"An old-timer who operated a weather station north of the Brooks Range once told me that there's a digit somewhere between 40 and 50 below zero that marks the frontier where civilized life begins to shred. Dip even a little ways below that, and generators and combustion engines tend to bust. Belts grow brittle. Tires flatten. People stop bathing, or making small talk. Sanity fades with the light, and the air goes liquid and bitter on the tongue. Below that line, one blunder with bare hands can lead to frostbite or worse. Below that line, you can die due to mishaps. Better pay attention to small things."
So true, and so well put.
It is difficult to describe the extreme cold. What it does, how it feels. I hear over and over that people's main impression is walking out the door and immediately having all moisture in the nose and eyes evaporate or freeze. The river does odd things in the winter until it is thoroughly frozen over. It steams in the cold. If you have a complete grasp of physics, this has something to do about temperature transmuting water from form to form. I prefer to see it as magical.
I always describe winter air as crystalline. Focus and distance and dimensionality shift.
My mother, who lived through the 60's, says its like the atmosphere is on hallucinogens.
The snow covered branches of trees seem to stand out from the air that surrounds them, like they are both solid. or are equally permeable. When you breathe, the air sears your throat.
It means being minutely conscious, focused on the tasks of living. The fire in the woodstove has never been so important. Wood must be brought in to thaw before it is burnt. You start the car twenty minutes before you go anywhere to let it warm up. We set the generator to a maximum run time of one hour, so that it never fully charges the batteries, so the house pulls the draw down to the level the generator kicks on more often, so the generator runs more frequently and keeps itself warm so it doesn't freeze.
Darlin' man doesn't let me out the door to drive the 26 miles into town in the morning until he's assured I have my fur hat, down coat, snow pants, and bunny boots (the last two I keep in the car for emergencies and don't generally wear).
The above quote is by Doug O'Harra from Anchorage and can be found in the article here: