The Alaska Edition: Awaiting "the melt"

Editor's note: Chelsea Spear has established herself as one of the top photographers of Instagram and is regularly named by her fans and peers as one of the world's best mobile photographers. She documents her life in Alaska on the social platform, as well as here on The Last Word. Read the first installment of The Alaska Edition here.

This was my first winter here in Alaska. When I moved up from Portland, Oregon last year, I had no idea what to expect, and after the most wonderful Alaskan summer I had almost forgotten that Alaska has only two seasons. Spring, Summer and Fall are all wrapped up into a jam-packed three months of dreamy haze, entailing 20 hours a day of sunlight and blooming flowers, wildlife and untouched land everywhere you look. We’ll call this the season of abundance.

Winter however, is an entirely different story. We saw our first Alaskan snow on the first day of autumn last year, and spent the next seven months in a state of winter. At first, I was excited to see the puffy white flakes falling and quickly adding inch upon inch of beauty to the green of summer. My husband and I had saved up a good deal of firewood over last summer, and as temperatures outside began plummeting we took full advantage of heating our home via our fireplace. It became a ritual: sitting on the floor around the hearth warming ourselves as we would read, make s’mores or play card games. The ritual is still treasured to this day, though we humorously ran out of firewood before Thanksgiving.

Each outdoor adventure — which I previously wrote about so emphatically — became more and more of a challenge. Where there are already very few roads in Alaska that take you from one place to another, in the winter, the options are even scarcer. Many roads are closed for safety purposes, limiting accessibility to most of our favorite hiking and sightseeing places. The routine we had formed in our first summer of driving far and spending every second of light beneath sunshine changed drastically to what I’ll call “drive-by sightseeing.”

Road conditions would continue to slow us down as the months of winter continued, and hiking or walking in snow became less possible without snowshoes or cross country skis. There were many days of clear skies and sunlight that fooled me into thinking it would be warm out, but those single digit or negative temperatures quickly corrected me.

The darkness was another challenge. For about one month we had only three to four hours of daylight, where the sun would sit on the horizon, never really moving up or down — just skimming the surface of the mountains. It left me feeling melancholy, unmotivated and wanting to sleep every chance I got. Thankfully that was in December when the holidays brightened everything up on the insides of stores, houses and even the people, all of which was refreshing and helped me survive the darkest month of the year. As soon as January hit, however, winter became harder and longer than I’d expected.

People tend to stay indoors unless skiing or participating in winter sports here, which I am not so good at. I relied on my husband and my cat for entertainment more than I should have. It was so cold, and as a minimalist, I don’t have a television or play online, and my camera often stayed in its case as it was too dark to capture what I wanted. Let’s be honest: I got really tired of the snow, and the fact that everything was frozen over. I was upset that I was struggling so much, and frustrated in myself for getting into a rut. After a handful of tear-filled conversations with friends and family, I decided to make the most of the situation. Alaska didn’t have much to offer outdoors, so I spent my time utilizing the indoors. I worked on a portfolio, updated my website, began working on projects like leatherworking, and journaled a lot of my struggles and frustrations. Since then I haven’t turned back.

Come April, the snow and the ice began to melt at an incredible, relieving rate. With temperatures in the 30s, what we call “the melt” begins — and it ran clear through May. Whereas people in faraway locations might spend Memorial Day outdoors or in swimsuit, I spent the weekend with my heat off and windows open, letting the warm, fresh air refresh my home. Once winter finally came to a close, it became safe to say I will forever remember it fondly, despite the surprusing set of trials it introduced me to.

I've learned that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and in a strange way, I realize the new bloom of spring and summer encapsulates my journey perfectly. My head is in the right place to embrace the sun and warmth of June — and I can assure you that I won’t be taking it for granted.