The Last, Loveliest Smile

I never took much notice of something as simple as the seasons until moving North.

Pre-Yukon, I was rather unmoved by the monotonous blend of greens extending from the mossy forest floor to the heights of the coniferous giants on Vancouver Island. And as much as I love the “wet-coast”, seasons seem to meld into one another quietly and effortlessly.

Now, each year I am roused by the kaleidoscope of colours that sweep through the landscape from May through October.

Light purple is the colour of crocus that first greets us. Then follows the dark violet of lupine. Naturally, the fuchsia blossoms of fireweed follow – they are the calendar of summer: the progression in bloom foretelling the coming of another winter.

As the fireweed seeds starts to ride with the wind, greens turn to reds and the temperature drops, we may find ourselves in either delight or despair.

John Dunn, a former Yukon-based writer says, “Autumn in Whitehorse is like living according to a cosmic timer that is gradually running down to zero. With each passing second the light grows a bit fainter; it’s a countdown from lightness to darkness.”

Although there is much truth to Dunn’s interpretation of winter’s impending arrival, we need not dwell. Take a moment to appreciate the in-between.

Look to the mountains of the west painted with a beautiful light rouge, signaling the low-bush cranberry’s arrival and readiness. And to the east, notice the spread of bright yellow poplar, interspersed among the greens that are here to stay. Feel the coolness in the air, and delight in a cozy sweater and hot chai tea.

Soon our neighbouring ridges will be delicately dusted with a white icing-sugar topping that can surely turn the corners of a child’s mouth up in excitement. But for now, witness the beautiful spectacle of summer-end, one final hurrah!

“Nowhere else do winter and summer, literally, seem like night and day. People have a different perspective living in Canada’s attic.”

Dunn couldn’t be more right. We are governed by the seasons here. We are told by the earth just exactly what we should or shouldn’t be doing at certain times of the year.

Spring is for welcoming back the light and spotting the wildflowers along Miles Canyon. Summer is for anything outside under the midnight sun. Winter is for skiing and socializing. Fall is for foraging and enjoying the last warm, bright days.

In a Yukon September, hikers and photographers head out to places like Tombstone Territorial Park “to see the colours,” they say.

The northern tundra and wild alpine provide exceptional blends of deep mahogany and bright red flora, magically set in front of a backdrop of rugged peaks that seem to captivate people from all corners of the world.

I’m always inspired and impressed by the earth come autumn. Across the world where seasons exist, it is a time of harvest, of connection to the earth and to each other. We start to gather to forage, feast, share; and perhaps, with the fading of light to dark, we are inspired to reflect and set new goals for ourselves.

Haven’t you heard? September is the new January. Adults may feel a twinge of nostalgia from back-to-school days, welcoming the urge to buy new outfits, register in “extra-curriculars”, flex our social muscles and return to a sense of routine.

Autumn is a great time to reflect and take inventory of not only your winter gear, but your inner state.

Do you feel the shift of the season? Are you longing for a deeper connection to earth or to yourself? What can you do to dive back into the things that bring you joy? Let’s not fear darkness but celebrate its arrival with glee, just as the trees do.

After all, as the 18th century poet, William Cullen Bryant, put it, “autumn is the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

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