A sourdough is someone who has weathered some time in Alaska.  For example, one’s sourdough status might be 1 year, which means they have survived a single year.  The length of time one must live in Alaska to actually be considered a sourdough is debatable.  Some argue that becoming a sourdough is more of an existential transformation, waking up one day to the epiphany that you no longer look at the state as a wide eyed tourist but rather as a piece of the landscape, though with no less enthusiasm.  (See “my alaska“.)

It is controversial whether a lifelong Alaskan is in fact a sourdough, as one could argue that having been in Alaska their entire life they simply don’t know any better.

As winter snow accumulates, and one walks or drives over each layer of newly arrived snow, it develops into what we call hard pack.  Hard pack is a relatively innocuous substance, somewhere between ice and snow, that is, until it begins to get warm.  Then the hard pack develops a layer of ice on the surface, and becomes increasingly slick.  As break-up arrives the hard pack turns into slush, several inches thick or thicker dependent upon the amount of snow that winter and the amount of shoveling or plowing that did or did not get done.

If you were wondering, hard pack is most commonly considered BAD.  Especially during break up.

Everywhere that is not Alaska. Often used as a synonym for the Lower 48, this is a similar use to “outside”, as in “out of jail,” except that residents of Alaska don’t particularly want to be Outside. In fact, there is general pride among Alaskans that our state and ways are not at all like those Outside.

(Contributed by Deirdre at http://esterrepublic.blogspot.com)

In many places, spring is seen as the season of new beginnings.  New life, new season, new relationships.  Ah, the romance of spring.  Alaska is no different.  You may then, ask yourself, why a large part of an Alaskan spring is referred to as Break up.  Well, it has nothing to do with personal relationships- unless the garbage and transfer station treasures emerging from under the snow in your neighbor’s yard offend you.  Or the emerging garbage and transfer station treasures in your own yard offend your neighbor.  NO, break up in Alaska is all about the arrival of warmer weather and winters own agonizingly slow release on the landscape.

We like our break ups long, slow, and hard in Alaska.  Usually at least 4 weeks, longer if we can drag it out.  Break up begins with a few days, usually in late March (but seemingly a bit earlier each year), when the daytime temperatures rise above freezing and the snow begins to melt.  Also commonly announced by someones car going into the river on the Fairbanks ice-bridge.

By early to mid-April, the snow has begun to melt in full force and the ground may even begin to show on south facing slopes.  By the end of April, the snow is mostly gone and the ice on the rivers is going out.

We celebrate break up with a balance of utility and mindless exuberance associated with finally see the end of winter.  We welcome it with break up boots, t-shirts, muddy cars, mud puddle dances and drive byes in the afternoon and the cracking of ice every morning.  It is one of the most hopeful times of year, the promise of green-up and summer just around the corner.

I find in my writings on Alaska life, that I am constantly clarifying my writing with definitions for ‘Alaska’ terminology. It is a wonderful thing about living here, or anywhere, that a local vocabulary develops. A vernacular, by any account. Its fun, creative, and at least a little bit exclusionary.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I like knowing what Alaskans are talking about when we say ‘outside’, or ‘village’, or ‘breakup’, and that outsiders (there I go again) don’t. And of course I enjoy explaining it to them, as much as they (I think) enjoy hearing about it.We’ve earned the right to use those words, surviving the Alaskan initiation rituals of isolation, darkness, and cold. We should celebrate them, what makes us different and unique, why we choose to live here over anywhere else.
In keeping with that line of thought, I’ve created this new blog “alaska vernacular” in addition to my regular posts at discontinuous permafrost. I hope that my readers will add definitions as they see fit. I’ll post them and credit them to the source. I’d like to accumulate something of the local lexicon here, that we can link to out of our blogs, instead of adding a definition every time a bit of alaskspeak shows up in our writing. I’ll also add the words and definitions below as they accumulate.
And if anyone has already done this, let me know. I’d be glad to link this right to their work! Or if any other bloggers out there would like to write on this page, let me know and I’ll see if I can’t figure out how to add you as an author.


discontinuous permafrost

Greenup is that brief period of time, sometime in May, that all the trees turn green (commonly called spring in the lower 48). This time varies, usually starting in early May in south Alaska and getting a little later as you move north. Literally overnight, we go from the brown world of mud, limb, and dirty snow bank, post breakup, to the lush yellow-green of a newly reawakened boreal forest. In Fairbanks, this can happen in a matter of days, you can see changes in the hillside colors from morning to night. Recent years have seen a change in schedule, with greenup appearing to come earlier and earlier each year. (You guess the reason, I’m sure it isn’t human caused.)

The act of taking a 2-3 foot diameter net, on the end of a 10-15 foot pole, attaching a dip to the end of the pole opposite the net, wherein said dip inserts the net end into a raging, dangerous river while perilously perched on rocks hanging from the side of a canyon, hoping to catch salmon migrating upstream in said net.  It has been known for 30 salmon to be caught in 2 hours, but not uncommon for 2 salmon to be caught in 30 hours.  The intelligence of dips can be observed by how securely they are tied off to canyon rocks, to preserve their bodies for burial should they fall into said river.  Dipnetting is most frequently used when referring to the Copper River, though “dipnetting light” is allowed on a few other Alaskan rivers.  Dips must be Alaskan residents.  (Please note; author is a mid-level intelligence dip, but don’t tell his wife.)