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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Thanks,

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.)