Slack Tide: 5 Stages of Winter Grief

When it comes to weather, I’m usually a die-hard optimist — ask my wife; it drives her crazy.

However, at this point – even with a snowpack of 54 inches at the base of Eaglecrest (and over three times that at the top) – I think that might be the case for winter, at least at the sea. It burned alive then went out, too beautiful for this world, like Crystal Pepsi or the Segway.

It’s good, though. I’ve come to accept it: we’ve reached the end of winter, no matter how many times I check the 10-day forecast.

Of course, acceptance, according to the Kubler-Ross model, commonly referred to as the “five stages of grief,” represents the final stage one experiences in the face of impending death. The others are denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. At some point each year, we Alaskans have to face the death of winter…and hope for a quick rebirth, say by the following October. Nothing says “Alaska” like a snowball fight during a trick or treating, except maybe shooting a halibut in the face with a .44 before hauling it into the boat.

Let’s trace the path:

Denial: Winter is not dead. Not remotely! We are only in March. And who cares if he came in like a lamb? He can still come out like a lion, or maybe something a little less than a lion. Maybe a cheetah? Or an ocelot? Yeah, that’s it – March can still come out as an ocelot. And look over there: a patch or two of snow clinging to life like the last proud shreds of a bald man’s comb. OK, so I’m wearing shorts. I wear shorts every season here, only these days it’s not to show everyone how tough I am. What travel plans for the summer? I haven’t made travel plans for the summer. I only indicated dates. And booked reservations. But I only “hold” those reservations. I have 24 hours to cancel, change or pay, so voila, winter is still alive. Oh, and the tanzanite stores don’t open for almost an entire month. It’s still winter in Alaska if you can’t buy tanzanite.

Anger: Awesome, just awesome – what am I going to do with all that rock salt now? And how about the pack of 1000 Little Hotties I impulse-bought at Costco? Gow! Bad enough, I’ll have to drink all those leftover winter beers in the spring now, like some kind of cheechacko. And just when I finally figured out kids ski gear. Now I have to start all over again with their bikes! Mother chum-bucket!!!

Negotiation: Tell you what? Just give me another massive dump (of snow) – just enough snowshoes for a cabin, write my name in the pee and pull out those really nice sleds we parked in our garage, ride easy and put away dry. I promise I’ll really do all these things, instead of spending all my time lounging by the woodstove still in my pajamas. Please? At the very least, how about enough fresh powder to build one last snowman? Or even just a winter mix? I’ll manage with a winter mix-man.

The Depression: What’s the point of living in Alaska if you can’t wow your friends in the Lower 48 with stories of shoveling off your roof or posting “yéti beard” photos on Instagram? It’s good for me to have faith in the resilience of global weather patterns.

Acceptance: Well, winter is over. There, I said it. Undeniably: spring is here and summer is on the way, and that’s fine. There will be other projects not to complete, equipment not to use, and days to waste (most likely watching something while drinking something). Maybe I’ll try gardening. Or trail running. Or, I could just take a hammock. As for winter… Alaska still does it better than anywhere else. I’ll never stop loving it and I’ll take whatever I can, even if it’s just a month-long tease just over the holidays. We will try again next year, just after we are done mourning the death of summer.

• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning writer and humorist based in Juneau. “Slack Tide” appears twice a month in Neighbors.


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