Three weeks ago in Southcentral Alaska, we woke up to a long awaited and sometimes dreaded sight to many Alaskans: a light dusting of snow on the mountaintops. This beautiful, seemingly innocuous sight of powdery white is known as termination dust and is actually a harbinger of the winter soon to come.
Termination dust signals the end of an Alaskan summer. During the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 19th century, termination dust signaled the end of summer prospecting and the termination of profitable employment in Skagway until the next summer – nine months away. At the other end of Alaska in gold rush Nome, termination dust similarly served as a sign for prospectors to pull up stakes and head out on the last steamship before the snow set in unless they wanted to winter over for six months in Alaska.
Today, termination dust serves as a reminder of the drastic change that is heading our way. It signals the swift and perennially surprising transition between long, sunny, golden summer days and snow-swept cold, dark, endless winter nights. Unlike the gold rush days, however, when prospectors dreaded the sight of white-capped mountains, I feel a touch of thrill and excitement when termination dust arrives. The air becomes crisp and clean and I know that soon my cold and dark neighborhood will be transformed into a shimmering, crystalline, snow-covered winter wonderland where every day, however brief, holds the magic of Christmas morning.