Ah, Breakup! My favorite season of Alaska’s year. How oft during the tedious months of winter have I pined for these halcyon days? Now the time has come for long lost treasures to be relinquished from the icy talons of winter’s merciless grasp. Viruses, long dormant, can now be released into my bronchial passages to test the mettle of my immune system. The unyielding ground, softening beneath my feet, tenderly draws my finest dress shoes into its embrace until I find them enveloped in an undulating ocean of glistening mire, sloshing and gurgling in rapturous celebration of its emancipation.
My yard blossoms luxuriously with toilet paper tubes, discarded Kleenexes and utility bill stubs that had been sown to the arctic wind by a frostbitten raven rummaging for a snack in my burn barrel. These assorted relics of a bygone season had been imprisoned for five interminable months in the snowdrift that entombed them. As they unfurl to greet me now, I experience an unexpected surge of nostalgia. I look fondly down with a tremulous smile of reminiscence, my feet softly making rude noises in the goop of my yard.
That crumpled Kleenex represents the sinus infection that kept me in bed on Christmas Eve, trembling with the desire to throw a pillow at my guests whose boisterous guffaws around a game of Balderdash were robbing me of much-needed sleep. Yon Q-tip with the lingering orange-ish residue still discernible upon one cotton-swathed end had formerly daubed the cat scratches on my arm with Mercurochrome after Fluffy expressed her reluctance to be shaved into a Mohawk for her YouTube debut.
There’s the empty bubble card that I bought at the airport shop. It had contained two of the finest Ibuprofen tablets that $6.95 can buy. They had been imbibed in an oblation of appeasement to an airplane seat, who, angered that my somnolent drooling had stained its upholstery, had retaliated by using my neck as its own personal wad of Play-Doh. Ah, here’s an IGA receipt with blue plumber’s goop on it. That was the only scrap of paper I could find on which to wipe up my smears while attempting to restore burst water lines to functional status at –50o F.
Affectionately, I stoop to touch these mementos from the past. It troubles me that the sanctity of their funeral pyre had been so callously disturbed, but now I can give them a more appropriate farewell. They shall be borne back to the burn barrel to be cremated with great pomp and ceremony at the appointed time. But wait! It is not destined to be. Not yet. A Kleenex, saturated by breakup mud, smears into slime under my fingers. A packing peanut, degraded by Spring’s ultraviolet sunbeams, crumbles into grainy crumbs. The toilet paper tube rips soddenly as I tug on it. With its bottom side still frozen into a slab of ice, I am only able to retrieve a tiny flake that dangles moist and flaccid, pinched between my thumb and forefinger.
I am not disheartened. Breakup is upon me and the invigorating smell of Spring wafts joyfully into my flared nostrils. It smells like seven months worth of dog, horse, goat, and moose turds beginning to ripen upon exposure to the balmy air. It smells like the vast bog of accumulated motor oil, power steering fluid and radiator fluid that has formed in my parking spot, since being released from their cover of snow and ice. It smells like the revived decomposition of freshly thawed moose offal and fish guts and every small animal that died on my property during the long winter.
A pair of birds flies by, warbling a love song in two part harmony. They land on a birch branch and begin preening each other. Their courtship ritual fans a romantic ember in my breast. Their music reminds me of the lyrical melody of my own wife’s voice. I must go to the house and find my sweet, gentle spouse. I must bring her out here, and we must share this time together. Hand in hand we must slosh through the muck. We must inhale the pungent air and shiver enraptured under the spell of Breakup. Yes, I must Breakup with my wife, and I must do it now.
I turn toward the house to fetch her, but my way is barred by a puddle formed by run-off from the pasture. There is so much horse urine and goat berry tea in it that the nitrogen and phosphorus content is probably high enough to turn my forty acres into a smoking crater if somebody were to set off a blasting cap in that puddle. I chortle in anticipation of the lush dark green grass that will flourish on the site in a few weeks.
