Koviashuvik is an Inuit word meaning,”living in the present moment with quiet joy and happiness.” The word perfectly describes my state of mind when I look out my window only to find a moose or a fox standing in my front yard. This is life in Alaska. This is how one survives the winters here: by finding your own koviashuvik.
When we first told our friends in Georgia and southern Alabama that we were moving to Alaska, they all asked us how we would ever survive the winter. We asked ourselves the very same thing, to be honest. How does one survive (much less thrive) for months with very little sunlight in temperatures as low as -70°F?
My Aunt Judy moved from rural Virginia to Talkeetna, Alaska before I was born. She’s spent the last thirty-plus years in this amazing place whose seasons force its residents (human and nonhuman alike) into a sort of manic-depressive cycle. As the sunlight hours begin to dwindle and the temperature drops, she would catch up on her reading lists & knitting projects. The winters were for planning her garden, writing short stories, and painting. The focus shifts inward.
After breakup, the rivers begin to flow and the Alaskan residents come to life. The focus shifts outward. There is a collective feverish attitude of not wishing to squander a single second of sunlight indoors. There is a current of excitement and were it a film, the background music would be just about anything by Corinne Bailey Rae. My aunt would write me letters describing her readiness to cast off the winter (having moved from tranquility to restlessness) and move all of those seedlings outside to begin soaking up the sunlight of the lengthening days. By summer, Judy found herself reluctant to sleep because she knew the sun was shining. Compelled to make the most of every sunlit-hour, the residents take to the trails with packs, set sail on the glacier-fed salmon-filled waters, and spend hours tending their garden patches with rows of giant cabbages.
We arrived in Alaska just at the tail-end of an abbreviated fall. All around us, people were preparing for winter with final moose-hunting expeditions, storing the last vegetable harvest, obtaining & stacking firewood, and spending their dividend checks on supplies to last the coming winter. Josh and I were right there with them (minus the dividend checks, of course), buying insulated pants, thermal underwear, layering systems, boots, and sock systems. Everything is a “system” here. Sock system. Coat system. Liner, glove, and mitten system. You get the idea.
Then, it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. The world around us became so still and lovely — a reverse-snowglobe effect — which is incredibly calming. Tranquility becomes contagious. As the temperatures dropped, our friendly neighbors vanished into their cabins with wisps of fragrant woodsmoke serving as the only proof of their existence, mushers could be seen on roadside trail practicing for upcoming dogsled trials, and then the Chena River froze over becoming a highway for snowmachines and cross-country skiers like a modern winter Currier & Ives lithograph come to life.
Now, we embrace the calm and quiet joy. We begin to plan for Josh’s after-military life which will be upon us in a few years and, perhaps most importantly, we embrace the Alaskan koviashuvik in the comfort of our cozy dry cabin with our handsome bright-eyed son. We point to the ravens, fox, and moose right outside of our ice-framed windows and delight in his excitement. As his breath fogs the glass, we draw hearts and smile out into the snowy frozen birch forest before us.