Signals of changing seasons easy to recognize in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

When the seasons change in Alaska, you know it.

When we first came from California 30 years ago, we left behind a pretty much one-season country. It had an average temperature of 68 degrees.

We arrived in the middle of June, at Eagle River near Anchorage. There were still patches of snow on the ground and although it was light all night, all the leaves were still up tight. In one night, everything opened - roses blooms, bluebells and fireweed made bright splashes and there was a canopy of birch, alder and willow leaves, filtering the sunlight.

We were amazed.

When fall came, suddenly there was wind and the leaves turned every color, again, overnight. Now the air became cold and the ground crunched underneath our feed. Fall lasted about a week.

One day, we awoke to snow - light, cold and lovely. I had always thought those Christmas cards with sparkles on the printed snow were fake. Now, I saw those were real. And the sun disappeared, going as quickly as a pizza at a kid's party.

When spring arrived, the next year, the official day was celebrated with solstice parties all over the area, although a blizzard was in full swing. We went to the parties, in anticipation of seeing sunshine and being warm. It didn't happen till June, again. Our friend, Linda Hill, called to say we were invited to a "Grassy-Banks" party. She had found a thawed-out bank to have a picnic on. That became our tradition for the 10 years we lived in the central part of this state.

When we visited Juneau at Easter one year, we were amazed there were flowers blooming and the grass was not covered with white stuff! So when we moved here, we learned that Southeast Alaska has four distinct seasons. Although I think summer and fall are sort of abbreviated, I love that, when those winds blow in late August or early September, it starts fall. And when the kids put on their Halloween costumes, it's bound to lightly snow on them, signaling winter. Spring can be seen getting ready to burst forth, when those huge, soft pussy willows show off at the glacier. And when the flags go up on Egan Drive, you know it's summer.

There are other ways to see the changes, also. Those winds are a "Go" signal for folks to go off deer hunting, followed by duck and moose hunting. The signal for winter is to see all the boats up in dry-dock, and the airplanes all put on skis. Winter brings on the occasional days when Twin Lakes and Auke Lake will support both skaters and ice fishermen. The early spring brings Gold Medal Basketball and a salmon derby for winter kings. And then, as spring really shows herself, fishing begins in earnest, starting with the kids' event at Twin Lakes. Summer starts as the cruise ships arrive. All the little charter boats go forth, filled with would-be fisher persons, keeping the excitement of seeing whales, porpoises, seals and fish alive.

The end of summer is celebrated with the Golden North Salmon Derby, an event unrivaled in Alaska. You could say there is a time for everything, under heaven, in Alaska.

Ellen Northup is a longtime resident of Juneau.

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