I hate Breakup. One of the reasons I enjoyed my monthlong visit to Badlands National Park last spring as the Artist-in-Residence for the park is that I got to avoid Breakup, that annual exercise of sloughing off winter to make way for spring. Vast amounts of snow and ice melt, at first gradually but eventually at breakneck speed, leading to chaos on the roads and walkways. Mud and slush become the norm, decorated with the browns and dark greys of a winter’s-worth of dirt and gunk collecting on the ground. You have to keep a jug of windshield wiper fluid in your car at all times because of the frequent use of your wipers to beat back the constant road spray of watered-down mud that becomes the norm of any commute anywhere in the state.
To put things simply, it’s an ugly time of the year. Michelle loves it. She likes how it signals the beginning of spring and the promise for new things. As a nature photographer, I hate it because it heralds a period of several weeks where everything around is pretty darn messy and ugly. Now that I am represented by Alaska Stock, perhaps I should invest time in taking images of the ugliness for editorial or commercial users that need images of such things. I suppose I will get around to it. I am just hoping that the current Breakup we are experiencing is not the real deal; it’s about two months early. One of the things that makes winter worthwhile here is the snow. Losing it without the benefit of actual warmer spring temperatures that are here to stay takes away that finer aspect of living in southcentral Alaska in the winter.
My first impression of spring Breakup came not from living here, but television. Yes, leave it to “Hollywood” to educate me on a culture that I would later become a part of. I am talking, of course, about the TV series “Northern Exposure.” The episode aired in 1991, during the second season, and was called “Spring Break.” One of the key elements of the plot line is that everyone in the small town of Cicely obsesses about the ice breaking up, heralding the beginning of spring. While I have yet to find any town in Alaska that celebrates Breakup with a “Running of the Bulls” (all of the men in town going for a naked jog with all the ladies cheering them on), we do obsess about Breakup in Alaska. We even have a lottery (the “Nenana Ice Classic“) where you can guess, with a cash deposit for each time slot you pick, when the ice on the Tanana River will break apart in the spring.
While I may not care for the sloppy weather, forcing me to switch from wearing my Sorels to wearing Extra Tuffs to get around, it doesn’t mean that there are no photos to be found at all. At times like this, I find myself looking up more, seeing how the light its hitting the buildings downtown or perhaps what special show the sky provides for sunrise or sunset. And maybe someday too, I will warm up to Breakup itself, embracing the gritty muddy chaos that it brings by photographing some of its spirit as well.