Extending autumn eases passage into winter


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Fall colors above Twin Peaks trail — near Eklutna Lake.

Frank E. Baker

I’ve been known to manipulate the annual calendar to create more summer and shorten winter. Here’s an idea to lengthen our autumn season, and while it might be stating the obvious to many folks, perhaps by knowing that someone else does this might encourage others to try it themselves.

I try to begin autumn up north during the first or second week of September. By north I mean somewhere around Tangle Lakes on the Denali Highway; or Kesugi Ridge, near Byers Lake. By then, if we’re lucky, the air is crisp and cold in the morning and by mid-day when the sun is out, it warms up to somewhere in the 50s. The northern tundra is ablaze in reds, yellows and russet tones.

I might then travel south to the Talkeetna area to take in some rainbow trout fishing in one of the nearby lakes. At this time of the year the fish seem to know that soon they will have an icy lid over their heads, and are hungry for any morsel thrown their way, including artificial lures.

Next, I’ll migrate south to the Eagle River area and see what kind of hikes and climbs I can muster in Chugach State Park before the snows creep too low on the mountains. Finding places to hike and climb around here, as I’ve pointed out in many columns, is as easy as turning the television off. The Eagle River Nature Center is a good place to start.

And then during the third and fourth week of September, I’ll hop in my truck and drive south to the Kenai Peninsula, where the leaf transformation is sometimes as much as two weeks behind Anchorage. Some suggested trails: Johnson Pass, Lost Lake, Resurrection Pass; as well as Exit Glacier and Caines Head, which are both near Seward.

Heading back up to Eagle River, I’ll continue hiking even after the first snows have dusted the lower valleys, such as South Fork. For me, October is as much autumn as September.

And then, if one is really fanatical about stretching autumn as long as possible, head southeast to Maine or Vermont and take in the autumn foliage that extends well into October. This I haven’t done yet, but when time allows, I can’t wait to do it. I suppose that as the month of October progresses into November, one could drive south toward New York State to extend the season even farther.

In my estimation, however, there is no time or place as magical as autumn in Alaska. When it’s clear and cold, the stars suddenly re-emerge from their summer hiatus. The darkened heavens sometimes become electric, with the aurora dancing ghostlike across the skies.

On clear days the sky seems bluer than blue. The air seems to be clearer than at any time in the year, and distant mountains appear closer than they really are. All of the trees and bushes burst with brilliant colors, as if to say: “look at me!” The pungent smells of the forest are intoxicating.

The sun is sliding lower in the sky, but it still emits warmth and you feel compelled to just pause and take it all in, knowing that by late October it will remain below the horizon for most of the day.

Perhaps more than anything, it’s that scarcity of light in winter that makes us treasure our autumns. Watching the geese winging overhead we feel a sense of finality, maybe even a bit of melancholy. Yet for many of us, the passage of summer and autumn is just another beginning.

Winter has its magic too.

 

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. To contact Frank on this or other Mountain Echoes columns, his e-mail is: frankedwardbaker@gmail.com.

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