Chicago's polar vortex: a little bit of Alaska in the midwest

Chicago's polar vortex: a little bit of Alaska in the midwest
My own little Narnia, a tree in my front yard.

It’s possible that I’m the only person in the area who was pretty excited about the weather forecast. I’ve been waiting for Chicago’s polar vortex like a kid for Christmas morning. Today’s it’s -14 at my house, and I can see about a foot of snow on the outdoor chaise lounge. Makes a girl want to snap on the skis and go out on the town.

I spent most of my life in the southwest. Though I mostly lived at high altitude, I’m used to warm temperatures, low humidity, and sun, lots of sun. After graduate school I moved east (to Tennessee) and then north (to Ohio) and then really north (to Alaska).

You’d think that I’d miss the sun and heat, and you’d be right. A major motivator for leaving Alaska was to get out of the weather and light extremes. Most years, snow fell in October and break up came in May. In between was mostly white mixed occasionally with mud and muck.

The dreariest time of the year was break up, when the ice on the rivers melted enough to break up and the berms began the slow melt, revealing trash, dog feces and, some years a body. One New Year’s Eve, a guy stumbled out of a bar and wasn’t found until April when the snow melted. Break up is a mess.

But when the snow was on the branches, when there was hoar frost and ice fog, it was Narnia. My daughter, like every other kid in Anchorage, participated in Junior Nordic, where she learned to cross country ski. Anchorage has more than 80 miles of groomed trails, free and much of it lighted. You can ski day or night, which is good since it’s mostly night in the winter.

Junior Nordic lessons were held no matter what the weather. The rule was that the kids were on skis as long as the temperature was warmer than -4. Amazingly, it was the little ones who were toughest. The five and six year olds toughed it out while the 11 and 12 years olds skulked back to the lodge to “wax” their skis.

Minus 4! Of course this meant that parents were out in -4, too. Frozen nose hairs, eyebrows and eye lashes were about all that showed. I used to think that Alaska had the most egalitarian of cultures because everyone, poor or rich, looked the same in their bulky clothes and clumsy boots and gloves.

My favorite winter sport in Alaska was swimming. For me, nothing equaled the opportunity to strip off the layers, swim laps and cook in the hot tub.

Who knew that 14 years of living in Anchorage would make such an imprint? When the snow and these subzero temperatures that Chicago is experiencing were forecast, I was initially skeptical. Winter hasn’t really happened since we moved here.

My backyard and a outdoor furniture with snow.

My backyard and  outdoor furniture with snow.

As it got closer and as the snow started up, however, my excitement for it all began to build. I found an excuse yesterday to get out and drive. I love that quiet sound of tires on compacted snow. I also miss my all wheel drive car.

I’ve shoveled snow three times since Friday, and though it’s hard work, for me it’s exhilarating, too. It’s the perfect task for a compulsive soul like myself.

I’ve been checking the temperature every few hours since about 3 p.m. yesterday, waiting for the big freeze. And it’s here. I woke up around 5 a.m., grabbed my iPad and checked. Minus 12 in Flossmoor.

And you know what? The best part about the cold weather in Chicago is that my university is closed. I’m on the couch with two cats nearby and a blanket tucked around me. I’ve finished two cups of coffee, and I’m ready to settle in for the day.

The only question now is, should I snap on the skis and take a tour of my neighborhood?

I’d appreciate it if you’d hit the “like” button at the top. While you’re at it, why don’t you tell me what you’re doing in the subzero temps?

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