Tag Archives: Alaska


 (Short Fiction)

As I dropped the coin into the beggar’s hand, his icy fingers brushed mine and I shivered. Icy fingers – slow mo : my fingers were icy – Jake’s fingers were icy, I did all I could but his fingers got colder and colder – icy fingers – why didn’t I do more? All that snow! Spruce branches groaning and creaking under their cargo of snow – snowfields up to the jagged peaks – snow – snow – nothing but cold snow – fast forward  – “Lady? You okay?” – the bearded face, the sour winey breath, the grubby parka – slow mo – the icicles growing on Jakes’s beard, my icy fingers, my freezing feet – I should have done more – the blinding light off the snowfield – the creaking spruce boughs – my icy fingers – fast forward – “I – I ..”

“Lady – “ slow mo – Jake’s fingers stiffening – getting colder – my breath in puffy clouds – no clouds in that harsh blue sky – rubbing Jake’s stiff frozen fingers  –  fast forward – “Lady – what you been takin?  Lady?”

Slow mo: I dimly hear the roar of the traffic on the nearby Trans-Alaska Highway – and I know where that goes – all the way up to the north, where it’s cold, cold, cold and there’s nothing but snow and ice and mountains and there’s Jake sinking into a snowdrift  –  fast forward  “Lady: what you sayin? Ain’t no snow here! just rain – this is Seattle and all we got is rain – no snow!”

Slow mo: the distant clatter of a helicopter – a shadow swooping over the snow –  but it’s too late – Jake’s fingers are stiff – mine are numb – my brain is frozen – my tongue won ‘t work – my eyeballs are stuck – fast forward – “Lady, that’s the radio station traffic bird – WRX – always up there, spyin’ on us all! ain’t rescuin’ nobody – leastways not tonight, not here”.

Slow mo: –helicopter – that’s it – we’ll go to the red sand, where yellow snakes bask in the sun, and black  and white striped lemur tails whisk through the trees, where the careful chameleons creep – no snow there, they don’t even know what snow means they –  fast forward –  “Whaddya mean we’re going to Madagascar? Lady, I don’t even know where Madagascar is – someplace down south maybe?  And anyway, I don’t even know you! Who you, crazy lady? Where you from? Where you goin? only place you need to go is Saint Martin’s Memorial I reckon, they got places for crazies like you”   – fast forward  – and Madagascar will be warm, and Sir David will show me round the island, you can come too, dirty old hobo in a parka, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the warmth, the sun, we can swim in the sea, and play with the lemurs, and there’ll be no more snow, no more icy fingers, your fingers will never be cold again – fast forward  : “Whaddya mean: swim? Where? In the freakin gutters? In this weather?  Lady – I’m drunk, I know I’m drunk, helps keep the cold out, but you is somethin’ else. Man!”

Slow mo : No, don’t go, old hobo man, I’m going to sell Aunty Maudie’s ring, that big emerald , and those emeralds  will buy us two tickets and we’ll go far away from the snow, no more icy fingers, no more Jake, we’ll be warm and no more snow and you can have a chameleon, I’ll have one too, and our hands will always be warm  – fast forward  “Lady: I’m getting wet, you is getting wet, I’m tired of your mumbling and your nonsense – go on home now, get outta the rain, I’m  going down the street to the Shelter, where you going? You what? No, Lady, NO! Ohmigod: no lady – what you do that for? Huh? Huh? Don’ wanna be a witness, no sir, guess I’ll just sneak down the alley into 6th Street and go to the Shelter that route – freakin cold, might as well be snowin’, that lady sure was rambling about snow, and why her fingers was cold in them fancy gloves I’ll never know.  Women! I ain’t got no gloves, and I sure do know about icy fingers. “




Its winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but Cape Town’s Mediterranean climate provides a mild, wet winter which bears no relation whatsoever to what follows, which is a book review of an adventure in the far frozen North, plus my fond recollections of a TV series set in Alaska – Northern Exposure.

Call of the Wild – Guy Grieve

What a fascinating book. Author gets fed up with his job on The Scotsman newspaper. He has a bee in his bonnet and leaves his family (his wife – who deserves a medal; plus 4 year old Oscar, and baby Luke) and he goes to Alaska for a year, to the Wilderness, 90 miles from the Arctic Circle, builds a log cabin – with some help, but not a lot, from the locals; learns to mush a dog team; survives minus 60 degree temps, cold, bears, injuries, loneliness, near starvation and above all – the cold, the terrain and hungry bears. Although there were lyrical passages about dog-sledding through the winter woods, living in a windowless, dark log cabin which was frozen INSIDE, damp and dripping, must have been more than tough. And he progressed from a dog-hater to dog-lover, due to the interaction with Frizzy – his companion, guardian, and helper. A chapter heading said “Dogs are the only animals to voluntarily befriend man”. His wilderness year ends, and he goes home to the Isle of Mull, and can’t really explain why he did it. Why do people do these extreme things? He hated office work and city life and said “there has to be more to life than this, etc”. We’ve all felt this. He seemed to need a challenge, and he sure got one.

Recalling this book brings me to the re-runs of the cult series Northern Exposure, first aired on CBS in 1990 and ended in 1995. I watched the original series, and now years later am enchanted all over again by the tales of life in Cicely, a tiny (fictional) town in Alaska, peopled with a cast of quirky characters. There’s Dr Joel Fleischmann, your stereotypical nice Jewish boy, who takes the job of town medic to repay his student loan to the state of Alaska, and finds life in the far frozen north very different to his familiar streets of New York. His surgery assistant is the taciturn, stocky Tlingit Indian, Marilyn Whirlwind, who hardly ever speaks and has a fluid approach to surgery hours and her duties. She appears to spend most of her time slowly knitting mysterious striped garments. There’s Chris, an ex-convict who’s starting life anew in Alaska, working at the local radio station, reading Whitman’s poetry over the air, reflecting on life and philosophy over the airwaves, in between community notice for lost dogs, snowmobiles for sale and local news items. I particularly enjoy Ruth-Anne, the elderly owner of Cicely’s one and only general store that stocks everything from fishing tackle to tampons and anything you care to name in between. My childhood contained shops like this, packed solidly with a wild miscellany of merchandise. Another of my favourite characters is the adolescent moose that wanders languidly down the street in the opening title sequence, accompanied by jaunty vaguely Cajun accordion music playing in the background. For me, part of the charm of Northern Exposure is the magnificent vista of mountains, lakes, snowfields, conifer and spruce trees; it’s worth watching the series for the scenery alone, never mind the highly entertaining shenanigans of the fictional characters. Apparently the series was filmed in the state of Washington, but to my African eye it looks like I thought Alaska might look. Give yourself a break and take a look : DStv on channel 122. Enjoy!

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