Alaska has four seasons, June July, August and winter. In Interior Alaska, August is the rain season. Now the heat low over the Interior, Yukon Territory, and Northwest Territory weakens more often. Low pressure systems make their way into the mainland. Between lows, the moisture and still long insolation yields thunderstorm formation. Temperatures drop to uncomfortable values at the end of August as now darkness at night lasts several hours. Since the first flurries can fly already in mid September, Alaskans get very busy between rain to finish up their summer house maintenance projects.
At the same time, August is also the season for berry picking and collecting mushrooms. The berries have to be prepared for the freezer or be turned into jam. Also in the house, work has to be done like inserting new light bulbs. Over summer, the lights have never been used due to daylight 24/7. Moreover, windows, doors, and pipes have to be made made winter-proof.
Those Alaskans, who have a vegetable garden have to harvest and conserve their harvest at the end of August. When weather allows, they procrastinate as long as they can. Not because so much else is to do in August, but to take full advantage of the growing season. When frost is in the forecast, gardeners inform each other via facebook, twitter, phone calls or texting.
Most students go back to school in mid-August except of students from boarding schools. Boarding school students return to school after the hunting season so they can help with hunting and butchering. Thus, their school year is a bit off. This means they graduate about 2-3 weeks later than most students, right in time for the onset of the fishing season.
On top of all the busy work to get Alaska grown food in storage, and finishing up projects, many fairs take place at various places in Alaska. There fairs provide Alaskans not only with entertainment like ferry wheels, karussels, music concerts, dance shows, animal shows, and various competitions, but also with food to go, clothes, machinery, art work, and Alaska harvest products.
Of course, everyone wants to spend at least a day at the fair. Tickets are sold for entrance. When you use some of the entertainment equipment like the ferry wheel, you have to pay for that in addition. Some people go to the fair on several days, i.e. buy several tickets, because they want to see certain shows or attend different competitions. Some shows, concerts and other events, and of course competitions are done just on one day of the fair. Thus, when you want to attend several different events, you have to bite the bullet of paying for an entrance ticket on several days of the fair.
For many rural Alaskans the fair is a great opportunity to sell their home made products like art and bead work, buttons made from caribou antlers, beaded mukluks, wool or fur mittens, qiviut sweaters, scarves, and hats, home-made kuspaks, and hunting trophies like antlers, stuffed dale sheep, moose, or caribou heads, fur, or whalebone. You can also buy smoked salmon and other delicious products made of salmon. Miners offer raw gems or when they collaborate with jewelers or work both professions jewelry made of their finds.
Of course, once in town, they stock up on non-perishable food and other products that are much more expensive – when available at all – at their local store.
This busy schedule of finishing outdoor home projects, harvesting, preparing the house for winter, changing tires in preparation for the first snow and a full entertainment schedule plus preparing for the hunting season in September stresses people out. Thus, you often hear them saying that they can’t wait to get their lives back.
You probably wonder why they don’t skip going to the fair when their calendar is so full of very important and time sensitive work to be done? The fair is about meeting old friends. It attracts people from all over Alaska – people you only may see once or twice a year. It’s a meeting place. The fiddlers and those Alaskans who like to dance to fiddle music, for instance, won’t miss the day of the fair when the fiddlers play. They make friends there of whom they know they will not see them again before another big event that draws a lot of fiddlers to come into town. The ballroom dancers won’t miss the Dancing with The Fairbanks Stars.
August in Alaska, is quite different from August in Germany. There August was a vacation month with hot sunny days and often ozone situations in the Rhine-Ruhr area where I grew up. Family wise it meant the birthdays of my brother and Grandma Hannah.
What do you do in August? Are you already preparing for fall? What’s on your calendar that has to be done by the end of August?
Focus Alaska is a weekly series on Alaska lifestyle, events, curiousa, insider travel tips, Alaska shopping and street style.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
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