Warming temperatures and gale-force winds


We stepped out into the storm,

Which didn’t quite come up to norm

     Just below freezing

    The contrast was pleasing

The wind seemed ever so warm

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.

As I write, the wind howls outside and the building shakes with the gusts.  The windows don’t rattle because in a climate as unforgiving as Barrow’s windows have to fit tightly.

Last night Bethany and I walked to the store in the long arctic twilight.  The blizzard had lightened, the wind had let off to 30 mph (50 kph), and the temperature had risen to a record high of 29F (-2C).  As soon as we stepped out the door, we felt weird.  Six weeks of subzero cold has not kept us inside, we’ve adapted to Arctic winter temperatures with clothing and physiology.  The warmer air felt strange on our faces, and the dull crunch under our boots came alien to our ears, accustomed to the squeak of much colder snow. 

I made a snow ball.

When we stepped out of the lee off the building the wind caught us full in the face, and I pulled my hood up.  Immediately the rush of air caught inside my hood and flooded the inside of my parka.  I welcomed the ventilation because I had started to overheat. 

By the time we’d crossed the lagoon and turned north the wind came at our backs, pushing us along.

We slogged through most drifts, but when we crossed the road by the post office Bethany sank in up to her waist. 

Further on we turned into the wind but it didn’t sting our faces.  Winter, though deep, chilly, and dark, has flown by, and the relative warmth carried the promise of spring. 

Warmer snow melts quickly and, ironically, cools the face faster than very cold snow. 

Inside the store, our coats, hats, and mittens filled the grocery cart.  We ignored the shocking prices and bought bread, eggs, fruit and dessert.  In the checkout line I observed, to Bethany, the contrast between an orchid print of a woman’s parka and the wolf fur on the hood’s ruff. 

The wind blew full in our faces on the trip home.  Darkness closed in, and the dramatic pink and gray of the sky faded into night.  Half-way back I took over carrying the pack.  Where the gale swept the snow from the levee we trod on ground and ice frozen hard to the consistency of stone.

Inside again I observed to Bethany that dry, cold snow doesn’t clump on your boots or cake in your fur ruff like the wet snow of the day, just like the stuff we’re used to at home.

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3 Responses to “Warming temperatures and gale-force winds”

  1. AussieAlaskan Says:

    Hello! I just came across your blog looking for one from Barrow – I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. As life does, I am now based in northwestern Australia, on the coast of the Indian Ocean, doing admin work for the Senior Medical Officer of a small district hospital in a small town on the edge of the Australian bush. For many reasons, as you can probably imagine, I have enjoyed reading your blog, and have gone back months before, to catch up. Keep at it! I am enjoying it immensely! 🙂 Thanks! Terry

  2. AussieAlaskan Says:

    How interesting. A doctor who lives in Tasmania who we employ here and further north occasionally, and with whom I have corresponded extensively, actually works part to the year in Bellingham, WA at St Joseph’s Hospital – the hospital I was born in! What is it they say – six degrees of separation?!!

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