Of Moose and Men

Marching on through winter

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2007

This time of year, Alaskans are like little kids on a long trip: every now and then we look up and ask, “Are we there yet?” Of course, the “there” is breakup. While the rest of the country is busily watching flowers pop up, Alaskans just want to reach the point where the melt surpasses the snowfall.

We stand on the cusp of breakup by the end of March. So, by default, March is a period of uneasy transition. One doesn’t even need a calendar to determine March’s arrival because the moment March arrives the paper suddenly springs forth, with full-page ads filled with incongruous pairings. March is when we must decide between saving money on gardening shovels or snow shovels; bags of sand for traction or bags of potting soil; portable greenhouses or portable ice fishing shanties; liquid fertilizer or 20 below windshield wiper fluid.

Subtle reminders about the March/spring relationship aren’t limited to the Clarion, however. Little teasers abound to remind us constantly that the rest of the country is either entering into spring or striding through it on the way to summer. National television ads are actually blatant. In fact, some border on mental cruelty. There is little more disheartening than spending an hour, or two, trudging wearily behind the snow thrower, only to go inside to warm up and be subjected to a lawn mower ad. Not just any old lawn mower ad, mind you, but the one with the bozo decked out in shorts and a T-shirt, merrily riding his lawn mower across an endless plain of sun-drenched, green grass. All the while he’s replenishing the copious amounts of perspiration trickling down his rosy cheeks by sipping on a cold drink.

Not that I get cranky around this time of year or anything, but one more ad with that smiley-faced lawn-mowing moron and I’m gonna hunt him down and turn his Deere into road kill.

Speaking of large patches of green on television, another taunt Alaskans grit their teeth to endure comes in the form of baseball spring training reports. There is little more pathetic than grown athletes whining about “cold” weather.

“Ya know, Bob, I think this cold snap is making things a little rough for the Sox.”

“Darn right, Jack. You don’t perform well when you’re hands are cold and stiff. It’s not just the cold though, it’s the wind-chill factor. It’s bad enough that it’s only 50 degrees on the field, but throw in that 10 mile per hour wind, and you’re talking brutal!”

I guess there’s a reason they call them the boys of summer.

Another advertising venue that can drive an Alaskan to distraction in March is catalogs. You name it, if it has anything to do with the season we’re all breathlessly waiting to catch a glimpse of, there will be a catalog showing up about it.

By and far, to my way of thinking, the worst of the lot are the bulb and seed catalogs. Nobody is more appreciative of green, growing plants or vibrant flowers than an Alaskan. Combined with being cooped up for the past four-plus months, the urge to plant something can override rational thought. And the seed catalogs are always urging us to “Order early! Plant early!” It’s a dangerous game those with green thumbs and an addiction to growing plants play when they thumb through a seed catalog in March.

“I couldn’t stand it another minute! I ordered some stuff from that bulb and seed catalog we got last week. I got their winter hardy specials.”

“Well, if you had it shipped land carrier, you’ll only have to wait a few weeks before you can start them in the window sill.”

“Oh no, I couldn’t wait for standard shipping. I had them shipped express.”

“You WHAT?”

“The catalog said to plant them early.”

“Have you slipped a cog? The ground is frozen!”

“I know, that’s why I called ‘Steam on Wheels,’ and put them on retainer.”

March is an “in-your-face” kind of month. On one hand, it provides us the first calendar day of spring. Unfortunately, with the other hand it slaps us silly.

It doesn’t take many years on the Kenai Peninsula before one learns, beyond all certainty, that March 21 may define spring on the calendar, but nobody ever mentions it to Old Man Winter.

“Can you believe how fast this winter has gone? Shoot, tomorrow is the first day of spring.”

“Whoa, that’s right. Hey, Mort, I gotta git. With tomorrow being the first day of spring and all, I need to change the oil in my snow thrower, tie down the shed, cover up the snowmachines, make sure the dog’s house has some new wood chips in it for insulation, check the antifreeze in my car and lay out the chains for it, and make sure we’ve got plenty of firewood for the stove in case the snow load takes out the power lines.”

Are we there yet? Why heck, yes! Didn’t you see that storm on Wednesday?

See you on the other side of breakup.

A.E. Poynor is a freelance writer who lives in Kenai.



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