Roy Hurd, a folk singer from my sometimes home of the Adirondacks of Upstate New York, is the writer of the unofficial anthem of the area. “Adirondack Blue” has a verse dedicated to each of the mountain region’s four distinct seasons – seasons which have their own drastic impact on the way many locals live and work. Living on Southern Vancouver Island over the Falls, Winter and Spring of the past year (2006-2007), I found myself missing the distinct change of seasons that Roy sings about so eloquently. And not only did I miss the snow and cold of a true Winter, but I missed the climatic road trip I would be taken on four times a year as the weather and calendar would perhaps gradually but always dramatically shepherd me into the next season. Indeed, once again feeling a season change under my feet and before my eyes was one reason I was drawn to Yellowknife in the first place. The explosion of Spring I’ve witnessed in the past few days has made the trip entirely worthwhile in that regard.
A week ago I was shuffling seamlessly from dry land onto Great Slave Lake. Today the murky puddles marking water’s edge are the area of backyard swimming pools.
A week ago I looked out the back window of my current home to see soft hills covered with a winter’s worth of snow. Today they are exposed for the barren rock formations that they are.
A week ago the sidewalks were lined with several inches of ice. Today a friend and I raced pieces of trash down the quickly-moving flow of runoff adjacent to the curb. (His apple-juice can won after my milk bottle turned sideways and gave up its sizeable lead. A valuable lesson to be learned about fluid dynamics).
But the changes to the landscape aren’t simply of the endearing, aesthetic variety - the kind that seem to serve no greater purpose than to give old men something to talk about. Rather, the seasonal changes in the North can leave their imprint on the daily lives of just about everybody in the community – and not just when it comes to dressing one’s self in the morning. The neighbouring community of Dettah, for example, is a bite-sized 6km jaunt over the ice road by car in the Winter. Starting this weekend, however, it becomes a slightly less casual 27 km excursion around the bay (on pavement).
Granted, I probably won’t need to go to Dettah anytime soon, but my food will be making an important road trip from the South (I have previously written on the difficulties of eating locally in Yellowknife in the Winter). We are now in a shoulder season, where there is a very real possibility that for a few days the ice bridges won’t be safe to cross and the warm-weather ferries won’t be running. When this happens, a brother might have to wait a few extra days before the grocery store gets a re-supply of chocolate milk.
It’s also an awkward time of year for playing outside. Snowmobiles may look cool when puddle-skimming, but I assume that thinning ice and disappearing snow make this most popular of winter activities here probably tougher and significantly more dangerous. As for me, I’ve had to accept the reality that my skis and snowshoes are probably done for the season. My stomping ground in that regard has been Great Slave Lake, which is a whole lot tougher to get onto these days on account of the massive puddles that encircle it, and the reward of plodding along through heavy Spring slush isn’t entirely worth it. We're still several weeks away, though, from the replacements for skis and snowmobiles - being soccer shoes and speed boats, respectively - being dusted off for the summer.
Don’t get me wrong, though: the advent of Spring is 5% inconvenience and 95% sigh of relief as far as I am concerned. Upon stepping outside over the past few days, residents have been greeted by the sound of a city melting and coming to life. For the first time I can remember, the sound of the water having been left on is music to the ears. It’s as though someone has flipped a switch, and with no January thaw to speak of, Yellowknife is instantly spitting out an entire Winter’s worth of precipitation (this morning’s setback in the form of a slight dusting of snow notwithstanding).
From vast expanses of rock being uncovered to transportation routes being reconfigured, the change of season in the NWT can and does alter the very makeup and identity of a region in ways that I’ve never seen it happen anywhere else. At least, not to the extent that it isn't avoidable for anybody. No matter how well immunized a man may think himself to be from the authority of the elements – especially now that Winter’s wrath is seemingly tucked in for its warm-weather hibernation – when topography, food supply and available leisure activities all change in complete orchestration with the thawing landscape, we are reminded that we are biological creatures who remain part of a dynamic ecosystem. This is as it should be, and has been another of the humbling pleasures of my season in the North.