We went out at fifteen below
In the sunset, and we walked through the snow
I said, oh so bold,
It’s not all that cold
As long as the wind doesn’t blow.
Synopsis: I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places. Currently I’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.
Bethany and I went out in the evening yesterday. We suited up; me with my Carhartt Arctic Extreme coveralls and Alaska parka, Bethany with her snow pants and long down parka. We both wore hats and mittens. With calm winds and temperatures in the negative teens, ice quickly formed in my beard and on the faux fur ruff of my hood.
Brower café resides in a hundred-and-twenty-year-old structure originally constructed as a haven for stranded whalers. It looks west onto the Arctic Ocean. As we walked the mile under azure skies in the long northern twilight, up the shallow incline to Browerville, we realized the restaurant was closed when we ran into the owner leaving. With two-stroke snowmobile engines whining in the background, she told us about the alternate Sunday opening schedule.
We trudged through the gloom, angling north, following the road by the sea. Bethany asked about polar bears; I told her I hadn’t seen any tracks. We turned right, towards the grocery store, called commonly Aycee’s in English and Stuapak in Inuit.
In the parking lot we witnessed the incongruity of a man in Bermuda shorts and a down parka getting out of an SUV while snow machines made bootlegger turns so they could slide into parking places between cars and four-wheelers.
Inside, my glasses fogged and we filled our cart with our parkas. Peaches at $3.68 a pound seem very dear by Iowa standards but a positive bargain in comparison to North Slope prices; the very fact that I could even consider the purchase amazed me.
Outside, the skies had darkened and the temperature had risen when we started back to the hospital housing. We dodged snow machines zipping from lagoon to lagoon. My breath didn’t condense on my facial hair. A breeze freshened at our backs and my glasses fogged, then frosted with the moisture.
I waited outside by the steps while Bethany put the fruit in the apartment; I pushed my hood back and took off my hat and mittens. The mercury had soared to zero.
Our boots still squeaked in the snow, but at a lower pitch than tortured Styrofoam. We walked down the hill to the Japanese restaurant.
Though it sits a few yards from the water’s edge, it has no windows to look out over the frozen sea.
Six of Barrow’s seven restaurants serve American breakfast. Contrast being the essence of meaning, I enjoyed looking at a menu which offered side orders of (among others) grits, English muffins, and kim chi.
Going against our third gastronomic tourist’s principle, don’t leave Iowa to order beef, I asked for the ox tail soup. The manager expressed surprise at my choice, and we had a good conversation. The last time I’d had ox tails had been 1959.
I enjoyed the dish, as much for the difference as for the similarity to what I’d had before.
On the way home, the temperature had risen to 11 degrees. I left my parka open, I unzipped the legs and front of my coveralls, and pulled back my hood.
I do not know why the air cools when the sun rises, drops during the daylight hour or two, then warms after sunset.