In most parts of the United States, Labor Day Weekend is the symbolic end of summer. While the kids have gone back to school, little has changed from the previous weekend. The days remain warm, vegetables are still ripening in the garden, and fall colors are still weeks away. In Alaska, Labor Day Weekend is more than the symbolic end of summer. Summer really ended here this weekend.
The first indication that summer was over happened the week before Labor Day Weekend (LDW) when the trees started to show hints of yellow and orange. By LDW they were beginning to fully engage their fall foliage and I found leaves beginning to cover the grass. On Sunday of LDW I noticed the fireweed had started to turn red in the valley and looked up at the mountains to find the sun reflecting off the vegetation’s fall scarlet color. Many of my perennials have died off and as I deadheaded my annuals this weekend I noticed they were no longer sending up any replacement blooms.
On the Friday morning of LDW Pioneer Peak was dusted in a light coating of snow referred to in Alaska as “termination dust” indicating the end of summer. By Sunday morning some of the lower mountain peaks had a dusting as well. Snow lines only move in one direction this time of year and snow on the lower peaks generally indicates we’ll see our first flurries in the valley in about three weeks.
A Sunday morning trip to the grocery store also produced indications of the end of summer. First, the produce had diminished in quality. We seem to have about a two-week period in late summer when the produce in Alaska is fresh, plentiful, and relatively affordable. You can also tell what crops have ripened in the Lower 48 because we will have cart after cart full of the fruits or veggies of the week lined up in the produce section: Cantaloupes, corn, beans, oranges, strawberries, blueberries, or watermelons. That period appears to have passed. The second indication was that all the allergy medicine was on sale at significant discounts. I stocked up for next year.
Other signs this weekend have included cruise ships beginning to make their “repositioning cruises”, my ability to immediately get a table at my favorite local restaurants, darkness at bedtime, the last Farmer’s Market, and my overwhelming desire to ‘hunker down’ and make chili. Of course there is also the wind and rain and the fact that I have turned on the heat.
As The State Fair wraps up this weekend and I am haunted by all the projects I didn’t finish this summer, I’ll be appreciating my last couple of opportunities to cut the grass and fuss over my flowers. In about three weeks I’ll be pulling out my annuals, most likely with snow flurries in the air. I’ll enjoy watching the landscapers finish our landscaping project (their ‘last of the season’) and build a fire in the fire pit they are creating. We’ll try to start up the grill one last time, and look forward to watching the kids tromp through the snow to collect treats on Halloween.
Holly A. Bell is a business professor, author, analyst, and blogger who lives in the Mat-Su Valley of Alaska. You can visit her website at www.professorhollybell.com.