The Six Seasons of the North

As I sit in my mother’s Minnesota living room with warm, sun-kissed cheeks, it’s hard for me to believe that just two weeks ago I was sledding and skiing in Alaska!  A few thousand miles and a couple springtime weeks can make a big difference, amiright? We just celebrated one of the nicest (weather-wise and family-wise) Easter Sundays in recent memory.  The girls searched for Easter eggs–outside and barefoot–with their cousins before spending a good hour or more playing on a nearby playground, bare legs dangling from swings and hands free from the confines of winter’s mittens.

Opal's first Easter Egg hunt--bare foot, happy and full of sugar.

Opal’s first Easter Egg hunt–bare foot, happy and full of sugar.

In northern regions of the world, many people recognize six seasons of the year, rather than just four. In addition to spring, summer, fall, and winter, they identify two periods of transition: break up and freeze up. Break up occurs when the winter ice and snow cover begin to melt in the longer days and increasing warmth from the sun. It usually lasts from early April until May. Bare ground appears gradually, and travel becomes difficult as snow trails get deep and slushy. Snow melt occurs while ground underneath is still frozen, leading to snow swamps because the meltwater can’t drain away. Rivers and lakes lose their hard winter crust, limiting the freedom of movement enjoyed by residents during the cold months. Break up is a season of opening, uncovering, rediscovering. Freeze up occurs just after the autumn trees lose their gold brilliance, as the landscape fades together into a hushed, gray stillness. Beginning in October, the ground slowly surrenders its summer warmth into the increasingly cold air. Rivers and lakes grow colder and slower, gradually becoming stiff as the winter ice sets in. Freeze up is a season of closing, of quieting down and preparing for the long winter ahead.

~Community & Copper In a Wild Land: McCarthy, Kennecott and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, Alaska By: Shawn Olson and Ben Shaine

View of the Cook Inlet from a roadside stop south of Anchorage, AK.  All of those black lumps are ice bergs that have been left behind after the tide goes out.  Soon we will see only mud flats at low tide instead of this bizarre moonscape.  Spring is coming!

View of the Cook Inlet from a roadside stop south of Anchorage, AK. All of those black lumps are ice bergs that have been left behind after the tide goes out. Soon we will see only mud flats at low tide instead of this bizarre moonscape. Spring is coming!

One of the joys of social media is that I got an immediate glimpse into how other friends and loved ones celebrated their Easter traditions, and I saw that a few Alaskan friends had fun in the slush and huge puddles that form when the ground is still frozen but the snow is steadily melting.  It is “Break Up” time in Alaska.

Hanging with friends in the puddles and slush of AK.

Hanging with friends in the puddles and slush of AK. This walkway was an ankle deep slush-way a week before.

Break up is a veritable season in Alaska…perhaps it is the least revered and most disliked season of them all. In large swaths of the lower 48 “April Showers bring May flowers.” But in Alaska, the bluebird skies peering through our windows beckon us to go outside only to wade through ankle deep slush!  Like many Alaskan things–it is an extreme version of puddle jumping weather.  Ava loves it!

This puddle was a good ten inches deep at its deepest point.  It is gone now but stuck around for about a week before enough snow melted to drain it out.

This puddle was a good ten inches deep at its deepest point. It is gone now but stuck around for about a week before enough snow melted to drain it out.

I remember winter being like this when I was a kid.  We loved to put on our tallest “puddle boots” and stomp around in the miniature ponds that formed in low depressions where the water collected, unable to drain into the still frozen ground.  I think that winter in the upper midwest used to be like this (and still is when the winter is snowy), but winter has been fickle for the last 20 years or so and the threshold for the six season year seems to be moving north.  Even break-up in Alaska has been pretty mild for the few winters previous to this one.

I don't think Opal is ready for spring!

I don’t think Opal is ready for spring!

When it comes to break up and farming…it’s a tease!  The warm day time temperatures have us all hopeful to get out into the ground, but we know the night time temps will continue to freeze into May.  The ground is still frozen, anyway…or it is inches of cold mud on top of frozen ground!  We were hoping to skin the largest high tunnel last week before I left for MN, but the ground was so saturated and wet during the day that attempting to walk on it would compact the soil terribly and ruin our best farming shoes, surely.  Raising and climbing a ladder in that muddy mess would be comical, at best.  So, the high tunnel remains uncovered and the ground remains muddy.  And that’s okay.  All good things in all good time, so they say.  It is the perfect time to tap some birch trees for those that have the time and energy to reduce it to Birch syrup. Yum!

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It's still very wintery in the mountains!  Plus, the melting snow does have somewhere to go--down into nearby ravines.

It’s still very wintery in the mountains! Plus, the melting snow does have somewhere to go–down into nearby ravines. Moki loves her last opportunities to romp in the snow, and Ava is excited to walk on the morning’s still crusty snow.  

I imagine when we return to Alaska in a few weeks it will be exploding with pops of green in the trees, on the hillsides and in people’s yards.  The high tunnel will be covered in plastic and we’ll be itching to get some of the little baby seedlings in the still too-wet soil.  If break up is nothing else–it is a practice in patience!

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That is a hungry, hungty brown bear.  He had only been awake for a few days when this photo was taken!

