These sunflowers stand sentinel on the corner of the last turn on my 3.8-mile walk from my cabin to my office on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. When I made this photo on Monday, it was two days before the start of fall. Today, when I passed the sunflowers, most of their petals had fallen; the remaining petals were wilted and rippled. The heads of the grand ladies were bowed; some of their bodies were broken.

When I arrived in Alaska three weeks ago, the locals today me the sunny, clear skies and temperatures in the 60s were unusual for this time of year–the end of summer. Several people told me they’d never seen such weather in the 20 years they’d lived here. I’ve been grateful for the sun–and the sunflowers. They helped me with the transition from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to Alaska’s Tanana Valley.

When I stepped onto the deck of my cabin yesterday, I got a taste of things to come and how fast the weather–and the seasons–can change in Fairbanks.

The announcer on the local public radio station, KUAC, said it was 29 degrees F at 8 a.m. A cold wind ripped past me and through my clothing. Holy smokes! It’s 29 degrees and it’s cold. What am I going to do when it’s -40 degrees and dark outside?

My neighbor Martha had mentioned the “shoulder season.” I wasn’t sure what she meant at the time. I did a search on Google and found this definition on a travel website: shoulder season. An abbreviated season that falls between the high season and low season and offers fares and rates between those of the other seasons.

I now realize shoulder season has an additional meaning in Alaska: the brief season.

Fall is a shoulder season. A mere heartbeat between the end of the long light of summer and the beginning of the cold, long dark of winter. In the lower 48, fall began on September 22 this year. To a newcomer to Alaska, it feels like fall was ending on it’s official start date. Fall came early to the Fairbanks party–and left early, carried off by a cold wind.

A Native Alaskan student came to my office to talk story on Wednesday.

“The cold weather’s moving. I can feel it on the wind.”