Monday, September 29, 2008

Reflections on Fall in Homer

Fall has always been my favorite time of year. The cooling days, the nip in the air, the vibrant colors, fields of dry corn stalks, orange pumpkins in the garden and the smell of leaves all mingled to create an emotional imprint that filled me with a sense of well being. Fall in Alaska is quite different, and I am learning to love the new signs of the changing season.

Most people don't look forward to the season of snow, but I am filled with anticipation as I notice the peaks across Kachemak Bay have a fresh dusting of snow on them. As fall goes on the "snow line" will creep lower and lower, till we too will be in the midst of snow. The mountains are now whiter than I have seen them in awhile (actually, I haven't seen them too clearly for several months due to so much rain and cloudy days!). The glacier's blue is starting to get covered up again for a long winter.

The smell of fall has always been one of my favorite scents, but the biggest thing I smell in the air here is cold! I know, that sounds strange. But most places I wander just smell cold, with nothing more to stir up my emotions. Once in awhile, perhaps in a thicket of alders, I will catch a scent of leaves, but it is such a small area, and then I leave and the smell is gone. My daughter misses maple leaves most of all, and it is the only thing she ever talks about missing from Michigan. I totally understand.

The colors of fall in Alaska come in hues of yellow. Aspen and alders are some of the few leafy trees, and it doesn't seem like the alders change color. A few weeks back the fireweed plants were a brilliant magenta, which was glorious, but now they are all dead and brown. In some places the ground cover changes color--blueberry plants turn red, ferns turn yellow. The mountains do change color, though it is a different sort of color change than a Midwestern fall. It is beautiful in an awesome way that my eyes eat up hungrily, but it is on such a huge scale. If I were to climb the mountain and stand among the plants, it wouldn't be as awesome as standing below it looking at the rainbow of colors covering the mountainside.

Fall harvest in Alaska has its differences too. Michigan was a time of canning and freezing. Anything I would can would have to be grown in a greenhouse here, so all of our garden harvest has involved washing and freezing: potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. Gardeners I know say when the ground freezes, it freezes quickly, in days, so unless you want to dig your potatoes and carrots with a pickax, you judge just how long you can leave them in and then get them out fast. A week ago we had our first frost, so last week was the week of frantically pulling stuff out of the garden. When it is time for the things to go, they have to go now! So we dug our potatoes and carrots last Monday, and over this past weekend pulled, dug and prepared the garden for winter. It is almost ready, and I am hoping the ground doesn't freeze quite yet so I can get it tilled up.

For the first time in years I haven't been able to enjoy fall as much as usual. Work finds me on the computer long hours teaching online classes, and the rain has kept us indoors a bit more than usual. The first weekend of sunshine this past weekend was breathtaking, as was the rainbow show on Friday evening. For over an hour various rainbows played around Homer, following storm clouds, while the sun shone on it all, creating colorful views. I had worked enough during the week to actually take a day off, so Sunday we loaded up the 4-wheelers and went off looking for berries here, there and everywhere.

Fall in Alaska means the sun is at a lower angle, making it feel late in the day even during the middle of the day.
Fall means picking berries everywhere we go, and then coming home and getting them in the freezer.
Fall means shorter, colder days, with hats, gloves and winter coats already in use daily.
Fall means many people are out hunting, though we're not one of those people....yet.
Fall is the anticipation of snow (for those of us who love it), or the dreading of it (for those who do not).
Fall means hunkering down and enjoying indoor activities again. It means getting out the cribbage board or board games or dusting off the tv/vcr and watching a movie.
Fall means mentally preparing for the season of darkness, and making a plan to get through it--sane.

Yes, fall is different here. I enjoy it, and am learning to love its nuances.

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