Thursday, January 13, 2005

Crazy Spring

It's Break Up here in the 49th state, which is how Alaskans say 'Spring.'

The term 'Break up' comes from the maritime concept of sea ice breaking up. Locally, the term means we've reached the time of year when the temps are now pretty much everyday over 40, and the streets disappear beneath the seemingly inexhaustible oceans of water produced by almost 200inches of snow melt.

But up north, on the Nanana River, there is a particular ritual of Break Up, and one more closely tied to the expression's true meaning. Just north of fairbanks, while the ice is still thick, the locals go out in the middle of the ice-clogged Nanana and plant a pole. They tie a string to the pole, and the other end of the string to a clock. When break up comes - when the ice literally begins to break up and move down stream, taking the pole with it - the string trips the clock.

The town sells shares in a betting pool to pick the exact moment - day, hour and minute - when the river trips the clock and 'breaks up.' It costs a few bucks to enter, and many people must, because the prize money is over $300,000

I don't know exactly how many people enter, but again, it must be quiet a few, because last year 66 people put down money that the Nanana River would officially 'break up' on one particular day: April 31st.

Now fire up your dayplanner and check what day of the week April 31st falls on.