Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:05 PM on Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Autumn: Golden season buffers between summer bustle, winter quiet

A thick carpet of gold greeted my husband and me when we arrived at our cabin Saturday afternoon.

"The yellow brick road," said Sandy as he maneuvered the car up the quarter-mile drive buried under a thick layer of birch and cottonwood leaves.

Wet from recent rain, the leaves glistened in the day's fading light. Combined with others still clinging to branches above our heads, the leaves surrounded us in a golden glow.

This is a golden time of year, indeed. It's an in-between time when everything shifts from the bustle of summer to the quiet of winter.

Even the sounds of Cook Inlet are unique, as we had noticed earlier in the day. The combination of a high tide and a brisk wind rolled the waves along the shore with such force that the rhythm of individual waves was difficult to discern. Instead, it was one long, continuous roar. Before settling in for the night in the cabin's loft, we opened the window so the sound, hushed somewhat by our distance from the beach, would sing us to sleep.

In the morning, a gentler sound of rain drew us awake. The loft's eye-level view of golden treetops met our opening eyes.

Smells also stand out this time of year. There's the distinct scent of red-leafed, highbush cranberries. The sweet perfume of willows hangs heavy along river banks. A musky, thick smell clings to the season's growth of grass as it collapses against the earth.

I don't have anything against spring, with its increasing daylight hours and the green of fresh growth. You won't hear me complain about summer, with its warmth and the buzz of unending activity. Winter — complete with cold temperatures, snow to be shoveled and icy roads to be carefully navigated — is my least favorite season. But fall, well, that's my favorite.

Perhaps the season's beauty is magnified because winter is just around the corner. Years ago, while working in the oil industry, job duties with Alyeska Pipeline Service Company's training department required I drive from Fairbanks to Pump Station Five, located along the Dalton Highway just south of the Brooks Range. On one drive, the timing was absolutely perfect. Each hill I topped offered sweeping views of autumn foliage as far as the eye could see.

Two weeks later, repeating the drive, I found myself immersed in a blizzard that wiped out all signs of fall, as well as the road, with a thick blanket of snow. Safety concerns plagued that drive, while memories of the earlier trip remain filled with visions of astounding beauty.

Maybe the season's power is its call to faith. Shortening hours of daylight will once again lengthen. Green growth will return to branches stripped of leaves. Bushes that have lost their berries will bear more fruit. Inlet storms will calm. The chill in the air will be replaced by warmth.

Driving out the Spit earlier this week, I noted the "closed" signs on businesses, but even that lacked a note of finality. Shops aren't being torn down. Instead, windows have been given temporary covers of plywood as a promise that winter will pass and another visitor season will follow. Boats and houses are being winterized to survive winter's extreme conditions so they can function properly in the spring. Potatoes are being harvested with some set aside to seed next year's garden.

Partly, my connection with this season dates back to my birth. Before I was born, my parents met a young woman named "Autumn." As I've been told, she had the red hair, freckles and brown eyes that perfectly matched her name. Mom decided if she ever had a daughter, she'd name her "Autumn." Making good her word, Mom did just that the day I was born.

Only thing is, I didn't have red hair, freckles only appear after lengthy exposure to sunlight, my eyes are blue and I was born in February. To look at me, there's not a streak of autumn in me. Besides that, Mom never called me by my name, choosing instead a nickname that family and friends also used. Small wonder my name never seemed to fit.

In my mid-30s, while spending time in Mom's birth state, Arizona, I was awed by the desert and all my mother had set aside in order for my brother, sister and I to be raised in my dad's birth state, Alaska. It struck me that taking Mom's maiden name was a way to honor that side of the family.

One morning, before a judge in a Tucson courtroom, I legally shoved my first, middle and last names to the right and tacked "McKibben" on the front end.

Autumn is still there, though. Unconnected to red hair, freckles, the color of my eyes or the time of year I was born.

It is simply written on my heart.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.