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Alaska season: Break-up

por eileen Montano

Those of us who live in Interior Alaska are experiencing a very special season. It is called "Break-up". It usually occurs this time of year, in late March or early April. Break-up describes the idea that ice and snow are melting. For the average citizen, this means that all of the snow cover is now turning to slush. All of the debris that has accumulated over the winter (who wants to go outside at 40 below to clean up the yard?) is now coming to the surface. For those of us who have dogs, and God-forbid, dog teams, this presents a special problem! 
There are always surprises! One may discover, surfacing, their neighbors' mail, the missing mitten their grandchild lost, dog bones that were the subject of much barking, pacing, etc., children's toys, and assorted articles of missing clothing, etc., etc. Pick-up trucks are a special menace, as many Alaskans use these to store their trash. When the trash carrying pick-up is on its way to the dump station, lots of debris can fly out.  There are many surprises as to what can emerge and plant itself in one's yard.
Mud is a special feature of break-up. Children are outfitted with puddle boots. My children and grandchildren called these "poodle boots".But what could be more fun for a four-year-old than to splash in all of the many lakes, steams, creeks that are created by the melting snow.
 Dogs are not allowed in the house until they have "dried off". This means that they are shut in the garage, howls of protestation abound, until they are deemed by the lady of the house as safe to enter and recline on the carpet. A thorough toweling is a pre-requisite to entering a civilized home.
Children are admonished not to enter thru the front door. They must come into the side entry, the Artic entry, or the attached garage (for those of us to be so fortunate), to take off all offending footware and clothing before they enter civilization. This takes special reminding, but mothers and grandma's are very good at this! Spare sets of dry and clean clothing are kept on hand this time of year!
A special thrill is the break up of the river ice. A friend has a break-up party each year. We all gather on the banks of the Tanana River for a special party. Ice chunks go floating by. There is a tinkling sound. We barbecue sausages, slug down some beer or wine, place our beach chairs on the banks of the river, and enjoy. The  tinkling sound of the ice is a special treat!
There is also a special tradition in Alaska. A tripod is placed in Interior Alaska, in Nenana. When the ice "goes out" in Nenana, it trips a cord, the tripod goes down, and the winner of this year's "Ice Classic" is determined.  Bets are still in for this year. 
One of my favorite experiences occurred one year when I attended a meeting in Kotzebue, a village on the coast. This was the Governor's Advisory Committee on Emergency Medical Services. We were meeting in a conference room which looked out on the sea. Chunks of ice were floating by, the lovely tinkling sound of the ocean "breaking-up". 
As for today, I am enjoying being out-of-doors in the expanding light. My neighbors, inside for the winter, are appearing, walking with their children and their dogs. We greet each other, and are glad to know we have made it through another Alaskan winter. Ahead lies Spring and Summer, and many hours of daylight, and happy times.


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