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After a joyous summer, the approach of winter provides time to ponder and appreciate stillness

  • Author: Alli Harvey
    | Alaska Outdoors
  • Updated: October 10
  • Published October 10

Autumn colors begin to dwindle near Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage. (Emily Mesner / ADN)

Apparently I was an intense kid. Intense, as in serious.

As a 3-year-old I had a head full of loose blond curls framing a wide-eyed and at times solemn face. In first grade, a teacher told my parents they should encourage me to make more friends at school. They’d noticed I was a loner. In my memory, I was content to wander around the playground during recess, doing my own thing and taking the world in.

My parents encouraged me and I did make friends, but I’ve never lost my love for contemplation or the enjoyment of doing things on my own. My wanderings around the playground now look more like long walks, long runs, solo hikes, cross-country skiing or sitting on the deck on a sunny afternoon taking in the sky. I think about whatever comes to mind, big or small. Often I’ll turn over a particular issue or circumstance I’m trying to work out.

Especially for harder things, it’s easier for me to try to work it out solo before talking it through with someone else. Maybe I’m mulling on a relationship issue, an event that didn’t go well, or something at work.

This need to go deep inside myself can be deep and dark but it is intertwined with my appreciation for life — my joy, my humor and my connection to the world and to others.

The flip side to what can still be my intense seriousness is enthusiasm.

This summer, I felt joy. The isolation of social distancing tempered it a bit, but especially during September I had awesome moments of feeling buoyant, so full I could explode.

The feeling was so sustained I wondered if I was turning a chapter in my life. Was this it? Had I found the crest of a wave I could ride out, a wave where I’m lifted, moving forward, all the way to shore?

No need to mull any more?

Then October hit. It felt to me like a page turned. I woke up early one morning to unusually bright light streaming through the window. I looked outside to see the full moon through a haze of clouds.

I laughed at myself. OK, a full moon, I thought. A real portent of things to come. Maybe Mercury is also in retrograde. Time to get weird.

Through the first week of October, I felt myself shift. Things weighed heavier on my mind. I was contemplative. The wave hadn’t crashed, but I’d landed somewhere and it felt like I was taking in my new bearings and trying to figure out what I make of this new context.

Time to go outside. Time to help myself relax, to take the pieces in one by one. Enter serious Alli.

Fall has always been my favorite season, in part because it allows me to fully own and enjoy this more tuned-in recessed part of myself. The air gets colder and I shut down a bit.

Or maybe I’m not shutting down, but bringing myself more in. At this point, I’m tired of throwing myself into the constant motion of summer. I’m biking here, hiking there, going for a big run, hauling wheelbarrows full of whatever around the garden.

In the fall, I appreciate stillness. I love how fleeting the moments feel. Light hits the yellow aspens at sunset in such a way they glow. Magenta sunsets brilliantly light up the mountains until it fades. There’s warmth from the sun midday, but that goes away as soon as a cloud passes over.

I enjoy watching the world shift. Leaves fall and an austere, vast beauty sets in. I can see the stark outlines of the mountains clearly for the first time in months. The air is colder in a way that perks me up; it’s something to notice. Frost blankets everything morning by morning, until there’s snow.

Friends pick November as their worst month. I’ve been asked to write columns advising Alaskans what to do during the “depressing” in-between time that sets in after the furious, colorful burst of early fall and the first real snow.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always thought — really? November is the worst? You wonder what to do during this in-between time? Just look around! It’s Alaska being Alaska. It’s getting thrillingly cold, the kind of cold that reminds me I live way up north.

The further we get into fall, every day promises snow in that electric way where the cold air pinches my nose. I remember that feeling from being a kid — again, serious and earnest, waiting for the sky to finally open and turn from flurries to something more.

All of that is in the air. I anticipate it. I look around at the skeletal trees and think, what was last year like? What did I love? What did I not enjoy? What do I want to think about differently this year; what do I want to pick up or let go?

How do I want to create warmth to contrast with the cold?

I love running this time of year, bundling myself up and methodically breathing the sharp air. Running is a meditation on the near-arrival of snow. I love the anticipation.

October provides me so much open space, in my mind and in my actual surroundings, to breath and think without interruption. There are fewer people. There are fewer external invitations and demands on my time. Particularly this year, with COVID-19, there are no gatherings to attend save a bonfire or a socially distant hike now and then.

This grave, dark, serious part of me — the flip side of the same coin for a person who is hellbent on drawing out the absolute most of my life — thrives this time of year.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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