Monday, March 31, 2008

Breaking up Is Hard to Do

Break up in AlaskaMost of you out there are experiencing spring (pardon my generalization, I realize those of you living below the beltway are heading into fall) and I'm seeing pictures of pretty little crocuses and daffodils, seedlings, composted gardens, lovely green yards and budding trees popping up all over the internet as bloggers celebrate our vernal rebirth.

Well please excuse my little grumblings because "spring" and "Alaska" are two words you'll never hear used in the same sentence. Not that I'm bitter. You see we don't have spring here, it's not on the menu, and the fact that the rest of you are running around shopping for capris and flip flops right now chafes just a bit.

"No spring? Well what do you have?" you may ask--go ahead, ask. It's called Break-up. Right there that ought to tell you that you're in for some unpleasantness--I mean where did a name like THAT come from? Sound nasty? It is--well, in a way.

You see Break-up is the highly technical term for that period in Alaska when the snow is melting and the ground is warming up and the ice on the rivers--here it comes--Breaks up. Genius, huh? It's not really winter because the snow is fleeing but not really spring because there's absolutely no sign of life yet. Nothing but matted brown schloppy schmuck and standing water where this year's crop of mosquitoes are happily breeding. Yes, I'm painting quite the picture aren't I?

Let me draw you a few of the finer details:

• The major roads are littered with six months worth of trash that has blown out of the backs of all those pickups. The snow buries it but once the snow's gone the trash is laid bare and it's not pretty. Cover your loads, people! Anchorage has a city-wide clean up day the first weekend every May where good citizens get out there and pitch in to clean up the mess--it's amazing what just one weekend can do to improve things after all that trash disappears.

• Speaking of roads, all the freezing and thawing carves gigantic potholes in the asphalt until it feels like you're driving over an obstacle course at basic training. The road patchers come out in force to remedy things but that's only half the problem. All those studded snow tires not only rip up the asphalt but they erase the painted lines too which means that lanes are just a suggestion. Since there's no paint all bets are off and you can pretty much take your space from whatever section of the road you'd like--drive where you want people, until the painters get out and repaint things it's all good.

• There's a thick layer of dust over the whole city that lasts until the first good rain, scheduled sometime in the first or second week of May. If you were to be extremely industrious and rake the matted grass in your front yard (smashed from the heavy layer of snow pressing down on it all winter) you'd see little pouffs of dust flying up with each stroke. Rake . . . *pouff* . . . rake . . . *pouff* . . . rake . . . *pouff*. I wish they could just invent a vacuum cleaner for Alaskan grass--that would do the trick. The raking doesn't really do anything for the grass except fluff it up a bit and knock all that dust off the top. In Alaskans' minds that's at least progress--at least we're doing something to get ready for what's to come.

• Everyone's yard has between three and seven piles of moose pellets per 1/4 acre. Approximately. I think the moose are trained and regulated to spread their droppings in evenly spaced piles so that no one is exempt from finding nice little surprises once that snow is gone. Get 'em taken care of quick because they're only going to get worse as the days get warmer . . . trust me you don't want the kids finding them in the bare feet. No fair flicking them over the property line into the neighbors' yards--they've got their own piles to take care of.

• Every car in Anchorage is filthy. I don't mean filthy in the California sense of the word where filthy should be in quotes, I mean caked with dried, crusted mud over every inch of the vehicle. The only place excluded would be where the two gallons of washer fluid used during the past month have carved out a windshield space through the gunk. But why wash your car? With the snow melting and the mess everywhere your ride would be just as dirty once you got it home from the car wash as it was going to the car wash. Just take a moist towlette to your headlights periodically and call it good. Wait until May, then brave the lines at the car wash..

• Everyone drives around with four tires in the back of their truck/SUV/minivan. Why? Because it's tire changeover time of course. You have until May 1st to get those studs off before you get a ticket but everyone waits until the last possible moment anyway. Probably because waiting in line at Johnson's Tire is about as fun as waiting in line at the DMV and who wants to be first in line paying $67 just to have someone else take one set of tires off and put another set of tires on? If you're extra lucky maybe they'll accidentally throw away your good tires like they did to ours and get you a new set.

But the supreme irony of Alaska is that although we have all this stinky, dusty, muddy mess on our hands everyone is going around whistling, bursting with cheerful perkiness because experiencing Break-up, for all it's smelly slop, means you've made it through another winter. You've conquered six months of darkness and cold and now things are turning for the better proving once again that everything in life is relative.