That is a hungry, hungry brown bear. He had only been awake for a few days when this photo was taken!  No bluebird skies this day, but nice upper forty degree weather nonetheless.

 

Until next time, Sending you peace and love from AK!

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl

We visited the Conservation Center and were the only ones walking (everyone else drove through).  We trudged through very deep slush, but it was SO worth it.  The animals were eager to see us after being largely ignored for a few days.  I can't help but post this amazing photo of a Sitka Deer that Evan took.

We visited the Conservation Center and were the only ones walking (everyone else drove through). We trudged through very deep slush, but it was SO worth it. The animals were eager to see us after being largely ignored for a few days. I can’t help but post this amazing photo of a Sitka Deer that Evan took.

Leave a comment 15 Comments

  1. Krista says:

    I love your pictures! The brown bear looks very beautiful! I never thought of considering the break up and the freeze up as seasons, but your right. They really are just like their own seasons. I hope you enjoy your break from the break up season and have some wonderful bare foot spring weather!

  2. Denise Ross says:

    Beautiful photos Alex. I didn’t know about the other two seasons – the break up and the freeze up – but that would make a lot of sense to have them as distinct seasons, they have such an impact on life in Alaska. Living in Australia and especially here on the east coast, our seasons are so moderate they seem to just slide on into each other. This past summer was super hot with heat waves coming though often. Yuk! It was too hot. Loving autumn now with the cooler temps and sunny days.
    Your hair style is gorgeous on you, shorter and curlier. Just had to mention .
    My husband and I often watch a couple of tv shows on Alaska. One is wild frontier and the other is on the family that lives on an island and they are creating their own town – I’ve forgotten the name of it. I’ve also watched ‘Ice road truckers’ and so have seen a little of Anchorage on it.
    You certainly live in an amazing place. It’s on our bucket list to visit one day.
    Love reading your posts, wishing you an amazing spring
    Denise

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Denise! Always good to hear about our “Polar opposite” down under. I’m glad you are out of your heat waves…yuck is right! Thanks re: my hair. I love having it short, I just need to keep up on trimming it more often–usually not a priority for this farm girl :). I hope you make it up to AK some day, it is a great place to visit! It is funny how tourists often see more of the state than the residents. Best to you and yours!

  3. Joan says:

    Yes a nice true Spring would be great fun. Thanks for a taste. God bless

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks for the check-in Joan–The leaves have noticeably popped since our MN arrival just a few days ago, I’m excited for an Alaskan repeat in a couple of weeks!

  4. Joy Pascarella says:

    If you burn with wood, this is the hardest time of year. Too warm during the day to keep a good fire going, but freezing at night to be ready with a few embers to get the flames a going. Sometimes we just wear extra sweat shirts til about noon when it is warmer outside them in the house. I think it is good. Makes me think about how it is for animals to adjust. Warm during the day and freezing at night. Or close to it. I live in New York near Lake Ontario, where the lake slows down the melting, and keep fall warmer longer. It is just what we get use too. Anyways the calendar says Spring and the garlic is coming up and spring onions. Yep, it’s coming!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Yay garlic! I love seeing their little scapes saying hello in the spring–it’s a sure sign that spring is here (or at least around the corner). This was our second winter without relying on a wood stove, and it has been much easier. But you are right–we had a few days of having both a fire going and windows open because we couldn’t get the balance down after the long winter. Happy Spring!

  5. Carol says:

    Alaska looks to be quite an interesting place to be at this time of the year. I love the photos especially of the animals.

  6. Dori Troutman says:

    Hi Alex,

    Wow did this post ever bring back memories of visiting Alaska in April one year. I was so shocked at the slush and muck. And sadly, I thought it was really ugly because all the “break-up” was black and dirty seeming. I’ve since realized how beautiful it really was, it’s just that I left Arizona in the blooming and warm time! :-) My brother in law is so good to text pictures of what Alaska looks like each day! Yesterday his picture was skiing in Mt Alyeska and it was GORGEOUS!!! Seeing the picture you posted of Cook Inlet made me miss being there actually. As my brother in law and sister in law live above Cook Inlet and have that view. Alaska really is such a gorgeous, gorgeous place and I need to get back there for a visit very badly.

    Loved seeing pictures as usual, Alex. Nice you could have Easter with your family. Little Opal is just growing up too fast.

    Can’t wait for your growing season to start and follow along with your farming.

    Hugs,

    – Dori, the Ranch Farmgirl –

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      Thanks, Dori! Alaska really is a beautiful place. The snow gets really dirty as the winter goes on with the glacial dust blowing everywhere. I like to think of the dirty striations in the snow as a sped up version/example of geologic activity! Makes it a bit more palatable. As always thank you for checking in. Looking forward to seeing your beautiful flowers!

  7. Marilyn says:

    Thanks for the pictures.
    Marilyn

  8. Lee Nora says:

    Would love to know the breed of your black dog, Moki? Looks similar to a Flat Coated Retriever we loved for 12 years. She was the smartest dog ever!

    • Alexandra Wilson says:

      She’s a border collie mix! More precisely: border collie, malamute, golden retriever and german shepherd dog. I wish I could say she was the smartest dog ever…but she’s far from it!

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