Alaska's winter chill sure beats sizzling in summer heat of Lower 48

Not everyone likes it hot

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2001

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of my coming to Alaska.

I've been reflecting on how I feel about the land and about living here. There are real drawbacks -- like the crappy peaches, biting flies and living several time zones and exhausting, pricey plane rides away from beloved family members. But despite them, I like Alaska very well.

Especially this time of year.

The fireweed is in bloom, the salmon are in the smoker and the landscape is gorgeous.

Face it, this place is way cool. Literally.

This time of year, the Lower 48 is feeling the heat. And torrid temps are no laughing matter, because they actually kill people.

But we Alaskans can be a bit smug.

I remember when I was young and lived in other parts of the nation, down in the land of prickly heat and cockroaches.

When I was about 5, I fell asleep on the beach and got second degree burns from the sun. When I was in high school, my little brothers used to play hard on muggy summer days -- and then throw up.

When I was in my early 20s, I worked in Minneapolis and, when it got bad at our un-airconditioned office, I used to put a bucket of cold water under my desk, roll up one pants leg, remove that shoe and sock and soak my foot. I could actually feel the delicious chill spread to the rest of my body, and I was able to regain some mental function by taking that eccentric cure.

The older I've gotten, the less I tolerate heat.

And, although humid heat reduces me to a dysfunctional blob, I don't buy the line about dry heat being "okay." I've seen them both.

Humid heat was that trip to San Antonio, Texas, in 1969 when the wildflowers I tried to press turned to colored slime and my hair was still wet the next morning after I washed it in the evening. Dry heat was the 1986 family wedding in Nevada, when I was able to wash my baby's good dress by hand, hang it out the hotel window and bring it in dry 5 minutes later. That kind of place causes nosebleeds and can mummify fruit amazingly if you forget to stick it back in the crisper drawer.

As much as we whine about long Alaska winters, I'll take cold over heat any day. You can put on more clothes. As long as it is warm enough to breath without your lungs hurting, you can even enjoy outdoor activities.

But on the other end of the temperature spectrum, the possibilities get grim. There are limits to how much clothing you can remove or how much ice cream you can eat.

The three-digit season to the south is, in the long term, the best friend the Alaska tourism industry has.

This was brought home to me several years ago when my parents came up from California and brought with them old family friends from Virginia. We were living in Homer at the time, and they all were impressed that the record high temperature on the shores of Kachemak Bay was 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Then we went up touristing to Fairbanks, where we Homerroids were dismayed to find the scorching Interior temperatures nudging over the 90-degree mark at the peak of the afternoons.

The people from Virginia were thrilled with the weather. Especially when they heard on the news that it was 111 degrees in the District of Columbia and, throughout the urban corridor of the Atlantic seaboard, baked businessmen were tearing off their ties and jumping into civic fountains, suits and all.

As my children frolicked in the sprinkler at the bed and breakfast and I sat in the shade waiting to catch a breeze, I realized how lucky we were to be in Alaska.

Here on the Kenai Peninsula, my family is so spoiled by cool weather that we complain that it is too "stuffy" at night if we cannot get it below 65 degrees in the bedroom.

Living on the peninsula means being able to wear long pants when the mosquitoes are out, exert yourself without heat stroke, keep the margarine out of the fridge and even get away with leaving the leftovers on the kitchen counter overnight (unless it's seafood, in which case the cat would probably get it first anyway).

So in the dark, frigid winter months, I try to keep the Alaska summers in mind.

When Doug and I got married and I first moved up here, he used to tease me with the warning: "You've got to be tough to live in the Big A."

Now, after 20 years here, I can look up from the newspaper's weather reports from the rest of the country and cheerfully respond, "No sweat!"

Shana Loshbaugh is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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