FAIRBANKS — We are smack in that juxtaposition between the cold crisp winter and the heat of the midnight sun, the challenging and glorious “weird season.”
On March 24, near Chena Hot Springs, there was a spitting snow storm and the feeling we could still hit the proverbial springtime at 40 below. But, four days later, skiing at Creamer’s Field with my daughter-in-law and granddaughters, the sun was so intense on open fields of snow that we shed Norwegian sweaters and hats and gloves, feeling that bathing suits would have been grand. The trails varied from fast and icy to slow and mushy and were populated with track skiers, skate skiers, joggers, skijorers and kids just running around flinging snowballs. The dogs were well behaved and people were stopping to visit, giddy with direct hits of vitamin D. I fully expected to see Canada geese circling around, looking for a bare patch, as they have already arrived in Delta.
On the way home, dog teams were coming off the river and snow machines were whining in the distance. Spring snow makes me nostalgic for my dog-mushing days and gets me thinking about “a few sled dogs.” (A dangerous thought. Mushers generally have no sense of boundaries on how big their dog lots should be.) It is this time of year that spending days, if not weeks, running Interior rivers, beats any Caribbean cruise ever devised, hands down.
While many of us are likely to be hiding Easter eggs in mounds of white stuff, our celebrated spring snow is all too brief. The main roads are already turning break-up ugly, and back roads and runways are starting their slide into muck, but the hills and woods and open trails are still marvelous, with an abundance of choices to enjoy them. Cross-country and down-hill skiing, sledding, dog mushing, ice fishing, winter camping, snow machining, snowshoe trekking or just picnicking are great ways to get a musher’s tan while avoiding spring chores. Camping under the northern lights is still possible, keeping in mind that spring weather is mercurial and deceptively warm. (Waterproof clothing and extra gear are good hedges against wind, wet snow and chilling cloud cover. Caution is advised for changing road conditions, thinning ice and avalanching.)
Of course, people are riding bikes as much as skiing, and gardeners are planting seedlings and readying greenhouses, as much as pushing large piles of snow to the best drainage areas, cleaning up winter debris, digging out storage sheds and fishing gear and thinking about burn permits (as of April 1). Anything we can do outside is a plus.
Soon the sandhill cranes will be clucking overhead and the boreal owls will be hooting at prospective mates. The redpolls and woodpeckers are already showing up at feeders, chased by whiskey jacks and squirrels. Willows are showing the faintest buds. It is only a few weeks before snow is a memory we are all too willing to relinquish in favor of our brilliant summers.
Gale Vick is a 45-year Alaska resident, the matriarch of a large family in the Interior, a semi-retired fisheries regulatory adviser for coastal communities and a researcher and writer.