Out of the Office: ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’

The trees don’t really change colors where I’m from. Southern California is a place mostly devoid of seasonality, and I used to cherish the days the temperature dropped below 50 degrees, which meant I could wear my “big jacket.” After leaving California, I spent time in New York and Missouri, where I’d ogle at trees covered in yellow or vermilion leaves.

Neither place, however, comes close to Alaska in the fall.

My morning commute is one of the best parts of my day, and it’s made all the more special by the autumn foliage depicting a landscape in transition.

It was for those reasons that I found myself packing a cooler and queuing up music Saturday morning in preparation for a four-hour drive to Palmer, where I planned to get my fill of fall colors. While a storm pummeled the central Kenai Peninsula — I got home later that day to find that my power had gone out — it was a ridiculously gorgeous day in the Mat-Su.

An intermittent sun heated the day to the mid-60s and I was treated to seemingly endless streams of yellow blurs as I drove over hills and through the trees. Parked in front of Pioneer Peak, I drank cranberry juice from a mason jar while the sun warmed my car and leaves fell around me.

One of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, called upon wisdom from his uncle in a commencement address he delivered to the Agnes Scott College’s 1999 graduating class in Decatur, Georgia.

“When things are going sweetly and peacefully, please pause a moment, and then say out loud, ‘If this isn’t nice, what is?’” Vonnegut told the graduates.

I first read that quote in college, as part of a compilation of Vonnegut’s speeches aptly titled, “If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young.” In the years since, it’s a message I’ve internalized and often find myself saying aloud. The grandiosity of Alaska has called the question to mind frequently.

“If this isn’t nice, what is?” I’ve asked myself while reclining at the base of Exit Glacier on a cool day.

“If this isn’t nice, what is?” I’ve asked myself while mushing through a boreal forest in Talkeetna.

“If this isn’t nice, what is?” I’ve asked myself while watching the sun sparkle on the surface of Kenai Lake.

I asked myself the same question last weekend, when I was flooded with warmth physically and visually by a perfect fall day in Palmer.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.