April is fooling with us. A winter storm has blanketed the Tanana Valley again. We gape at twelve inches of snow that have accumulated overnight. Is winter never going to end? We are not even asking for daffodils and tulips, like the ones we jealously regard in Facebook posts by friends in the lower 48 States. We would be content just knowing that great boulders of ice are jumbling and crashing as the frozen rivers break apart. It would reassure us that Spring is, indeed, on its way. Alas, nothing so far. No pussy willows clinging to stark branches. No crusted riverbanks re-emerging. No patches of dirt beneath the snow.
Instead, snow is piling high against the window ledges. Before long we’ll be able to slide off our rooftops with sleds. On Cleary Summit, Skiland has extended its season until the end of May. In Nenana, where a betting game has people casting their vote as to when the ice will go out on the Tanana River, people are changing their guess to early June. The sound of snowmachines fills the air again. Perhaps we put our snowshoes away too early.
We’ll simply have to outsmart winter, Rebecca and Tara and I decide. If Spring is not coming, we can still walk along the trails in the woods with the dogs. We are Alaskans. We will not succumb to a little snow. Our friend Dawn and her pup bowed out for our walk today. Thus, our typical group of four musketeers has dwindled to the present three stooges. Equipped with dog leashes and a resolve to tackle the snow, we set off with four bounding dogs.
We encounter no one on the snowy trails. We are spared the humiliation of meeting the black labrador retrievers, a group of five dogs that we have encountered often on previous walks. They were so well behaved they put our mixed bunch of dogs to shame. While the black labs sat unmoving beside the trail to let us pass, not even twitching a tail and quietly heeding the commands of their owners, our dogs catapulted past them in a snowy cloud of general chaos, completely disregarding our reprimanding shouts. We have earned our name of “bad dog squad” multifold.
We walk in single file in the deep snow. Rebecca breaks trail. I follow. Tara is the caboose. Every so often one of us yells “Incoming!” as the dog chase each other and shove by us. We brace ourselves for impact as Fitz, the alpha female, whips by with a branch in her mouth. Buddy, Jack and Elias, the boys, are trying their best to get it from her. Knees bent, we exhale. We are still standing. We keep an eye out for moose, often a close encounter in the woods. Jack and Elias, the younger ones, would charge right after them. We yell at Fitz when she finds moose poop along the trail that she sees fit to eat.
“Can you shorten your steps?” I pant after Rebecca, whose stride is longer than mine. I try to follow her deep imprints in the snow. “This snow is too much for me.”
Behind me, Tara grumbles. “I should have just stayed in New Zealand on the trip I took last year.”
Why on earth do we choose to stay in Alaska? I am the “newcomer” with twenty years under my belt. Tara has been here for close to thirty. Rebecca has called Alaska home for her whole life. Typical of long-term Alaskans, we gripe about the weather. Did we imagine, even for a moment, that we wouldn’t see snow again?
Today our walk took us twice as long as usual. Deep snow drifts made our plodding progress more slowly. We are soaked through with sweat at the exertion. When we emerge from the woods, however, we feel more energized than when we started. This is why we stay in Alaska. Sometimes it is enough to go for a long walk with old friends, even if the snowy day falls into April. We can be content to watch a group of dogs romp and wrestle. We still marvel at a landscape turned exquisite with new snow. Even as we shake the snow from our coats and mittens and load wet dogs into car trunks, we know that the gentler season is ahead.
“In the depths of winter I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus