Snow Day in Alaska

Before Meghan and I had kids, we had Alaska. 

It was magical, a kind of time before time, as it’s now hard to remember or even imagine our lives before our children. And being in the full throes of parenthood with a 13 year-old, an 11 year-old, and a 9-year-old to keep up with, we don’t spend a lot of time looking back on days before we had them. On most days, I’m just happy if I remember to brush my teeth. 

But here we are at the beginning of the year, home for days now watching the snow blow and fall in the midst of a high wind, sub-zero blizzard. Just a couple days in, it’s reminiscent of the pandemic—schools and businesses closed, sports shut down, life outside shifted inside. It’s a kind of cross between begrudged ecstasy and bored delight. 

One can only shovel so much. 

But somewhere out there in that snowfield Earth, my vision narrows as my eyelashes and eyebrows freeze. My breath blows wild in the wind. I follow it down a snowy white path in my mind and come to a winterland paradise. I see it all, what was as it was, but here and now all present—a life within Life, a self within Self, staring starry-eyed at the Northern Lights outside the Schwabenhof. I’m dodging moose in the streets of Anchorage at the Fur Rendezvous, grooving with Michael Franti and Spearhead, dancing with dogs at the Iditarod in Wasilla, hammering the halibut (and Basil Hayden) with Spike and Zach in the Prince William Sound, fishing king’s on the Deshka, so many memories, so much fun. 

These moments are a gift from the past reborn in the present.



Quartz-seamed, crop-circle patterned rock rubble rests atop fine-hard charcoal gray-ash black sand lining the shores of Eklutna Lake. Thin wisps of cirrus hover in paper-thin sheets ¾ up the top of Twin Peaks. Rolling seas of spruce rollick amidst the base of snow-topped mountains.  The water, a perfect refractory, reflecting a mountain light mirror. In the distance, tailless floating grebes calling forth outward their best red-eyed common loon impersonations.

Closer to the mirrored water, rows of ribbed lines of encrusted quartz sediment signal a time when the lake rose to greater heights. The grebes, aside from some far-off mountain runoff filtering and coursing downward cutting earth and rocks and sand, the only sounds.

All calm, all quiet now in the liquid blue bright dew-spattered morning sky. The only movement, the shifting of tufted puffy peak mountain clouds.

From my hand, a miniature-small snow-white quartz crystal flings into the snow cloud mountain mirror and a ringed ripple courses outward in concentric circles only delicately interrupting the crystal water mirror’s calm.  Over my shoulder, behind me and mountains, the sun peaks its new-morning bourgeoning brightening eye.

A bald eagle perched on a nearby branch eyes down at the delicate ripple.  

Minutes upon minutes, we stare.  

Then, just as quick as it was before slow, the dimpled golf-ball white headed eagle springs and leaps forth and hovers, then quickly flaps and darts away.  

Down the beach, atop the round sand dollar-flat skipping rocks hugging Eklutna Lake, I stroll onward to the beat of a woodpecker’s drum. 



We walk on foot after foot of thick slippery-slick Matanuska River frozen ice.  

Last night, word of a moose mounting and stomping a man walking out of a Fred Meyer grocery store in Anchorage. Today, rumor of a moose jumping off a cliff and landing on the Seward Highway. “Look Daddy, moose are falling from the sky,” a small boy is reported saying.  

Lazy Mountain, thirty-five hundred feet tall, Matanuska Peak, five grand, loom above, pictures fixed on a gray sky wall. At our feet, bubbles trapped in ice, ribs and ripples in underwater frozen ice waves, circular crystal fractal prisms where ice fishermen once drilled holes and dropped their lines.

Individuals who weather the entire Alaska winter are called sourdoughs. A posted warning in painted bold green: “TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT!”

Off the ice, on the boot-packed powder dust we see moose tracks and nibbled buds, trimmed hedges, hundreds of thousands of black birch and spruce trees, and a single tiny saucer-shaped bird nest planted and situated firm in the fork of some birch branches.  

We walk, tucked away ourselves, settled and nestled between two distant glaciers—the Knik, pronounce the “K,” and the Matanuska, blowing ten thousand year clean and cold, crisp and old air in our direction.

Our fingers, our eyes locked, hand in hand, palm to palm, flesh to flesh, warm body to warm body, vision to vision.  

On the side of the road, two moose nibbling on birch buds.   



For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

—Wendell Berry

Into the peace of quiet things I find myself.


jumping in the bay, 

muscular seal heads

bobbing in glassy calm, 

waterfalls flowing, 

terns flying, 

mosquitoes hovering.

Before the others awake it is just me and these things

and a low-tide layer of indigo black mussels.

Just me 

sitting on a raincoat 

underneath a Marmot sleeping bag

scattered on jagged rocks,

watching the rolled-out tide,



not to be hearing sirens or ringing phones or blaring televisions

even as I still think of these things;

happy to be here—

on the Prince William Sound,

on Knight Island,

in Copper Bay, 

where the reflection of the mountains in the water 

is clearer 

than the misted view of the mountains themselves;

on the rocks,

listening to the stillness,

to the early morning darkness making way for the earliest light, 

to the calm,

to the peace of these quiet miracles.

Up above, 

two bald eagles, 

a male and a female

in a flat-wing soar 

whirl in dervish circles

amidst mountain shadows.

There can be no mistake: 

a yellow tarsus 

tucked into wet wood-browned bellies, 

a white head, crown, and forehead, 

massive yellow upper and lower mandibles, 

hook-tipped beaks, 

and pointed tail feathers 

white as the freshest Best Western linens.

The two fly, 

circling in tight formation—

a dip of one primary, 

a dip in the other; 

an inquisitive tilt of one neck, 

an inquisitive tilt in the other.  

Far below, 

my head rotates back and rests on a rock, 

my eyes open

to look up, 

and for a second 

the circling eagles 

disappear behind a cloud 

and are gone.

A light mist of drizzle trickles to my cheeks. We are free.

By Ryan Allen & Meghan Nelson

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