I say this, but we will still have mornings of 23 degrees F. and occasional snow squalls. For the most part, spring has arrived and the winter season is slowly trickling away. Each day gets up to about 40 - 50 degrees now and more and more snow disappears for another 8 or 9 months. With the temperatures warming throughout the region a couple of things happen.
1. Ptarmigan start to appear and you can hear them clucking and laughing across the tundra in all directions. They still have their white winter foliage for now, but they will be quickly molting and starting to adapt to their brownish environment again. I actually got out a couple of weeks ago with a couple of students and bagged 3 - 4 ptarmigan. They will go nicely in a stir fry or stew. With the ptarmigan out, the students are itching for the end of each school day to rip across the tundra on their snow machines or 4 wheelers with their 22 rifles or 20 gauge shotguns to bag as many of tundra chickens as possible. They usually have to travel at least 3 - 4 miles to find descent sized flocks of birds to hunt.
2. All that wonderful white stuff is melting and running into giant puddles and mini lakes across the landscape. The actual lakes are still quite frozen, but the top layer melts more and more each day the sun shines down it. This gives the kids an excellent opportunity to go "skipping" or "sliding" on their snow machines across these water covered pieces of ice. So, all evening long, the intermittent screaming of snow machines can be heard as they race across the water. If you keep your speed up high enough, you won't sink and swamp your snow machine. Even if you did, there isn't any real danger of sinking to the bottom of a lake...yet. That day will be coming soon and each day, the risk increases.
3. The snow is really mostly gone already. There are occasional patches of the white stuff left, but most of the trails that were used in the winter are now turning to torn up strips of tundra moss, blueberry, blackberry, and cranberry plants, and other types of vegetation. We actually had an elder gentleman from the village visit several classrooms in the school and talk about reducing the human impact on the fragile tundra by staying off of it with machines. And just like kids everywhere, there are always some that ignore the wisdom and advise of adults and do whatever the heck they want. The fact is that the tundra does an incredible job of bouncing back. This has been happening for years now and each fall when I return, the tundra has returned to it's springy, supersaturated carpet of vegetation. It's still sad to see the condition of this ecosystem as the season changes from winter to spring and no one wants to put their machine away for the summer and fall. They are just to darn fun!
Walking across the tundra with Katja on our daily explorations is kind of nice this time of year. You definitely need your muck boots to keep your feet dry, but with the permafrost still pretty shallow, you can walk across some more swampy areas rather easily. Katja usually finds about 12 - 15 bones that have been covered up by the snow and will find a spot to settle down and gnaw on the skeletons of the dead every so often. I've taken to walking because... obviously I can't ski (much to my dismay) and I don't feel like trashing my bike in the muck. The running shoes will be broken out soon enough.
Time is ticking away for the school year! In another 28 days, Katja and I will be walking barefoot on the grass around my folks home in Maryland or running the C&O canal along the Potomac River. Looking forward to it.