A White Day After Christmas

By , December 27, 2011

Last autumn, the common prognostication called for this to be a colder winter, with a lot more snow. If that’s the case, then we’re in for it soon. Because, up till now, this has been a classic Southeast Alaska winter, by my experience.

I’ve lived something over 30 years in Alaska, about half of those as a child. As a devotee of the classic White Christmas, I spent a good deal of time and energy fretting fruitlessly over the weather on Christmas Eve and Christmas. What we usually got was a period of very unsettling warmth right around the Winter Solstice, and a green Christmas with rain, or, if we were very lucky, perhaps a weak, wet, token snowfall. Then, on St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, we’d begin to get snow.

Zeiger homestead, St. Stephens Day, 2011

When the snow lay round about . . . (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

This was the general pattern in all the places I lived in Southeast Alaska. I remember one Christmas when I was in high school, my older brother and I went out for a walk before dinner. I wore a beautiful, long, multicolored scarf—not because I needed it, but because it was brand new that day. I wore it over a normal shirt; we needed no coats or other warm clothing. In fact, the scarf was a bit too warm. I might point out that this was the late ’70s, so the shirts we wore were almost certainly thin nylon acetate! We had snow some Christmases, but not many.

Haines seems to have a slightly better chance at a white Christmas than elsewhere in Southeast, but here on the homestead, where our cabin nestles in the warmest, driest microclimate in all our acres, we’re very much subject to the pattern I described above, and this year has been no exception.

On Christmas Eve, just before bed, I stepped outside and discovered about an inch or two of snow on the ground. This “snow” was more accurately slush-in-waiting, eager to fulfill that destiny. By morning, it had disappeared. The day was beautiful, with sunny breaks and comfortably cool temperatures. It was the kind of day that would hold the welcome promise of spring in late March or early April. It felt familiar; it reminded me of past Christmases.

Early the next morning, a light powdery snow began to fall. Daylight never penetrated the cloud cover. Noon was as dark as the previous day’s late afternoon. Snow began to pile up, reminding us that it is, indeed, winter after all. The old familiar pattern held true.

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