Autumn has been my favourite season just about everywhere I’ve lived, and the North seems to be no exception. The leaves in the birch-dominated forests have changed a million glowing shades of yellow. Brilliant sunsets are a warm-up show for the early-season green aurora, and after-dinner walks are crisp affairs.
That having been said, the narrative that takes us from summer to winter is not strictly linear. A few days ago I put shorts on for an afternoon hike – more of a scramble along the Canadian shield than an even-keeled stroll through the forest – and the morning’s frosts are often forgotten in the warm afternoons. People are still making weekend trips to their cabins on summer terms, the canoeing is prime right about now, and even the geeky kids aren't wearing their snowsuits to school just yet.
The seasonal transition is most apparent for me in the mornings. Ice coats the car as I walk out the driveway at the start of the day, and we have already had a few morning dustings of snow (though our proximity to the lake means that we are just a few degrees warmer than the rest of town, and have yet to see any accumulation). There is often a layer of dew on the beard as I leave any seasonal awareness behind and check the day’s first e-mails under artificial light.
I am grateful for the walk to work. At fifteen minutes it is hardly a workout, but the cool air in my lungs gets the heart pumping and gives me a caffeine-like jolt. I head up the hill on Franklin Avenue, leaving behind the shacks of my Old Town neighbourhood as I approach the tall office buildings of the city center in a daily transition ritual of my own. I start the day in brief concert with the elements, even if I spend most of it in isolation from them.
A layer of fog hung over town one morning last week, mingling with the sunshine to make for a dream-like blur of muted colours as hazy figures shuffled along the avenue. It was like walking towards a dream sequence, or into a faded sepia photograph. Funny, I thought, that I am walking away from Old Town and towards the decidedly more modernized city centre, yet the morning mist is making for a back-in-time trajectory. Perhaps there's a metaphor in there about the development and future of Yellowknife, but I haven't been around long enough say.
Winter will be here soon. We are getting noticeably fewer hours of sunlight with each passing day as the darkness gradually uncoils. Stiff breezes are knocking the leaves loose. As one such wind caught me the other day, a friend who grew up locally looked at me and took on an uncharacteristically cautionary tone. "Do you feel that?" he asked. "It's coming."
The impending season will be long, dark and cold. Inspiring on its own terms, but harsh nonetheless. As a calm before the storm, though, it would be hard to do much better than Fall in Yellowknife.