A cold settled with sturdy conviction across much of our stomping grounds; temperatures not seen now for a couple of years across the Goldstream and Tanana valleys. Our thermometer read -48°F at its lowest, but we received word of mercuric observations reaching as deep as -55°F. The quicksilver gauge on the side of the shed behaves more lethargically, almost turtle-like, not sure what to make of the bottom it is quickly approaching. It would only hold there for a couple days, but would be sandwiched by nearly a week on either end at only a modest 15- to 20-degrees warmer; some might argue a relative heat wave by Alaskan standards.
At these temperatures, breathing through your mouth is the only option. Any attempt through the nose would be welcomed with a burn that rivaled embers spewing from a fireplace stoked to the brim from this years’ spruce pile. Only the first few breaths are welcomed with a sting in the lungs and throat causing an involuntary cough or two, but seem to acclimate shortly thereafter. I would advise, however, to not suck air with a panting vigor through partially closed mouth or risk a frost bitten tongue. A layer or two extra is necessary to keep the cold from biting your bones. Our trips would not be long comparatively, but an hour or two would be just enough to encase my fur (and his beard) in ice and allow us to ingest our daily dose of nature. I also learned, and quite surprisingly so, that a mustache only has a finite capacity for holding the excretions of a dripping nose.
The rivers on which I bound, a torrent of glacial outpourings and silt during summer, are now frozen solid with more than four feet of ice in some places. We take to them as trails, others use them as roads with bridges of ice now connecting one bank to the other. These sinuous channels, new and gelid canvases with endless possibilities for adventure and exploration. While I chew ice from the ears that are frozen to my jowls, I convince myself that a colder place was never known.