Mark Wieland and Kim Lehman fireweed

Fireweed, the motivator, now blooming in Alaska
Photo: Mark Wieland and Kim Lehman

“Here is the deal,” writes Fish Taxi, blogging from Valdez, Alaska. “Once the Fireweed blooms to the top and goes to seed we have six weeks “˜til winter. How it looks today we have two months. Give or take a few blooming days.” That’ll be “take,” since she made this prognostication on July 25th.

Epilobium angustifolium grows up to 8 feet tall and seems to inspire Alaskans with a huge range of emotions—elation, industriousness, melancholy, dread.

Andy Hall put together a fine essay about “summer’s clock.” He describes how the slow and simple creep upward of pink blossoms squeezes him into action.

“As summer progresses, the petals will climb continuously higher. When they reach the tip, summer is all but over. For me it’s like when the villain in a B movie inverts the hourglass and challenges the hero to complete his task before the sands run out….

“A patch of fireweed lines my driveway and, every night, whether I am returning from work or a family outing, I gauge the distance between the highest bloom and the top of the plant. It often prompts a moment of reflection: Have I made good use of the day? Can I complete that long to-do list before summer’s end?

fireweed Fish Taxi with cat

Halfrack the cat
ponders fireweed

July 18, 2007
Photo: Fish Taxi

“More than once I’ve glanced at the shrinking gap between bloom and tip and skipped watching TV in favor of a hike up the valley with Melissa. Or I’ve forgone dinner and thrown the float tube into the truck to spend the evening casting for trout in a glassy lake. The fireweed is a compelling signal to get out and do something, because when bloom reaches tip and the plant goes cottony with seed, I know the wind that will spread next year’s crop of fireweed will soon bear winter’s first flakes of snow.”

Fish Taxi, like many fellow Alaskans, has been “compelled” to make fireweed honey this year and passes along Marilyn’s recipe. Here’s also Kim Lehman‘s recipe, which we can vouch for, not having prepared it but having swallowed it with toast and butter. Delicious, strong and distinctive.

Here in Central Texas, winter is something of a myth. It’s hard to believe that people in our hemisphere are looking for, and even seeing, harbingers of snow. Our mid-September (two months off) is usually crispy hot — though at about that same time our own weather-casting oxblood lilies often bloom, announcing the first cold front is on its way.

All you phenologists, please inform us of the flowering plants you read — to know when to turn off the TV, how far away winter is —or the fall— or whether former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel will carry “The Last Frontier” on February 5th.

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