The deck has been dealt, the bets laid, and the trick taken. The chairs are up on the table and the floor is swept clean.  No debris remains of last night’s raucous events, but the scent of a summer’s parties remains, sweet, and not yet dusty.  Everything that a man might need to slip blithely through icily menacing landscapes is fit into one bag weighing no more than fifty pounds, and into one personal item to be stowed under the seat in front of him.

When I arrived in this quiet town, the daylight was growing by about an hour a week until the sun seemed only to feint towards the horizon, to duck briefly behind the Talkeetna mountains.  Now, each day’s darkness grows at near the same rate, though it is only early August.  Even as I walked through the Talkeetnas, the tundra began to change into its fall suit; maroon, ochre, and rich reds ringed patches of green and hid amongst the still-fresh leaves.  It is a rich transformation, though it is tinged with nostalgia.  A biological remembrance yields a different insight though: The colors of fall are not the colors of death as green is crippled by cold, but are a revelation of the underlying pigment, a hidden spirit beneath the usual greenery.

It’s a transition that I’ll see again, as tomorrow I’ll be back in Portland, many degrees of latitude to my South.  It’s summer there, with temperatures reaching into the eighties that will only just have started to cool come the end of August.  Twice, it seems, I’ll greet fall this year. Twice I’ll see the curtain dropped on the gold behind red behind the green.

It has been a summer of transitions.  From college student to NOLS student, from NOLS student to NOLS instructor, and the ball rolls on.  When we debriefed our students at the end of our course and tried to prepare them for re-entry into “a harsher environment” (ie. the rest of their lives), we asked them to say one thing about the course for which they were thankful, one fear about returning home, and one hope.  The question moved around the circle.  Students were grateful for the community that we’d forged, for the beauty and harshness of the landscape, for the time to reflect on their lives, “for being shaken alive”– I saw a disguised version of myself each time someone talked, as it all sounded so familiar that my lips might have once formed those words.  Their fears and hopes were likewise ground that I’d once tread, but for each of them it was a new insight into their honest selves; earth freshly plowed by the undeniable environment.  I shared my fear, and my hope: I feared, and still do, that I might lose the momentum that I have so built this summer and fall back into complacency.  I hope that in a year’s time I will be, if nothing else, as content yet excited as I am now, and that I will have shared this contentment with those who most need it.

To have shared my season of learning with fourteen new faces has been intensely rewarding.  So has the assumption of a new face and of a new trajectory.  The bags are packed.  In two weeks I’ll be amongst the alpine rock of Wyoming, wind all around me.  After that, nothing is certain.  It feels as if the deck has been stacked in my favor, and the table’s been cleared for another hand.  More than ever, I’m ready to be dealt in.

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