it was perfectly smooth and clear, trapping silver bubbles as large as dinner plates and a feather that looked as though it could have been wafting through the air. When a storm blew in warmer temperatures and pouring rain, we figured that was the end to the ice. But cold weather settled in once again, and we returned to the lake to find that, as we’d hoped, the rain, nature’s Zamboni, had just resurfaced the pond, erasing the tracks from the days before.
2. Brussels sprouts. Farmer Rob’s golf ball-sized Brussels sprouts, to be specific. Perhaps they grow so big and delicious because they have the most incredible view. Rob’s farm dips gently to the south from a high bluff that looks out to where the waters of Kachemak Bay meet Cook Inlet, a panorama of sea that gleams silver, turquoise, deep blue, or black, and a string of volcanoes that are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. Every fall, Rob is the last farmer to quit the Saturday morning market grounds—a large gravel parking lot where he keeps a fire going in a rusty burn barrel as snow falls on his plastic tubs of produce. We will be roasting a huge pan of Rob’s sprouts for our Thanksgiving dinner.
3. An end to the chicken strike. I’ve been keeping laying hens for five years, and yet each fall, their molt shocks me. They stop laying, drop their feathers everywhere, and start looking like pin cushions, their bumpy skin showing through in alarming pink patches all over their bodies. I fear they’re going to die. Or worse, languish, and I will have to dispatch them myself. I had done everything right, I thought. I put the submersible heater in their water dispenser so it didn’t freeze. I gave them extra scratch and set the timer on the light in their coop to 14 hours. After nearly two months, they have started laying again, three eggs a day from my flock of four. I haven’t figured out who is slacking off, but at the moment, I don’t care.
4. A freezer full of wild salmon. What more needs to be said?
5. Snow. There’s been nearly no snow so far this season. Skiers in town are antsy, driving north to use snow-covered trails 90 miles away. While skating on the airport pond yesterday, we saw a squall approaching and, a few minutes later, a strange snow began to fall. Clumped into pellets like hail, it made clinking noises against our jackets. We kept skating as the snow turned into proper flakes, covering the lake. The kids made snow angels on the ice and started building a castle where, not long before, a group of high school boys had been playing hockey. Although the snow will likely mean the end to skating ice, the consolation was immediate: with everything newly white, light rose up from the ground. Four o’clock in the afternoon suddenly felt like it belonged to the day, rather than the evening. And as we approach the darkest day of the year, this is something for which I’m grateful.
Miranda Weiss is the author of Tide, Feather, Snow: A Life in Alaska. She is a science and nature writer in Homer, Alaska.