There seems to be an erroneous belief that majestic Alaska is a mysterious land locked forever in winter’s icy grip, trapped beneath ancient glaciers, forever frozen in time. Where darkness runs amok, the Auroras dance and Alaskans sit around in their cabins, slowly losing their minds and daydreaming about tropical beaches and fruity drinks with umbrellas in them. Talk to a few locals and after a while you will hear a common witticism that there are only two seasons; winter and Break Up. Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret. There are four, just like a lot of other places. Only Alaskan seasons go by different names.
No shock here, but pretty much everyone in the world believes that Alaska is covered in inches and inches of snow year round. Some years, it even feels that way to the Sourdoughs; like the years that the record snowfall of 100 inches is knocked out of the ballpark (would that make it a snowball park then?). The reality is that winter lasts only approximately seven months of the year. I know, totally crazy, huh?! If winter is so short, why is everyone peevish about it? That would be like someone from Olympia, WA cantankerously complaining about never seeing the sun! Rumor has it that winter is so loved by the Native peoples that they have a couple hundred words to describe all the kinds of snow. Ok, not really, but it would make sense if it were true. It would be like that mysterious Olympian giving rain a hundred different names. “Look, Bev, it’s slooshing out!” (Slooshing – rain mixed with almost frozen rain falling heavily like an over turned Slurpee from the local quickie mart, only not as colorful or as tasty.)
No, this isn’t the time of year that lovers break up because they are sick and tired of looking at the same ugly mug while being trapped inside of their cabin together for the ridiculously short winter. This is the time of year when road become rivers, parking lots convert into lakes and it is faster to canoe to work than it is to take the car. Heaven help you if you haven’t replenished your stock of windshield wiper fluid during winter because the stores will, undoubtedly, be sold out until the supply truck comes in around July. Never fear, baby wipes make a fantastic substitute, but the little guys tend to fall off the hood of the car when you go over 20mph. I found that if you duct tape them on you can cruise right along on the highways at the suggested 75mph. (Duct tape is an essential tool in every vehicle in Alaska, along with a blue tarp, and fishing tackle). Break-up is relatively short compared to the other seasons. It usually begins towards the end of April and runs its course for what feels like an eternity but in all actuality, is wrapped up by the second or third week of May. My birthday falls during the first week of April and there has only been one stinkin’ year it didn’t snow on the anniversary of my birth. My brother, on the other hand, has a birthday during the second week of May and he usually gets a frickin’ picnic for his special day. No, I’m not bitter or hateful.
Once the ice has melted and the ground has thawed enough so it no longer bends shovel blades, construction companies dust off their equipment, fuel up their employees with Kaladi Bros Coffee, and send them off like a mad horde of zombie ants, to begin building with a frenzy that is only rivaled by the commotion at toy stores on Christmas Eve. Houses and whole neighborhoods spring up like a child’s pop-up book. Big box stores appear as if they were summoned from some deep, dark, retail hell to entrance shoppers with their bright neon signs. Ribbons of asphalt connect one pointless road to another pointless road faster than an ice cream cone can melt in a small child’s hand. During Construction Season, Alaska is covered from coast to coast to coast with clouds of choking dust and the sounds of heavy equipment rumbling and shaking the place like isolated earthquakes. Construction workers drown out the songs of migrating birds with booming voices shouting out directions and cussing at moronic subordinates. Ah, summertime in Alaska, ain’t it beautiful?!
The final season wrapping up our little tour before we are plunged back into the bleakness that is winter is the anxiously awaited Hunting Season! Moose knowingly migrate by the thousands down from the mountains and into the nearest human settlement where hunting is prohibited, to hide out from the antler seeking crazed huntsmen. Apparently, no one told the moose that they are supposed to stay in the mountains and quiver in fear of the great hunters skillfully tracking them through the impassable underbrush instead of hanging out in my mom’s front yard, merrily munching away on her beloved Mountain Ash and Mayday trees. This may explain why the moose population in the Anchorage Bowl is so darn prolific. Once the hunters have scoured every last stand of tree and alpine glen for the legendary Alces alces (North American moose) to no avail, bear season entices the mighty beast at the top of the food chain to test their testosterone induced mettle against Ursus americanus (black bear) and his big bad ass brother, Ursus arctos horribilis (grizzly bear). For those lucky few that manage to bag their winter supply of meat, showers of accolades fall gently upon their victorious heads like a gently rain. For those that return home in disgrace with an empty game bag, a sulky trip to Costco to fill the freezer with beef, pork, and chicken is in order, all the while being chastised by those that stayed behind and kept the home fires lit.
It may be unique in many ways, but Alaska shares a lot of similarities with the rest of North America. It just has its own distinctive spin on things, which add to the shrouded mysticism and enigmatic beauty of The Great Land. If it got out that Alaska isn’t the snowy tomb that everyone thinks it is, more people might be inclined to transplant themselves there, and then there wouldn’t be nearly as much wide open space available for those that embrace miles and miles of solitude. Hm…on second thought…forget you ever read this.