I’m thinking of doing a whole series, translating things-Alaskans-tell-you-when-you-move-here to, well, non-Alaskan. :) Because, as I’ve learned, there’s a gap between the phrasing of some of the advice you’ll hear and what the phrasing probably should be. (Totally unintentional, by the way.)

The big one, so far, is winter driving. “Anchorage takes care of its roads” and “Winter driving isn’t so bad” mean, respectively, “They throw down gravel on top of the snow pack, sometimes–oh, by the way, that one 4-lane road becomes 3 lanes, but it’s cool: there are wheel ruts to follow, in lieu of road markings,” and “I’m used to driving in Anchorage in winter.” Subtext: “What is this ‘plowing’ you speak of?” and “The first snow is terrible, but, on the bright side, most of the idiots are stuck in ditches while the rest of us adjust.” (They plow when the snow gets really deep.)

“It doesn’t get much colder here than there” really means “We’re used to sub-zero temperatures between November and April(?), and since we only ever go Outside [that is, past the Alaskan border] for summer holidays or Christmas, we figure everyone else must be, too.” Subtext: “Unless you lived in the northern parts of the Midwest, it’s going to seem cold, OK? Cold.” Further subtext: “We don’t feel right complaining, given Fairbanks’ weather, let alone Nome or Barrow.”

“You don’t need studded tires to get around town,” means “Yes, you need studded tires, you silly cheechako.” Subtext: “Studded tires might make you overconfident, which is even worse than not having them.”

“People drive too slow,” probably means “I’m one of the crazies who drive like it’s not winter,” though the jury’s still out on that one. There sure are some crazies, though, wow. A 10-6 workday (give or take) is nice, because I avoid the worst of both rush hours.

I probably sound snarky or grumpy. I’m not, actually–“amused” is a better characterization, looking back over what I assumed about people’s frames of reference and what turned out to be the truth (I repeat, completely understandable!)–though I won’t lie about the first snowfall being a little harrowing. I’ve realized that this is a totally different environment than anywhere else I’ve ever been and that Alaskans sort of forget the differences, possibly very, very quickly. More to the point, Alaskans, well, like Alaska, so they tend to think positively about it. And, definitely, they want you to like it, too. So far, I do. (Yes, really.) Yeah, I still think it’s cold–I hear it got as low as -9 last night, it was -1 when I started the car this morning, and it was 5 (all Fahrenheit) when I went out for a walk this afternoon–but it’s also so pretty. Seriously, Alaska is where Christmas cards come from.

Still, the adjustment period has been a little tough. The distance really hit me, last week, when I felt like Dale needed me but I couldn’t be there. I also got swamped at work and had minor bird drama (seemed less minor at the time), and, yeah, it’s starting to really get darker out now. The sky wasn’t fully light when I left my house at 9:15 this morning. It’s been fully dark for a while, now (say, maybe an hour), and it’s not even 6:30. (I realized this morning that I won’t find out whether or not the light sensor on my Christmas lights is any good until some weekend when I stay at home. Or February. Whichever comes first.) But some friends went out of their way to make me feel better, and I got to go a couple of fun places, and the trees got absurdly pretty, and Dale had his (our) family around him, and the birds seem OK, and I got a little cleaning done on my apartment, and I got a SAD light, and I’m taking vitamins… Things aren’t perfect, because that’s life. But they’re not nearly as dismal as they might have seemed, last week, either.

A couple of milestones today: I slipped on the ice–first time this winter–but other than a minor knee twinge, was fine. Didn’t even land on my laptop. I also went for a walk, even though it was pretty freaking cold out. At 5 degrees F my coat, scarf, Dr. Martens, wool socks, and glittens do fine (though I’d still prefer gloves for driving); I need another layer under my jeans (when I came in, I realized my legs were numb, though I hadn’t felt all that cold, outside :)) and a thicker hat. Pre-walk, I acquired a set of spikies, which the university provides to students, staff, and faculty for free. I loves them so much. So, so much.

I’ll try to get some pictures of the roads, as the winter progresses, so future newbies know what to expect. Right now, they’ve worn down almost to pavement–I even saw some yellow lines in a turn lane–so I expect snow soon. :) (Tip for future newbies: memorize where the turn lanes you’ll be using really are. People expect you to know that stuff, even though you can’t see markings.) I did get a few pictures of the path by the lake (which isn’t really by the lake at all; it’s near and sort of around the lake, but doesn’t go right down to shore, as far as I can tell–though I started thinking I was on the wrong path and turned back before I made it around) and of hoarfrost on some trees and of a path for skis only (how weird, huh?) and of my apartment window, with ice forming on the inside. That was weird for me; I’ve never had that happen before, and all of my windows and porch door are doing it. Soon, I won’t be able to open them without a hair dryer, which I do not have. Another phenomenon I’d never before experienced, which, sadly, I couldn’t photograph: when I get in the car, as my breath starts to fog the window, it freezes in these neat patterns of lines. It’s really cool-looking. Maybe Dale will be able to get a photo, when he gets here, but it eluded me.

I hear Goose Lake gets … I forget the term, now, but some kind of treatment to make it nice and flat for ice skating. That’s one bonus of a place that stays as reliably cold as Anchorage: the lakes are safe to skate on. I’ll have to relearn how to skate and (hopefully very quickly) learn how to stop. And if you are OK with non-flattened ice skating, there’s apparently a lagoon that freezes over, and then you can skate through the marsh! That sounds all kinds of awesome to me, though it may be a next winter thing. (At my best, I was still a little shaky on skates.)