The wheels crunched over the snow as my van rolled into the village. After driving nearly 4000 miles, I had made it home. Navigating the winding road of Wiseman, I passed many cabins. Most were vacant. Windows glazed with frost, stovepipes devoid of smoke and trackless yards were all tell tale signs of vacancy. In fact, only two of the cabins were occupied at that time. Winter is the time that many in Alaska flee south. Not necessarily to warmer environments, but certainly brighter environments. The dead of winter is the time of darkness in the far north and I was arriving on the last day of the sun not being visible above the horizon. It had been 40 days since the sun had lit up any point in the community. Tomorrow the upper edge of the sun would be visible for just a few moments. Today the area was still resigned to a lack of it. The waning twilight filled the sky and illuminated the clouds to the south with colors of bright pink salmon, and orange. With the last stretch to my cabin unplowed, I set off on foot, ready for the work and chores that lay ahead.
As I rounded the willows and large spruce tree at the end of the pathway, I came within view of the cabin. A foot and a half of snow had fallen while I was away, draping a thick white blanket over its roof and sides. The outdoor air temperature was -20 degrees Fahrenheit but inside was no escape from the cold. Without a source of heat for a few weeks, enduring temperatures down to -40 degrees, the cabin functioned as an icebox. Stepping into the entryway, I brushed off the mound of snow that had accumulated on my stack of split wood. With snowy logs in hand, I moved towards my salve, the woodstove. Dark and cold, the cabin was just as I had left it. No visible sign of any intruding animals. The split logs were green and the added snow didn’t help the process of making a big fire quickly. After using up two thick bush newspapers as tinder, the logs finally lit. I cranked the dial on the stove’s side to its highest setting, fully opening the flue. Orange and yellow flames danced in the glass door.
The fire Starting a fire was the most important task in settling back into the cabin, but it was only step . Moving across the room to my batteries, I reconnected the electrical wires. With a flick of the switch, on came the lights. No issues there, although the batteries would have to be charged.
My main fear in returning was that water had frozen in my well. Without anyone living in the cabin for over a decade prior to me moving in, the ground below the cellar was essentially permafrost. Using up my small supply of extra water, I was rimed the pump and began pumping the handle. I was able to set a seal and get high pressure, but no water. My fear had been realized. I’d have to wait until tomorrow to borrow a hose from a neighbor and try to thaw out the ice. Melting snow to make water was added to my ever increasing list of things to do.
As the cabin slowly warmed, I went through my mental checklist of what I’d have to do over the next couple of days before I was to finally fully settle back in. Banking the cabin with snow, splitting wood and attaching new propane regular, along with the aforementioned tasks comprised the bulk of the list. It wouldn’t be long before I’d be back in the swing of things. Ready for the return of the sun and any cold snaps that lay ahead.