Winter gratitude

by • November 10, 2017 • 61 North, Columns, HighlightsComments (0)1

Positive attitude helps Alaskans enjoy the season

When can we leave this place?” I said.

“Like, go on vacation?”

“No.” I paused to swig water and gulp a vitamin D. “Like, leave-leave. I can’t do winter.” My husband laughed lightly, shrugged with understanding and headed out for work. I stared out the window at the snow creeping its way down the mountains, sighed and sat down to work.

Sarah Zerkel’s father, Rick, breaks trail during a Thanksgiving hike in 2015. Embracing the colder days ahead is the best way to enjoy the long winter.
Courtesy Sarah Zerkel

If May is when we finally come out of the drudge of winter, then November is when we start to slip back in. And, complaining about it is as old and cherished an Alaskan winter sport as skiing. As an ardent winter sports enthusiast, even I have to admit I get a little gloomy as the snow and dark close in on The Last Frontier.

But, just as winter sets in, the holidays follow. Say what you will about the added stressors inherent in the holidays (God knows there’s many). But, as an Alaskan apt to grumble at the first signs of winter, I think it couldn’t be more apropos that Thanksgiving – a literal day set aside to practice gratitude – is the first big holiday of the season.

Thanksgiving 2015. I was preparing for a climb in South America that December and was able to cajole my father – a more practiced grumbler than I – to join me for a training hike along Rabbit Lake Trail. It was a tough sell, but somehow we found ourselves approaching the trailhead, the only two out in the snow.

I trudged along with my pack, weighted down with water jugs, stepping into ankle deep snow, laughing at my Dad who, up ahead of me clicking away on his new camera, stepped into the snow thigh-deep. All in all, we probably lasted only two hours out on the trail before calling it a day and heading back to break bread with family.

I’m sure it was cold and windy, and I know there was tons of snow, but recalling this hike all I remember was having a great time together. Hours and two, … er, three slices of pecan pie later, I remember feeling gratitude for our hike regardless of the cold ensuing winter. I felt grateful for the piles of snow, brisk wind, for the soreness in my feet and the time with family.

Now sitting and working at my dining room table, watching the leaves fall, far too quickly, I’m preparing myself for the season ahead. I’ll still complain, my dad will still grumble and yet we’ll still choose to live here – to enjoy the short winter days, and cherish time together and more snowy, winter memories.

Gratitude, like being Alaskan, takes practice. And, if you ask me, Alaskans know how to practice gratitude better than anyone. We know how to take the good with the bad, appreciate the long, dark winter and find fun and joy even in the coldest conditions. We get creative; we dig out our skis, our snowshoes, and our insulated boots and take to the outdoors anyway. Because winter is a part of who we are, and part of why we’re grateful to live here.

 

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