Was there a spring in Dawson City? It is May 12 and 28°C today. This seems to be summer.
I suppose spring was probably that week or so where the entire town gathered along the dyke to watch the river melt.
Everyone here buys tickets and places their bet on when the ice will go. The goal is to choose the exact minute the ice will bust and shift, which will carry the tripod with the sensor down the river, triggering a clock to stop moving.
However, this year was different. First, the thaw happened earlier than it ever has since the river breakup time was first recorded in 1896 (see previous breakup dates).
Second, the river just seemed to be melting. We watched for days as the overflow water got closer and closer to the tripod (as shown above).
Every day or so a bunch of ice would move and pile up, but the tripod was unaffected.
Then, on the evening of April 22, just before 7pm, the overflow water hit the wooden tripod, and it collapsed into the water!
Was that it? Did someone just win the pool of money?
No! Because the ice didn’t shift, the sensor didn’t trigger the stop clock!
However, the next morning, the town’s fire hall rang its air siren, to tell the town the river was officially breaking up! At 11:15am on April 23, the river broke up! There is always a real flood risk, should the ice chunks jam up, so the siren tells the town to be on alert. Floods used to be devastating here before the dyke was built in the 1980’s.
So after days of watching and waiting by the river, talking to friends and strangers and visitors, listening to everyone share their theory of when the river would break, and who was going to win the pool of money, we missed it!
But we were there shortly after to watch the chunks of ice go by!
And just like that, Dawson City shifted into summer mode.
The streets are alive. The leaves are busting out of their buds. The robins are pecking at lawns. The restaurants are reopening. The first Holland America buses have been seen in town, doing their first run with their staff, and tour guides. The gold miners are back on their claims, which brings so many service jobs to town – welders, mechanics, camp cooks, radio communication servicemen, labourers. The summer staff, which keep all the bars and restaurants and stores staffed, have been trickling into town for weeks, hoping to grab a rarely available accommodation, knowing full well they’ll likely be spending their summer living in tents, trailers, vans, and surfing couches.
It seems like just a few months ago the nights were long, and the days were so short. Suddenly it is now May and the sun isn’t setting now until quarter past 11.
Jeff and I have been taking a walk each night for about 70 minutes, doing a lap around the furthest edge of town, 8th Ave, and along the dyke beside the river. Over the course of just a few weeks, we’ve shifted from toques and jackets, to shorts and t-shirts.
Town is peaceful in the evenings. There is almost no vehicle traffic. Dawson City feels a bit like living in a campground. There is usually the smell of a softwood fire in the air. People have gathered on patios and decks, or at a picnic table down by the river with a 6 pack and a joint. Dogs lie leash-free on the street and on the boardwalks. Music drifts out of the bars, and sometimes you’ll hear someone playing a guitar in the gazebo.
Children are friendly and at peace, biking with their friends and siblings and pet dog, doing circles in the middle of the road. They talk to you here, having no fear of strangers or dangers. They say hello when you pass on the street. Actually everyone says hello or stops to chat when you pass, it doesn’t matter if you know them, or even recognize them. When you pass someone and they are looking down and don’t say hello, it is pretty likely they don’t live here.
It used to infuriate me when I walked Monty that people rarely leash their dogs. But dogs are different here. They don’t crave people like you’d expect, and most are really peaceful. They are perfectly content sitting on a boardwalk, waiting for their master to come out of the store, or restaurant, or bar. Sometimes they’ll let you pet them, but usually they don’t even approach. I hear stories of dogs who chase and nip people, but I haven’t experienced it myself. It is kinda neat to know and recognize dogs in town, even better when you know their name.
It is hard to make routines here. In some ways, nothing ever changes here. And yet, every day is different. The rapidly lengthening days make it impossible to go to bed at a reasonable hour. In the winter, when the sun set before 4pm, a 9:30pm bedtime seemed perfectly reasonable so I could get up with plenty of time for a shower and breakfast before I’d shuffle to my desk and work by 7:30am.
But now that doesn’t work. Right now it is 1:30am. The sky is still light. We had dinner at 9:30pm. I’ve heard tales of people who lived the summers so hard here, trying not to miss a thing, that they eventually collapse and sleep for two days out of exhaustion. I guess in a way it suits me. I’ve never liked things to be too orderly.
After the ice road across the river thinned, and the river broke up, our town residents that live in West Dawson (across the river) were cut off from town. Once the ice chunks washed out of the river, the hardy folk across the river jumped back in their boats to come and go, waiting for the ferry (shown above) to resume summer service.
This morning (May 12), the ferry was slid back into the Yukon River before I even woke up, and is now back in service, 24 hours a day, shuttling cars, trucks, and passengers across the river.
Tomorrow we have a high of 27°C forecast. It is dry here in the Yukon, and getting dryer with no rain forecast in the next week. The river is low, the roads are dusty, and the forest is already getting crispy. However fire is natural here in the boreal forest, and the territory’s wildfire fighters are trained and ready to go.
And I better go to bed.