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I’ve lived in Fairbanks for seventeen years now, arrived back in ’91, and remember the cold snap then, got down to sixty-two below, so cold that oil seals and transmissions were breaking on a lot of cars, and the ice fog was so thick you couldn’t see the other side of the street for weeks. Then one day a storm system moved in, and it went to twenty eight above in 36 hours, warming ninety degrees, and it was still below freezing, but, god, it felt like summer.

It hasn’t been that cold since, but we did have a little bit of a cold snap this winter, settled in the day after Christmas, went to thrity-five below, and kept dropping. There isn’t a whole lot of sunlight in late December, the darkness is fine, but the middle of the day is gray and dingy when the ice fog forms. The cold seems to sink into everything, into your bones, into your soul, and the only thing you can do is try to stay by a warm fire, a warm bed, or a hot bath…

I try not to park my truck too long in the cold, but one day I flew to Anchorage, left my truck at the airport for twelve hours, it was minus forty four when I came back. The truck started just fine, right away, I warmed it up for about a minute, but when I put it into reverse. it didn’t move. I put the transmission into neutral for a minute, and tried again, revving up the engine to get the truck to move a few inches. I put it in forward, then reverse again, rocked it back and forth a few times until I eventually managed to back out of the parking space. When I started moving forward, the ride was really bumpy from the flat spots frozen on the tires. The truck moved very slowly, couldn’t go more than about 20 even after a mile of driving.

The next morning, I noticed a pink spot under the truck where I’d parked it at work, transmission fluid. I popped the hood and pulled the dipstick—looked OK to me. All day, I checked the truck after every stop—I didn’t see any fluids under the engine—must be OK. Next day at work, I got a call from my co-worker—she couldn’t make it into work—the transmission had gone out in her Jeep.

The fog transforms the familiar landscape into something spooky—even though we go to the same places we always go, it becomes an adventure. A trip to the video store turns nerve wracking when a screech comes from the engine, or when another driver wanders across turning lanes in front of us at a stoplight, probably can’t see either the lines on the road or anything through the ice on his windshield.

On day 16, it warmed, slightly, from forty-five to thirty-five below, the fog thined, people move a little bit, forecast is for even warmer tomorrow, maybe snow—the sun shines through, blue skies above—spirits lift. Any day above thirty below is a good day in a Fairbanks winter.


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