Sunday, September 25, 2016

Weather Trumps Everything in Rural Living (Alaska): Enjoy it!

One of the things I like best about living in a climate with rapid seasonal variations is the constant “use it or lose it” lessons in appreciation.  Everything changes so fast here that I can only “see these beauties” or “do those activities” at specific times of year, some as brief as a week.  Miss it?  Wait a year!  So, we have no “mañana, mañana” attitude.    This fact contributes a celebratory immediacy to waking up every single day.   Below are seasonal notes for our home, at Latitude 61, in Southcentral Alaska.

View across the lake in winter

Temperatures:  Normal:  -20 F - +20 F, November - March

Transportation:  Ski plane and snowmachines, snowshoes, cross country skis, bunny boots

Beauty: A silent, black and white world

Favorite images:  heavy snow coating tree branches and buildings; lacy ice halos on birch canopies; the aurora borealis, our log cabin puffing birch smoke from the chimney.

Animals:  Audible/ visible owls, eagles, and ravens, and coyotes.  We see tracks of quieter animals in the woods, like martins, hares, foxes.  Once a lynx (I think).

Favorite activities:
Outdoors: Snowshod and booted walks, cross country skiing, snowmachine treks through the pretty woods and across frozen lakes and bogs,  tracking animals, seeing dog mushers and moose, ice fishing picnics, grooming trails, beautiful regional flights.
Indoors:  no urgency to leave during three day snowstorms or deep cold and dark; starting seeds on every window ledge as I plan the gardens, on-line classes and book immersion.

Least favorite aspects of winter (the cold and dark):
Lack of reliable indoor running water: peeling frozen laundry off the line after a meager washing in a bucket; standing spit baths by the sink; quick trips to the outhouse; postholing in deep, powder soft snow up to my thigh, tipping the snowmachine into soft snow;
Heat outages: Waking up to a dead fire that won't restart easily in a cold and dark cabin.
Power outages: Worrying about the animals in deep cold, and on days when the solar and wind power can't deliver
Tying down the plane in windy or sleety weather

BREAKUP (Spring):
Burning branches in spring cleanup

Temperatures: Normal:  +20F - + 50F, April-May

Transportation:  None until the lake thaws completely (usually 6-8 weeks). This year, Breakup progressed so fast that the air taxi returning us home (after we flew our plane to the mechanic) landed us in 8 inches of slush on the lake. Not a day too soon.

Beauty:  Breakup is not the prettiest times of year but it is a welcome end to winter. Snow is patchy and soggy; the ground is muddy. However, it is pretty to see the surface of the lake change colors as the ice thins, some sections an eerie, glacial blue and to see the birch trees suddenly bud out in their soft green. Sunsets and sunrises are very long and beautiful, about 90 minutes each.
Favorite images: the air bubbles and leaves that are frozen, suspended at various depths in the clear ice along shore; the “snap, crackle, pop” sounds as the ice thaws and air pockets pop ice floes to the surface.    

Animals:  The Sandhill cranes return, with their distinctive clacking call, followed by other migrating birds that rest on our lake, some to remain for the summer, others to fly further north. 

Favorite aspects:   “Shackletoning" (we haul out the tandem kayak for the season and slip into the skinny leads along shore and shoot between ice floes); huge bonfires of yard debris accumulated the year before, now safely surrounded by a field of (shallow) snow. Tapping the birch trees for ten days to collect sap, make syrup and wine. The shower and washing machine start working.  Yea!  Spring cleaning gets the ash dust out of fabrics and crevices of the log cabin.  The chickens and ducks nibbling along the retreating snow line.  Clearing dead trees in the woods of our property.   

Least favorite aspects:  running out of fresh produce and cheese during a long breakup, snowshoes that are needed in snow patches but awkward over mud and tree roots in between. 

               A summer "welcome home"
Temperatures  Normal:  +40F to 72F, May - September

Transportation:  float plane and kayak  (The woods grow so fast and thick that the only way to hike is to  maintain trails, with chainsaws and weed whackers.  We did so the first few years but now do so only to destinations related to a project, like clearing a firebreak of deadwood.  

