The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
www.GustavusHistory.org - by Lee & Linda Parker
Q - With all the talk of climate change, what weather conditions existed for our homesteaders?
A - In general, our Strawberry Point pioneers bemoaned the same temperamental weatherman that we put up with today. Plenty of times our residents would have run “him” clean off the flats—if only they could. Some winters were absolutely brutal—and lasted forever. The winter of 1917 was so bone-chilling cold that the homesteaders would recount the story decades later of how they almost (literally) froze to death. Some winters were light, with few storms, little snow and “not so bad”. Mild winters such as these likely convinced our homesteaders they got away with something—dodging the weatherman’s bullet, much like we think and react today. Summers fluctuated between so hot and dry that crops couldn’t survive, to conditions so wet and cold the hayfields could not be harvested. Occasionally the years would set into a run of extraordinary conditions—and multiple summers in a row blessed with plenty of sunshine, picnics, and strawberry shortcake bliss. Does any of this sound familiar?
The territorial days of Alaska may have been “back woods” in many ways—but not in the ways of keeping track of her weather! Agricultural Experimental Stations, under the supervision of the United States Department of Agriculture, were set up at strategic points in the state. The purpose? They needed regional data to expedite their understanding of which species of sustainable crops could produce yield—for commerce, and to feed its homesteaders and their livestock. In all, 35 stations were set up and manned, and Strawberry Point was one of them!
GHAA has among its archived documents, the original Agricultural Experiment report published in 1927 for the year 1925. Leslie Parker, at age 21, was designated as the official weather “observer”. The government provided equipment and daily record sheets that were meticulously filled out, turned in, and compiled at the end of a year.
Just for the fun of it, we picked the month of March, 1925—87 years ago, for a 2012 comparison. In March of that year, maximum temperature for the month was 44 degrees and the minimum 1. Total precipitation in rain/snow was 3.33 inches, and it rained or snowed on 17 of the 31 days. Three days were clear. Fourteen days were only partly cloudy. And fourteen days were just plain—well, you know what.
Overall for the year 1925, the lowest temperature recorded was –25 in January, and the highest 78 in July. December saw days reaching almost 50 and did not dip below 18. There were 74 clear, sunny days. And 85 days that were partly cloudy. Not a bad year, we would guess. And all over the map—just as it is today.
But today is not at all like it was in 1925. We are leap years ahead of our struggling homesteaders in preparedness, technology and comforts. We have log splitters and airtight wood heaters that crank efficient heat. Monitors and Toyos that require just the touch of a hand. We live in well-insulated homes. Roads connect everybody—not just one set of muddy ruts from the present day Gustavus Inn to the homesteads at Good River as in 1925. And if we visit or go to work we have automobiles with defrost and heaters—and snowplows to clear the way. Back home again we have hot water on demand and “inside” toilets. Electricity combats the dark winters—and big screen TVs squander the hours. Computers expand our universe—and a gym adjusts the effects. Three grocery stores, a couple of gift shops, gourmet coffee shop/art gallery, pizza restaurant, and a gas station (all open even in winter!)—are just minutes away. Planes or ferries offer an escape for just about any reason—be it sanity, pleasure, or just because we want to.
We are very comfortable. But have all the “improvements” been for the good? Are we in some ways even more isolated with all our posh creature comforts? Are we happier? Healthier? Moving in the right direction? We could debate some of the finer points until the cows come home (if we still had any)—and some would argue yes, others no. But one thing we can all agree on…. the absolute predictability of the unpredictable moods of Mother Nature, along with the long maligned (and occasionally praised) darned old weatherman—whoever he or the mother of his nature may be.