The sun isn't going down until nearly nine o'clock now and even though it's still a chilly 40-50 degrees just having sunlight makes all the difference. Suddenly being outside is a good thing and you're making excuses to get out, take a walk, take a drive or run an errand.

The days are long and sunny and it's as if Alaska is trying to get a jump start after all that darkness with constant sun from April through May. This isn't scientific or anything but I'd bet money that the best weather all year happens during this time--we never get snow, never get rain and rarely get clouds. I'll prove it: it's been full-on sunny for the past two weeks.

The ground is still frozen but it won't be long--another month of sun, a good long May rain and we'll have our share of green too. I have it on very good authority.

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55 comments:

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

These are the stories I like to read! Not the gloom and doom of Alaska, but the interesting ways of life that I know nobody know about.

Lori said...

Very interesting. I felt like I was experiencing Alaska "breakup" right there with you. Thanks for sharing.

Karen said...

I may move to Alaska.

Here in Upstate NY, it's still in the thirties. I have snow in my backyard. :)

While Lake Ontario doesn't really freeze over, we don't have Break Up. But we don't have Spring, either.

Lis Garrett said...

Huh. Sounds exactly like Central Upstate New York.

Chris said...

I was discussing this with someone recently. We don't have spring either in Nova Scotia, we have cold wet weather then suddenly it's screaming hot.

We don't have break-up but it gets very cold in mid-April and I'll hear the phrase, "The ice is in" everywhere I go. It's ice on it's way down from the Arctic.

Jacki said...

Spring was here for a couple of days and now it is gone.

All of your posts about Alaska make me want to visit that much more!

Stacy said...

We have spring in Kansas but along with spring come tornadoes. I think I'd take the "breakup" over tornadoes.

TAMY & the SGT said...

Oh how I feel for you as we are scheduled for a new winter storm here today in the U.P.! I too have been craving spring and was just beginning to see small patches of frozen ground and hoping for those new little flowers to start poking their heads up in the near future. Now they say we'll see 8-12 inches of new snow today!

MoziEsmé said...

Glad to read you guys can see the sunny side of all the muck! I'm kinda missing spring myself, here in the southern hemisphere for the first time in years. But we certainly have lots of sunshine in Mozambique, so I guess I should be greatful.

Beck said...

Spring there sounds like spring here, really - our car is CRUSTED with mud and salt and blech, the roads are full of potholes, and it's SNOWING. Right now.

Derick & Becky said...

I love it! I miss Alaska! I live in Utah now and people complain about the wet roads. They don't know anything until they have lived in SLUSH!!

Mayberry said...

I am weirdly comforted to know that it is just as cold in Alaska as it is where I am (somewhere where we are still waiting for spring, too, and still looking at ugly piles of dirty snow and half-buried trash).

Lissete said...

I will not complain about Miami again. I will not complain about Miami again. I will not complain...

luvmy4sons said...

Okay, maybe Ohio isn't so bad! LOL! Though we get plenty and plenty and plenty of rain and gray skies. It seems from November till May that is all we have as well. Gray skies and rain. In winter it might turn to snow sometimes...but in spring it is still cold 40's and gray and rain! Our cars are muddy too and there is no point in washing them except maybe to get off some of the salt. Our roads are mess and we have road kill galore along the sides: oppossums and raccoons and tons of dead dear-if you are lucky enough NOT to get hit by one! We don't have ice breaking up in the rivers but our rivers are over flowing their banks. We don't have moose dropping piles though! Too funny. Though if you have a dog there is the usual spring dop poop pick up because no one paid too much attention to that detail all winter. Nasty. I loved laughing with you in this post! Happy Break-up!

Melissa said...

It's interesting to me reading this how much Alaska is like Minnesota. Although - we aren't allowed to have studded tires. I don't have moose poop in my yard either - I'm sure they may up north though.

I can't wait for "Spring" as I look out my window where it's been snowing for hours now and won't stop until tonight. BOOOO! At least the new snow will cover up all the trash and ugliness.....until it melts tomorrow probably.

Jen Rouse said...

My husband grew up in British Columbia, and when he started talking about "Spring Break Up" I had no clue what he was talking about. I'm from Oregon, where mild weather is the norm. The norm, but not the rule--usually by the end of March the weather is pretty nice, but this week we've been having sun, snow, sleet and hail, often all within the course of an hour. No matter where you live, you just have to remember: eventually the sun will return!

imadramamama said...

I actually knew what Break-up was...do I win something?

