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Dec 23, 2003

A White Christmas 

It has been ages since I posted anything other than a book or a film review. But with more than 36 inches (3 feet) of snow in the last 3-4 days and still showing no signs of stopping I guess its time I wrote something about the Alaskan snow. This year we are sure gonna have a white Christmas. The picture here (if you can see anything in it) is taken from my balcony looking out to the driveway approaching the apartment, which used to be forty feet wide ;-), now with all the snow pushed on to the sides and invisible cars which are buried under snow (which the owners have not cared to check upon since the last three days), the road is hardly 20 ft wide.The snow pile seen on the bottom right corner of the photo, is the snow that has piled up on our balcony railing in the last 3 days. Only last week did I clean the whole balcony off snow, not because my cleaning instincts were awakened, but I had this sudden creative urge to build a snowman. It isn't worth mentioning that half an hour of my snowman building efforts ended when all I could come up was a mound of knee high snow, which did not remotely resemble any snowman I had ever seen. That being said, it doesn't mean that such small setbacks make me not like the snow, I love snow. Coming from a place which sits almost right smack on the equator, snow used to be a distant dream while growing up. It took twenty one years of my life to see and feel the wonder of snow for the first time, in a small town in the Himalayan foothills. Alaska is a long way off from Himalayas, but the white wonderland of enchantment is the same wherever you go.

I had people tell me how they hated the long and snowy Alaskan nights of December and January. Maybe because they have been here all their lives and I guess that kind of familiarity might breed contempt. For a newcomer like me, five months of winter is like living in a totally new place. Gone are the days of hiking, camping, fishing and other summer fun things, and in comes the days of skiing. With three world class ski resorts right here in town, what else could you ask for but ski all your free time away. Tomorrow you might not find the time or might not be in the right place, who knows. Coming to think of it, we are usually the only skiers on the slopes these days, seems like alpine skiing has given way to snow boarding in a big way, everywhere you see youngsters tagging along snowboards in psychedelic colors.

But then winter is not all fun either. You need to change your summer tires to winter tires, the ones with studs (tires fitted with spikes/studs for use in winter). Its comparitively better if you have a four wheel drive vehicle instead of a two wheel drive, that explains the overpopulation of trucks and SUVs on Alaskan roads and also how a puny person like me ended up driving a truck. On an ordinary day with moderate snow shower, there are atleast three to four dozen distress calls from drivers sliding off the roads, getting trapped in snow or getting into minor accidents, all because of snow. Well...we try to drive safe, but then you can never say. We are glad our homes are heated, so its always the warm tropics inside, even if its sub zero temperatures outside (currently it is -15 deg celsius outside), but don't be too cosy either, thats what a recent accident taught us. Earlier this month five members of a family died in their home, right here in town, by carbon monoxide poisoning, all because of a defective / blocked vent. After that incident Costco ran out of CO monitoring systems, as people started buying them like crazy. Now it seems like snow blowers are also out of stock, as people have given up snow showelling since its getting them nowhere with this huge pile up of snow around and have turned to snow blowers.

For those who are scared of cold and snow, let me tell you something. Alaskan winter is not the worst winter I have ever experienced in my life, that coveted title goes to a winter, a couple of years back in New Delhi. Zero degree celsius, brick and cement houses (can't imagine the state of people who live in slums in this kind of climate), no central heating (I didn't even have one of those handy portable heaters), all I had was a woollen blanket in a house that was chilled to the core of its foundation. Here, in climate controlled environs, unless you are a real outdoor enthusiast, all that you can feel and see of the changing seasons is thru' your window - either your living room window or your car's. All the rest could be summed up as minor inconveniences - like tredging 20 feet thru' snow to reach the department store entrance from your car or getting some kind of pollen allergy when flowers start bloomin' in spring, the rest is all the same, unless you go out and live every season differently.