Things Under the Ice and Snow

As the warmer weather begins to melt the ice and snow, lost items from last summer are revealed.

Found in the vegetable garden bed.

What are you finding under the snow?

Perils of Winter: Frozen Fresh Product

Yes that is ice on the veggies!

We’ve been getting shipments of fresh organic fruits and vegetables from Full Circle Farm the last few months, resuming service after over a year. We stopped service previously after helping to bring Full Circle Farm shipments to Tok with others in the community including the tireless efforts of Francine at the Tok General Store because the shipments in winter were arriving frozen. The truck (from an Alaskan shipping company) that brought the boxes of fresh produce to Tok from Anchorage where they are flown in from Washington State didn’t realize the devastating affect of Interior winters on the contents in the boxes.

We resumed recently when we heard that the truck drivers learned their lesson finally after much spoiled produce and were putting the boxes in their cab. All was well and earlier this winter, we had a few great deliveries, savoring the fresh and diverse offerings. But now, for a second box in a row, we are getting produce that is frozen solid including tomatoes, tangerines, apples, pears, mushrooms, carrots, beets, kiwi and potatoes. The boxes are in the back of the trucks again.

The vegetables will fare better upon thawing than the fruit which will turn to a semi liquified state (applesauce and pear sauce may be in order before they competely spoil). The shelf-life of the veggies thawed, however, will be just a few days.

While Full Circle Farm has a 100% satisfaction guarantee which is greatly appreciated, it is discouraging to get half-edible but great looking produce at a time in the year that every little bit of “sunshine” counts. Well, you do what you can do and get what you can get in these parts.

I’m off to sautee some frozen rainbow chard.

Got produce?

10 Things People Don’t Believe About Tok Alaska Winters

When I travel the country and tell people where I live, jaws drop, both out of awe and incredulity. “You live THERE?! Why in the world?? Boy, I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska!!” I explain that my husband’s job brought us here, first to Anchorage and almost two years ago to Tok.  It’s beautiful here in the summers, cold as all get out in the winters.

My first winter here was the coldest, with our home thermometer capping off at -60 degrees Fahrenheit. Last summer was mild with many more minus 30s and 40s  than past the minus 60 mark. Here are some of the things that happened to us, especially the first winter, that still cause friends’ eyes to pop open:

1. Temperatures can get below -60 degrees Fahrenheit for long stretches of time and most thermometers just don’t go any further.

2. We put cardboard or leather inside the grill on our vehicles to keep the cold air from freezing the radiator.

3. We get what’s called the “Tok Package” to insulate our vehicle engines – not just an engine block heater which is common in colder states but also an oil pan heater and battery blanket.

4. We get “square tires.” When we start our vehicles and start driving in the colder temperatures, the tires clunk and thunk like a flat tire. The tires freeze flat and take a while for the air inside them to warm up and smooth out.

5. Your breath freezes on the inside of your car windshield. After a certain point, even your car heater can’t keep up, and your breath turns into a crust on the inside of your windshield. Helpful to have a little credit card-sized inside the windshield ice scraper. Yes, they make them in Alaska.

6. School buses run until -45 degrees. We don’t have snow days here where kids get out of going to school. We have cold days when the temperatures become impossible for the school bus to operate properly and safely.

7. Our walls are 12 inches thick. Not everyone has the same kind of walls, although the log houses do have thick walls for insulation. But our place looks like a regular house but with walls a foot thick to keep out the cold and keep in the heat.

8. Wine does freeze. I learned this hard way when I brought all the wine gifts from friends from Anchorage on our drive to Tok. Needless to say I let the bottles thaw out and drank it anyway.

9. Moisture in your nostrils crystalizes. When you go outside in the colder temps, you can literally hear the moisture in your nostrils crackling and freezing up. Needless to say breathing in the air at that point is not good for your lungs.

10. We did see a thermometer at minus 71 degrees. My husband took a photo of it and  it caused quite a ruckus across the Internet amongst weather geeks. Eventually, a representative from NOAA came by Tok to explain why it wasn’t an accurate reading. But we still have the picture! 😉

I haven’t experienced what happens when you throw a cup of hot water into the air outside. Everyone keeps telling me to try it, but I keep forgetting and going outside when it is cold enough to freeze midair isn’t my idea of fun!

