Is this what they mean by ‘break-up’?” asked the man.
It was March of that particular year, so I was slightly nonplussed.
He gestured at the jumble of broken hardpan snow on the road where the plough had just gone by. Great chunks of icy rubble divided the street neatly in two, and no vehicles would be crossing at 3rd Avenue and Queen St. until some of that pile got trucked away.
It took me a beat to make the connection, but it is a comment I’ve never forgotten. Given the broken-up street he was looking at, it made perfect sense.
If you’ve walked Dawson’s streets in summer, you know that you have to step up from six inches to a foot or more to make the transition between the street and the boardwalks.
That’s not the case these days. There are places where the street is level with the boardwalk and others where you actually have to step down when you leave the roadway.
That’s because the streets are four to six inches higher now than usual. It’s the snow, of course, and it’s almost a case study in how glaciers form.
People from Outside assume that we get tons of snow in Dawson. We don’t. It’s just that every bit that falls from mid-October on stays right where it falls, building up in layers on roofs, fence rails and the streets.
Some of it blows away into drifts; some of it sublimates into the air; but most of it stays put, compresses, hardens and turns almost to ice.
The streets are graded after each snowfall, but that, and the daily traffic, contribute to that compression. So the street level slowly, almost imperceptibly, rises, until one day you realize that you no longer have to step up onto the boardwalks in many places.
The city’s contractor will soon begin to scrape it off and truck it away, because the days are getting longer and slightly warmer.
The snow’s lease on life will soon expire. Already people are shovelling off low peaked roofs to prevent leaks from the daily thaw/freeze cycle.
By the time you read this, the graders and trucks will be on the street, breaking up the accumulation and hauling it away before it begins to melt.
Why? Because if they didn’t we wouldn’t need to worry about the river flooding the streets. The melt would do the job, dissolving the street beds and turning every thoroughfare to gumbo and creating great lakes all over town. We spend far less removing the snow early than we would have to spend on street repairs if we didn’t.
The irony is that when it comes time for the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race to launch from beside the Old Post Office, city crews will have to lay down fresh snow from the start line to the dike to give the dogs a place to run.