Almost Winter

Early September. Still summer but almost winter—that’s what we high-elevation residents call this time of year. But something has slipped out of its skin. My friends in Wales, Alaska, Iglulik, Nunavut, and Qaanaaq, Greenland, say that trees are walking north, barracuda will soon replace narwhal, polar bears are going brown, robins are already singing evensong as another Arctic twilight descends.

A third fire breaks out, this one just four miles from my cabin. It leaps from canyon to canyon, crown to crown. There’s no use calling it in. I already know that the fire-fighting helicopters are elsewhere. Three hundred thirty thousand acres are burning in the American West right now.

Perched on a huge boulder, one of many broadcast like seed by a retreating glacier across this thousand-acre-long meadow, I watch flames rise from stands of lodgepole pine and Douglas fir. Once this valley was carved by ice. Now it is being reshaped by fire.


Gretel Ehrlich is the author of many books, including The Solace of Open Spaces and the winner of multiple awards and fellowships. She is currently working on a book about the survivors of the tsunami in Japan, including the animals, which is due out in the fall.

This essay originally appeared in Orion Magazine. Copyright © 2008 by Gretel Ehrlich. Reprinted by permission of the author.