Here’s a little video to give you a sense of winters at minus 60. Driving to General Store in Tok

– Watch more Videos at Vodpod.
Are you ready for winter?

Tok Alaska Winters are So Dry…

…How dry are they?

Winters are so dry here that

  • you can’t consume enough water in the day to make up for the moisture you lose. Even the requisite 8 glasses a day barely makes a dent.
  • the only place drier is outer space. (Just saw a doctor in Fairbanks who pretty much addressed all that has been ailing me since I moved to Tok and said that doctors in Fairbanks treat their patients with an eye toward what astronauts do to address the dry climate. Only Minnesota comes close).
  • you tend to get chronic sinus infections each winter. Long timers are seemingly immune so at some point your body must get used to these abnormal conditions although chronic nosebleeds are common.
  • you wake up every morning with dry mouth, dry tongue, dry throat, dry cough.
  • your hands and feet feel like sandpaper and no amount of moisturizer seems to bring relief.
  • the doctors in Fairbanks recommend slathering your body with Vaseline or Eucerin after every shower. I’ve been avoiding petroleum products for many years but am tempted to try this because I can’t bear the parchment dry skin.
  • you get a shock every single time you touch a light switch.
  • your computer can freeze up to a dozen times a day because of static electricity surges.
  • anti-static dryer sheets can only do so much because the static electricity is so powerful.
  • humidifiers can burn out struggling to keep up and have only a minimal effect on the atmosphere moisture here.
  • all the snow on the ground has little to no impact on the moisture levels in the air.
  • you leave Interior Alaska for a few days and suddenly 90% of the symptoms you were experiencing chronically for weeks or months disappear.

This is what I’ve been going through but until this past week, nobody in Tok mentioned these issues because I think everyone – including the health practitioners – just take it as a given.

Now that I know what the problems seem to be, I can work toward being creative with solutions.

One thing the doctor in Fairbanks gave me was Ponaris sinus emollient that had been used by NASA. In 24 hours, my sinuses went from inflamed and parched to normal.

What are remedies you’ve heard about for very, very, very dry climates?

Gettin’ Frosty in Tok!

Now we’re having the weather I remember from our first months here in Tok. Tomorrow – Winter Soltice – will also mark exactly a year that we’ve been here. Finally getting my “Tok Legs” which is an awful lot like sea legs. Takes a lot of getting used to, there are moments of unrest, and then it all feels like no big deal. Then you get out of Tok and realize once again how very different things are here, for better or for worse.

With cold, comes new anecdotes about the cold – things that may seem quite normal and typical to most Tokites, but believe me they are not normal or typical for many others. My latest fun Tok Winter Pics are of the frost and ice forming on the inside of our windows today. Keep in mind we have 12 inch thick walls and two layers of windows!

In my daughter’s room, we had lined all of her teddy bears on the window sill, and they were all stuck to the windows. After some tugging and a little bit of teddy bear fur left behind, all bears were wrapped in blankets (after the requisite teddy bear operations to minimize frostbite).

We’ve just ordered some wood for the first time and plan to light our wood stove for the first time as soon as the wood arrives. Now THAT will be cozy and warm.

How are YOU faring on this fine winter’s day?

Scene from Eagle

On my way into Glenallen recently, I stopped off at Jeannie’s Java for a latte and breakfast burrito. Jeannie’s daughter and I began chatting and when she heard I was coming from Tok, she mentioned that a young man was trying to get to Tok to try to hitch a flight to Eagle. He was a photographer on assigment, and she asked if I’d speak with him. Sure, I said, and that’s how I met Ross McDermott.

Ross was on assignment to shoot photographs of the devastation in Eagle. One story was a Studio 360 radio piece by his friend Jesse Dukes and the other an article for Mother Jones magazine by Ted Genoways of the Virginia Quarterly Review (both should be out end of June).

