Sunday, February 11, 2007

Creature of Habit

When we first moved to Alaska, we lived on a homestead outside of Fairbanks. Although it had electricity it had no other modern conveniences. So, we had an old black and white portable TV, but there was an outhouse and heat came from a potbelly stove. Getting up to a freezing room in the winter and building up the fire was a way of greeting the day that I had not been familiar with before. I began to build other habits around it. I would pick up old newspapers and grocery bags, open the door of the stove, and throw the trash in to burn. Washing dishes, in winter, started with standing on the log bridge, blowing a hole in the ice with a 30-06, dropping a bucket into the creek, lugging the water into the house, and heating it on top of the stove.

Transportation also had its little adjustments to living in the frozen north. Of course, there wasn't a usable garage, so the car sat out in the weather, even the day it dropped to -58. Notice the electric plug peaking out of the front of this car. That leads to one or more of a number of heaters (engine block, radiator, battery) and you plug it into an outlet when the temperature drops below freezing. Our homestead had an extension cord that ran out the front door. Lucky people had a place to plug in at work; most people didn't. So, you went out and turned your car on every couple of hours, left it running for 15 minutes to a half hour, and then went back out and turned it off.* The other thing that we did to keep those motors running was to add a can of Heat to the gastank every time we filled up. Heat is a gasoline additive that keeps water vapors from freezing in the gas lines.

I seem to make habits, good or bad, and become a slave to them. So, when we moved into town, the first few days, I opened the oven of my electric stove and tossed used paper in. And, although I knew that I now had running water, several times I turned on the faucet, ran a big pot of water, and put it on top of the stove to heat up.

And then there was the summer I went to California to visit. I had borrowed my sister's car, and was filling the gas tank before I returned it. I pulled into the gas station, and although it was over 100 degrees outside, it was dark. To me, dark meant winter. So, when the attendant asked me what I needed, I told him to "fill the tank, throw in a can of Heat, and will you check and tell me why I didn't see any plugs when I took this car out?"

*No one stole it, although there it sat with the engine running. That was partly because Fairbanks was a small town in the 60s and 70s, and partly because there were simply no places to take a stolen car. Only one highway went through the town, everyone recognized almost every car in town, and there were no chop shops.


Anvilcloud said...

I remember reading about cars parked at a shopping center in Whitehorse (I think). They were all running.

J said...

I'm glad your habitness didn't cause you to shoot in a creek for water! :)

I think if we ever make it back to Fairbanks, I want to take Ted and Maya on a search expidition, to see if we can find that old homestead.

Betty said...

Wonderful story. You're a lot braver than I am. I love my creature comforts.

kenju said...

I'm amazed by your stories. I cannot imagine why anyone wants to live where you have those hardships. I am such a creature of the south that I hate it when the temp. gets below 60*....LOL