Warm and dry weather has settled over south central Alaska promising the return of mosquitoes and tourists. Late last week I killed the first mosquito of the season; it was one of the big, slow and noisy ‘over-winter’ variety but its appearance heralds the first batch of this season’s blood suckers which will be small, quiet and very hungry. I’ve refilled the propane tank and will most likely setup the ‘Mosquito Magnet’ once the snow disappears. For the time being it is providing me the fuel to grill on the front porch. The kidz are reveling in getting out for daily walks with me; previously the roads were too icy and snow covered to safely walk. I love being able to do at least half my daily 12k+ steps outside in the sunshine and fresh air! Without question, we are into the winter to spring changeover.
Break up is my least favorite season up here as is true for many Alaskans mainly because water and the associated mud seems to be everywhere! In this area our mud is composed mainly of gray/brown glacial silt which is extremely fine grained; it clings to the coats of my canine companions until it dries – normally, inside the house – and falls off. I can tell their favorite resting areas by the accumulation of the floury, gray silt; while it cleans up easily there seems no end to the stuff during this season. Not all that long ago this area was buried beneath glaciers which slowly retreated towards the Alaska Range to the north and the Talkeetna Mountains to the east grinding up rock as they moved; this explains the abundance of the material. This glacial flour is also responsible for the clouds of dust lifted by vehicles driving on the unpaved roads; if it is windless this dust can hang in the air for minutes confirming its fine nature. This also explains why auto manufacturers consider this to be an ‘extreme’ area in terms of vehicle wear and tear; coupled with the snow and cold the dust makes it really hard on mechanical objects.
As the spring intensifies so does the solar radiation; this, in turn, begins to heat the interior of the house with time. Already it is unusual to awaken to an air temp in the master bedroom below 62.0° F (16.7° C); just a month back I would often arise to a brisk 58.0° F (14.4° C) or cooler. The slow rise of the internal ambient air temperature is something I encourage in early spring but by late spring I’m already using fans to draw in the cooler early morning air, despite the high humidity, such that the afternoon temps on the second floor aren’t getting too warm. Almost all my screens are back in place and I’ve even put up some light blocking shields in the master bedroom windows as it is remaining light until 22:45 and we will not see ‘Astronomical Twilight’ again until August 10th. I would like to learn to sleep with the sun streaming in the windows but to this point I’ve not yet been able to make this happen. Maybe with the passage of a few more summers..?
This will be the first year I’ll be added routines involving my 2017 R-pod travel trailer; I hauled it back here in September of 2017. The winterization process was very straightforward and fairly simple; I expect the efforts required to get it ready for use this spring through fall will be equally easy. With a bit of luck I’ll be able to load up the trailer, pack the kidz in the back seat of the Escape and do some camping in the Kenai Peninsula late April to early May. With luck this should allow me to avoid the first of the real tourist crush but there’s still a lot of snow in portions of the Kenai so I’ll have to wait and see. If I cannot get down into that area this spring I will do so come fall. After all, I didn’t go through the epic journey of hauling the unit from central Montana to Talkeetna just to let it sit!
The moose which were almost ubiquitous just a few weeks back have largely disappeared. I suspect this is a combination of a much decreased snow pack and the cows heading into the forest to birth spring calves. This winter was hard on the local moose population as I’ve seen more reports of moose carcasses since February than during any other similar time frame since relocating up here. There are the remains of a bull just about a half mile east of my place; a neighbor told me of the carcass last week. It is common to share such knowledge amongst the locals as such situations can and do draw bears as they come out of hibernation. Learning of the bull’s remains will cause me to alter my early morning walks with the kidz for the next few months; we’ll be walking primarily to the west. Once the local scavengers have had time to degrade the remains it will again be fine to walk that area with the dogs.
And so the seasonal cycle is once again on display in ‘The Great Land’. As with all things in life there are positive and negative aspects to this dance but in the long run I still enjoy the season’s shift and am looking forward to leaves again populating the branches of the birch trees and warm summer breezes. Of course, there will always be the mosquitoes and tourists but that’s all part of life in magnificent south central Alaska…
A look to the north on Riven showing mainly bare earth with the ubiquitous puddles.
Qanuk contemplates a section of East Barge Drive inundated by snow melt; he is less sure on ice than Anana (my Alaskan malamute)
In what was the swiftest transition from winter to spring I’ve yet witnessed across my four winters in ‘The Great Land’ we now find ourselves solidly into spring and starting into break-up. Just a couple weeks back this area was experiencing daytime highs in the low to middle twenties and night time lows in the negative single digits along with a 32” (81.3 cm) snow pack; now we’re seeing daytime highs in the low to middle fifties and a heavy, dense snow pack of 10.7” (27.2 cm). I’ve already killed many mosquitoes but to this point they’ve been those that ‘over-wintered’ apparently by hiding in decaying organic matter before the snow accumulated which generates enough heat for them to survive. They are large, slow and noisy mosquitoes and hence easy to locate and kill. As soon as we see much in the way of standing water within and around the periphery of the boreal forest these insects will lay eggs which will soon hatch into larvae that will become hoards of the much small, much quieter and far more ravenous mosquitoes I so abhor. So it goes; this is south central Alaska…
As the snow dwindles and the temps rise so, too, does the daylight. As of this writing (04/13/17) we’re already seeing 14 hours 41 minutes of direct light on our way to 19 hours and 55 minutes come the Summer Solstice on June 20th at 20:24. Even without all these cues I’d know spring was upon us simply by observing the rather ‘flaky’ nature of my female Alaskan malamute (Anana); her behavioral changes are no doubt driven by hormonal shifts and while I’ve seen similar changes in other canines she really becomes wacky. She is much more aggressive towards other animals – but she remains so loving of anything on two legs – and she is starting to ‘cock her leg’ when she pees. She is also becoming even more headstrong than usual – I know of no other breed which is natively so headstrong – and she refuses to listen to me much at all. Because of this I can only walk her at times when there are no other people with dogs out and about or I have to keep her on her lead. I hate doing the latter as she spends much of our walking time sniffing out wildlife spoor and similar as well as running after Qanuk, my male GSD. Assuming this spring is like all those previous this phase will last for maybe three to four weeks before she reverts to her generally mellow and regal self.
