Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Times, They Are A'Changin'

This evening when I checked the local weather forecast I saw the first frost warning of the season. Then, at midnight I was out and about, checking to make sure all the gates around my work site are secure. During my little walkabout I saw a brilliant display of the northern lights overhead, while on the southern horizon I watched as lightning bolts flashed from the clouds. That this would be happening at straight-up midnight, on the first day of September seemed noteworthy. It was as though the violently powerful forces of summer were in conflict with the subtle but inexorable influence of winter. In short, it isn't just the first day of moose hunting season, it is for practical purposes the first day of autumn.

The seasonal changes that I've reported earlier are progressing, and seem to be picking up speed exponentially. Although the day time temperatures remain high enough that anything more than jeans and a t-shirt is way too much clothing, at night the mercury drops to a point where anything less than a sweater is downright uncomfortable.

The 'mid-night sun' is long past, and the brilliant gibbous moon, all the stars of the universe and the dancing northern lights are once again my companions as I while away the hours of my night shift rotation at work. The sun will rise at about 6:30 this morning and will set at 9:08 tonight. As we approach the vernal equinox we are losing nearly 7 minutes of daylight with each rotation of the earth.

This time of year sunrises and sunsets tend to be very colorful up here. Yesterday's sunrise was so striking that I dug out my camera to capture the image. It is really too bad that no photograph can capture the full expanse of such an awesome event.

Autumn is one of my favorite times to be out and about in the woods. During the first two weeks of September in this region the air carries a unique scent, wildlife tends to be very active as critters try to lay in as much body fat as possible before the "good eats" of summer disappear entirely. If the season progresses normally within two weeks all of the deciduous trees in this region will have changed color to a brilliant golden yellow, and by the end of the month most of the leaves will have fallen and we will most likely have seen the first of the winter snows.

Human activity also seems to increase this time of year. There is a feeling of urgency as we try to fill our freezers with game, stock up on winter heating fuel, and finish all those projects that were started when summer was new and the available time seemed more than adequate. In the north country, all projects have a deadline for once the ground freezes and the first snows fall anything that wasn't finished will remain unfinished for the next 8 months.

For the past 11 days I've been stuck here at my place of employment. I'm starting to feel the effects of separation anxiety. When I finally return home Tuesday I have my own project list to work through. Not the least are the projects of training sled dogs and taking my rifle for long walks in the woods. The cool hours of the morning belong to the dogs and the lingering evening hours belong to me and the wild land. There should be ample time in between to take care of all those other little details that need my attention at the house.

Interior Alaskan summers are short, but intense. This year we enjoyed some of the nicest summer weather we've seen in years. It was hot enough to qualify as summer, but not so hot as to brutalize people and dogs more accustomed to the cold than the warmth. Although we had an overabundance of yellowjackets flying about last spring, early summer rains fell at exactly the right time to destroy their nests before they could reproduce in dangerously high numbers. In spite of last winter's sparse snow conditions we did not suffer a particularly bad year of forest fires nor endure the choking smoke that is too frequently a problem in our region. For all intents and purposes, it was a nearly perfect summer. I can barely contain myself as I wait to see what delights the autumn will bring.


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