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When it’s springtime in Alaska it’s 40 below.



March 29, 2014
Saturday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - With all due respect to Johnny Horton, everyone knows that summertime in Alaska is when it’s 40 below. It is still hovering in the minus 60s in springtime.

Still, it does leave one wondering just how you can tell it is actually springtime in Alaska or at least in our little part of it.
jpg Dave Kiffer

Sure, officially springtime usually arrives sometime around March 20 or 21 or 22 or 23 or so.

Which of course begs the question, why don’t they just pick one day and stick with it?

Why make it so confusing? It is so hard to plan ahead if you have no idea which day spring will come until you get the 2014 calendar from Tatsuda’s.

I mean Christmas always comes on December 25th. Valentine’s Day is always February 14.

Washington’s birthday is always, well it’s always that day when they have those big car sales and it’s a Monday and it’s now President’s Day.

Somewhere George and Abe are sitting at a table scratching their heads.

“Kids use to get both our birthdays off from school,” Abe is saying. “Now the only folks celebrating are Chevy and Ford. Oy vey.”

But I digress.

So, since it is usually snowing heavily somewhere in Alaska on whichever day in March is the official start of spring, how does one really know when it actually springtime in Alaska?

Everybody has a different “tell” to borrow a poker term which seems right, because assuming spring will ever really arrive is a gamble.

My mom sees the arrival of skunk cabbages as the sign. The minute those odd little green growths start arising from the mud, she believes that spring has indeed sprung.

But then Mom has always had an odd attachment to skunk cabbages ever since some older neighborhood kids convinced her to eat one in 1925.

A  friend insists that spring doesn’t come until the crocuses do. Of course, everyone knows that the crocuses really arrive on April 5th in the belly of an Alaska Air 737, but why quibble.

Sorry, but any flora that has a color that is not green is simply not native to these fair shores. And that includes those bright yellow banana slugs. (I always get flora and fauna confused, so sue me!).

I have another friend who insists that it is the arrival of the robins that herald spring time.

Sometime in late March or early April a big blizzard of them blows through town, their little red breasts panting as they are buffeted from one storm to another. Because in Southeast Alaska, March comes in a like a lion and goes out like, well, like the same lion which has been roaring all month long. Get used to it, creampuff!

Natch, robins aren’t the only birds that blow through about that time. All manner of nuthatches and buntings and pewits and nitwits seem to zip through about that time on their way of being blown wildly to the Bering Sea.

What an odd life. You hang out for a while, eat some nuts off porch railings and then spend 90 percent of the year getting blown from one end of the hemisphere to the other.

Anyway, that’s three possible signs of spring, but not particularly reliable ones because they could happen any time between New Year’s Day and Flag Day (two days where the dates don’t change, thank you very much!).

When I was younger I thought I had a fool proof way of noting the coming of Spring. It was the annual Ketchikan Street Break Up.

Like clockwork, usually in mid to late March, the quiet solitude of the winter would suddenly be broken by the rattling of jackhammers as construction  folks would begin to tear up Tongass Avenue.

It was just like the Nenana Ice Break Up, where spring is heralded when the ice starts to move and a tripod tips over on a frozen river and someone body wins just enough money to afford a spiffy trip to Mexico.

Only no one ever got rich when Ketchikan’s street break up began. Scratch that, there were always a couple of construction companies that got rich. It was endless cycle: tear up and pave one year, tear up and pave the next. Permanent job security.

Not sure why the road always needed tearing up and repaving every bleeping year. But it did.

Must have been all our studded tires creating all those giant potholes, eh? Not.

Probably something about low bidding and cheap materials.

Anyone else remember that time they used plastic striping material rather than yellow paint? And it turned out that it peeled off the road when it got wet. Who would have guessed it would get wet around these parts? Go figure.

Unfortunately, the streets no longer break up around here. That’s because they stay broken all year round. Bummer.

Anyhoo, I don’t know about you, but I do know that spring has officially arrived in Ketchikan.

A few days ago, I came home from work to find garbage strewn from one end of the neighborhood to another.

Our local black bear has apparently decided that spring has sprung far enough and that is it time to leave the den.

And one of my neighbors, as usual, in not paying close enough attention to his calendar.

Enjoy the season.


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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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