No doubt, I'm writing this a bit late. I'm sure we've all noticed already that the days are shortening and the temperatures have been slowly dropping lately. Perhaps there are few more obvious reminders that Alaska's preparing for another glorious winter, but there are still other indicators that Alaska residents look forward to every year. For example, even though the changing color of the leaves is not unique to Alaska, the Mat-Su Valley still puts on quite the display. Here a few more of favorite signs of the season that are a little more unique to Alaska.
Alaska is known for its beautiful pink fireweed blossoms. Vast fields of fireweed are prolific in the Mat-Su Valley every year. Alaskans watch this stunning flower to help them gauge the changing season. As the blooms progress upwards, this indicates the approaching end of summer. Once the flowers reach the top of the plant and start to form seedpods, it won't be long before the snow arrives. The old saying goes, "When the fireweed goes to cotton, summer is soon forgotten."
Usually in September you'll start to see the earliest traces of snow lightly covering Alaska's higher elevations. Alaskans call this termination dust for good reason. The first dusting of snow in the mountains heralds the imminent arrival of winter. In the Mat-Su Valley, harvesting usually starts before the termination dust arrives. Once it appears on the ridge over my home, though, it's a good reminder for me to have another look at my heartier crops in the garden and start my preparations for snow on the Valley floor. The sight of termination dust in my neighborhood is often accompanied by the sound of chopping wood, the smell of chainsaw oil, and a fleeting glimpse of my breath in the air.
I realize frost is hardly unique to Alaska, but what it signifies during the changing seasons up here is pretty special. The unrivaled abundance of blueberries in Alaska's hills may be news to some, but not to the locals. Berry picking before winter is something most Alaskans look forward to every year. Though harvesting techniques vary, and everyone has their favorite picking spot, most Alaskans know that the best time to harvest blueberries is after the first frost of the season. Visitors to Hatcher Pass are sure to enjoy the blankets of blueberries up there.
There are many more enjoyable events that take place as summer gives way to winter here in Alaska. As residents, these wonders are woven into our routines and traditions. We give them special names and watch for their return every year. If you visit Alaska's Mat-Su Valley around this time of year, you'll be able to enjoy these things first hand. It hasn't happened yet this year, but you can bet I'm looking forward to stomping a few icy puddles with my kids in the coming weeks.