Winter has arrived. October was fairly mild right up until the end. A half inch of snow on the night of the 25th slowed and foiled traffic around south-central Alaska. Nights had been below freezing for almost a week and some of the smaller, shallower ponds, like Lake Five, were forming a thin layer of ice. Just enough to support a little snow. Another 18" of snow and the wetlands surrounding the lake will be covered with white and the inlet will no longer be a ribbon disappearing into the woods beyond. Only the salmon fry sheltering in its calm waters will know that a flowing stream exists under the layers of snow.
For the second time, Paul went to Hawaii to help our friends Pam and Roger build a house near Pahoa on the Big Island. His job this time was to finish wiring their house and an added bonus for them was that he installed their first sink on his last afternoon of work. By that time, I had been there for 3 days. During the days I had set up my own personal retreat of reading and meditating. In the evenings the four of us went to dinner together.
On our first full day of play together, Paul and I drove to the most southern point in the US. Then we hiked a little over 2 miles northeast to the Green Sand Beach. The rough four-wheel drive road traverses gentling sloping hills of grass covering orange clayey sands. With its exposure to thousands of miles of ocean and lack of trees, this part of the island is known for its winds. On this day, however, we welcomed the light breeze that we caught at the top of each rise. The sun was intense and there was no relief until we reached the cliffs above the beach.
Down on the beach, we settled under a small rock overhang to cool off and escape the sun. Some local teenagers provided entertainment as they tried to boogie board in the crashing surf. The waves would knock people on the beach off their feet and move 30 pound rocks along the sand. One man's t-shirt was ripped off his body when he fell down. Paul swam out just beyond the breaking point and floated easily while the others struggled against the force of the waves.
About four years ago, I adopted an apple tree at an annual tree give-away event in Anchorage. I don't know for sure what kind they are, but the varieties that year were Norland and Parkland. Apple trees don't produce for several years, so I was excited last year to get almost a dozen small apples. This year I thought I had hit the jackpot -- more than four dozen! The photograph doesn't give a sense of scale, but the largest apple was about the size of a racquet ball. I ate a few raw because they did have a good sweet and tangy flavor. Then cooked up the rest with some highbrush cranberries for a few jars of cranapple butter.
On what looked to be a dreary Saturday, I drove north to join the Valley Mountain Bikers and Hikers for an outing on the Rippy Trail. In south-central Alaska, the "valley" commonly refers to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, which is composed of two large valleys formed by the Matanuska and Susitna Rivers. The Mat-Su Basin is the location of my primary project at The Nature Conservancy.
The Rippy Trail angles across an eastern flank of the Chugach Mountains just above the lake and wetland complex of lower Jim Creek. Strong winds in the previous week had knocked most of the leaves off trees in Anchorage, but these hillsides seemed to have been protected. We started walking below large old cottonwoods, and the air was golden with the many leaves still fluttering above us. As we gained elevation, we left the moisture-loving cottonwoods and moved into groves of birch trees in fall colors. From a bluff we could look out over Jim and Swan Lakes, seeing some of the namesake birds that hadn't flown south yet. At the Jim Creek crossing, coho salmon still trying to reach their spawning grounds parted to let hikers pass through.
The skies were gray, but the trail was bright.