Although Southeast Alaska is famous for being temperate, and even in winter we don't get the kind of snow and cold common to the Far North made famous by Jack London and others, the past couple of weeks have had a decidedly Arctic attitude. Today is the first day since the cold snap set in that I've been able to get the indoor temperature above 45 degrees Fahrenheit and haven't seen my breath inside my house.
The cold spell has been particularly tough on my mom who has circulation issues that make her extremities especially sensitive to the cold. My dad came up with the idea of heating a stone on the stove for her to rest her feet on. Julian, the fourteen-year-old boy staying with his sister and mother in Meyers Chuck, came out to spend a week with us. He accompanied me to the nearby beach where large, flat stones were common. In previous years my dad had harvested such rocks to build my grandmother's hearth.
Julian and I clambered over the beach in the chilly air. A rumble sounded in the distance and Julian asked what it was. "The ferry," I said, pointing toward Prince of Wales Island where one of Alaska's state ferries steamed down the strait toward Ketchikan.
"But it's so far away," he said, squinting to make it out. "How can we hear it so loudly?"
"Sound carries really well over the water. The tide's coming in so we better find some flat rocks before we get cut off from the houses."
He pounced. "I found one!" He held it triumphantly over his head.
In a few minutes we found three different rocks of varying shapes, each about an inch and half thick. My mom called on the handheld VHF radio just then, saying that Julian's breakfast was ready and about to get cold. I told her our mission was accomplished and we were on our way back.
We carried the heavy rocks through the woods, across the beach and into the house. My dad chose the largest and put the other two aside. I decided that it was a good idea since I'd been having a hard time keeping my feet warm, especially after wearing my boots outside doing firewood and other chores, and took one of the smaller ones home.
It worked perfectly for my mom and she was happy to finally have warm feet again, though she had to be careful not to let the rock get too hot. Once it began to burn the soles of her slippers. It didn't work so well for me. Granted, the first time I used it I definitely luxuriated in having warm feet again. But the moment I got up to do something I returned to find that my stone had been stolen!
Katya had it staked out. She was lying on it and stared up at me with slitted eyes, her tail twitching just daring me to do something about it.
I could take a hint. I wrapped it in blankets and stuck it in her bed and she rewarded me with some head butts and loud purrs that sounded louder than the ferry had. I tucked her hotwater bottle in with her, too, and it's been a rare day when I've seen her come out from under the blankets. When she goes out at night it isn't for very long and when she comes back in she gives me filthy looks and puts her back to me, letting me know just how much she doesn't appreciate the freezing weather.
But as long as I keep her hotwater bottle filled and keep changing out the hot rocks in her bed, I think she'll forgive me. Fortunately, things have warmed up, but I'll keep the rocks on the stove just to be safe.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)