The leaves have slipped away, the forest shows another profile and views that were hidden all summer have reappeared. Vistas that we cherished last winter and early spring have returned, and the older shapes of the landscape are revealed. These are the landforms we inhabit; these are the geologic skeletons we live among. These swoops of small valleys and sudden rises, the short and sharp slides of tumbled rock and soil, and the slowly spreading apron of sediment at the base of the mountain are the real forms of this country.
The filmy layer of leaves and twigs that covers the land in the summer is a costume thrown over the shoulders before the party. The real muscle and sinew is a surprise every year, and the view of the water is a blessing. The slight filtering of the scene provided by the remaining branches is almost unnoticeable now, but just wait until it is covered with snow. The thickening of the horizontal elements that the white layer adds is so dramatic that it becomes the dominant theme, but for now the absence of the green layer is a relief.
The soft gray cloud of the bare alder masses that flows down the canyons and slide paths of the mountains is counterpoint to the huge upright masses of the peaks themselves. The season's early snowfalls that cover and back off and cover them again is like the welcome familiar flirting of our favorite girl. She has been out of town for a while, now that she's back, we all pose a little for her.
Our heads are held a little higher, we look up at the glacier and its surrounding slopes more often, and the sight of the sun shining on the freshly whitened tips of the trees gives us a thrill.
Some dandys look as if they were ready before she arrived, but most of us are still in hurry up mode. It's not that we didn't know it was coming, it's that we're not ready. Nobody that I see is prepared for the reality of the cold season, and denial is thick in the lobby of the post office or the aisles of Super Bear. Winter as a concept is welcomed, but as a reality could still wait a few weeks.
I have so much work to do before it sets in that I don't know if I can get ready in time. There are so many jobs that need to be done now, before the real cold time, that these shortening days seem to mock me. The beckoning views of the wild world serve to emphasize the domestic chores that the season brings.
Look at the bare bones of the trees. Broken branches are calling out to be trimmed. Or see the ones that were pruned last year and have responded with a burst of new branchlets. These aerial bristle bunches need to be thinned to the few strong ones that we want for the future. Thick brushes of twigs will hold snow, collect ice and split the young shapes away from the trees before they have a chance to get strong.
Pruning now will avoid the cold weather damage that cutting frozen branches brings: long splits that reach down into the mother branch, or tears in the bark that rip down trunks leaving flame shaped scars for years to come. The leaves have gone, you can see what you are doing and the weight of the foliage won't drag the tips down.
While the weather lets you, go out and trim the evergreens for shape and strength. Take out the weaker of the twin leaders; remove the branches that will whip you in the face as you hurry inside. This is a good time to trim the pines and spruces in your yards, and save the trimmings for winter garden protection or seasonal displays.
Look at the roadside and driveway foliage. Are the sight lines clear? Can all the road signs be seen clearly? Is there enough visibility for a difficult-to-stop vehicle to see the pedestrians that may be waiting alongside the road? People riding in pickup trucks have a view that lower-framed cars can only envy.
Think of a sports car when you prune along the road, or in a parking area. Be sure that the view offered gives plenty of visibility at three feet from the road surface as well as at the higher vantages. Long distance views for pleasure and close-up ones for safety are the clues for this week.
David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to www.landscapealaska.com.