Beauty:  A blue, green world filled with birdsong and wildflowers.

Favorite images:  the mountains (with the snow line retreating upward during the season), trees, and clouds reflected in the lake: the startling yellow light of alpen glow; evolving successions of colorful flowers, fruits, and leaves, and sweet scents all season long (sweet grass and elder-flower first, then cleavers, clover, and raspberries, and finally high bush cranberries).
Animals:  The animals are our neighbors.  I welcome back the loons, swans, and various types of ducks and love watching two spruce hens march their chicks around the yard.  A cow moose munches bushes outside our kitchen window in June and nurses her gangly calf later that month. Least weasels, mink, and martin menace our chickens and ducks.  Some years we see several bears, particularly late summer.  This year, not one. As beekeepers, we are learning about the other pollinators, too.

Favorite aspects: 
Daily kayaking "happy hours" with homemade wine and beer.  We can see Denali from the lake, but not from our cabin.  My evening “walk-about” with attentive observation and discovery: a bird's nest, an unknown plant, the first flowers of the season.  A growing sense of "what can we eat/use that grows here.  My husband enjoys enhancement projects for long term gain that involve power tools, and he is becoming increasingly competent at that: decks, docks, shelves, roofing.  In August/September, I love seeing the autumnal foliage and scents (of high bush cranberry).  We harvest honey once the flowers start to fade and compare the flavor, year to year.  I like experimenting with new recipes for excessive harvests.  This year's winners included  various vegetable pakoras, lemon zucchini cake, and roasted green tomato salsa. With the honey, Bryan made all his beers and I made hair rinses, facials, and various foods.  With the beeswax, I make furniture polish, lip balm, and salves.

Least favorite aspects:  The mosquitoes in June, the flies in July, and the yellow jackets in August.  (Can you tell that I am not a bug person?).  Protracted rains (like 3 weeks) in August (always during moose hunting season).  Occasional heat spikes above 80 for which our cabin (and we) are not well suited.  Weed whacking thick swaths of chest high sweet grass and disturbing the insects there.   

FREEZEUP (autumn):  
View across the lake on a fall morning

Temperatures:  Normal:  +20F - +40F, October 
The start of Freezeup is literally when the lake starts to freeze, but for me, it is when we see "Termination Dust" (the first snow of the season) on all three mountains in view.  This year, that date was Sept 25.  
Transportation:  None.  The float plane has to be off the lake before it freezes. For us, that is always the first week of October. 

Beauty:  Depending on rain and wind, the fall colors of leaves and berries can be stunning.  Or not.  As the leaves drop, we can see further through the woods, towards other mountains previously obscured by the intervening woods.  I love the confetti effect of yellow and brown birch leaves strewn along our woodland paths.  The sunsets return to a time of day when I am awake to see them.  Frost coats leaves.  The icy lace on ferns and yarrow is especially pretty.  We start seeing auroras again.  

Animals:  Migrating birds fly south, sometimes congregating in great numbers for a welcome rest.  As the temperatures drop, carnivores seem to get more assertive.  
Transportation: None.  Since we have to get the float plane off the lake before it freezes, and we don't have many seasonal projects this time of year, we tend to take a trip Outside, returning when we our plane can safely land on the lake with skis. It is a feasible time for walking long distances through woods and across frozen bogs though. 

Favorite aspects: I like working toward deadlines, and our autumn trip gives me an opportunity to reflect on accomplishments during the year, and to plan activities antithetical to our life here.  My cooking becomes more "creative" as I try to make "something from nothing" - utilizing the last fresh tomatoes, partial packages of this and that in the fridge and freezer.  Yesterday, I made a BBQ sauce with a frozen bag of wild raspberries that had escaped my notice.  Today, I filled quesadillas with smoked chicken, corn, jalapenos, rhubarb and spinach dip.  (Better than it sounds).  
Least favorite aspects: It gets cold fast here, so, each year,  I slip on the frost covered porch before remembering to change boots, and forget to put on the warmer gloves and jackets ... at first. It is harder to let go of summer than to move into any other season.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing. In my country if the weather drops to 60 F below, everyone huddles at home like the world is going to end.