Fall in the Far North

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The view along the Chena River on First Avenue (Sept 2017)

 

When I first moved to Alaska in 1974, I mourned the absence of deciduous trees.   Now that I’ve been here long enough, I really appreciate the gold that sweeps across the hills before dropping off and leaving only the dark green of the Black and White Spruce.  The reds and oranges are increasing as “imported” trees like Maples and Cherry invade our yards and woods.    Another notable difference between Fall here and the Lower ’48 is the short season.  Usually there is less than 2 weeks here in Fairbanks between trees flashing their colors and dropping their leaves.

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The voracious appetite of the wood box always demands more. The masonry heater makes our living room comfy on a cold day. (Sept, 2017)

Along with the temps getting cooler, it gets dark earlier and earlier.  On the Equinox (Sept 21), there’s 12 hours of each, darkness and light.   Although daylight savings time is meaningless here, we do it anyway, banking our hour.  In the 70s, Alaska had 7 time zones because it is so big.  Making it all one time zone reminds me again that time is a social construct.  In Alaska Native communities, I’ve learned that time is measured in seasons.

Our masonry stove is not technically a wood stove.  You fire it up in the morning and it burns hot.  Don’t stoke it.  The heat is absorbed by the rocks and radiates out into the room.  On really cold days, fires twice a day will do it to make a comfy room without kicking in the oil furnace.  Paul built me a good looking wood holder so we don’t have to go far to build the fire on a chilly morning.  But we still have to fill it.

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The sugar pie punkins are going to finish their lives in our kitchen. (Oct 1, 2017)

We had a great “urban” garden this year.  Our best crops were potatoes, kale, pole beans, squash and Roma tomatoes.  Our lowest producers were sweet corn, green peppers and carrots.  Pumpkins were okay, but got cut short by an early August frost.  The voles voted the peas and sunflowers the tastiest.  These pumpkins make the tastiest pies!  Our growing season is very short but getting longer.  My kale is still outside producing, but we’re watching temps day to day.

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I had to finish ripening the Roma tomatoes in a crate in the back bedroom. (Oct 1, 2017)

We had enough tomatoes to can.  These will make tasty spaghetti sauce and bisque soup in the winter.  We didn’t have very many peppers, so they got slipped in.  We mostly save our freezer space for meat and fish.   Besides tomatoes, our canned goods from this season include jams (currant, raspberry and rhubarb combos), rhubarb, dill pickles dilly beans and green beans.

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The view on the trail to our cabin was opened up with leaves off the trees.(Oct 1, 2017)

We bought property off “At Your Own Risk” road in 1983.  It’s a mile or so from the nearest road, so we put in a trail on the right of way for getting ourselves back there.  We call the 15 acres “Agony Acres” in remembrance of the many times that our loads spilled, the trailer broke, the trail was impassable or some other annoyance in the 10 or so years we were building the cabin.  You’ll see more about it, but this is my favorite time of year to walk the trail.

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Lichen and Labrador tea juxtaposed. (Oct 1, 2017)

My sister Susan calls it Mormon tea, but this late season tea leaf can do some serious bowel cleansing if you overdo it.   Mixed with black or green tea leaves though, it adds a nice earthy taste.  Lichen are all over in alpine tundra and even woods in the North country.  A biologist’s curiosity, lichen are the bastard children of alga (or cyanobacteria) and fungi.  950,000 caribou can’t be wrong.  It’s their favorite food, but doesn’t taste good to humans (eg. me).

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Anyone want to complain about THEIR road? (Oct 1, 2017)

The rain didn’t do any favors to “At Your Own Risk Rd”.  We don’t take the truck down it right now.  We park and use our 4-wheeler for minimal impact.  In a few weeks, this road will be frozen and drivable….another reason Alaskans love winter.

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Rushing the season (Sept 30, 2017)

All I’m going to say about Fred Meyer’s display this week is “are you kiddin’ me!?!!”

Fall in Alaska is about putting away Summer (garden, food, boats, shorts, hikes, visiting relatives) and ushering in Winter (warm fires, Northern Lights, eating homemade foods, visiting each other, down jackets, skiing, driving anywhere).  If you don’t like snow and cold, this is just a good place to read about.

This blog was inspired by my sister Susan’s blog.  Who knew she’d be such a good writer?  Check it out.

This entry is dedicated to Joel Switzer, who died too young.  To know him was to love him.  To Joel, Fall was the time to get his dogs ready for Winter mushing, deadlines for construction as a Laborer, and to help friends finish their projects.  In the immortal words of his young friend Calliope, “If you’re lucky, you’ll have a friend like Joel.  If you’re even luckier, you’ll be a friend like Joel”.

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