Here in suburban Eagle River, we have natural gas, so I don’t have to cut and split wood in preparation for winter like my parents did when they lived at Nancy Lake in the 1960s.
I rely on Carrs and Fred Meyer for groceries, so I don’t concern myself with getting a moose. And we don’t have a garden from which we could harvest vegetables to put up for the winter.
I must admit I’m a bit envious on that last score. My mom was quite proficient in jarring rose hips, currant-‐berry and rhubarb preserves—a delicious treat that we enjoyed throughout the long winter months.
No, my only chores before winter are to drain, roll up and store the hoses; cut back some of our bushes; cut the lawn one last time and drain gasoline from the lawnmower; clean the roof gutters and/or make sure someone else does; get our cars’ snow tires put on; make sure I have an ample supply of ice melt for the driveway; have our furnace inspected; and get the snow blower moved to its strategic position in our garage, along with a snow shovel.
The garage is high priority: Not a day goes by that I don’t feel extremely fortunate to have a garage. When we built our home five years ago I would probably have sacrificed half its square footage if the budget couldn’t cover a two-‐car garage. I lived without one for many years and for me, it’s almost more important than the kitchen!
Okay, I’m prone toward exaggeration. Perhaps it’s more important than the bathroom.
Most of my preparation for winter is mental, and a part of that is getting out and hiking as much as possible before the first substantial snow. Or, I’ll actually climb up into the new snow to meet winter before it descends to Eagle River Valley.
Maybe it’s a desperate attempt at exerting some kind of control – of reaching up and confronting winter before it closes in on us.
Over the past month or so I’ve climbed and touched new snow about three or four times, reacquainting myself with what’s to come. And glancing up to even higher elevations, I have viewed deeper snow that was definitely winter’s debut, it’s “final answer.”
But looking down into the valleys, I relish seeing remnants of autumn—a few yellow leaves clinging to their trees, the tundra carpeted red by blueberry and alpine bearberry, morning ice forming around the edges of lakes and streams. There’s something uplifting and restorative about lingering in the middle – in the transition from one season to another.
On a mid-‐October hike into a drainage near Eklutna Lake,
I found a few blueberries still clinging to their vines. After freezing and thawing they were quite soft to the touch but still delicious. I guess knowing they are the last to be found in the year always makes them quite special.
My main purpose that day was to hunt grouse, but there were none to be found. It was a quiet five-‐mile hike (one-‐way) and about the time I thought I was completely alone, I came upon a large pile of fresh bear scat. From this point on quiet was no more, as I made sure my presence was known.
A magpie landed in a nearby tree while I was having lunch, and other than the occasional calls of chickadees and squirrels, the land was still as I hiked back to my car.
“In just days, perhaps a week, this area will be covered with snow and it will be winter,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I’ll be the last person to see it in autumn.”
By way of preparation for winter, that’s what I do, year after year. I go out in autumn, look for early signs of winter, then return to autumn and savor it as long as I can.
Reluctant to let go: To prolong autumn I’ve started in the north, up by Broad Pass near Cantwell, and followed it south—all the way to the Kenai Peninsula, where it generally hangs on about two weeks longer than in Anchorage. I asked my wife if she thought I was obsessed. She replied: “What do you mean, think?”
And when winter finally ebbs, I search for Spring earlier than most. Sometime in late January, I start telling people I can feel the warmth of the sun on my face, even though it’s probably wish fulfillment.
At this time of the year, autumn, I do a lot of looking and listening. For me, seeing and/or hearing a flock of Canada geese or Sandhill cranes flying over is better than a good movie.
I might just stand outside for extended periods and stare into space. Some might say I’m “doing nothing.” But when I’m out there it always feels like “something.” Nature makes its own preparations for the changing seasons and I always try to tune in.
For me, it’s the best show around.