Wander

Stenothermal

March 10, 2017

Picture Window | Out West Somewhere

I learned a new word yesterday. A “stenotherm” is a living organism capable of tolerating only a narrow temperature range. The opposite is a eurytherm, a life form that welcomes more adventurous temperatures. My friend Teri, who spent many years researching the physiology of temperature regulation, explained the difference yesterday during a conversation about saunas.

I don’t like saunas, which are a winter mainstay for many Alaskans. Saunas are too damned hot. (That saves me from even considering the story I heard about an unfortunate soul who attended a sauna event and ended up with the superbug MRSA on his netherparts.) And you already knew I wasn’t feeling keen on below-zero temperatures. That’s too freaking cold. I felt sure that as soon as I got here, I would be the Goldilocks of temperature regulation — the most annoying kind of stenotherm imaginable.

Birch and Spruce in Snow | Out West Somewhere

Here’s my friend Linda reassuring me in a series of texts the night before I left:

Me: Is there anything I should know about walking out of the airport into -28 degree temps? I mean, my face won’t just freeze and fall off, right? I’ll have my big coat, good boots, hat and gloves where I can easily get them after I get off the plane.

Linda: No, not at all. We’ll be right outside. Plus, wait until you see how people dress! Tennis shoes, light coats, no hats! Their cars are warm inside. It’s okay as long as they carry cold weather gear.

Me: I feel better now. I really have been freaking out about the cold.

Linda: You’re gonna laugh when you get here — people in sandals!

What happened is that it was 28 degrees below zero and I did see someone in the airport wearing sandals. Also, Linda told me there was a guy just outside the airport wearing shorts. That did make me feel better, though it also made me think those people were stupid. Linda was sensibly dressed in a heavy jacket, pants, and appropriate footwear. I jammed my hat on my head and went outside wearing my clothes from the plane, without digging out my big parka or even putting on my gloves. None of my parts fell off during the 30-second walk to the car. I was fine.

I was also fine the next morning when I opened my eyes under a pile of extra blankets at Linda and John’s house and asked Siri, “What’s the temperature?” He said, “Brrrr. It’s minus 34 degrees outside.” (That’s what Siri says when it’s when it’s cold: Brrrr.)

Winter Birch at Sunrise | Out West Somewhere

Linda and John took me to Teri’s to pick up the truck. (Don’t worry, I won’t tell you every single thing I did yesterday.) While there, I pulled some stuff out of Teri’s barn that Stewart and I store there. Other than a good smack to the forehead from a low door frame I didn’t see coming, everything went smoothly. Look at me, taking care of business at twenty below! At one point during the day, I touched base with Stewart (in Hawaii!) and said, “It’s just like being here in the summer but with more clothes.”

We’ll see about that.

Fairbanks Cabin | Out West Somewhere

I have a real fondness for this cabin so far. Consider the outhouse: Just inside the door of the main cabin, a remote control hangs on a fob. If you press it a few minutes before taking a trip to the outhouse, it starts up a little heater in there, along with the lights. The cabin’s builder and owner, Charlie, is an engineer and he’s working on a heated toilet seat, but he’s having some trouble with the transformer. Still, if you have to use an outhouse in freezing weather, this is the one you want.

Outhouse All Lit Up | Out West Somewhere

When I arrived yesterday, the perfect welcoming committee greeted me: three puffy chickadees. I noticed a small, snow-covered feeder hanging from a nearby spruce tree, empty and looking forlorn. I asked Charlie if I could buy some black sunflower seed and he immediately handed me a large bill and said, get a bigger feeder than that and some seed, too. Feeling bold, I also got permission for suet.

Late in the day, I went for a walk in a field of snow so broad and serene that it reminded me of a pure white quilt square, tacked down at its edges by pins of tall spruce. For those moments, the world was utterly quiet except for the crunch of my boots on snow and the sea-sound of my own breath, warm and close because of the scarf wrapped around my face. (“Brrrr. It’s five degrees outside,” said Siri.)

Birch and Field | Out West Somewhere

Tucking myself into bed last night, I felt myself in miniature, as if I were contained in a small, perfectly made wooden box. Up near the rafters, I could almost hear the satisfying snick of the lid clicking into place, protecting me as the cold night put its arms around the cabin. Then I snugged myself deep into the flannel of darkness and slept.

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  • Julia March 11, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    No parts fell off! So funny. There are big quilts of snow here (love that description, especially pinned down by spruce), too, and it’s 6 degrees out. That outhouse is adorable, but wow, I bet you get pretty good at holding it in! Can’t wait to hear more.

    • Shae March 13, 2017 at 7:55 pm

      Thank you, Jules! I’ve never been so aware of my parts as I am here — especially now that I’ve started falling down and sliding all around in the snow. More about that soon . . .

      I probably see quilt squares because I’m spending some time stitching a quilt on my lap. I put it in a box and sent it up here ahead of me so I’d have a good indoor project to work on.

  • Kathy March 11, 2017 at 5:28 am

    It was great to read your post and see the beautiful pix. Breathtakingly beautiful. Can just picture you snuggled in …keep the posts coming Adventure Woman!
    Love,
    Kathy

    • Shae March 13, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Hi Kathy! Thank you for your comment. I’m learning new things here every day, that’s for sure. I’ll keep posting!

  • Jan Bucy March 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Hi Shae, I am loving your wandering into my old home town. You are vividly bringing the winters in a house with an outhouse back to my memories…but your outhouse is so luxurious. Remote control warmth ???wow !! I used to settle for a bucket inside the semi-warm house for those nights that were just tooo cold. I was also transported with the sound of the snow crunching under your boots that is so unique to below zero walking. Just wait until the Aurora Borealis comes flying across the sky and you will know that it is all worth it. Looking forward to more tales. Keep warm. As always, the secret to success is the right equipment.

    • Shae March 18, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Jan! I’m glad you found me here in this new space. I’m just an upstart, sharing these stories. I’m relying on y’all who’ve lived here to keep me pointed in the right direction. The outhouse is skookum, as Linda has said, but “heated” is such a relative term that I do already have a bucket in the house at night. (Nighttime temps continue to fall well below zero.) I’m learning so fast that the right clothes, equipment, and systems do make all the difference.

      I’ve been looking up but haven’t yet seen the lights at night!