An icy driveway in Kenai, Alaska, on Nov. 16, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Out of the Office: No column this week

I couldn’t write my Out of the Office column this week.

Too hard.

How is one supposed to settle on an appropriately outdoorsy topic amongst the wild weather vacillations that have taken place lately?

Last week, I was thinking about doing a wry contrarian piece about how much I missed roller skiing.

Due to the roads and bike paths taking on an icy glaze, the last time I was able to roller ski was Nov. 3. Having no choice but to run and wait for snow, I became a regular at the Ski Hill Multi-Use Trail for four days until snow came Nov. 9.

Even that didn’t take away the urge to roller ski because groomers had to put in considerable work to remove trees from the trails, then even more work to condition the snow to make it skiable.

Shoveling my driveway. Waxing my skis. Waiting on the groom. It was all so different than just being able to grab my roller skis and roll no matter the weather in the summer.

The column would reflect on how hard it is to break habits, to pull away from convenience for something more nourishing and fun. Roller skiing sucks compared to skiing, like the difference between farmed and wild salmon. Why was I missing it?

But then the incredibly diligent groomers at Tsalteshi had the trails skiing great by Sunday, I was back to hating roller skiing, and I thought the column was a stupid idea.

How about another wry contrarian column about how much I love shoveling?

I’d talk about how I’d taken inspiration from Tom Sawyer turning work into play whitewashing a fence, or from the chain gang in “Cool Hand Luke” doing the same in shoveling sand onto a tarred road.

Shoveling is a great way to get out and enjoy the winter. It always had been since my days growing up in southeast Wisconsin, back when the area actually got regular snow.

My parents abhorred the frozen ruts that cake to a driveway when a car drives on snow. So they’d get us up as early as it took to make sure my dad had a pristine path to the road.

Somewhere along the way, us kids figured out it was fun to pretend to be Packers running back Eddie Lee Ivery and dive over the snowpiles into the end zone. That, and the peace of tossing powdery snow on a cold, clear winter’s night, developed an affinity in me for shoveling that I’ve never lost.

Then Wednesday happened. A couple inches of snow followed by rain. Brutally heavy shovel loads of snow that strained my back. And all that for a driveway that turned out to be an ice rink anyway (but, yes Mom, with no frozen tire ruts).

I would be writing no column about how much I loved shoveling.

Instead, Wednesday evening I decided to return to Ski Hill MUT. The trail was soggy, but easily runnable with Kahtoola MICROspikes.

The temperature wasn’t winter, but the light was. That unique and enchanted light that fills the air of the far North when the sun has just gone down.

Stars began to twinkle behind the clouds as the air neared a freezing point. The air didn’t quite get there, but the feeling provided a reminder that crispness and order would return to this winter land.

So I had no column. All I had was something drilled into me by Dr. Alan Boraas, the longtime Kenai Peninsula College anthropology professor who died in 2019.

We live in the North. The wise choice is to develop a culture of the North that celebrates the unique light and climate of this land. With spikes, snowshoes, skis or skates, it is always possible, and Boraas would say essential, to spend an hour each day moving across the land.

Do that, and something you didn’t think possible will be over before you know it. And you might have fun in the process.

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