How quickly we can adapt to changes in our lifestyles, our habits, and most especially, our habitats. Though some corners of our brains will resist — holding tightly to fond remembrances of times, places, and people in our past — physiologically speaking we are well equipped to accept change.
I grew up in Northern California.
Winters were mild, summers were scorching. Spring and fall were unremarkable, serving mostly as school art project fodder and harbingers of the revered seasons to come.
By scorching, I mean blisteringly hot. I mean temperatures well over 100* for days at a time. I mean not being able to walk on blacktop without shoes. I mean second-degree burns from seat belts and public pool water reaching body-temperature by noon. Hot.
Winters were gentle. Of course, I didn’t think so at the time. At the time, they seemed absolutely frigid: biting wind, freezing rain, the occasional lacy layer of thin ice on top of the puddle by my morning bus stop. Forty degrees never felt so cold!
Then, when I was 13, my family moved to Kodiak, AK. We drove up the Al-Can highway and arrived in mid-September, just in time to herald the first “real” winter I’d ever experienced. Cold, wet, slushy snow, a constant cyclical freeze and thaw that caused a thick, slick layer of ice to form on every surface, an actual NEED for boots, mittens, and coats!
The summer, unnaturally mild, drenchingly rainy, making me long for the warm summer nights of my childhood, the summer rain so lukewarm that the shock of Kodiak’s chilly drops are all the more profound. High school girls walking around in tank tops and cutoff shorts at 50*, a temperature that would cause a mother in Shasta County to exhort her child to zip up her coat.
Still, by the next year I had physically adapted to the climate; I could navigate icy sidewalks like a professional, and balmy 50* breezes found me putting my winter coats back into the closet.
Four years later, I found myself in Fairbanks. Arriving in July, I felt a rebirth of sorts: 90* weather! Hours and hours of daylight! Scorching blacktop! Of course, the most remarkable thing about summers in Fairbanks is that such a temperate, welcoming climate will so soon turn into an Arctic wasteland, home to a cold that gets into your bones and teeth and blood and car batteries. That first winter I didn’t see how anyone could possibly survive such cold. I am a history lover, and thinking of the pioneers of Alaska, living in Fairbanks without centrally-heated homes and automobiles and convenience stores every few miles, my mind was boggled. Visiting Kodiak for a week at Christmastime, I was amazed by the welcoming warmth of the 28* weather, bracingly shocked at my re-entry to Fairbanks at -40*.
Seasons in Alaska vary widely by region, and some parallels can be made between the weather found here and that found in the lower 48. But the seasons here become such a part of the local identity, shaping the land and the people, a constant background element that works its way into the psyches of the people lucky enough to call this land home. I still fondly recall those warm Californian nights with a pang of regret, but when I take my daughter and dog to the ocean and the warm salty air swirls around us, I pull my coat a little tighter around me and know I wouldn’t trade these seasons for anything.