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Story Last modified at 12:40 p.m. on Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How was your summer?

By MATT TUNSETH

While it's not exactly time to start waxing the skis, this past week has definitely sent a strong message that the fall season is descending upon us with haste. A week's worth of rain and the first high school football practices of the year tend to do that.

The darkness has returned as well. Just weeks ago we were basking in the nonstop glow of the Midnight Sun. No longer. On a recent late-night drive home I was struck by the need to turn on my high-beams – a sure sign that summer's strength has considerably waned.

At our local schools, teachers and administrators spent much of last week getting ready for the surge of students set to come through their doors on the first day of school, which for most students is Aug. 16.

It's no secret that the Alaska summer ends in a flash, but there's always a twinge of guilt that comes with the beginning of August. Perhaps you didn't get enough fish put up for the winter, or maybe the family never quite made that big trip to Denali. More often than not, plans made in May give way to laid back attitudes in June and fishing frenzies in July that seem to make the summer disappear in an instant.

But even if you're feeling like you missed out on a summer's worth of activities doesn't mean it's time to throw in the towel just yet. There's still plenty of summer left to squeeze out of these soggy Autumn days.

Berry picking season is right around the corner. Now is the perfect time to stock up on supplies – a $10 prong-front basket is ideal for blueberries – and start staking out your favorite spots.

Some of the best hikes in the area are best taken during the fall. Consider a trip up to Symphony Lake, Mount Baldy, a day hike to Thunderbird Falls or just a visit to the Eagle River Nature Center. As the leaves begin to turn, vistas in these near-town wilderness areas come alive with the bright colors of the season.

Camping this time of year can be a rare treat as well. Crowds have begun to thin as tourists return home, meaning many areas that were overrun just a couple weeks ago are now returning to a peaceful state.

Fishing isn't quite done yet, either. Check out the Eklutna Tailrace on the Old Glenn Highway near Palmer for silvers, Jim Creek near Knik for sockeye and dollies or Fire Lake for trout and pike.

Just because the season seems to be losing some of its energy, doesn't mean we have to. With apologies to Dylan Thomas, summertime in Alaska might be the best time to "rage against the dying of the light."

Tragedies a stark reminder

A couple recent tragedies – and another near-miss – involving locals serves to remind us just how fragile and precarious life can be.

In one incident, two small Chugiak children were killed during a horrific vehicle accident on the Kenai Peninsula; in another, a local pilot collided with another plane, resulting in four deaths. Just last week, a family's home caught fire in Chugiak, leaving them lucky to get out alive.

Although unrelated, all of these accidents show just how quickly things can go from normal to horrific in just seconds.

Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of those involved in these tragic events.

For the rest of us, they're reminders that a little extra care and vigilance can sometimes be the difference between getting home safe and sound and winding up in a hospital.

Be careful out there.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 3, 2011.