The transition is made even more obvious by departing friends and family. Fall is not only the end of summer—a season associated with freedom, play, and ease—but it is also the beginning of a time when people generally hunker down, work, and hide. Young people return to school; old people return to Florida or Arizona; those of us somewhere in between are left wondering where we fit in. And, especially in these times, it is often uncertain.
I, for one, welcome the fall because it brings with it many fruiting trees, berries and mushrooms. Besides, as any local knows, the fall is the most beautiful time of year. The entire season is like one giant sunset. Fresh, full air makes breathing like drinking, sailing like filling a cup. Forests turn deep green, yellow, orange, purple. Everything is so clear and sharp that it is sometimes enough to bring rosy blood into your cheeks or tears to your eyes. In those moments, this is the most amazing place on Earth. The vitality and completeness of our home is incomparable. Anyone, all of us, are lucky to know the Pacific Northwest in September, to have the ability to enjoy it.
But the sunset doesn’t last long. Soon, the twilight fades to a pitch-black night: the winter. On the Olympic Peninsula, the winter can be a struggle. Skiing is not easily accessible, although, there is some amazing backcountry terrain if you can get to it. The short days are typified by drizzle and wind, the sky a constant soft collision. All this weather signals the end of the climbing season, the end of the harvest season, the end of a lifestyle that I have been enjoying for the past 6 months.
I can see the transition coming. It is not far ahead. It is inevitable, but for some reason I resist it. For some reason, I find myself being drawn south, away from the dreary gloom and concrete snowpack, but there are also things that keep me here.
Work, community, and complacency are miniscule factors in comparison to the knowledge that there are few other places with more opportunity for an outdoorsman. The Pacific Northwest, and our peninsula in particular, boasts an inexhaustibly potent combination of glaciated peaks, open ocean, dense old-growth forest, and endless beaches. I have lived here for essentially my entire life and I spend a significant amount of time exploring our wilderness areas, but I haven’t even begun to scratch the rugged surface.
So, although winter clouds and misty rain may push me away before too long, I know that I will not be able to stay away forever. Inevitably, I will feel the pull of mountaintops that overlook the ocean, of trees as big as cities, of early fall sunsets that infuse the brisk evening with twilight.