With the advent of spring I’ve taken to walking both dogs in the early morning hours when the air temp is still a bit below freezing and the ground frozen. This area was once buried under glaciers and as the ice retreated it ground up inestimable rocks leaving behind a fine gray silt often called ‘glacial flour’. This ‘almost dust’ clings to anything wet and the dogs are very skilled at getting their coats damp by breaking ice and wading in puddles. The muddy result is almost impossible to remove with a wet towel; it has to dry and then slowly fall off their coats. When walking them in the afternoon when the ground is soggy they are covered in dirt and I generally force them to spend 90+ minutes in the mud room after we finish. This allows maybe 50% of said mud to fall off but that still leaves more than enough to make my floors ‘crunchy’! Not that I needed the assistance but I can easily locate all of Anana’s favorite sleeping areas just by looking for the layers of gray silt she leaves behind. This is life with two large canine companions in semi-rural south central Alaska. It can be a pain but I wouldn’t do without my two family members just because of a bit of mud!
I’ll leave you with a collage of recent images and a few from previous springs as well; I hope you enjoy the beauty of Alaska’s spring!
The dogs enjoy the beginnings of break up during a walk along East Barge Drive
There’s about three times as much ‘glacial flour’ on the mud room floor as seen in this image
This is why Alaskans are careful about where they park their vehicles during the spring thaw!
‘The High One’ – Denali – is capped with clouds and blowing snow as he awaits the crush of climbers due to begin in a few weeks
The toe of the mighty Matanuska Glacier as seen from the Glenn Highway in early April
A beautiful Alaskan sunrise greets the rapidly disappearing snow pack
In conversations with my realtor and good friend Holly she’s often stated that break up is her least favorite time in Alaska; in talking with other Alaskans I’ve heard this same lament. In my ignorance I wrote a while back I couldn’t see how it could be any worse than last September and October when we saw 191% and 292% of normal rainfall for those months. Hah, once again Alaska has shown me I’d best just keep my mouth shut and my eyes and mind open at least for the first few years I’m up here because I’m discovering why break up is not such a great thing to endure. While its great to see the sun climbing higher and higher in the sky and the temps slowly warming as the ice and snow begin to give way they leave behind a real mess as evidenced by this image taken at the intersection of the Spur and East Barge Drive maybe 0.4 miles from my home.
The remaining snow is really more rotting ice than snow and its often very slippery. The ruts in the above image are six to ten inches deep; while my Escape is hardly a true off-road vehicle it does have a relatively high ground clearance and I bottomed out driving through this mess earlier today. The remaining ‘ice pack’ is heavy with water and truly tests the waterproofing of hiking boots. My trusty pair of mid-weight hiking boots went through the winter snows keeping my feet warm and dry but just 30 minutes of slogging through this mush and I could feel the beginnings of water seepage on my socks. I do have a pair of ‘break up boots’ which are really just knee-high rubber wading boots; I can see where these will be coming in very handy across the next few weeks.
More and more areas of bare ground are appearing especially during sunny days; the sun is already strong enough that it can melt the snow and ice even if the air temperature remains a bit below the freezing mark. Of late the temps have been dropping into the single digits by early morning but rising into the upper thirties to middle forties by late afternoon. This morning we’re seeing a bit of snow but as of 08:38 AKDT the temp is 31.1 F on its way to 40 F so whatever small accumulation of snow we get will melt especially if the current light snow turns to rain. The cooler overnight temps re-freeze the melted snow and ice and this makes morning walks a bit slippery; this morning it was downright treacherous as there’s maybe 0.4″ of fluffy snow covering the roads and the ice. Of late I’ve taken to carrying one of my snow shoeing poles with me on every walk simply because a tripod is more stable than a bi-pod. The dogs just love to get out and run regardless of the conditions although the slippery surfaces have caused a few hilarious ‘crash and burn’ events especially when they are playing while running. I can see that until the snow and ice completely melt the footing will remain questionable and one must often devote more attention to the ground and its condition than is normally true while walking. The birds are beginning to re-appear with the most notable being Trumpeter Swans again populating the marshy lake area just outside Talkeetna. The moose were very common across the last week in March and for the first few days in April but now have completely disappeared. I suspect the cows may have returned to the forest to birth their spring calves; if this if correct than the grizzlies should soon be emerging from their hibernation as they are in sync with the birth of the moose calves. This allows them the opportunity to get a solid meal of protein which they need after hibernating all winter. In addition many of the sows will have their own spring cubs and that’s always a bit of a concern as grizzly sows are very protective. Once bear signs have been confirmed I’ll be carrying my ‘Counter Assault’ pepper spray for a month or more when walking the dogs. While it’s a rather uncommon treat to see a grizzly in the wild around Talkeetna it’s hardly a rare occurrence and if one is observant there are grizzly signs all around this area in season. The reappearance of these apex predators just means that all us locals have to once again be ‘bear aware’ and ensure that any sloppy habits from the winter like putting garbage outdoors are corrected. I do enjoy living so close to so many large mammals and that’s part of this area’s charm; we humans are really the trespassers into the kingdom of the grizzly and moose and hence we should learn to co-exist with these magnificent animals.
The dogs enjoy the beginnings of break up during a walk along East Barge Drive