I told Ross that I’d be heading back to Tok in the afternoon, then gave him a slew of ideas and people’s names in Tok who I thought could help him in his quest to get to Eagle. We exchanged contact information, and on my way home, I learned that he was able to hitchhike to Tok about half hour after he and I spoke.

Ross got back in touch recently to say he did get to Eagle by hitchhiking from Tok, and was able to take photos. He was kind enough to send me a bunch of them to choose one for this blog. Below is the one I picked that I thought really reflected both the physical and emotional impact of the disaster.

Take a look at Ross’s professional site and also his American Festivals Project. He’s a very talented guy. I hope his images help the world see what happened up here.

You can also check out Eagle Flood Info.

RM_eagle  24

photo used with permission from Ross Dermott

Have you been to Eagle? Please share stories, images and any advice on how we can help our neighbors.

Dry Skin Relief in Tok

pro_gentle_facial_moisturizerFuel oil heat, forced air furnace, tightly sealed walls, and a low-humidity. All the right ingredients for very dry skin.

I have very dry skin to start with and this kind of environment is like dragging fingernails across a chalkboard for me. I’m in a constant frenzied search for more lotion.

Right now, I’m using some high quality face cream from Terralina as overall body cream after running out of their body lotion. I’m finding that their face cream feels even better than their body lotion on my body but this little tub is going fast. What I love about Terralina is their full ingredient disclosure as well as a handy glossary of what common bodycare ingredients really mean.


The Tok Report – Car in Cold Weather

I’m playing around with Seesmic and seeing if my DSL connection will handle it. Here’s a little clip I just made about cold weather and vehicles. (I wish I could embed the video but doesn’t seem to allow it.)

Click for Video


What are YOUR cold weather vehicle stories?

8 Things I Just Learned About Living In Tok Alaska

Here are some little details I’m learning about living in Tok that are interesting, curious or just plain good to know.

1. The Fairbanks News-Miner is delivered by truck each day. Usually after 12pm. Sometimes, it doesn’t make it into town. Most people rely on the Internet to access their “local” paper. $1.25

2. The real local paper here is called the Mukluk News, and it is a number of 13×17 inch sheets of paper stapled together. Filled with local tidbits, ads for local businesses, and lots of religious references and quotes. Fifty cents.

3. The Anchorage Daily News is only delivered Wednesdays and Sundays. By small plane. And when the plane can’t make it in to Tok, no ADN. $1.50

4. When your car gets down to minus 50 or colder, strange things begin to happen to your car. Such as your steering and brake fluid begins to freeze. As you are driving.

5. Most Tokites put cardboard or leather across their car grills to keep out the cold air. Otherwise, when you are driving, the cold outside air is forced into the car, quickly cooling it down until you literally have no heat.

6. If you have condensation on your windshield and are driving down the highway, it will quickly turn into a thin, opaque crust of ice. We had to scrape the inside of our windshield the other night. While driving. With actual windshield ice scrapers. But I think a credit card might do a better job. More flexible.

7. They have karaoke every other Saturday night at the Tok Lodge (bar). I have to get my Karaoke system out of it’s box so I can start practicing!

8. The outer walls on our house are 12 inches thick. My husband says this is not typical. Usually, walls are 6 inches thick, I believe. But the foot of wall between us and the cold is why we can stay so warm in the house.

More Tok Tidbits soon!

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And For Those Who Need Proof…Minus 80 Degrees F

This is a shot of the weather station temp gauge at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge offices in Tok, Alaska.


I’m still looking for a thermometer for the house that will register lower than -60 degrees. Any ideas?

Gotta Get Me Some Bunny Boots in Tok, AK

AKRaven Surplus sells those Bunny Boots that you see on the folks in Antarctica…and in Tok, Alaska. Gotta Get me Some.


photo from AKRaven’s Bunny Boots site

These Guys Are My New Heros

I was wondering what temperatures might be like in Antarctica and what the affects of that kind of cold might be. These guys do a great job answering some of my burning questions.

And the temps, BTW, are more than 70 and 80 below zero. I’m guessing they are speaking Farenheit but either way, that’s freaking cold.

Even colder than Tok in winter.

But then again. It is Antarctica.



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