The bottom of the puddle is obscured. This is partly due to the murky brownish-amber contents. It is also due to the ammonia vapors rising from its surface which are burning my eyes. Undaunted, I respond to Love’s summons. I step carefully into it and begin my wade.
I had not anticipated that the bottom was still a sheet of ice! Suddenly, I become a cartoon character. My legs are churning madly as I sprint in place, futilely attempting to maintain my balance. My arms flail like windmill blades to no avail. I feel myself tipping backwards, yielding reluctantly to the demands of gravity. I throw myself sideways toward a small tree that stands barely within reach. My left hand closes around a branch just as the rest of my body does a spectacular triple backwards summersault.
My humerus head becomes a pestle, grinding my supraspinatus muscle into hamburger against the mortar of my scapula. That vivid moment of sensory input is enhanced by three or four audible reports, like rifle shots, each followed by a fading thrumming sound. It is the unmistakable sound of shoulder ligaments snapping in quick succession. Eager to put my college anatomy class to practical application, I identify the severed ligaments as corocoacromial, acromioclavicular, and glenohumeral respectively. My rotator cuff feels like a truck tire looks after a blowout on the Dalton Highway.
I decide to stop holding onto the branch. It doesn’t seem to be worth the effort somehow. The timing could have been planned more carefully. I happen to be in the phase of my summersault cycle in which my body is inverted in relation to its natural orientation. In short, I am upside down. The angle of landing strikes me as less than optimal. With cat-like reflexes I spin in midair so that I gracefully land on my face instead of the top of my head. The viscous puddle splashes spectacularly with my impact, and then falls back, molasses-like, to engulf my prostrate form.
If I had to break my nose, I am grateful to be able to do so on a slab of ice that therapeutically begins reducing swelling at the moment of impact. Many unfortunate people have to waste precious moments running all the way to their freezer to retrieve an ice pack for the same purpose. The downside, of course, is that the ice slab is submerged. Goat berry tea, while extremely healthful to plants, is not formulated to deliver nutrients effectively to a human when administered nasally. It also interferes with one’s airway, rendering it difficult to maintain one’s normal respiration process.
I decide that a brief application of ice is sufficient for the moment, and that I should perhaps move on to the next phase of trauma care, namely, elevation of the injured body part—at least above the surface of the water level. Precious air whooshes into my lungs.
My abrupt wheezing, whistling, screeching intake of this underappreciated commodity startles a flock of swans whose northward course happens to have brought them directly above my location at this precise moment. Like a squadron of Heinkel He117 Greifs over London, the swans release their payloads. The ammonia level of the puddle instantly spikes by 450%, and I begin to feel like a giant cupcake frosted by a diabolical 3-year-old with a slingshot and a bad case of attention deficit disorder. The frosting smells overpoweringly of extra-concentrated Spring!
By now there is nearly more magic in the Spring air than even I can stand. I drag myself to the edge of the puddle using my right hand and knees, my left arm trailing limply in my wake. Safe at last, on relatively dry land, I lay upon the squishy sod panting from the effort. Vaguely, I hear my son calling me.
“Hey, Dad! Catching some rays, huh? Look what I found. It’s left over from our New Year’s party.”
Ratcheting my wobbly head toward him, I attempt to focus on what he is brandishing. I’m not sure, but it appears to be a long skinny lollypop of some sort. “Watch this!” he whoops. A spark gives birth to a spurt of flame. Then a little string near the base of the lollipop begins to sputter with a hissing orange glow.
“I didn’t know we had any bottle rockets left.”
In slow motion I watch the hand with the match in it flick upward in a backhanded toss. The still burning match traces a trajectory over his shoulder and begins its descent toward the high octane puddle. As I will my mouth to work, a deep reverbrating bass tone, like a whale’s call oozes imperceptibly from my mouth.
…Ah, Heaven! My favorite destination. How oft during the tedious years of life have I pined for this halcyon place…