Cold, gray winter sat around the city for another week, but soon, warm waves of white snow will wash over us again. Today, gauzy lace curtains open and close around the mountains, the window of an old woman waiting for someone. On the first day of each month, weather and water-ologists across the state venture out of our stark cubicles into the wilderness to measure inches of snow. Our counterparts in Western Canada do the same, in centimeters, and send their data downstream.
My coworker, C, and I park at the base of what the Dena’ina call Qin Cheghi,Crying Ridge, in the Chugach Mountains; she carries the logbook and I the aluminum sampling tubes. My dog, Jack, is harnessed to my waist, which helps me keep up with C’s powerful, long legs and her swinging chestnut mane. Back when she was breaking records in college crew, I was buried in poetry and physics, understanding neither. I wonder why, as years pass, we both still wish to be excellent. She talks about her rock climbing goals. I talk about my book writing efforts. I remember Wislawa Szymborska’s poem Dreams, which starts: ‘Despite the geologists’ knowledge and craft,/ mocking magnets, graphs, and maps—/ in a split second the dream/ piles before us mountains as stony/as real life.’
We veer off the trail into the trees, solemn spruce soldiers holding our snowpack. This course was set by the Soil Conservation Service, on a frozen bog, more than forty years ago. Releasing Jack to hunt squirrels, I assemble the sampling tubes. C and I weigh the empty aluminum cylinder with an old spring scale; she cores the snow and we weigh it again, and so forth on each transect. From this weight, and the depth, we know the density and how much liquid water would pool if it all melted tomorrow. In April, this very thing will really happen: water will begin to make its way down Qin Cheghitnu, Crying Ridge Creek, and sweep winter’s memories out to sea.
Jessica Cherry, PhD is a scientist, writer, and commercial pilot living in Anchorage and Fairbanks.