Winter, spring, summer, and fall. These are the four seasons we know. I’ve never heard of another season of any sort in any other culture. Has anyone else? Or can we all find common ground in the seasons, at least in the more extreme parts of the hemisphere?
I’m unsure which season to begin with. Each time I try to find a starting point which begins a season, I find that this point is entangled with the ending point of another season, so that I cannot identify one season as the beginning. I choose to begin with the dead of winter, which gives way to the spring of life.
The winter has come when the snow falls and doesn’t go away. Up until this point, it is building up momentum with cold air that spikes your nostrils, and freezing lakes that are dangerous, and animal tracks in the snow which give them away. Now, the winter is finally here. If you don’t have a moose at this point, you’re going to have to break your habits and hunt in the winter whether you like it or not. Make sure the Refridgewear is out. Find your fur hat (although if you’re in our family, it’s been out since the fall). Are your bunny boots in the box where they should be? Check the snow machine out if there’s enough snow. Make sure there’s green Ape gloves in every pocket. Caution is needed in the elements. Dog sleds can be used. On the inside front, winter means slowing down and enjoying your provisions. It is a time of reflection. You might make Labrador tea so you get your vitamin C.
As far as I am concerned, spring begins in February. In February, the light starts to be warm on the snow. You can sit, in the snow, and be warm in the middle of the day. I order my seeds and plant them on my window sills, dreaming of the larger plants they will become, almost sensing the crunch of fresh grown vegetables between my teeth. I watch the willow buds in March, and anticipate the green sheen on the trees as they get ready to bud. The spring has that wonderful travel feature where you can travel on the frozen crust at night, anywhere! Then, all of a sudden, the trails have melted sideways and they’re melting into slush – spring breakup! The river breaks up – we all watch the Tripod at Nenana, to see if we’ll be the lucky winners this year. We hope no one’s home will be under water during this year’s breakup.
Summer is here once breakup is gone. School is out at the end of May, and kids are home! Exciting to all be home together! My husband and oldest son go shrimping at Whittier the last week of May, and maybe black bear hunting too. I stay home and till the garden, lay out the plots, look at the soil condition. I try to get the tender vegetable seedlings in the ground during the last week of May. My youngest plays all day long. We fish for grayling the first couple of weeks in June. July is all about salmon and halibut fishing, both subsistence and sport. We dip net for salmon, either at Chitina or Kenai. I bring a canner along to camp and can my catch right at camp. We halibut fish with a friend of ours, who then come hunting with us in the fall. Every couple of years we go clamming too, although not every year, because the yield is too small. It’s more of a recreational activity. We camp and enjoy many campfires. We have horses, so we ride a lot. In July and August, it’s berry time. First the currants and raspberries ripen. Then, it’s blueberries and finally cranberries. I usually freeze my berries. The fireweed blooms all the way to the top, which signifies the waning of summer…
Fall arrives on the 10th of August. Dall sheep season begins, with rain and flooding. My husband and older son are normally hunting sheep. I am preserving the vegetables from the garden. I’ve tried every kind of preservation I can think of – drying, freezing, canning, storing in sand, storing in vinegar, storing in a cool dark spot, etc. The last week of August, my family members are back from sheep hunting and are getting ready to hunt moose! September 1, you need to know where a bullwinkle is. The leaves are splashed with yellow, orange, and green. The tundra is red, blue, green, orange, and yellow, with mint-colored lichen scattered everywhere. As a family, we take off into the hills and hunt our moose on our family’s age-old hunting grounds. We visit the graves of family members buried up there and tell time-worn stories over and over. We worry about running into bears on the trail, but sometimes hunt them. Sometimes they hunt us, or tear up our camp. There are usually caribou up there too, but we focus on the moose. The old Spotter Knob gives us a view for many miles around. You can look at a flat for hours without seeing anything -then all of a sudden, there will be a flash of white. Antlers! Everyone locks on to the spot, straining their eyes until we can determine whether it really is a bull or not. If we have good fortune, it is and we soon have a big butchering job to do. Down the back, go with the hair, peel the hide off the body of the bull. Keep it clean. Bone out the ribs. Save the tongue for mom. Get it home, and pack it into quart size packs for individual meals, neat white packs labeled with “Stew 2013” or “MHB” (moose hamburger) 2013 or MSE STK (steak!). Fall is my favorite time of year!
That is how I perceive the four seasons in Alaska.