General Winter’s last stand

Just when we thought the winter was finally well and truly over last week the skies opened and the snow began to tumble out with a vengeance.

Not the pretty white flakes that settle for a moment and then instantly melt leaving just a small glistening trace of their short magical life.

But huge great gobs of the stuff straight from the freezing Heavens, covering the roads in a treacherous six inch deep carpet and smoothing out the sharp edges of the Alaskan landscape.

It may be mid April up here in Anchorage but it seems that the Arctic God of Weather is not bound by the laws that govern the actions of his more southerly cousins.

Even for Alaskans the latest venting of meteorological fury came as a bit of a shock. They were just beginning to put away their studded tyres and stow their snowblowers when the latest blizzard hit.

Back in the mists of time when the first snow arrived (early last November) we had welcomed it, wilderness neophytes that we are. “Isn’t it pretty,” I had said. “Ooooooh. Lovely,” Kristin had cooed.

But now, six months later, we have grown to dread the arrival of the cold, cloying stuff each morning. It sticks to your boots, freezes your bones and follows you wherever you tread.

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Ott, a friend visiting from Estonia (Kristin’s mother country), was, however, pleased as punch. Two years ago when he arrived at the ranch in March he had been delighted to find several feet of snow still on the ground.

With barely a moment’s hesitation he had attacked it with gusto, shovelling it with abandon. He worked with a gleam in his eye, like some tireless but happy Nordic giant brought back to life for just such a task.

By the end of Day 3 Ott had created a new world of pathways and roads in our snow-laden garden. Roads led to and from each of the cabins, to the workshop and to the main house. There were even carefully-edged little junctions and what looked like passing lanes.

So this time as Kristin and I ran for the snowblowers Ott happily grabbed for the shovel, stopping only occasionally for a refill of beer to steady the hand.

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Kristin, my beloved wife and partner-in-wilderness-crime, is now officially an author. Her first book, a biography of an Estonian philosopher called Nikolai Maim, has just been published.

Part of a series on Estonian thinkers and other notables, it will soon be available in bookshops. As it is written in Estonian, however, you may have to brush up on your northern Finno-Ugric language skills if you want to make the most of it.

For those unfortunates amongst us who don’t read fluently in Estonian, I will keep you updated on a possible English translation. No plans yet is the word from the horse’s mouth.

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On the penultimate day of Ott’s visit we decided to take him to the zoo. Although we live almost within spitting distance, we had never been and were keen to see the animals, especially those native to Alaska.

Like most zoos, Anchorage’s is a rather sad and shabby place where the beasts are caged in all-too-small compounds and subjected to gaggles of screaming school chilren.

It was nice to see the wolves, even in their spatially-impoverished surroundings. There were grey and black and beautiful.

But the animal I was most keen to study up close – the wolverine – was, unfortunately, nowhere to be seen. Kristin and I fancied we saw one of these rare weasels during our first year at the ranch while we were hiking up in the high country.

Since then Kristin has decided it was probably a hoary marmot (nothing like a wolverine) but I have stuck stubbornly to my story.

The grizzly bears at the Anchorage Zoo were certainly something to behold. Weighing in at half a tonne each, they had recently woken from hibernation.

But as thrilling as they were physically it was depressing to see them dance and beg for food from the one of the zoo workers.

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So next week we finally head back to Canada and our beloved ranch. As we think of the greening garden, the arrival of the spring birds and the awakening of the wildlife the days up here are beginning to drag.

By mid May the temperatures should be well into the twenties and the wildflowers will be beginning to bloom by the roadside.

Bookings for this year are good and I can hardly wait to get my knees dirty and my fingers grimy messing around in the garden again.

Once we get back it will be pretty much non-stop until the end of October. We have bears to spot, mountains to climb and, pending government permission, two wildlife-viewing stands to build.

For those of you planning on visiting us this year, we look forward to welcoming you all. The omens are good, General Winter is finally on the retreat and it promises to be a good one.