Besides the river breakup, Alaska’s springtime arrives with a leap and a shout in many other ways.
Obviously the first thing we noticed was the return of the sun. It was around mid February when the sun started to hit our street from over the mountains, which felt like a miracle. We could not believe how refreshing being sun-kissed felt (even though we both were unbothered by the “darkness”). And then we just gained daylight rapidly. Every evening, the sun was lingering in the sky for those eternal sunsets—giving the Alaska Range its infamous alpenglow. At the Equinox, we had equal day and night (around 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of nighttime). I had no idea before moving here that the midnight sun existed as early as April! Believe it or now, we are now enjoying 18+ hours of daylight. As of today, the sun rises at 4:40am and sets at 11:07pm, but last light happens around 1am!
The next observation for spring would be the above-freezing temperatures. As the roof eaves dripped steadily from melting snow, we enjoyed shedding our winter coats, hats and thermal base layers upon layers upon layers. Temps in the 20s and 30s honestly felt comfortable compared with our months of below zero living. When it rose into the 40s, it was like summer. We may not be pulling on swimsuits and flip flops like some Alaskans, but the milder springtime temps were noticeable.
A very important wardrobe necessity in breakup season would be the knee-high rubber boots, AKA “the Alaskan sneaker.” The grippy soles give you traction on the ice/mud combo from melting snow, while the high-grade neoprene keeps you dry and clean when you plunge into the slush. There’s a definite period where the walking surfaces vacillate between ice rink to porous snow sinking. Nevertheless, these boots make walking in slurpees and whatnot doable.
As an aside, I feel like we really learned a lot of about the science of snow this winter in Alaska. Subzero temps seemed to make the snow stay in its powder-like form, but almost frozen in place on all surfaces. Healy is known for its wind, and once the wind comes, the snow can disappear quickly and build snowdrifts (we had a nice 2-foot drift in our driveway). As you walk over any snow, you beat it down to harden. Snow-packed roads in the cold temps are never very slick because, well, I don’t know. All I do know is that the roads are not icy. And the snow fills in the pot holes, so they are smooth! When the temps warm up enough to melt and soften the top layer of snow, that’s when it all gets slippery thanks to constant thawing and refreezing. The crust over the snow looks all shiny like a glazed donut and we return to ripped up roads riddled with pot holes. I’m probably not describing this accurately, or you’re probably uninterested, but I kind of found it fascinating!
Springtime also means the ground cover turns from white to brown, which awakens our olfactory senses to the pungent aroma of the Earth. It’s easy to take notice of the newfound colors, and the pale green buds appearing on the birches and fuzzy catkins on the willows.
My last ode to Healy’s bountiful nature is Otto Lake. The lake is 1 mile from our cabin. We walk down to it at least once a week, and this winter, we skied across and around it loads of times.
Admittedly, I was reluctant at first. I grew up 1/4 mile from a small pond and 1/2 mile from NJ’s largest manmade lake. Ice skating was a neighborhood favorite pastime. But, my mom was overprotective. She would barely allow me to go out on our tiny pond. She would throw multiple rocks and quite possibly hold her breath the entire time I was out there, with the occasional “be careful” yelped to me. All this to say, I believe the fear of breaking through ice is innate.
Healy experts tell me the lake is somewhere between 5-15 feet deep, including 1.5 feet of muck. But my irrational fear had me focusing on the frigid water gurgling below the precarious ice layer that could break open at any second. At every fissure I noticed, my heart palpitated.
The truth is, the lake was probably frozen at least 3 feet deep during the heart of the winter, and I had nothing to worry about. It was really pretty awesome.
The lake has undergone such a transformation during the past month. The last time we stepped foot on it to ski was mid April, and it was almost within a day that we deemed it unsafe as it started its own breakup.
We are slowly ticking off experiences in Alaska during every month (Justin has covered every month, whereas I have September left). My expectations for Alaska’s springtime were low, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised, as usual. From the call of geese and sandhill cranes, animals coming out of hibernation with babies and parking lots changing from snow machines to 4-wheelers, there’s so much changeover to witness and enjoy.