Sunday, April 4, 2010


This word came up after a particularly good dinner last week with some friends. As we sat contentedly, reluctant to get out of our chairs, one of our friends joked:

"I'm uncoiling...getting ready to spring."

These same friends and other Alaskan acquaintances have been offering their opinions on "break-up" as spring is known here. The term refers to the melting of the layers of ice and snow that have accumulated since October. Most of them were of the opinion that this was a false start and things would cool down again, but so far we've had daytime highs in the 40's and 50's, enough to strip the white stuff away to reveal the muddy ground below. When you start to see more mud than snow, that's break-up.

It begins with the sound of water dripping from eaves, the sliding of snow as it mini-avalanches to the ground from spruce boughs and sharply peaked tin roofs, and culminates with the slick ooze of mud underfoot. Many of our local roads are unpaved, and you have to experience the slip n' slide of roads and bike trails denuded of their grippy layers of packed ice and snow for yourself to appreciate why our forefathers were so big on pavement. It gets very messy up here very quickly. Imagine then what it must have been trying to drive beasts and wagon wheels through this stuff, perfumed as it surely was on a fine spring day with tons of manure humming with flies. The "horseless carriage" was invented to clean up the environment, believe it or not. Little did we know it would lead us to speculate that we have brought early springs upon ourselves by altering the climate.

Spring in Alaska is supposed to be a dramatic affair as it is, with buds literally uncoiling their canopies on a warm evening to reveal hills and valleys clad in green the next morning. That is something to look forward to!

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