"NORTH POLE, Alaska — Miners huddled around them to stay warm through the long, cold nights in the Klondike gold rush of the 1800s. Artists have enshrined them in paintings and tourist curios. For many people in America’s far north, the old-fashioned wood stove — crackling and radiant, and usually cast-iron black — is as Alaskan as it gets. But many Alaskans also see their home state as a natural wonderland, where the expectation of bracingly pristine air is just as deeply ingrained.
Winter has arrived here in a town where St. Nicholas Drive intersects North Santa Claus Lane, and the streetlight poles are painted to look like candy canes. That means wood-fired stoves, interludes of cough-inducing smoke and vehement arguments about who is to blame. It is the season of light, and also the season of soot.
“That guy has got an old stove, right there,” Dr. Jeanne Olson, a veterinarian and air quality volunteer, said on a recent afternoon, pointing from the cab of her four-wheel-drive Toyota toward a spiraling column of thick gray smoke from a homeowner’s chimney. The thermometer inside Dr. Olson’s cab said it was 30 below zero outside, which meant that lots of people in the vicinity were probably putting another log on the fire, or thinking about it, even as she spoke."