Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I lived in a place without running water, in this day and age, in one of the most highly developed countries in the world. I did live outside city limits, but only by a mile, and still there weren’t ordinances about shitting into a hole in the ground. When you think about it, it seems like a health hazard. What happens to the groundwater? I’m not a scientist, and maybe the potable water we tap into is at a level deep enough that it’s not effected, but it seems like there’d be some contamination.
Geographically, Fairbanks is a fascinating town–it’s situated in the Tanana Valley and surrounded on all sides by rivers, hills, and a 100 mile area of flatland that eventually meets the Alaska Range–visible, and truly magnificent, on a clear day. During winter months, Fairbanks has one of the most extreme temperature inversions on Earth. Because of its low elevation, cold air gets trapped in the low-lying areas of the city, and warm area rises to the hills. It’s the opposite of what you might expect. At sea level, it’s bitterly cold; up higher, it’s balmy.
The winter solstice in Fairbanks means just over three hours of daylight, while the sun skirts across the horizon before sinking back down. On June 21st, it’s the land of the midnight sun. The extremes are mind boggling, but once you get used to them, or at least know what to expect, it’s an oddly comforting routine. For eight months out of the year, you know how Mother Nature will behave. Cold, dark and unforgiving. There isn’t any of that wishy-washy stuff. When it snows, it stays. There aren’t cloudy days, then sunny days. There’s just dusk, then dark. The starkness is breathtaking, actually. It’s reminiscent of a Russel Chatham painting. The colors of the landscape consist of the whiteness of the snow and the green of the spruce. And when the sun pokes its head up, just briefly, a swath of faint purple and pink.
When the weather gets too relentless, you hole up in your cabin, warm up by the stove and read a good book. Drink a hot toddy. Or get in your truck and seek refuge at The Oasis (a bar), where you can get the best halibut melt of your life and put quarters in the jukebox until 3 a.m.