A few days ago, I was driving home from dropping off Niko at preschool, and I drove into a fog bank that was shot through with rays from the rising sun. And suddenly, out of the blue, I was swamped with nostalgia.
Here’s the truth: I hate most of the things about Alaskan winter and don’t regret abandoning them all for the mild, really-more-like-prolonged-spring Oregon winter. Some of the key elements I’ve always disliked: Walking through snow. Slipping on ice. Driving on icy, badly-plowed or not-yet-plowed roads. Waiting all morning for my cold, damp pant legs to dry after dragging them through a snowy parking lot. Shoveling driveways. Driving through a blizzard. Brushing snow off windshields, scraping ice off windshields, dealing with ice buildup on windshield wipers. The terrifying, unstoppably glide as your vehicle fails to stop on a patch of ice. And that’s only the snow and ice problems. Don’t even get me started on the darkness and short days and the cold….
But there’s one thing that Alaskan winters do better than anywhere else, and for it to happen, there has to be fog and sunshine. That one amazing thing is hoarfrost. We call the fog that comes before the frost an ice fog, for the obvious reason that it causes the frost, but also because the fog is actually filled with tiny, suspended ice crystals. When the sun finds a way through and lights up the fog, the air is filled with glitter and sparkle. It’s breathtaking in its beauty. You can’t help but stop to stare around you.
The morning after an ice fog, everything is coated in thick, intricately patterned frost crystals. Trees are as white and sparkly as an artificial Christmas tree. The frost turns the world into a magical land of beautiful possibilities. On mornings like that, you suddenly realize that Alaska actually is as incredible as tourists think it is.
Driving through that fog the other day, I remembered. And, believe it or not, driving on the ice-free road in a car that hadn’t had to have its engine run for ten minutes to be drivable, looking through a windshield with full visibility instead of semi-clear streaks scraped through ice, I discovered that I missed Alaska. Just for a minute. It didn’t last long. But for that minute, it occurred to me that I might like just one day of waking up to a fresh snowfall. Just one day to see the world covered in white. One day to see everything shining with jagged-edged, lacy, fragile frost crystals. Just once.
That night, the fog thickened and hung low over our home as the temperature dropped. I’d already forgotten the nostalgia, but Oregon must have heard my wish, because the next morning I awoke to a magical world of white. Not snow, but frost. Everywhere I looked, there was a thick coating of crystals. The grass, the trees, everything was shimmering white.
As I started to get breakfast ready, Niko ran to the window. “Wow,” he breathed, and I agreed. The sun was just starting to shine through the trees, lighting up the frost. On impulse, I asked him, “Would you like to go run in the frost for a few minutes?” He was thrilled, and ran outside, stomping and jumping up and down as he discovered the crunch of the frost.
My nostalgia is gone now. I know that if we’d had the snowfall I wanted for that brief moment, we’d be shoveling a porch and a long, long driveway to make sure we could get out if necessary. We’d be cold, and wet, and probably lose our footing and fall a few times. Instead, what I got was the sparkle and glitter I’d been craving, without the added stress of dealing with snow.
Thanks, Oregon. You rock.