Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Flood Watch Follow Up

It’s gone! Just that quickly. The ice has moved completely out and the river is flowing in front of Bethel strong and free. It only took about twelve hours this year, which is quite fast. At midnight last night, Dutch and I drove down to the river to check its condition before going to bed. The sun was just setting and lots of people were still out, watching in quiet fascination. Ice stretched from shore to shore, but was moving steadily. A lot of it was ground up into basketball size hunks, but big truck-sized plates were drifting thickly among them. Sometimes with fully-rooted trees, upright and intact, sprouting from the centers.

The grinding, tinkling, sparkling noise of all that ice moving could be heard more than a block from the river. Think of a ballroom full of a thousand people, each holding a glass with ice cubes and some water, and everyone rattling their ice cubes at once. It is an amazing noise.

By noon today, it had all gone down river, and now only a few lonely hunks are drifting along on their own. The ice pack is probably down to the village of Eek by now, about 50 miles away. Small skiffs are motoring up and down the river, and everybody is smiling around town. Break-up brings out the “friendly” in people.

We are all starting to breathe a huge sigh of relief as well. It is beginning to look like we escaped any major flooding this year (all those crossed fingers had to have helped!). Nine feet above normal is OK, we can deal with that, and so far that is what we have had. Fifteen feet is a whole other matter, and causes great problems. By mid-afternoon, when the tide went out, the water level was dropping noticeably. The dog yard at Henry’s should be out of the water by tomorrow, though it will take several more days of sun and light wind to dry it out enough to put the dogs back in their houses.

The birds continue to be a delight. Bethel has become a virtual aviary. Little titmice, robins, grosbeaks and shrikes are everywhere. Seagulls have come upriver from the Bering Sea. And swallows by the thousands. We are especially glad to see the swallows; they eat nearly their weight in mosquitoes, daily. (Not yet, thank goodness.) And lots of others that I can’t identify. I sat in the sun (briefly!) in short sleeves, barefoot, and tried to count how many distinctly different bird calls I could hear. I managed to differentiate six out of the panorama of bird sound around me.

Fortunately, the incredibly good weather we’ve had is holding. Today was another beautiful day. The sky is huge and blue, and the sun is hot. The winds are keeping up, just enough. It is the most amazing gift to have this kind of weather for break-up. It can often occur during a south storm, which is where all our warm, wet weather comes from. Low and heavy gray cloud cover and drenching rain for days are not uncommon. Then it is cold, wet, muddy and nasty. Moving dogs means lots of slipping in the soupy mud, and they are miserable out in the rain without their snug houses. Yes, folks, there is joy in River City tonight. We made it through another spring transition.



Anonymous scan man said...

Hey Tundra PA, I've just read two of your posts. I can feel your excitement on the onset of spring. There is, unfortunately, no such thing as spring in my part of the world. As for ice, I see it only in my drinks :)
Great pics in your previous post. Are those dogs Alaskan Huskies? They look different from the pics that I remember seeing on TV & movies.
The things that I learn on blogs amazes me! 5 feet thick ice on a mile wide 800 mile long river! Wow!! I just checked out Bethel on Yahoo maps, looks like you are closer to Tokyo than Washington DC!
I wish I was in Alaska now. Today's high temperature here in my town is 97 F!

Thursday, May 25, 2006 3:35:00 AM  
Blogger TheTundraPA said...

Hey Scan Man--thanks for stopping by. Yes, it has been an exciting couple of days around here. Break-up always does that to us; it is such a violent, definitive marker of the end of winter--which lasts for 7-8 months here, so we're REALLY ready for it to end by May.

The dogs in the photos are all Alaskan huskies. The reason they look different from what you've seen in movies and on TV is that the universal sled dog depicted in the media is always a Siberian husky, or his larger but similar-appearing cousin, the Malamute. Both are American Kennel Club recognized breeds. Back in the day when freight was hauled by dog sled, both breeds were prized members of the dog team (though Malamutes were known to be bad about fighting). They are very strong, thickly-built dogs that can pull heavy loads.

Modern mushing is not about moving freight any more; it is about racing, primarily. The Alaskan husky reflects this shift in function. Alaskans are smaller, lighter, more agile dogs. They are not recognized by the AKC because there is no "breed standard", no consistent "look" to them. Alaskans can look like just about anything. The only breed standard is performance. They have to run fast and pull hard. I touched on this a bit in an earlier post, "Dog Mushing Basics," if you're interested.

And all that said, I just love Siberians. They are beautiful dogs. The team in Disney's new movie "8 Below" is gorgeous.

Thursday, May 25, 2006 9:17:00 AM  

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