Thursday, June 19, 2014

Navigating North in November

 Twice a year I travel home to Fairbanks, usually for a month. Up until recently, hubby Don and I always went separately because of commitments in New York that kept one of us here while the other happily flew on their merry way north. This year we can finally travel together; our local commitment’s a thing of the past.

Originally we’d planned on a summer filled with mosquitoes and endless sun. When our NY friends found out we’re both going up together, they all expressed envy that we’d be spending summer in Alaska.
Yet when asked, we found ourselves replying,
 “No, we’ll go up in November.”

The looks that remark netted ranged from disbelieving to confused and back to disbelieving.
“But it’s cold up there in November!” they said. Then we got a few tentative queries of, “Isn’t it cold up there in November? With a lot of snow?”
“Yes. It’s cold in November. And there’s snow,” we replied serenely.
Still no true comprehension. “But you already live Upstate! Why not spend winter in warmth, maybe go to Florida? You may as well stay in New York,” they reasoned.
“Nope. We’re headed north.”
“Well, you’re both crazy.” The conversation usually ended there. Or something similar, depending on which family or friend we spoke to.

I can’t recall the last time I saw a true Fairbanks summer, where the days lengthen so deliciously and the sun’s up and beaming after midnight. It seems I always go up late in the fall or early in the year.

But I discovered something about myself when I was in Fairbanks this past February:
It’s more comfortable there at twenty below than in New York at twenty above.

Winter in Interior Alaska has winter in Upstate beat by a landslide, and all because of two factors:
Wind and humidity. As in - Fairbanks doesn’t have either during most of their winters. And Upstate does. And it makes all the difference in comfort.

When we lived full-time in Alaska it was easy to complain about the winter. Six months of snow will eventually get to anyone, including the avid outdoorsman who owns every winter toy on the market. Cabin fever is real and everyone gets stuck with it sooner or later. But at least for me, I found I missed Alaskan winters even though we ended up in ‘Four Seasons Central,’ otherwise known as the Northeast.

I longed for the Aurora. I missed the utter calm of snow that falls so very silently and clings endlessly to tree branches in a lacy white drape incomparable to anywhere else. Until I’d moved to New York I had forgotten what it’s like to have that bitterly frigid Upstate wind cut through layers of clothing and chill to the bone; damp and just nasty. Not the entire winter in Upstate, of course, but enough. And not even a clear night of dancing Northern Lights as recompense for that wet, windy freeze. It seemed three months of Upstate winter could trump six months of Interior winter, hands down . . . and not in a good way.

But see, family and friends here in New York wouldn’t understand it. Given a choice of region for those wintry months, they’d go to Hawaii, Mexico, Florida, Las Vegas; anywhere south or west that has no snow and winter temps higher than sixty degrees. What would be the point of going north? It’s just more snow.

I simply smile, and say, “Why, yes. Yes, it is.” And I pack accordingly.

This year we’ll head north, stay a month, probably over the holidays. Christmas morning in Fairbanks sounds pretty good to me. As for the rest of the winter, we might just hop in the motor home and drive to Florida. A few months on the beach could be completely doable. Ah, but that month right in the middle? It belongs to Alaska. I’m looking forward to it.

 Char Chaffin is a member of AKRWA and CNYRW, a die-hard displaced Alaskan, and has just published her third novel, Jesse’s Girl. She goes home to Fairbanks when she can, hangs out on a sixty-acre farm in Upstate New York when she can’t, and divides her time between writing her next novel and being an Acquisitions Editor for Soul Mate Publishing.

Book Trailer for Jesse’s Girl:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Skagway Hospitality

For over a hundred years, Skagway has been bilking travelers and doing it with a smile.

I'm in here Lemon Rose Bakery in Skagway for the 5th annual North Words Writing Symposium. This year I've arrived early with my fellow writer Lynn Lovegreen, author of Fool's Gold. She's over at the Skagway News Depot, signing books.

In 1898, with the discovery of gold near what is now Dawson, Yukon, Skagway became the place where hopeful gold miners debarked from steamships. Each miner was required to haul 2000 lbs. of gear over Chilkoot Pass. Ostensibly this was to ensure that no miner starved to death. I suspect, however, that Canadian officials were in cahoots with the merchants of Skagway. This requirement ensured that miner dropped a great deal of money into the local economy. Canadian official also collected customs on that 2000 lbs of gear.

Today, cruised ships arrive at the docks of Skagway and debouch tourists. The tourists buy not supplies but tanzanite jewelry on Broadway, the major tourist thoroughfare in Skagway. Like the miners of old, the tourists travel over The Pass, White Pass rather than Chilkoot Pass, to Carcross where vans and buses delivered the travelers as customers to Canadian shops.

I enjoyed the irony of it all even as I take part in exclaiming over the scenery, and visiting Skagway, Carcross, and Haines galleries and museums.

If you go, consider forgoing the cruise lines and instead travelling by the ferry run by Alaska Marine Highway System. Be aware of prices and where jewelry was made. Haines and Carcross galleries carry mostly local art. A few shops in Skagway also carry work by local artists, but most of the Skagway shops are run by the cruise line. Also be aware that cruise ship passengers stick primarily to Broadway. If you want experience small town Alaska go one block over to State Street. You no longer need sacks of floor and nails to visit Canada, but make sure to take your passport if you plan to visit Carcross.

Despite the history of extracting money from travelers, I've found the residents and seasonal workers of all three towns to be delightful and generous in their hospitality. And I happen to have my eye on a piece of jewelry made of salmon teeth. It's at Kirmse's Curios which features the work of local artists.

Lizzie Newell writes a science fiction series set on Fenria, a plant which resembles southeast Alaska. Due to fishing accidents, Fenria has a shortage of men, three women for every man. The first book in the series, Sappho’s Agency, an erotic science fiction romance, will be published in the spring of 2015.