November and December have brought the positives of Thanksgiving and Christmas cheer, as well as some negatives (more on this in a second) to our neck of the woods. The temperatures were in the bone-chilling -20s and -30s for a full week earlier this month! I thought that New England winters (along with a flawed theory that once it gets to a certain degree of coldness, you’ll no longer notice the incremental decreases in temperature…you do.) would prepare me for winter out here, but not exactly… One way you can tell that the temperature has dropped significantly into the negatives is when the interior of your nose freezes instantly upon going outside. It’s strange to type, but even stranger to experience. Along with the cold came snow, which accumulated to our first lasting snowfall of the year! As a result, we had four days off of school in the last two weeks—two snow days and two related to issues with the pipes and heating system. Despite some craziness that was out of our control, school has gotten back to normal as we head into our final week before Christmas break.
In extreme weather, many societal issues become exacerbated or have more light shed upon them, but they don’t go away. One of these is homelessness. When I was in Phoenix, AZ on a service trip last year, I learned about how the extreme heat, particularly on the pavement, is dangerous, even life-threatening to those without home or shelter. On the plains and prairies of Montana, though the temperature is polar opposite of that in Arizona, the problem of spending too much time in dangerous weather is the same; it puts one’s survival in peril. Though homelessness is more widespread in cities than in rural places, it exists in the latter as well, including on reservations, where it is often manifested differently (for more on this: http://www.ruralhome.org/storage/documents/rpts_pubs/na_homeless_count_toolkit.pdf). Nationally, rural towns, especially reservations, have significant rates of impoverishment as well as homelessness.
As someone who is perpetually cold, despite the number of socks on my feet, layers of clothing on my body, and cups of tea in hand, this recent extreme weather is a reminder of how fortunate I am to have the necessities to deal with the weather, as well as the choice to stay out of the elements. The frozen wind blustering across my sliver of exposed face on the 45-second walk to school last week was a reminder that not everyone has this choice.
For further reading on homelessness and poverty on reservations:
To read about a cause that some awesome JVs in Alaska are involved in: