A friend from the Lower 48 once asked me why I was so excited about break-up. It is an exciting time around Alaska. Rivers are the highways in rural Alaska. It means freedom. You can go fishing, camping, hunting, boat rides, and just enjoy the great outdoors. You can do that in the winter too, but just on a snow machine. It will be about another month until most rural Alaskans will be able to get out on the waters. Right now, many people are thinking about hunting geese by snow machine or four-wheeler.
Spring was an exciting thing for me growing up in rural Alaska. We searched around for rubber boots and lighter jackets and played out all evening after school. We played in puddles and in the little tributaries created by water. We made boats and things to float around in the bigger puddles. I remember my cousins used a large oblong bath tub to float in a puddle. They were the coolest! A lot of us used Styrofoam to create little rafts and pushed ourselves around in the puddles.
There were patches of ground that grew bigger each day as the snow melted. We dared each other to see run around the house barefoot. Then, as more snow melted, we would dare each other to see who could go the furthest. We had to run fast through the snow to the next dry patch of ground. I remember having super cold feet. It was fun though!
Many people start putting in their gardens in May. My aunt Dorothy had the greatest garden. She planted a lot of vegetables and created a little greenhouse around some of them. We had to work hard to put in our own garden and everyone contributed.
The days start getting longer and we stayed up later and later. We enjoyed the time outside without too many mosquitoes. The mosquitoes come in earnest around late May to early June.
We wait for ice to start melting and moving. Each evening, we wait by the cut bank by the river to watch and enjoy the nice evening. We would hear news from up and down the river to see where there was open and moving water. If the ice started moving in a village down river from us, then we know to expect the ice to go out in our village within 24-48 hours. Then, more and more people were along the banks.
One year in Bettles, the ice began moving. Huge ice chunks about 2-5 feet washed up on the beaches. We played on the ice chunks and would hit them with a stick. They are like thousands of crystals connected and shattering them made the coolest sounds. Some kids hop on the ice in the river, but that is one activity I avoided because of the danger. Playing on the beach on the ice was good enough for me.
People sit on benches along the river bank or bring their own chairs to sit and relax. They watch the ice flowing and watch out for eroding banks. Watching the river bank erode is like watching glaciers calving.
It is an exciting time and we dream about being on the river again. People start thinking about what they need to put their boats in the water. They might need new parts for their motors or to buy a new one. They order food for upcoming camping trips.
Happy spring break-up!