As we age, our home lives tend to take precedence over our work lives. Whether it is focus on family or looking to the future and retirement, for many of us, our careers seem to reach a point where we are more capable of managing them during the work day. We can finally tear ourselves away from the daily grind and spend time creating our own refuge. Here in Alaska, where our four seasons are represented by June, July, August and winter, this becomes even more crucial to sanity and peace of mind.
The people here are an extremely eclectic group of eccentric individuals from all over the planet. The folks who live here – and it seems more are coming every year – come for a variety of reasons. I came because the love of my life asked me to, but others seem to love, even live for the long, dark, bitterly cold winters and cold weather sports and activities that this “final frontier” has to offer. The mountain views are truly spectacular at any time of year, but there is something so awe-inspiring about the landscape when it is locked in winter’s icy grasp. Almost monochromatic, were it not for the brilliant blue of the sky – on the days that the sun is shining, that is.
When temperatures plummet to 40 and 50 below zero, even the heartiest of Fairbanksans are loathe to venture forth for more than the most necessary tasks. It is times like this when the need for a refuge is even more apparent. Bundle up and tote in a few loads of wood, stoke the wood stove and settle in for a weekend with the one you love.
Here at the Bistro we have created an oasis that we can enjoy all year round. We are fortunate in that our great room has a cathedral ceiling and our master bedroom is the loft. This wide open space helps us fight off the claustrophobic effects of months spent indoors. Hobbies and distractions and things that we can enjoy together – like cooking and gardening – help create a respite from the outside world.
A couple of years ago we added a greenhouse/sunroom that we built ourselves. It allows us to get an early start on our plants and preparations for our deck so that we can hit the ground running as soon as the warmer weather arrives in mid to late May. It is heated by a Toyo Stove and we are able to maintain a temperature about 100 degrees above the outside. That might sound a bit odd – until I remind you that our temperatures from November thru February often drop to 40 or 50 below zero. We enjoy many of our Sunday brunches out in the greenhouse under bright lights and surrounded by lush green plants. A huge boost when the dark is affecting our mood. Having fresh herbs year round and watching things grow in the midst of ice and snow does a lot to lift our spirits as winter wears on.
Not everyone has the space or opportunity to build a greenhouse. AeroGarden makes hydroponic gardens in a variety of sizes. (Shop smart, though – prices are often better at Amazon.) You can grow plants to maturity in them, like we did last winter, or start plants in them and transfer them into potting soil later on. The plants look a little shell-shocked when you first put them into the dirt, as if to say, “Seriously?” Once they get established, however, they do remarkably well. This mint spent 3 months in a hydroponics garden before being moved into the dirt, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Mojito, anyone?
Because of the long periods of time we’re forced to stay indoors, we make the most of our outdoor space for the time that we have it. We have a huge deck and it is inevitably a perfusion of plants – flowers and edibles – and comfortable places to sit and enjoy the almost continual sunshine. Just as the darkness reigns in the winter, our summers are sunny day and night. One often has to remind oneself to go to bed because this is truly the land of the midnight sun. Room darkening blinds help create a sort of twilight in the house that allows us to get a good night’s sleep no matter when the sun decides to set. We rarely have 90 degree days, though there are several in the 80’s, and if it’s too warm in the loft for sleeping, we have a nice, cool basement for that.
The key here, no matter what, is to plan ahead. When you’re in Alaska, you don’t want to be caught unprepared. Whether it’s coming face to face with a moose – which can happen in our yard, by the way – or having enough heating oil to make it through the entire year because the fuel oil truck can’t make it up the drive in the middle of winter, you can’t afford to do anything halfway.