by johnnygunn, Wed Apr 23, 2008 at 07:29:09 AM EDT
Not to be confused with Spring Break.
Ice Jam on the Yellowstone River - NPS Photo
Anyone who has lived in the Northern Tier from Maine to Minnesota to Montana - and certainly in Canada and Alaska knows what spring breakup is. That's when the ice goes out on the local river. More than anything else, it is the signal of a change in seasons.
For those of you unfamiliar with ice - let's just say those unfortunate souls living in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, etc. - spring breakup is an amazing event. In the autumn, ice forms stealthily on the waters - sneaking in slowly from the shoreline. But in the spring the ice departs in a crashing roar. What had been a solid sheet of ice that supported a snowmobile or pickup truck last week shatters under the pressure of warming water underneath and warming air above.
In places like Fairbanks, Alaska and Dawson City, Yukon they take bets on exactly when the breakup will happen on the Nenana and Yukon Rivers - down to the minute. You don't want to be caught out on the ice when breakup takes place. Ice chunks five and ten feet high rage down the major rivers of the North. Bridges are swept away. Houses on the banks, crushed.
Political changes are often far more like spring breakup than fall freezeup - they occur with stunning speed. What had been a political status quo is smashed almost instantaneously. Nothing is more upsetting to Northerners than a late breakup - much like the ongoing Democratic contest. In places like the Yukon, ice bridges serve travellers all winter; however, they are closed in spring just before breakup and put a halt to travel until ferry service can resume on an open river. Needless to say, the longer the wait, the more antsy Northerners become - not to mention the desire for winter to end.
So here we are in the Democratic Party waiting for spring breakup. The reigning political paradigm - that Barack Obama has the nomination iced - has been able to support the weight of an eighteen-wheeler on ice all winter. But the ice is under pressure. From below, the warming waters of poor choices and ill-considered language have eaten away at the once-solid image. From above, the warming air of traditional Democratic voters in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania have weakened the ice yet more.
When the ice finally does go, it will go in a crashing roar.