Happy March/International Women’s Day!
Let’s ignore the fact that I’ve been basically garbage at posting anything in 2016 (sorry, family! But the calls home are proof enough that I’m alive, right?). It’s March, which honestly, in the North wouldn’t normally be spring (nor would April, really?) but this is a very weird winter. This point has been affirmed both by real live Russian friends and colleagues, and also by your favorite Californian fish in a big North Russian pond. Basically, it’s been very comfortable almost exclusively since I got back to Ukhta a month and a half ago.
To clarify my terms a bit, “very comfortable” is still in the 10s-20s Fahrenheit, but given that I thought it would be more like -20 and -30, this is obscenely comfortable.
I’m actually very acclimated to the 20s, and when the temperature dips above 30, I find myself sweating as if it’s springtime in California. I very rarely wear more than one layer, which is maybe ill-advised but also very rarely necessary. Also, there have been times that I have been warmer and more comfortable outside than either German (a Russian) or Katie (an Ohioan by way of Maryland).
I’ll stop bragging here (although I’m sure this is absolutely fascinating) to explain, briefly, what’s to come in Russian weather (because I’m an expert, duh), and the lessons I’ve learned on outerwear from my deep plunge into subarctic climates.
First of all, mud season is coming, y’all. What is mud season, you might be asking? In Russia (and probably just in places where there is lots of snow), the snow must eventually melt. Mud season, or грязь as it’s known here, is a) gross, and b) dangerous. Gross, because, well…
This is not Ukhta, but this gives a good indication of it. I’m already ready for my boots to get kind of wrecked in the general muddiness of the weather. Also, dangerous, because often things melt and refreeze several times over the course of a few weeks (maybe it will snow again. Maybe, like this week, there will be a weird hot spell). As a result, things are either really melty or really slippery.
Remember when I fell? Yeah, that was during the October грязь spell. Luckily/hopefully, I’m older and wiser now.
Secondly, day length. The days are getting so long already! And by so long, I mean the sun sets at 5pm, but it is so wonderful. Short days take a really bad toll on every part of you, which I guess as a Californian I was always lucky enough to never realize until this year. When I got back in late January, the sun was already out noticeably longer than in December. I’m already preparing to buy a face mask for when the days are too long (this is especially exciting because a home goods store in town sells face masks with kitschy phrases on them, and we all know I like dumb/kitschy stuff).
Thirdly, shorter winters are great but also bizarre. I’m not going to go on long about the environmental crisis that is DEFINITELY happening, you guys, but this is not normal. Yes, maybe it’s a quirk in a weather pattern. I have no doubt that next winter will likely be colder than this one (you’re welcome for bringing the sunshine to Ukhta), but in a way, this was a bit of a bummer. I love sunshine. I love things that are not -20 degrees. But as much as the weather has been a welcome surprise, it’s not what I signed up for? I was kind of excited for the cold, to really experience something totally different, and while that happened to some extent, it didn’t happen on the scale I (or most people I talked to) expected. In December, it was freezing, yes, but it was also kind of the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The snow crystallized on the trees and everything looked like it was made of glass and it was mesmerizing and perfect. By January 23rd, when I got back, while there was more snow on the ground than when I’d left, the trees were shedding the winter coat, and now 80% of the trees are back to normal. While that’s good (I like warm weather! I’m not anti-warm weather!), it is also a potent reminder of how quickly the world is changing, physically. And it’s a bit stressful. On the bright side, if weather patterns continue/the world continues to heat up, in 100 years, Ukhta might be primed to be the capital of Russia, who knows.
I’ll end this with some levity. Seven months ago, I was a naive Californian with no clue how to face a Russian winter. Today, I am a naive Californian with a sliiightly better grasp on what works and what doesn’t work in the north. Here is a cool photo explanation.
Scarves: Behold, Week 1 in Russia Vickie, that lovable dummy, who really thought that packing FOUR scarves of this thickness was a wise use of suitcase space. (To be fair, it was kind of like packing tissues).
So happy. So bright-eyed. So oblivious to actual weather patterns. Luckily, I had exactly one functioning scarf (Thanks, Joanne!) made from something besides maybe-gauze. I have since stocked up, and now understand a) that scarves are the most important thing, especially if you hate hats, and b) the best scarves double as walking-around-your-apartment blankets.
You may be asking, Vickie, where is your neck?? Exactly.
Coats on coats: Things I have zero regrets about: Buying a fall and a winter coat. Also just buying my winter coat generally. It is the best piece of outerwear I have ever purchased, despite the fact that I receive weekly grimaces of disgust for how ostentatiously green it is in a world full of black and brown fur. It takes a lot to commit to this type of Americanness, you know? ALSO, I’ve seen several people this winter with the same color outerwear as mine since first breaking it out, which only leads me to believe I’ve started a trend. You’re welcome, Ukhtans.
The love between a girl and her coat is a strong one, y’all.
Hats: Ugh, Russian wisdom requires always wearing a hat. I hate hats. I actively avoid them, but they are an unfortunate necessity. Here are two pictures of me, one while wearing my hat 100% properly but looking like Andrew, and the other with me looking slightly more like a functioning person but also with frozen hair. I would say it’s a fine balance, but it’s not.
And finally, enter the balaclava. In maybe the peak of my insanity, I thought it would be hilarious to buy a balaclava when I was shopping in California. I thought my soon-to-be Russian friends and colleagues would giggle and beam with pride at the silly, yet smart, American, who while eschewing fashion trends, could understand the demands of weather.
I basically realized how foolish my purchase was within 5 minutes of buying it. Still packed it, though.
You guys, don’t ever buy a balaclava unless you’re going skiing. And even then, only buy it if your friends also will be wearing balaclavas. And even then, try to get visual confirmation that they will be bringing and wearing their balaclavas out. And even then, don’t wear a balaclava.
I did wear it once, strictly for the jokes (an increasingly expensive venture). I will add that once German saw me with it on, he said, direct quote, “What’s that on your face? Where did you find that? Take that off.”
I personally don’t think it was thaaat bad.
Anyway, this has been verbose, but just some musings on what weather was while weathering winter/while wearing winter wardrobe.
And the outfit of the year: