Into the Ice Fog

I know you are not supposed to like ice fog. It makes driving hazardous. It's bad for the lungs. If nothing else, it's an indication that it's just too damn cold out.

I love ice fog.

When it hits -30F in Fairbanks, the water droplets in the humid air solidify into ice crystals, even where there are no nuclei around which the crystals can begin to grow. The air becomes thick and white, and visibility is greatly reduced. Carbon monoxide from vehicles, those traveling and those merely idling in parking lots, gets in the mix. At -40F, roadway visibility is reduced to a car length or two. If you are smart, you'll slow down. If a fast moving truck overtakes you, you are enveloped in an impenetrable cloud that seems to adhere to your windshield.

My first winter in Fairbanks, in 1991, it seemed the ice fog persisted most of the winter. In recent years, there has been little or no ice fog. This winter, so far, we have experienced about five days of -40F, with real ice fog.

In 1991, I didn't drive. I dressed in layers, starting with silk long johns and ending with a heavy motorcycle jacket, and pedaled my bicycle over the streets paved with rock hard snow. If I took the bus, I relaxed and enjoyed the journey across the dark and mysterious town, watching as the lit windows of businesses surged out of the fog and receded.

That was the year that I came to accept Fairbanks as my forever home. Many Fairbanks residents suffer from light deprivation during the long winter months. I embraced the darkness. The heavy ice fog sparkled right in front of my eyes, wrapping me in a scintillating cocoon. I had never seen anything like it. I felt warm and protected- not exposed and wind ravaged, as I so often felt waiting for a bus on a street corner in Rochester.

This year, when the ice fog descended on Fairbanks in late January, I welcomed the colder temperatures. Finally, University of Alaska kids could pose in bikinis and swim trunks at the big illuminated digital display reading -40F at the University entrance, and post photos on Facebook. And I could crawl into that sparkling cocoon that rivaled any fairy tale creation. I propelled my little Subaru Baja down Farmer's Loop, on my way to Dick's Thursday night pot luck, a weekly tradition for at least 20 years. Rear view lights of cars up ahead came into view when within a couple car lengths, but there was little traffic. I blasted the Tremeloes Greatest Hits on my CD player, and the boys' angelic voices blended with each other and the fog.

That night, I listened for the boreal owls whose warbling hoots had entertained me just a week ago. I heard nothing. The boreal owl lays eggs early, to take advantage of newly hatched song birds that will provide food for the growing owlets. I wonder if my owls' egg has survived these temperatures, or lies frozen in an abandoned nest. My cats look at me expectantly as I close the door on the silent night. Fairbanks prepares for sleep, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

© 2017 Maureen Dey - 2/16/17


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