Summer Symphony


A cacophony.  That is what spring in Alaska is to me.  The jarring sights and sounds of snow and ice entropically disintegrating into slush and mud while the browned, defeated plant life struggles for breath.  Until this very post, that is what all my moaning these past months has been about.

BUT!  I have decided to repent of this pessimistic view and become a changed Alaskan (the vibrant green outside my window, lit by the ten o’clock evening sun elicits a tenuous seed of resolve).

IMG_8318I was contemplating the symphony orchestra and it struck me:  the barrage of chaos developing into order when that one oboe, playing that one note, that all the other sections, instrument by instrument, merge with as they tune before the concert, is like spring here.

Don’t you love that moment when you are watching the musicians as individuals getting settled, practicing, tightening strings and turning pages and then, miraculously, they begin to fling themselves one after another into harmony?  With the magic of that tuning note, they become THE ORCHESTRA.

So why can’t I see that beneath the chaos of spring breakup—is warmth: the oboe note, with which the other sections fall into line, in preparation for the summer symphony?

So here goes the new me (attempt one; note: setting is mid-summer):

Summer in Alaska starts slowly with a stubborn note of warmth vibrating across the landscape of snow and ice.  Slowly, adagio at best, the other instruments join in, until the sights and sounds swell into magnificent oneness.  With little trills here and there as the woodwinds enter and the birds return, as well as the deepening of the season, reflected in the cheeky, bold, brilliant brass section, you realize, as you let out the breath held tight for the tuning, the orchestra, that season of summer, is ready!

It begins with the glimmer of green buds, punctuated by the percussive burst of pussy willows, that northernmost early bloom.  And then? Green tundra and meadows bursting with wildflowers enter. Bears roaming, mother moose tripping over gangly calves, gushing waterfalls freed by the melt, wood frogs thawing and their tadpoles hatching all join in.  Ptarmigan chicks running rampant, the sun swinging round and round and round the edge of the horizon like a frenzied discus about to be flung into the depths of space by Helios himself, and insects, those harbingers of it all, tune into the warming world.

So, in planning for the summer orchestral movements to come, we took our essentials and legged it andante out to Symphony and Eagle Lakes, up the south fork of Eagle River, for a little symphony warm-up ourselves, family style.

This is a great, easy, six-ish mile trail that we have not done as a family yet.  Most of the other traffic we saw were day hikers and trail runners.

IMG_8199Here is looking back toward Eagle River and the trailhead.  The only elevation gain on this saunter seems to be in the first half.  You initially climb up, then wrap down to the creek, and after crossing it, climb a short hill before it flattens out for the rest of the mileage.  Below shows the slight descent from the hill following the bridge at mile two.IMG_8192

We took a long break for food and freedom from the weight our lives demand as soon as the kids spotted the sparkling south fork.

IMG_8207As you can see, it was just so beautiful and warm that shoes and some clothing were shed, while the rest got slightly damp…or more.  The permafrost beneath the tundra keeps the ground from absorbing water really well, and with the rains only a day behind us, the ground was delightfully soggy and spongy.

With our kids, a flat hike can actually be harder than one with elevation changes.  To keep up the orchestral metaphor, as in any musical piece, monotony can lead to boredom in the audience, that enemy of the artist.  And boredom on little legs ushers in whining.  The really, really nice thing about this walk, is that there were a few key landmarks that we played at on the way in.  The bridge, the hill, the stream, and the table rock, all lent themselves to memory so despite the flatness, there were things to look forward to on the way home.

The boulder field near the end is no surprise.  You walk steadily towards it, eyeing its depths and matching its endurance with your own (or the smallest of your party).  IMG_8282The rock cairns help to point the way, and lend themselves to the communal desire to contribute just one more rock.IMG_8284The spillover from Eagle Lake is an exciting, concluding movement of the concert, because then you know how close you really are.  IMG_8292The bridge is the entrance to the boulders.  It must be a personality thing, but one of the kids loved the challenge of boulder hopping while another took one tumble and had to be coaxed every step thereafter.  We found a flattish area that would sustain the size of our tent, erected a small kitchen, ate a quick dinner, deconstructed the small kitchen, and then traipsed across the boulders pack-less, to get a view of the lake, Symphony.  This seems to be a better trail after the initial clamber through boulders in that there is packed dirt between the rock giants.


Life is so much more noticeable in the midst of a rock garden.

Ah, so IMG_8337we had a bit of an exciting night.  The rain started as soon as we zipped up and snuggled in, which was perfect.  Falling asleep to rain inside a tent is Norah Jones delicious.  Alas, around four in the morning the winds started beating our poor little tent and the skies opened.  It was the percussion section center stage.  Most of us woke to this tirade and lay with bated breath, hoping the tent’s name, Stormking, was descriptive not hopeful, in nature.  Within the hour, one of the vestibule lines was lost and my husband had to leap to the rescue in briefs and my coat as the tent began to whip back and forth.  We checked the winds the next day from home and they had clocked in at 40 and 50 mile an hour gusts—the highest we’ve been in as a family.  As you can imagine, the sun the next morning glistened all the more for the night’s gale.IMG_8343

We woke to the bleating of dall sheep or mountain goat on the peak behind the lake.

The clouds quickly came in and descended after breakfast and we had strapped the last backpack closed when the first raindrops fell.  We hiked out in the rain.IMG_8369

With some spots of dry before our pants would get wet again.  We are trying this year to subscribe to the “clothes dry better on you” method and not pack an extra pair of clothes for the kids—just a few different layers that can be used as such if really needed.IMG_8382

The trail becomes quite muddy rather quickly (all that permafrost science) and sometimes the boards help while other times it’s worth more to avoid them.


What a performance!  Encore!!!



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