Biography
Publications
Events
Blog on Personal Thoughts
Blog on Flashbacks
Related Links
Contact
Return Home
Learning Image
Abigail B. Calkin

A Blog of Personal Thoughts


Oh, That Smell of Autumn!

September 2022

The leaves had already started turning a month ago. I spent the last week of August in Juneau for an appointment. Several days later, I headed up the trail on the hill behind my son’s house. The smell of leaves turning, oh, that smell of autumn! I know it’s the mold and decay of old flowers, berries, and leaves, but still I love that odor. Why? Probably because I’ve never liked hot weather and the smell lets me know cooler times are here.

I walked up the Dan Moller Trail towards the cabin. Some day I’ll allow enough time to go there and back but not today. Instead, I enjoy my first and then second trip part way there. I listen to the trickle and rush of various creeks heading down to the Gastineau Channel and eventually out to sea.

One of many creeks I crossed.

One of many creeks I crossed.

Green, red, and yellow surrounded me so much I hardly noticed brown tree trunks. One lone dwarf dogwood, a ground cover here in southeast Alaska, hung on, a summer leftover, its leaves bug-bitten, its white petals show edges of pink. I’ve always liked dogwood whether it’s the trees of my New England childhood or the dwarf dogwood of the Alaska forests.

Dwarf dogwood turning.

Dwarf dogwood turning.

It’s also the variegated shades of brown that appeal to me. The decayed cow parsnip of fall readies for its winter’s rest to bloom next spring. I don’t care whether I look at the plant and its broad leaves, nearby…

Decayed cow parsnip.

…or whether I look at its now-seedpods closely. Such beauty and architecture live in nature!



Cow parsnip seedpods wait to fall, then wait till spring bring new cow parsnip buds.

Cow parsnip seedpods wait to fall, then wait till spring bring new cow parsnip buds.

I walk a litle farther and see the bright red berries of devil’s club. The plant revered in the Northwest Indian and in the Southeast Alaska Native cultures. Used as a tea, poulstice, and salve, I remember one of our science teachers taught her students to use it to make a burn salve and a cut ointment. Even though made more than fifteen years ago, I still have my salves and both work as they first did. It feels like a sacred plant to me, one that works quickly enough it seems like magic.

Devil’s club autumn berries.

Devilís club autumn berries.

Ah yes, I forget that walk deep in a forest. All I see are the autumn plants on the forest floor. The spruce and hemlock trees are everywhere and thick but so common I do not attend to them.

When I head back to my son’s house, I take a spot at the front of the house to sit and look towards the Gastineau Channel and the mountains on the Juneau mainland. Sometimes the view is clear and sunny but not this trip. That blue spot in the sky that you see might be what we call a sucker hole Why a sucker hole? Because you’re a sucker if you think the sky is going to clear and the day will turn blue. Except for various city boundaries, such as Juneau, Douglas, Gustavus, Yakutat, Sitka, Ketchikan, etc., is the largest temperate rainforest on the planet, the Tongass National Rain Forest in Alaska.

View from Blueberry Hill across the channel to the mountains east of Juneau.

View from Blueberry Hill across the channel to the mountains east of Juneau.

I am in awe of scenes like this.

Robert and I live deep in the rainforest 50 miles to the west of Juneau, the halfway point to the open Pacific, the Gulf of Alaska. We nestle in a forest with a small speck of skyward opening. We cannot see the vista of mountains around us. The best part of this scene of clouds from our son’s house is watching them move up the channel.

In a way, better yet is the fog. I had always thought fog was stationary. It appeared and stayed. From the vista at our son’s house, though, is the beauty of watching fog roll in from the south to create a different view. It keeps rolling to the north. I might get up to get another cup of tea. I want to sit to watch it move. I return to find I now see the houses and trees. Then it returns and I cannot see the trees even as clear as they are in this picture. Then within a half hour the fog leaves and the ceiling is 10,000 feet. I look again and see Juneau buildings and the water of the Gastineau Channel.

Fog above the Gastineau.

Fog above the Gastineau.

Return to Top

Writing Image