LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Imagine a winter where there's only four hours of daylight, and temperatures regularly drop 30 below zero. If you're in Fairbanks, Alaska, you don't have to imagine it. But it's May, and it's finally starting to feel like spring. From Alaska's Energy Desk, Ravenna Koenig has this audio postcard.
RAVENNA KOENIG, BYLINE: When you ask people in Fairbanks about the things that herald spring, you get a long list. One of them is a 93-year-old man in a custard-yellow truck.
GLENN HACKNEY: This is the most famous pickup in Fairbanks. This little, yellow pickup has been hauling trash around town for 25 years.
KOENIG: That's Glenn Hackney. He's lived in Alaska since 1948. And every spring, he's bothered by the same sight - trash that has piled up over the winter and is slowly being uncovered by the melting snow. Hackney says most of what he picks up is plastic and paper scraps. But he's also encountered some stranger stuff, like a bowling ball and a gilded rose packed in a box.
HACKNEY: So I figured it was a jilted lover (laughter) who tossed it out the window.
KOENIG: I drive with Hackney to the part of the highway he says is the biggest eyesore, and we get out.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)
KOENIG: There's something in particular he's here to get rid of.
HACKNEY: We're looking at a mattress that somebody has lost off their pickup.
KOENIG: We haul it into the back of his truck.
HACKNEY: Can you do it?
While Hackney's one of the main boosters of the cleanup cause, he's not alone in his efforts. Fairbanks also has a community-wide cleanup day this time of year. About a mile from where we pick up the mattress, there's another spring phenomenon that takes place.
(SOUNDBITE OF BIRDS SQUAWKING)
KOENIG: On the last Thursday of April, over a thousand birds were counted at a former dairy farm called Creamer's Field, now a wildlife refuge. Most were passing through on their way to nests further north and west. Mark Ross is a wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He stood in front of a table crowded with taxidermy birds, teaching a group of fifth-graders which was which.
MARK ROSS: Snow goose. Canada goose.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Peregrine falcon.
ROSS: Peregrine falcon. The world's fastest creature is the great duck eater.
KOENIG: Creamer's Field this time of year is busy with people looking through binoculars, taking pictures and gazing out from their car windows in the parking lot. And the moment earlier in the season, when some of the very first birds arrive, is its own event. There's a contest here called the goose watch contest.
ROSS: They have a jingle. (Singing) I'm a goose watcher. I'm a goose - that's been going on for about 30 years.
KOENIG: Ross actually judges that contest. People fill out guesses for the date and time of the first goose's arrival. And whoever gets closest wins 500 bucks. Springtime also means that a less-welcome airborne critter's back in town - the mosquito.
GERRY HOVDA: Well, it’s our state bird (laughter).
KOENIG: Gerry Hovda's the manager at Frontier Outfitters. It's a sporting goods store where you can buy everything from camping equipment to guns to fishing line and, of course, mosquito gear.
HOVDA: Yeah. It's up on Aisle 2 here. I've got your mosquito netting for over your cot.
KOENIG: Netting, a mosquito repellent wash for clothes, chemical discs you can burn to keep the bugs away, plus mosquito spray. Hovda says he puts them out...
HOVDA: Soon as the hand warmers get put away.
KOENIG: The first mosquitoes start appearing around now. By the summer, they'll be everywhere.
HOVDA: They get in your nose. They get in your mouth. You can have lunch out on a - riding your bike.
KOENIG: Fairbanks still has a ways to go before winter is truly over. It snowed several times last week, and the trees are still bare. But even a slow spring is a welcome one. It means that the summer everyone's been dreaming about through the dark months is just around the corner.
For NPR News, I'm Ravenna Koenig in Fairbanks.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that report comes to us from our former WEEKEND EDITION producer and Alaska's Energy Desk, a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment.
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