Enter Autumn

This is a strange place in the fall. Mischievous winds carve ominous clouds and weather whistles over the Alaska Range in the form of a curled hand, gripping the tops of the peaks while the beast behind it roars and howls. On the wind soar birds of prey, their high-pitched cheeping calls, their aerodynamic feathers spreading and narrowing, navigating currents like a sharp, twisting knife. They cruise the open fields near our cabin, successful often in their hunts, the voles fat and careless, scrambling across the gravel road or scuttling from one tunnel to the next, shoring up their fat stores for winter. There are so many voles and hares and squirrels this year that the predators wander in the open, lynx striding out onto the highway and wolves lollygagging on the Denali Park Road, bellies round and full. The mornings dawn with the promise of winter, crisp and almost frosted, but not yet. Stars punctuate sheets of aurora, waving like flags in a slow breeze. The cranes are leaving and the owls are hovering. The season of ghosts in so many forms. Fireweed dehiscing and letting loose cotton. Dogs shedding fur to make way for luxurious winter coats. In its own rite, autumn is a season worth stopping and gaping at. The tundra turning polychromatic overnight, willows golden, fireweed cardinal, birch a spectrum of lime to lemon to burnt orange. And though autumn always causes pause – allows us to breathe in a deep, cold lungful of air spiced with woodsmoke and reflect on the frenetic, buzzing energy of summer – it is only an entryway. A gracious window of preparation time. A few weeks to get the firewood cut, button up the new roof you built, weatherproof a shed, order a pallet of dogfood. Take one last collective breath and see our neighbors’ faces round the fire ring. Exhale it just in time for the snow and darkness, the frozen stillness, the soft sound of dogs panting long into the night. The frost in your eyelashes weighing down your already heavy lids. The linear peace of the trail when it’s the only thing in the world.