When you think you’ve got it bad, there’s always someone who has it worse.
Take my friend Anne, for instance, who lives in Alaska.
I called her to ask what the winters are like up there.
I got a little tired of hearing news anchors talking about how frigid it is here in Maine and acting as if this cold thing is something new and unusual.
I’ve lived in Maine most of my life, and believe me, it’s cold every winter. And when the temperature hovers around zero, it’s certainly no anomaly.
“It’s supposed to be 35 below tonight, and it’s been zero,” said Anne, who lives in Delta Junction, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks.
When it’s zero in Delta Junction, Anne tells me, people start taking off the layers.
“It’s nice,” she said. “At zero, I can walk up to get my mail, which is about a mile walk, and I can do that fine at zero. Ten above is a lot nicer, but when you go to 10 below, then I usually don’t bother. I warm the car up and drive to get the mail, or have someone else pick it up.”
Sometimes, she said, it can be 40 to 60 below zero for a month at a time.
“When it’s 60 below, you usually don’t go out. The schools are closed and businesses usually are closed. People aren’t moving around much. When it’s 40 to 45 below, businesses are still open, believe it or not.”
You know how, in Maine, we sometimes see young people walking around town wearing shorts and T-shirts in 30-degree weather and think it’s bizarre?
Well, in Delta Junction, they do that after having a cold spell of 35 and 40 below for a couple of weeks and then it warms up to zero, according to Anne.
“I know it sounds funny, but I’ll have my coat on and the teenagers, especially, will be walking around in shorts and T-shirts. That’s usually after we’ve had a real cold snap.”
I wondered what the heck they wear in Alaska when its 30 and 40 below. Anne gave me a detailed description.
First, many people wear what she calls big white bunny boots, which are rubber and insulated by air.
“They have a self-pump thing and a high sole underneath so when you’re walking, they’re huge,” she said.
“And wool. You have to wear layers of clothing, preferably wool, so that when you go from outside into a car or building, you can take off layers, and then put them back on when you go out again.”
Long johns are a must, she said. Goose down gloves and a parka with fur ruff around the hood to break the wind and cold are also recommended. When it’s really cold, you must wear a mask to keep your lips and nose from freezing.
As I was talking with Anne, who grew up in Smithfield and moved to Alaska in 1990, we were in different time zones. It was 7:25 p.m. here and 3:25 p.m. there.
Sunrise there was at 9:46 a.m. and sunset was to be at 4:04 p.m., she said, after checking the newspaper. The length of daylight that day? Six hours and 18 minutes.
Back in the middle of December, it was dark 20 hours a day, she said.
People in Maine can get depressed when it’s cold and dark outside; in Alaska, it happens a lot, according to Anne.
“The darkness makes you tired all the time. I’m kind of used to it now. You learn how to deal with it. People have jobs where they work under bright lights. They exercise, socialize. If you stay cooped up too long, you can go bonkers. Depression is not something to fool with up here. A lot of people can just kind of drift into a deep depression. They can end up involved in alcohol or drugs.”
Delta Junction residents go skiing, dog sledding, dog mushing, snowmobiling and ice fishing to stay active.
Anne is a house builder. She and her family own a lot of property. They have a dozen sled dogs to keep them busy, as well as lots of visitors from the wild.
“A mama moose and baby have been coming around. I’ve got moose, wolves, a lot of fox, lynx. I’ve got a whole raven family that comes and visits frequently, and coyotes. I saw a black wolf once. He had yellow eyes. He was beautiful — a big, big thing.
“Alaska is beautiful, and if you can get used to the rhythms of the seasons and you can cope with it and stay active, then it’s not too bad.”
Anne remembers Maine winters. At 57, she has a lot of good memories, of skiing, horseback riding and going out onto the ice of North Pond. When I ask her how she’d compare January in Smithfield to January in Delta Junction, she laughs.
“I would consider Maine weather, and winters in Maine, fun. That’s my memory. Winters were fun, and they were warm. Nothing like this. Imagine being in a house, not able to get out and being in darkness and dim light for six months out of the year.”
I ask her how she manages to stay upbeat under such circumstances.
“The main thing everyone needs to remember when getting through the winter is humor. You’ve got to laugh about it. You’ve got to exercise, you’ve got to get out and you’ve got to move. You’ve got to be social.”
Which, come to think of it, is pretty good advice for us Mainers. Our winters, I’ve decided after hearing about Anne’s, are nothing to complain about.
Compared to hers, ours seem downright tropical.
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 25 years. She may be reached at [email protected]