The sun is not yet above the horizon at 07:51 AKDT on the Vernal Equinox – which arrived in this area at 02:29 this morning – but it is light enough to see the surrounding space which remains cloaked in a 22.0 inch (55.9 cm) snow pack although the incessant winds across March have cleared virtually all the snow from the trees. Our maximum snow pack was 35.5 inches (90.2 cm) back in middle February but within a week or so of that time all precipitation ceased. This dry spell, coupled with almost Chinook style winds and the longer, sunny days definitely did a number on the slowly compacting snow pack. Yesterday we flirted with 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies but at least the winds of March seemed to have weakened to just gentle (8-12 mph or 13-19 kph) breezes. This morning the air is calm for the first time in over two weeks.
As I stare out my second floor office window I can just recognize some suggestions that spring is not far away even here at sixty two degrees north latitude. The exhaust from my Toyo stove, which drifts almost directly across my office window when the air is calm, is much less dense and is occurring less frequently than a few weeks earlier. While we are seeing a -2.2° F (-19° C) air temp I’m also expecting to see an afternoon high around 35° F (1.7° C) under sunny skies. The boughs of the spruce trees are beginning to ‘perk up’ a bit after bearing heavy amounts of snow from late December through middle February. And our direct daylight is now up to 12 hours 17 minutes and increasing daily by 6 minutes 1 second! These longer days are beginning to slowly melt the snow pack even if the air temps remain well below freezing. Indeed, when working towards my goal of 10,000 steps/day – I’m currently around 7,800 steps/day – I have started taking a collapsible walking staff with me as the icy hard packed snow coverage on the back roads is becoming slippery especially when just a thin layer of water appears atop it. This lack of traction is emphasized as I watch my male German Shepherd Dog (Qanuk) perform multiple slips and slides along with a few face plants as he revels in our daily walks. Anana, my female Alaskan Malamute, is more restrained and hence remains upright most of the time. There is something to be said for the wisdom of age!
I finally was able to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter after three previous ‘winters that weren’t’. I did feel the bite of -40° F (-40° C) air temps, wind chills another ten to fifteen degrees below those temps and an almost three foot snow pack that remained for at least two and a half weeks. I was treated to intense and vibrant auroral displays across much of the late fall when clear skies coincided with the Aurora Borealis. Having completed my fourth consecutive winter in Alaska I think I can finally claim to be a veteran of ‘The Great Land’ and its kaleidoscope of weather conditions. But maybe most surprising to me is I’m actually ready for the seasonal change. During the three previous Vernal Equinoxes I was lamenting the end of winter and not enthusiastic about the oncoming spring with its insects and tourists. But now I find myself awaiting the warmer weather even if it brings mosquitoes and the inevitable tourist traffic and congestion. Perhaps I’m finally becoming sanguine with the aforementioned as well as the knowledge that within five to six weeks there will be no dark night skies again until early September?
Before long I’ll be indulging in what has become a ritual involving preparing for spring and summer. I’ll be swapping tools and equipment between the mud room/front porch and the shed. The generator will be drained of fuel which will go into the Escape’s gas tank. The battery conditioner/recharger will be stowed in the shed and I will be getting the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ ready for operation. I’ll be smearing some ‘bat attractant’ on the entrance to the bat house which my buddy Sarge hung last October; hopefully I’ll attract some Little Brown bats and convince them to set up house and help control the mosquito hordes. In this same vein I’ll be relocating my tree swallow houses for the third time in the hopes I can attract some nesting pairs to add to my attempts at natural mosquito control. So many of these actions are now ‘old friends’ and form a kind of seasonal dance or celebration. For the first time since I relocated I’ll be doing them with joy and the knowledge that regardless of what the upcoming six months may hold for me winter will again return and I will have the opportunity to experience yet another spring, summer and fall in ‘The Great Land’.