SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

It's a Beautiful Day, In Frost Patch USA
By Dave Kiffer


December 10, 2007
Monday AM

Ketchikan, Alaska - By the time you read this, Ketchikan's normal wet winter will probably have resumed.

jpg Dave Kiffer

We don't often get these lovely little stretches of clear and cold weather like we have had in early December, just like Ketchikanites don't often have the pleasure of white Christmases.

We watch TV and see the commercials where the horse drawn carriages pull up to the brightly lit houses and sigh. That's not our reality most Christmases. Santa almost always decks his "halls" with Gore Tex on his way here.

And we don't often get these pretty little cold snaps, maybe once every couple of years or so. Just to remind us that we really aren't living in North Seattle after all.

I was walking across a parking lot this week, enjoying the brisk temps and watching my breath condense in front of me.

I heard a little rustle on the adjacent hillside and then a sharp crack, followed by a large thunk on the hood of the car next to mine.

Santa slipping off a roof top?

Nope, just a piece of the hillside cracking loose and denting the hood on someone else's car. Freezing and thawing does that to our lovely granite island now and again, but you really rarely see nature at work like that. Even better when it's not your hood getting dented.

I pulled into a grocery store parking lot late one evening and noticed all the car engines still running. It's nice to live in a community where you can still do that. Better still to live in a community where it rarely gets so cold that you have to do it all winter (like Squarerbanks!).

Of course, no one is out ripping off all these cars with their engines running because - frankly - even hoodlums tend to stay inside in this kind of weather.

The clear skies mean that the bright sun in the low horizon has made driving a challenge (especially before the car heats up enough to clear all the frost from the windshield).

Everyone you pass on the road seems to be waving at you. Or desperately trying to block the sun from their eyes.

Either way it's good to see their hands off their cell phones for a few seconds at least.

The third avenue bypass is treacherous heading south because of the sun, as are the endless little Secon slaloms on Tongass (I took out a couple of cones the other day, oh well!).

The other day I stepped from a building into a bright patch of sun.

My eyes squinted, my nose wrinkled up and I sneezed. A couple of seconds later, another Ketchikan lifer stepped into the same sunbeam and also sneezed. That's how you can tell the real Ketchikan sourdoughs.

The best part of a cold snap is - if it lasts long enough - the frozen lakes. Before my time, Ketchiskaters headed up to Scout Lake in the hills behind what is now Bear Valley.

If the cold lasted long enough, they would also get out to Ward Lake, where bonfires and other "warmers" would keep the skaters going late into the night as the winter stars circled overhead.

Even though I never learned to skate (we had a local period of pre-global warming in my youth), a frozen-over Ward Lake is very important to my history.

That was where my parents met and first "courted."

Family legend has it that my prospective Dad talked my prospective Mom into joining a long chain of skaters. Then they sent her careening into a snow bank. She should have taken it as an omen.

A frozen Ward Lake also led - very indirectly - to my marriage.

My wife is a skating fanatic. When she came up to Ketchikan in the early 1990s for her job interview, it was cold enough for the lakes to be frozen over and clear and sunny as well.

She naturally thought that even though Ketchikan doesn't have an indoor skating rink, she could still make do here, at least in the winter.

Of course, the next decade was - for the most part - too warm for much skating on Ward Lake. Too bad for her. Real good for me.

So even though I hmrrphh around town like everyone else, bundled up against the cold like a third-cousin to the Michelin Man, I have a warm spot in my heart for the rare frosty days that we do get.

After all, it could be raining.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

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