"ICED BIRCH ALL IN A ROW" story
Winters in Alaska can be very harsh, yet beautiful, but life must go on. More than once, I remember a military wife having to leave her husband alone to finish out his assignment while she and the children returned to family in the 'lower 48'. If a person doesn't dress properly and go about their daily life even during the cold weather, this will happen. This is where the term 'Cabin Fever' comes from.
Birch trees are a common site in Alaska. As I painted "Iced Birch All in a Row", this 11" x 14" (27.94 x 35.56 cm} memory, thoughts of my past flooded my mind. We lived many miles from Fairbanks, Alaska on Eielson Air Force Base. It was similar to a small town and we had everything we needed. One of my favorite memories about Alaska in winter is walking on a narrow path that led from the housing complex to the base commercial area. This was the location of the Field House and other buildings including the art facilities, shopping, movie theater, and other necessities. In the Field House were an Olympic-sized swimming pool and all the athletic facilities where we played our basketball games. I remember those lone walks looking at the clean snow untouched by man or animal. Everything was clean and white. The streetlights projected over this vast white field, and the shimmering ice crystals made it look like an ocean of diamonds, sparkling of every color imaginable. It was so beautiful. In the middle of winter, it was completely dark all day and night making the sky open and wondrous. Most nights were cloudless and many times we could enjoy the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights.)
I remember delivering daily newspapers four years. Winters would see 50 and 60 degrees below zero, but we dressed appropriately, of course. My three brothers and I shared my dad’s military issue parka, boots and gloves every afternoon. Mom kept a pot of stew on the back burner, always warm and ready for us to revive our insides when we came in from the freezing temperatures.
In reference to the birch trees, a fairly unknown fact is that the bark from the birch tree can be cut off without harming the tree. It’s like a parchment. Back in those days, during summer sometimes we would cut a piece of bark, write a letter on the inside of it, roll it up like a scroll, tie it with a string and mail it to someone in the lower 48 states. It is hard to imagine, but yes, the postal service was much different in the early 1960's. They must have thought it so unique that they took special care handling them. Those letters would always arrive at their destination in tip-top shape, although it would take several weeks. A letter written on the bark of a birch tree from Alaska was quite something to receive.