Northern life, revisited

In line at the Anchorage post office. I scuff snow from the soles of my sealskin boots, leaving slushy puddles on the dirty linoleum floor. I dig my frozen fingers into the pockets of my down jacket, clenching my package slip and feeling my knuckles thaw, the skin cracking from the dry northern air. An assortment of classic Alaskans wait in line, crammed into the stuffy room to stay warm. Native Alaskans clutch fistfuls of letters, maybe a package or two, to be sent to relatives in the Bush, hundreds of miles north of here. The woman ahead of me, with a stack of belated Christmas cards, shows off her snowskirt and Dansko clogs, the latest in Alaskan fashion. Rugged fishermen grin behind scruffy beards, Carhartts and flannel shirts in place. Their coldproof bunny boots will be traded out for XtraTufs come summer, completing the uniform of Alaskan masculinity. Ancient men in motorcycle jackets yell deafly into cell phones, displaying mouthfuls of gold teeth. I rub my windburned face in an attempt at warming up. The epitome of typical Alaskana crowds the room.

The weeks since I left Lugano have been action-packed, taking me literally across the face of the earth. From Lugano I took a train to Milan, flew to Sevilla, spent a few days there with my cousin, then began the 35-hour trip home to Anchorage. I arrived exhausted, and then suddenly it was Christmas, and we were on a flight to Hawaii hours later. Finally, at 06.00 this morning, we arrived in Anchorage for good.

This is a good time to be in Alaska. The temperature is perfect, around 20 degrees Fahrenheit – quite bearable, yet cold enough to hold the snow. The US national cross-country ski championships are being held this week, an event drawing almost everyone I know to its racecourse and spectator sidelines. I go with my parents and wander along the start line, waving to people I know and chatting with old friends – cheer wildly for my old competitors, coaches and idols, flying by in their neon spandex, gliding through 15 kilometers in record time. Liza, a skier friend I met when we both lived in Norway, has come all the way from New York to compete! It’s strange and wonderful to meet another Scandinavia friend in my own hometown, like a cutout from a previous time pasted into my current life at random. After the race, I set out onto the trails, where the trees lie protected from the wind, perfect snow and ice crystals still clinging to their branches. The start wax grip tape I rubbed onto my skis last year holds its promise of 200 kilometers – my skis still stick in the right places at the right times, uncountable miles later. The sun starts going down around 15.00, the sky burning brilliant orange and purple.

The sky fades to black and I go ice skating with Nic in town square at night. No one else is there, the ice sculptures illuminated amidst trees draped in christmas lights. My secondhand skates are fast, we spin around and around, take long-exposure pictures. It’s cold and wonderful. Someone has removed an ice eagle from it’s perch and placed it awkwardly on a set of stone steps.

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Dessert at ORSO, a few streets down. The bar is empty on a Monday night and we get free carrot cake (made with the Brewhouse’s Oatmeal Stout, it’s good) from the management. This happens literally every time we go there. The tradition continues.

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