Home > Dispatches > Trip Preparations >Breakup

April 5, 2011


It’s the time of year in Alaska referred to as breakup, the time between winter and spring. Sometimes it comes on fast, and sometimes it comes on slow. It’s now the onset. The animals are restless. Yesterday the goats broke out of their pen and wandered around the property, looking for green things. The chickens, who want out, have been clucking loudly. The dogs have been racing around with last year’s newly-discovered balls and sticks. And the horses have been even more attuned to the movement of the area moose.

So far it’s been a slow breakup, heightening the contrasts between thaws and freezes, sunshine and clouds, warmth and cold. My world view in the past few years has been limited to Squalor Holler. Our lot boundaries have become my office space, a place from which I take in the changes in the immediate environment. Breakup. The pen is a good example. I, who spend more time there than I ought, can tell you about the hundred or so differing snow types, and where you might find each. I can tell you which parts of the enclosure warm up the quickest, and which part is first to become water logged. I can even tell you the exact route of the water’s pathway, once the ground finally begins to thaw and puddle.

For our system to work, water must be able to flow into spillway at the base of the pen, and then out the adjacent underground plastic pipe. In the winter, Pete, using the plow, covers the pipe exit with snow, because there’s no place else to put it. But come breakup, it has to be uncovered, or else water will back up into the pen, creating what I call the lake effect. In past years, we’ve spent considerable time digging around, in an attempt to find and open up the pipe entrance.

Last night, after dinner, at 9 p.m., we marched out and began the yearly dig. This is a one person job, so as usual, I hung out and encouraged Pete to do what he does so well. Pickaxe and shovel in hand, he scooped, shoveled, hacked, scooped, shoveled hacked. This past fall he’d tied a piece of baling twine to the fence, so this was a marker of sorts. He found the spot, but as of this writing, the water isn’t yet flowing.

This is (as I said) a slow breakup, so this may take a few days. In the meantime, the water that’s currently in the pen has the makings of a small pond, one that freezes at night and melts during the day. Raudi could go skating if I put runners on her Boa boots. She’d first need double runners because she’s still young. There she’d be, her tail and mane flying in the warm spring air, while Tinni and Siggi look on admiringly. I’d tie a scarf around her neck, and when she was done, invite her in for a cup of hot chocolate. Only one problem; it’s now too warm for hot chocolate. Indeed, the season between winter and summer has its challenges.