“The Summer was very big…”
— Rainer Maria Rilke
Has this been a summer, or what? I don’t think anyone can complain about this year’s beautiful weather. Gardens produced like never before, and berries are abundant. Anyone who spent any time outdoors has a sun tan, and even the tourists ran around in shirtsleeves and short pants for a good part of the summer. But school has started and the mornings are getting cooler, so we know that fall can’t be far behind.
These last days of summer are always a little nostalgic, at least for me. I remember, as a kid, watching the holly hocks (a plant we don’t see too often in Alaskan flower gardens) and when they finally had flowers, it was time for school to start. Any given year they’d be way taller than me, the flowers displaying opposite each other up the stems. They came in all colors and the favorite thing to do was to pick one, then turn it inside out. The trumpet shaped, frilly petals formed a beautiful skirt for the blonde dancer created by the stamens on the inside. The flowers left to go to seed formed a brittle pod full of flat black seeds that produced the future plants and spread them around the neighborhood. That is why we don’t often see holly hocks in Alaska. Our season is too short, normally, to let the seeds mature. The plants can reproduce a few times via the root system, but eventually die away. I brought some seeds from mom’s one year which produced plants the next spring, and for a couple of years, but I never got mature seeds from the Alaska generation and eventually the root stock simply died away, or maybe froze.
Of course, in Alaska, we watch the fireweed in much the same way. This year the fields of purple have shown up in larger and larger areas and while a few of them are still vibrantly blooming those last few blossoms up the stem, more of them have bloomed out. So far, few have fuzzed, though, so summer isn’t completely over yet.
Another of our fall predictors here on the Kenai is the silver salmon fishery, or so it seems. However, no matter how late the silvers are, fall is going to arrive more or less on time but this may be the year we enjoy an Indian Summer. Those of us old guys who came from somewhere else, especially one of the northern states, will happily remember ‘Indian Summer’, those warm days after the first frost. Dad used that time for hunting, for butchering, and of course for all those last minute chores there just wasn’t time for during the long, hot summer. The definition of ‘Indian Summer’ has precise dates and weather conditions, but most areas of the U.S. (and the world) have created their own signals for the time they enjoy it. Whatever the definition, unexpected warm days after the first of October are always welcome. We’ll see if we are so blessed this very strange year.
And last but not least, the big gorilla in the garden of harbingers of fall — darkness. It’s dark now in the morning although we are still enjoying long evenings. The five-plus minutes of light we’re losing per day quickly brings to our attention that summer is past and fall is coming on fast. My question is always “why does it get dark faster than it gets light?” or does it just seem that way. From December 22 to June 21 every year the light creeps in until we are enjoying long evenings and early morning, but from June 22 to December 21 it seems that we lose two for every one we gained and it is dark a lot faster than it was light.
We’ve already been warned that next winter will be similar to the one just past, so we’re holding our breath waiting for whatever is to come, weather wise. The one good thing the dry winter produced was no mosquitoes, at least not here on the Kenai. But the unfortunate by-product was a terrible fire year. Five million acres burned in the state over the summer, many of them here at home. Another no-snow winter will not bode well for the ski slopes or skiers. The snowmachiners and dog sledders will have to travel farther and farther for a simple week end of activity. We Alaskans don’t do as well with a non-traditional winter as we do with a summer of uncommon weather. A couple feet of snow and temperatures not too cold would suit us all just fine, I’m sure.
But for the next month we can bask in late summer, maybe enjoy some unseasonal (for Alaska) warmth, and generally glory in our good fortune that climate change may not be such a bad thing after all.
Reach Virginia Walters at firstname.lastname@example.org.