Post 9

Alaska’s vast and diverse terrains span the northeasterly most region of the North American continent.  Alaskans live among the wilderness.   Geographic location and wilderness are two major factors which effect and influence the lives that we lead in Alaska, but there is one other element to consider and that is seasons.  I live in Southeast Alaska, where I jokingly tell outsiders, that I consider summer, fall and spring to be one season, the wet season.  I am a Southeast Alaskan, and the following is how the seasons present themselves to me here in the Panhandle.     
Spring bud on Elderberry.   Murphy 2012

Spring has sprung in Alaska.  Spring seems to occur at least a month after the actual equinox occurs here in Southeast Alaska, better late than never.  This can be contributed to our northerly latitude, proximity to the mountains and sea, and the weather systems which arise from these factors creating a comparatively damper climate to that of the rest of the state.  Spring brings an explosion of life, vitality and renewal.  The last of winter’s snow has melted from the yard, exposing hundreds of littered pine cones which winter’s wind had dislodged from the trees.  Spring though usually damp, as we are in a temperate rainforest, is a welcome time many Alaskan’s.  The chaotic calls of American Robins and Steller’s Jays nesting in the Hemlocks and Spruce rouse the morning air.  The lush green of deciduous trees brings a welcome contrast of green hue to those of the winter hardy evergreens.  Like the bears waking from hibernation, we too emerge from our winter dens.  The noticeably longer days help quickly suppress the memory of winter’s smothering blanket. 

Summer on Mt. Roberts.  Murphy 2006.
Summers are wonderful here in Juneau, minus the noise pollution from helicopters and float planes shuffling cruise ship tourists around to quickly see the sights, and the other winged nuisance, the mosquito.  The running fish consume many of an Angler’s time.  If it is a good berry, blueberries, salmonberries, and nagoon berries grow wild and plump, waiting to be picked.  Even on a warm day, the sea and snow capped mountains give the air a wee cool nip, so it never gets sweltering hot.  The summer days are long in the land of the midnight sun.  Some Alaskan communities experience 24 hours of daylight.  Living here in the rainforest our extended summer days often consist of a diffused sky.  On the odd occasion that we have a dry spell, Spruce pollen plumes into the air creating the illusion of yellow smoke rising from the mountain sides.  In this instance, the fall rains are a welcome sign, they restore moisture to the land and air.
Fall is a somber time of year here.  The green deciduous trees transform their leaves to display various hues of reds, yellows and oranges, one last blast of color before the drenching fall rains strip the trees of their foliage.  It rains a lot this time of year in Southeast.  Wafting through the cool fall air are the smells of rotting damp plan decay and spawning salmon.  Shelia Nickerson so eloquently states in her poem Tales from the North, “We are the children of the rain,”(1) a perfect sentiment for describing residents of Southeast.  The days gradually turn shorter as the Earth tilts on its axis.  The dooming gray gloom of the fall sky prepares us for the rains and winds to come.  The migratory birds make their way down from the north, giving spectators one last air show.  Another seasonal show is about to begin.
Winter wetland scene.  Murphy 2010.
Winter brings the long cold dark night winter skies and the aurora borealis.  Though the northern lights occur at all time of the year, if the weather cooperates, and the sky is clear, which it usually isn’t here around Juneau, you may get a glimpse of green lights dancing gingerly above the mountain peaks.  The winter days are dark and long.  Full spectrum lights come out from storage, to combat Vitamin D deficiency and depression that the lack of sunlight can cause.  Winter temperatures usually linger in the high 20s and low 30s.  Some years we get dumped with rain, some years with snow.  The winter weather is definitely something to talk about.  Storm surges are common during the winter here.  Coastal high tides, wind, and freezing conditions create a frothy brew of winter ale.  February brings the Taku winds.  These winds from the north have been recorded to reach speeds in the low triple digits.  Hamlin Garland’s poem Do You Fear the Wind, can represent the Taku winds, their power, and effect on those who must venture out into them, “Do you fear the force of the wind, The slash of the rain, Go face them and fight them, Be savage again.”(2)  Southeast winters are comparatively mild to that of the winter that Alaskans north of us experience.  Every now and then we will have a beautiful winter day.  The sun reflecting off the snow, blue sky, and amazing beauty of the mountains create an intoxicating atmosphere for those who venture out into the cold.  Skiing and snowshoeing in lower mountain and wetland meadows are a wonderful prescription for the winter blues.  The invigorating cold, sunlight, and physical activity, help to shake off the indoor winter captivity.
The seasons here in soggy Southeast and over the rest of Alaska, are very influential to those of us who dwell here.  We as Alaskans frequently endure extreme climates and weather systems season to season.  Throughout all of Alaska, each season exposes a unique beauty and awareness in the cycle of life and the natural world.  The seasons help to define us as Alaskan’s, as people who endure living among the wilderness and the forces of nature.      

(1) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 269.
(2) Wayne Mergler, Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present (Anchorage: Alaska Northwest, 1996), 90.

Photo Credits.  All photos by Ceann Murphy.

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