Daylight until 9pm sounds divine though. Any kind of daylight at this point would be a welcome respite from the gray and rain that we have been experiencing here for what feels like years!

tjhirst said...

I hear you and can empathize. I do know about break up, but we call it "Ice Out", when the ice on the lakes goes out to reveal WATER. It has not happened yet today and we have a 100% chance of snow which is coming down right now as I write. Oh, I need spring soon. Even if it is just the sand all over the roads and dead grass until "Green Up" which will take place sometime in mid May.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I feel your pain.

We're under a Heavy Snow Warning even as I type. Eight new inches today. Lovely.

I'm trying not to lust after the spring photos.

Janet said...

Our flowers are very hardy. It won't be warm enough for flip flops until June. No shopping here.
Our cars are that dirty, but that's due to the gravel driveway and constant mud. It doesn't snow here much, but it rains. A lot. It's raining now in fact. However, the moose poop was a revelation. We saw an elephant poop at the zoo. I imagine the quantity would be similar. Can you use it for mulch?

Bunny B said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing. I never knew about this. Interesting stuff!

Veronica Mitchell said...

Yikes. No spring. It does seem tragic. Even if it were the tropics.

Missy @ It's Almost Naptime said...

Wow. You win. I will quit griping about our lack of Spring down here in Texas where our four seasons are Almost Summer, Summer, Still Summer and Christmas.

Lisa said...

As a fellow Anchorage gal, I'm right there with you. The worst part is trying to dress like it's spring when it's never warmer than 40 or so. On Easter I carried my open toed slides into church while I wore my knee high boots and wool coat. Our driveway currently looks like a glacier.

Heather said...

Wait a minute! It's 40-50 degrees up there? Man, we're getting ripped off in MN. It hasn't hit 50 here once yet this "spring" and it's sleeting/snowing today.

Scribbit said...

A few disclaimers here: I brag about the sun and then it gets cloudy on me. No sun today.

And then the temps--I said 40-50, right now we're on teh 40 end but by the time breakup is over it'll be up to 50 ish.

Babystepper said...

Hmmm. We need pictures.

I'll feel sorry for you until July, then you're on your own; when your basking in comfort and we're baking out behinds.

Lisa R. said...

What a great escape of a read - thanks for transporting me for a few minutes from grey, gloomy NJ, even if all is not lovely up there, I like hearing about what the outside world looks and feels like in other places -- places I'll likely never visit.

chelle said...

I have always wanted to head north (now I would have to head west first but still) and see Alaska ... in the summer ... your cold is much more than I want to experience.

jubilee said...

Spring weather is still just a suggestion here in Ohio. Ohioans know that spring is on its way by keeping their eyes peeled for two things: 1.) the flooding and 2.) the road crews that diligently patch up the 16ft deep potholes. Now, that's one job that I wouldn't want to have!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

Sat night it was snowing so much the kids went out and had snowball fights. Then Sun morning we wake up to the whole neighborhood mowing their lawns. Then by 3pm it was snowing again, and today it is bright, dunny, and dry.

But, at least there are no moose pellets. That is so funny (because I don't have to deal with it).

Amy said...

Alright, alright. No more grumbling :)

luckyzmom said...

Thanks for the very entertaining weather report. I felt like I was driving around watching it all happen with you. I am shocked at the price of the changing studs part. We have gotten our studs changed for free! I'm giving up complaining. Really, it's wonderful here.

Daisy said...

I can't help laughing. I'm remembering the old show Northern Exposure and their episode on the Breakup. So funny!

Sheila said...

I'm only in southern Ontario so I guess I only half-feel your pain. But we're still knee-deep in snow and every car is filthy, too.

I'm getting really sick of the "spring pictures from our homeschooling Texas family" blogs! I love the moms dearly, but it makes me so JEALOUS!

That reminds me. I have to get my tires changed, too.

Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

Amber M. said...

Break-up might be the only thing I don't miss about Alaska...

sara said...

Ok...you've convince me the wild things in South Florida aren't so bad. Right now we are struggling with exotic pets that people have let loose and are destroying the habitat. I'm talking pythons, iguanas and 7 foot monitor lizards. Thank you for a glimpse of life in Alaska.

LisaC said...

Spring in my part of Ontario lasts about 2 weeks, but feels longer because it still kind of stays cold until July. The lilac are ready on about May 24 (pronounced "May two-four") which is the official start of the swimming season as well. I have yet to make it into the water before June 25 (that was a wierd summer!) and most summer's I am not in until August. I will, however, be in Sandals and flip-flops from May 24 until the first day of October, even if my toes are blue!

jeanie said...

