Wednesday, September 26, 2007

First Flakes

Only 3 days after the autumnal equinox the first snow flakes of the season are falling here at my place of employment. Although they will probably all melt away in very short order, these little snow flakes dancing in the breeze are the first sure sign that winter is near and they offer a promise of good times to come as the season quickly progresses into full-scale winter.

"Outside" is defined as "any place that isn't Alaska", or "any place removed from God's Greatest Earthly Creation". I suppose a lot of folks who live Outside may think I'm a bit crazed to take such delight in a few snowflakes and the cold white weather that they promise. Most people seem to view winter as a season that must be endured, rather than enjoyed. Heck, even a lot of Alaskans seem to go into hibernation, tucking themselves into their nice, warm houses and basking in the flickering light of the television, only daring to venture outdoors when temperatures moderate or if circumstances offer no other alternatives.

I would submit that those who dislike winter have forgotten important lessons from their youth. They may have forgotten the joy of the first snow-ball fight of the year, or sculpting the first wet snows of the year into a statuesque snowman, snowomen or snowbeast. Perhaps they never knew the adrenaline fueled excitement of accelerating down a long, steep hill on an old used innertube.

Those who have forgotten how to have fun in the outdoors miss a lot of life's small pleasures. Some things just have to be experienced in order to be understood. No matter how vivid your imagination it is simply impossible to envision a world in which moonlight casts well defined shadows and in which one can read newsprint in the moon-glow reflected by fresh, white snow. No matter how intently you watch the documentary shows on television you can't really know the spiritual connection that comes from dancing with the Northern Lights while frost clings to your eyebrows and facial hair while the dogs sing their moon song in the background.

Summer time in Alaska belongs to the visitors, those good folks from Outside who come up for a week or a month or even a season to see the sights, catch some fish, maybe even indulge in some recreational hunting. When the waterfowl and tourists fly south, the leaves fall from the birch and aspen we begin a new lifestyle.

Today, as the first snow flakes drop from the sky and the unmistakable covering of termination dust coats the highest of the White Mountains I feel like a teenager struggling with an unfamiliar necktie and nervously slicking back my hair as I prepare for my first high-school dance. I was nervous and clumsy and not real sure of the outcome.

I'm not in high school anymore, haven't been there in a long, long time. Nonetheless I'm preparing for the dance - and even though I've heard this annual tune 16 times, I still feel excited and nervous, a little clumsy and not real sure of the outcome.

It's just a few little snow flakes blowing in a crisp autumn breeze, yet it is the opening act of the experiential dance that defines Alaska's Interior during the most challenging and most satisfying time of the year.

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