Outdoors/Adventure

Ruminating on life transitions as Southcentral Alaska shifts from fall to winter

In Southcentral Alaska this year, there wasn’t much of a transition from what we Alaskans call fall — that fleeting, fiery period — to what now feels like winter. One day the rain stopped, the next snow dumped.

Or, that’s how it felt.

Still, I find myself feeling like I’m playing catch-up with the season. I feel like I’m in an intermediary space, and am thinking about what it feels like to be here. If there wasn’t enough autumn for me, I’m now creating one in my mind.

My husband teases me for the way I talk to people I meet for the first time. He tells me I am an interrogator, bent on learning life stories. “Maybe they don’t want to tell you everything about what makes them them,” he says.

I don’t pry for its own sake. I’m not trying to unearth anything someone doesn’t want to tell me. But I am interested in people. I’m interested in new — to me — perspectives. And I value spaces that enable the sharing of those perspectives.

Maybe that’s why I’m a podcast junkie. That’s probably why I love long hikes or backpacks with people — there is enough open air and time to fully share stories. And that’s also probably why I am, as my husband lovingly points out, nosy.

Related, I like situations that stir up feelings. Or, I think I do. Sometimes I don’t love the feelings that get prodded loose. But I’ll take that over stasis.

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Transitional periods create opportunities for that kind of stirring; eventually, that kind of story formation and sharing. Something gets changed or is in the process of changing. A thing that once was starts to transform into something new. That process of changing mixes things up, turns them over and shakes them out where I can see them.

Before they become what they are going to be — a story that gets told, for instance — the elements of change are just kind of free radicals out there, figuring out what they are before settling back into a new pattern.

For me, while in one of these periods, I’m what you might call a “brooder” — I get into the mulling; I think to the point of overthinking. I focus on the turning over of each of the pieces that are now more visible than before. I start to dream vividly. I go for long walks.

Eventually, all of this leads to action. But before that can happen, I need a good long while to sit with what’s coming up and sort it out for myself.

Here’s the thing about a transition period though: It can be hard to see as a whole when I’m in it. My lived experience is that a transition period is made up of moments, just like every other moment in my life. Here I am, just like always. I can rationally tell myself all I want that I’m in some kind of in-between, liminal space but when I’m actually in it, it’s just me living.

This year, I find myself brooding over a few different things and a few different definitions of transition.

One, as I already mentioned, is late fall. What does it mean to move from summer to autumn to winter in Alaska? It’s bittersweet. Most of the time there’s a semi-secret, riotous, earnest relief about not having to go at 110% all of the time, like I do when it’s 24-hour daylight.

Then, there’s the fear of impending winter. What will it be like with so little light? What will I feel? How hard will what I call “the weirds” — some version of depression — sink in, and how will I cope with it?

Fall has its own bright, fleeting moment of berry-picking in blazing tundra, but then it fades quickly and becomes an almost purely transitional zone of cold weather and barren trees but no snow.

Those are the days that can be the hardest. While I know objectively that winter will set in, my day-to-day experience still takes forever. It’s dark, but not yet the kind of dark that’s illuminated by white snow on the ground. I’m just about ready to welcome full winter, but it’s not here yet. It’s cold but not fully frozen.

Related to that, and the fall feeling I’m creating in my own life, is that I’m going through a period of objectively enormous change. Yes, I’m doing my usual training for something or other — this time a speedy 10K, so I’m on a training plan and tracking progress. The change here is that instead of doing a long, slow, steady race I’m actually training for the first time for speed. I can feel it in my body, and that’s exhilarating but also confusing — how is it that working hard still feels the same even now that I’m quicker, as it did when I was slower? That seems unfair!

But, we’re also selling our house. I’ve shaken up my employment to add a greater amount of time spent on art and writing into the mix. My relationships with friends and family have shifted and continue to as my/our focus is both in and outside of Alaska, especially post-2020.

It’s a lot to shake up and let settle down.

If I were talking to myself at a dinner party, I’d probably be overwhelmed hearing from me. As I do try to talk to myself in this transitional moment — this little “fall extender” I’ve tried to create to give myself the space — I remind myself that even though it doesn’t feel like it, I am in fact in an “in-between.” It’s OK to feel some kind of way. I don’t have the exact beginning or end yet, but I know enough to recognize a transitional period when I’m in one.

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

Alli Harvey

Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.

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