What a wonderful post, Scribbit! Paints a very vivid picture of your neck of the woods.

We don't even get frost here, and swimming has been known to occur mid-Winter.

The Source said...

That's a wonderful description of something I've never heard of before. Now. I'll come up there and experince Break Up if you'll come down here and enjoy the thick layer of yellow, sneeze-inducing, head-splitting, dusty pollen for me. It might be interesting to see how the others live...right?? Bring a supply of Zyrtec. :)

Seriously, I'm trying to takl the Hubby into a trip to see your gorgeous state one of these days. Probably when we're too old to run from the mooses. Moose. Meese. The things with antlers.

Linda said...

Well, this was completely educational. And scary. We have humongous potholes here this time of year (Indiana.) If you accidentally hit one, you can burst a tire or really tear up your vehicle. It's like an obstacle course, and new craters appear virtually overnight. It's crazy. But you're right, just the appearance of sunlight, sans much heat, can do people a world of good.

Heather said...

I usually don't complain about the heat in the summer because I hate the cold. Thanks to your post, I can no longer complain about that. Finally, the grass is greener on my side- and it ain't all that green to begin with. LOL!

Magic Beans Buyer said...

I've read books about Alaska, but nothing beats reading first hand experience straight from the brain of a native.
I'm so glad that everyone looks on the, ahem, bright side of things. Breaking up does sound hard, but that's what sets you apart, right?

This sounds a lot like my mother's country of Finland. I think you guys are close to the same latitude.

Hang in there. Only 30 days until May.

Sonja aka WonderYears

page2 said...

You bring back great memories. I loved wearing my "break up boots" to go exploring in the flooded forest across the street from our house that time of year. It was so nice to know all that ice and snow was finally melting away. It meant LOTS of mud and water, and kids love puddles, the bigger the better. If it's any consolation to you, it doesn't look like spring will be here in Wyoming anytime soon.

sogratefultobemormon.wordpress.com said...

M -- morning.

and i love the full-on sun we have here girl. no other place i'd rather live than my alaska :)

great day, kathleen

Patty W said...

I love the way you write Michelle! Maybe you should write a romance novel :))

Thanks for the interesting look at life in Alaska..we hope to someday be fortunate enough to visit, but for the mean time, I'm enjoying i through your eyes.

Libby said...

Eagle Rier gal here waiting for summer right along with ya. Love how you put our reality into such well spoken words.

Lisa said...

Wow, your sun is up until 9pm already?!

I've lived through the messy winters of PA. It is so awesome when the sun comes out!

We never had studded tires in PA. I wished for them. I think it was against the law-or maybe it was NY that didn't allow them? Now I can't remember. But my hubby commuted into NY, so no studded tires.....

Love the moose pellets. I just love the moose stories in general. It just seems so foreign and funny to me!

Pony and Petey said...

Cool beans!! I just discovered your blog...linked to it from another blog = )

We used to live in Bethel and then Nome and survived two winters there.

Your blog brought back good and bad memories and made me smile.

I would love it if you could post lots of pics...especially of your gardening = )

Stop by our blog if you have time. We live in sunny, warm Houston where I already have tomatoes ripening on the vine!

Pony

The One and Only said...

Hooyeah! The sun emerges again today in AK! Just a few more inches of snow to go....if only it felt warmer - those cool bursts of breeze make me want to run back inside and find something to cover my short sleeve shirt again...I love your site and look forward to connecting with you more often. I live in Anchor town - I assume you do too. Here's to spring clean up.

RoseBud said...

Not sure if I could last that long to wash my truck. And I thought studs were banned a long time ago.

Jen said...

As ugly as it is, I always look forward to Break Up because it means those beautiful Alaska summer days are not far away! Everyone in the neighborhood starts to come out of their mole holes and experience fresh air again.

Liz said...

I'm from northern Michigan so I completely understand!

Katie said...

I've been wanting to move to Alaska long before I went there on a cruise last year. Never thought about any of the specific details you were kind enough to share. :P But it's okay. I would rather deal with all of those things than life in fake California with all the walking silicone and pretty snobs. Nice blog. :)

Margie said...

I'm down here in SE Alaska (you know, the suburbs of Seattle?) I love how you describe everything so well, I try and do pictures to make up for lack of words. I noticed you didn't mention the crazyness of people right before the break up, you know the feeling that you're ready to pummel the next person who just looks at you? I think that is a February feeling. Now that the sun is back those feelings seemed to have vanished. Great blog!