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