Some days it’s a pleasure to sit in my office and peer out the window.
Okay, I always enjoy time in my office, but yesterday the mountain was out and it was imply a beautiful day.
I found a pansy today that I didn’t plant. I don’t know where it came from, but there it perches, under our back deck, beautiful and strong despite the snow a few days ago and the damp fall weather we’ve been having.
So when I ran this afternoon–in long pants, knee-high socks, long sleeved undershirt, and t-shirt, it struck me how determined that pansy is. And how much it’s humble little picture deserves its moment of fame.
Okay, the first snow is unbearably pretty.
For most people.
But I face the first snow with resignation mingled with a touch of despair.
A part of me cannot fathom the heavy white flakes, the realization that here, in Alaska, snow doesn’t come and stay for a day or two. Snow doesn’t fall and melt. Snow falls and stays.
Somedays I have to work harder than others to be content. This is an especially difficult time of year for me. When the leaves start to turn, I inevitably start to grow a bit depressed. Not in a clinical, I need meds sort of way, but in a sad way. I don’t want the oh-so-short Alaskan summer to end. I am never, ever, ready for it to end.
But it takes “constant vigilance” for me throughout the summer to remember that even though this summer will end before I’m ready, it will return.
There are few things in this life that we can be certain of, but we may be certain of the seasons. Winter comes, but it also leaves. Spring arrives, bringing new life and fresh, cool breath, summer follows closely on its heels around here. When fall comes, I know that there are a few oh-so-short weeks of summer left.
Even writing this post, I grow not nostalgic, but pained. I honestly feel a pain in my chest, a tightening as I realize how close is winter’s arrival. Fall is hanging on by mere threads, grasping fingers at the sky, begging the sun for just a few more clear days, a few days where the inhabitants can soak up vitamin D and pretend that winter isn’t approaching with relentless vengeance.
We can be certain of the seasons of this earth. Even if global warming continues, there will be winter, there will be spring, summer, and fall. And it’s true of life as well. “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Implied in that very statement from Mr. Shakespeare is that winter does not last forever. It will one day lift, and we will see it for what it was: a season.
If you wonder where I’ve been lately, I’ve been parenting, and in between that, I’ve been writing, traveling, parenting, berry picking, writing, berry picking, and, wait-for-it!, writing.
But summer is ending here in Fairbanks. Okay, really, once the leaves start turning, summer has officially ended in my mind. So what if fall isn’t “official” until the solstice? That’s just one of the things that doesn’t apply to Alaska. Summer begins to end around the first week of August, when the rains really hit.
This year was no exception. Rains came sweeping in with August, along with the Tanana Valley State Fair held in Fairbanks. Then we had a few warm summery days throughout August, including a nice past week. But we’ve had our fair share of rain, and now the trees are turning, and it’s clear that there is no reclaiming the summer.
I pretty much missed the blueberries this year. I haven’t really picked them before because blueberries aren’t my favorite. I had planned on going with a friend of mine, and our plans got postponed two weeks in a row. So by the time we got out there, the berries were pretty much gone. Although I found a few patches of blueberries in my backyard, they only contained six berries. No, I’m not joking. Blueberries: 6.
So about the time I realized I missed the blueberry picking, I started recognizing the little bushes with their maple-esque leaves and realizing that they were already turning red. Those happen to be highbush cranberries. And although it was only the beginning of August, they were ripe on the bush and starting to fall off!
My berry picking instincts kicked into high gear, and I immediately began to forget about blueberries and move on to the highbush cranberries. Although they smell like sweat socks, they make an absolutely fantastic meat sauce. (Okay, my hubby calls it “sock sauce,” but don’t let that fool you. He actually helped me pick some berries so I could make more this year!)
Last year, despite having enough berries to do a full recipe of “sock sauce” as my husband so endearingly calls it, I did only a half recipe. I hadn’t made it before–hadn’t really canned before at all–and I didn’t want to waste all the berries on a recipe that no one wanted or that I ruined for lack of experience. However, after sharing my attempt with Hubby and friends, it was received well by all. So this year, I’ve already canned one recipe full, and have enough to do at least one more full recipe (which takes about 12 cups of berries!).
Last year I was learning canning for a few reasons. One of them was my return to Alaska, and my attempt to make the best of a difficult situation. The other was simply a desire to do something. I really struggled last year after the birth of my son, and coming up with little projects that didn’t require a lot of time, that I could possibly do with him, and that made me feel slightly productive, was my way of coping in some small way.
I’m glad I taught myself this little skill. It’s really quite simple, and the benefit is a Christmas gift and tasty sauce that I can share with those I love.
In the week since I’ve taken the above photo, the fireweed has nearly bloomed itself out. If you grew up here, you measure summer by the fireweed blossoms. In spring, the fireweed sprouts and begins to bud, shooting up several feet into the sky. By early summer, the lowest buds on the plant have bloomed pinkish-purple and you begin to notice them in the fields and on roadsides. By midsummer, the fireweed has overtaken fallow fields and roadsides. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that the tips of the fireweed still haven’t bloomed yet.
As summer fades, the fireweed fades as well. By the end of July, the tips of the fireweed begin to bloom, and the earliest flowers on the plant go to seed, splitting open and releasing feathery white puffs. That’s how you know that summer is ending.
We’re in that stage now. Summer is coming to a close. The past week has been rainy and full of unusual thunderstorms (Fairbanks doesn’t get a lot of thunderstorms, but we’ve had plenty lately). The roadsides are starting to fade, the bright pink/purple hue of fireweed diminishing into green and thin purple seed pods that will begin to release their white feathers soon.
It’s always been a bittersweet time of year for me. A lot of Alaskans endure the winter to enjoy the summer, and I’ve always been one of those. I think I’ve mentioned on this blog before, but I’m a summer-sport kind of girl, not being one to go snowmachining or skiing or anything like that. With the exception of running out of doors in the winter, my ideal winter day is spent curled up next to the fireplace with a good book.
That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the beauty of winter–it is beautiful, but it’s also cold in more than just the literal sense. It’s isolating and frigid, it’s exhausting and terrifying. But that’s a post for another time of year.
Now, I want to enjoy the last dregs of summer, gearing up for that winter chill which will inevitably steal fall from Fairbanks and descend before anyone is truly ready.
Last week Hubby and I celebrated a whole nine years of marriage.
To celebrate, we did something that we’ve only done once before during our marriage: went camping.
That’s right. My hubby, who used to be a Denali trail guide before I met him, and I have only camped once before last weekend. And you want to know the real insult? It wasn’t even Alaskan camping–it was in Washington state!
I’m hiding my head here, because it’s really so pathetic. I think we just got so caught up in life and everything that we didn’t make time to get away.
Last weekend though, we dropped the kid at Grandma and Grandpa’s, and drove a few hours into Denali National Park. In recent years, they’ve opened up the park road to 29 mile, Teklanika camp ground. So instead of taking a bus in, we were able to drive our car out to the campground.
Now, let me preface this by saying that this is light-weight camping. There were outhouses–nice ones–and potable water at this campground. But it was still “camping.” We didn’t have cell reception, so we were unplugged all weekend. And it really felt nice.
I was able to finish a short story while I was out there, and read some of Geraldine Brook’s The People of the Book, which I am starting to enjoy more, although it’s different from her other books and I don’t like it as much.
But I also managed to take a few pictures, and just had to share.