Gary Neilson has to chop through snow and ice to pull the plug in his skiff. He’ll let the saltwater in to melt the snow and ice that’s accumulated in the bottom. The seats and bow will have to be shoveled off before the skiff can be used to go get mail and groceries.

Gary Neilson has to chop through snow and ice to pull the plug in his skiff. He’ll let the saltwater in to melt the snow and ice that’s accumulated in the bottom. The seats and bow will have to be shoveled off before the skiff can be used to go get mail and groceries.

‘Chionomisia’ for the win


Chiono is Greek for snow; phobia is Greek for fear. While there is definitely anxiety involved when I hear that there is a big snowstorm on the way, the word “chionophobia” doesn’t really capture my feelings toward snow. I know that if we get dumped on by a big load of the white stuff I’m going to have to worry about my floathouse — or my parents’ floathouse — sinking under the weight of it. I’m also wondering (and lying in bed wide awake doubting) that I’ll be able to keep up with its removal. Neither worry tends to make me happy.

Perhaps chionothumos (thumos: anger in response to pain or stress) is the word I need. Or, better, I find, is the Greek suffix “-misia” which means “revulsion of, disgust of, abhorrence of,” or, best of all “pathological hatred of,”which is a perfect fit for me and my relationship with snow.

So… what I’ve been coping with this last week is chionomisia. Good to know.

Word has gotten out about my chionomisia. In November I received this email:

“Hi Tara, I’m an assistant editor at Alaska Magazine and I’m reaching out because I read your piece from earlier this year in the [Juneau] Empire about snow being a floathouse’s kryptonite. Our March issue is themed ‘snow’ and I thought it’d be cool to write a little piece for the front of Alaska Magazine about your relationship with snow. Let me know if you’re game for an interview and if so when you’re available to connect via phone. Thanks! Alexander Deedy.”

After some difficulties with my poor signal we finally managed to do the phone interview. Alexander told me that while he was online looking up angles on snow my column stuck out to him because it was such a different attitude toward snow than anything else he’d read. Apparently most people, when they write about snow, don’t frame it as “the arch-enemy.”

When we were done Alexander said something like: “Knowing the troubles you go through with snow, trying to keep your houses afloat, makes me feel differently about having to shovel off my driveway.”

I returned drolly, “It doesn’t give you that old sinking feeling?”

I can be a bit bratty when the subject is snow. Just a heads up.

The irony is that after I did this phone interview about snow, we didn’t get any. Oh, maybe a gentle, even lyrical drift that melted on impact, but nothing to gird our loins for. I almost relaxed. I almost thought we’d actually get by this winter without having to confront my ancient nemesis.

And then this past week happened. We got dumped on big time. More than half a foot accumulated in only a matter of hours on our roofs and decks. We’ve dealt with that before, and worse, so I thought it was doable. And we’d had the forethought to put in extra flotation to counteract the snow weight and even put some of the flotation under my parents’ bedroom, which is the lowest part of their floathouse.

My dad said he woke up at 3 a.m. — it had been snowing since before dark — and when he turned on his flashlight he saw a film of seawater for the first time ever on their bedroom floor.

As it turned out, my old enemy had an all-new trick up its sleeve. There had been a brief warming of the temperature, which had melted the first layer of snow, followed by a hard freeze with the temperature in the mid-twenties. That first layer turned to ice and stuck to the roofs. Not only was it heavier than powder snow, but it created a friction that didn’t allow the snow to slide off the roof. No matter how hot we cranked up our stoves, burning wood like mad — which meant that we had to cut and haul more than usual — the snow refused to slide.

So, while my dad coped with snow elsewhere, I climbed on my parents’ bedroom roof and their pantry roof and chipped ice and shoveled a ton of snow. While I was up there, I also used my dad’s home-made scraper to pull the snow off their main roof. When I went home it was to find that my decks were all completely submerged, which had never happened before. The water was lapping around the steps that lead up to my front door and my cross timbers were a third of the way underwater.

My dad’s floating workshop had developed a terrific list, and the front right side where the generator is went underwater when my dad stepped inside. He tried scraping the snow off that side of the roof, but it’s a shake (wood) roof and the ice under the snow wouldn’t budge. I spent the morning shifting a back-up generator and oxygen and acetylene tanks to the other side of his shop. It was enough to lift that corner a few inches so that it no longer went under when my dad stepped inside.

Can you wonder that I’ve developed chionomisia? I’m not the only one in my household who has it. My Maine Coon Katya hates snow more than I do, if that’s even possible. She’s extremely independent and insists on doing her bathroom business outside, which was why I had a series of floating walkways and a log that allows her to reach shore at almost any tide. I shoveled them off for her, but with the decks underwater she couldn’t reach them without getting her paws wet, which she refused to do.

I picked her up and carried her, slopping through the icy water in my rubber boots. She let me know what she thought of this procedure, and all of the snow, by letting out some bloodcurdling Klingon death howls. In addition, when I put her down, she gave me a nasty back foot claw and a look that promised further retribution in the near future if I didn’t do something about the snow situation — and soon.

I didn’t blame her. I didn’t even get mad as I put some salve on the deep claw wound and bandaged it. “I get it,” I told her. “Chionomisia.”

• Tara Neilson lives in a floathouse between Wrangell and Ketchikan and blogs at

Alaska for Real columnist Tara Neilson’s battle with her nemisis (snow) is featured in this month’s Alaska Magazine. Photo by Tara Neilson

Alaska for Real columnist Tara Neilson’s battle with her nemisis (snow) is featured in this month’s Alaska Magazine. Photo by Tara Neilson

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