The View from Mattie’s Pillow

Lingering fall.  Yesterday, driving home on a long westward stretch of road, I saw a half moon, burnt orange, resting on the mountains at the horizon, as if too reluctant or too tired to slip down below the rim to what lay beyond.  As I drove the road’s few turns, the moon seemed to duck out of sight then reappear through the spruces, as if it were playing with me as I drove through the deep darkness of a snowless fall night.  This reluctant moon, the lingering fall, all set an odd tone for the end of October here.

It’s global warming, perhaps.  We’ve seen other effects here in the Interior: the million-acre wildfires and the smoke that settles across the valley and flats in summer; the spruce-bark beetle and leaf miners that feed on our native trees; the early planting and late harvest; and on the Arctic Coast, the melting ice pack, stranding seals, walrus, polar bears.  Much of this is in the range of normal.  For every, “This is strange weather,” there’s a sourdough, “I remember when…” to top it all.  Those of us who have lived in Interior Alaska for many years, hesitate to generalize about the weather here, except to say that there’s no predicting one year by the other.

And we’re not complaining, really—even the dog mushers and skiers.  The skies are clear and sunny by day, warming to the high 30s and 40s, which is warm enough to take off gloves and hats to work with horses.  And though we have less light every day, it’s still light enough at 6:30 or 7 to do a few outdoor things, like groom a horse or roll up the hose for the second time this fall.

Today, I went out to work with Mattie, to reinforce the progress we made with longeing this summer.  She went out on the line fine, then stopped and turned towards me, ears back.  She no longer intimidates me with this–perhaps because I’ve learned to read when to back off with her.  We tried a few more starts in that direction, and I turned her to trot to the other direction.  She went a little, but I let us end with walk and whoa and stand and back, things she does automatically.  I haven’t worked with her much in the past two weeks—teaching and all that goes into it fills my days, and the weekends pass so quickly.  But it was good to run a brush and my bare hands over the deepening plush of her coat and to walk alongside her as she walked and trotted, however reluctantly.  Like the moon.

We are reluctant to give up what’s left of good weather, but we know we’re on borrowed time.  There are still green blades of grass, and a few hardy plants on the hillside perk up again at mid day.  The first real snow will be a sharp wake up to winter for us, but perhaps not so bad, because we’ve had so much time to prepare.

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