Friday, October 26, 2012

Here Comes the Night

As I write this post, I’m on my way back from a trip to the “lower 48.” After two weeks in the warmth of San Diego and New Orleans, I’m about to step into temperatures in the teens. When I left, it was fall. It dipped below freezing at night, but warmed up nicely during the day. When I get home, I’ll be tromping on snow and facing zero degrees at night.

Winter comes fast in Alaska.

This time of year, each day brings less light. Tomorrow will contain five minutes and 35 seconds less daylight than we had today. When I left, I was driving my stepdaughter to school during the tail end of sunrise; when I get back, the drive will be mostly in the dark.

In Alaska, life is tuned to the light just as much as to the cold. In the summer, when the daylight never ends, you see a lot of sun but no moon or stars. In the winter, the sun might barely make it over the horizon, but the night sky makes up for it with dazzling, panoramic starscapes and shimmering Aurora Borealis. I might be dreading the cold, but I’m looking forward to having the moon back.

When I was in New Orleans, I sat down with an author who had set part of her book in Alaska. She’d done quite a bit of research; I was impressed. But since she couldn’t afford an actual visit, she asked if I would help her make it feel more “Alaskan.” My first, and major, tip: always be aware of what time of year it is. Her book is set just before summer solstice. At that time, no matter where you are in Alaska, it doesn’t get “dark.” It might get twilight-y, depending on where you are, but it’s not dark enough for the moon to shine. You can very easily lose track of time, and not know when one day ends and the next begins.

If her story took place during this time of year, it would have been a whole different story. The darkness comes so fast, it creates an almost frantic feeling. Everyone’s busy racing the oncoming winter, preparing for the onslaught of cold and snow. Firewood needs to be stockpiled. The last garden harvests need to be canned or frozen. Everything left scattered outside (tools, wood, buckets) needs to be stowed inside, because if a blizzard hits, you won’t see it again until spring. If you live in a remote spot, your oil tanks need to be filled while the delivery trucks can still get through. What about winter gear? Does anyone need new snow boots? Everyone have good insulated gloves? Fall always feels so rushed and urgent, as each day gets shorter and colder.

It’s enough to make you look forward to winter, when we can finally take a breath, safely snuggled inside a cocoon of snow. 

If you have any questions about Alaska, visiting Alaska, or writing about Alaska, please feel free to ask! Between all of us, we’ve probably experienced just about all aspects of life in the frozen North. Happy Autumn!

Jennifer Bernard


Kris Reed said...

Grins...and then there is Southeast!

I do have to say that I miss the snapping, crisp, Aurora-filled skies of Anchorage in the depths of a winter night.

Thanks for the picture Jennifer!

Tam Linsey said...

Daylight is a factor many people who have not been here cannot understand. I was just complaining while driving the other day about how the sun hovers, orange and blinding, right at eye level for three or four hours every evening. Driving into it - you're blind. Driving away from it, you have to adjust your mirror to the night setting or be blinded.
In other states, they might get shorter days, but I don't know if they get the same quality of light we do here. Alaska is so large, from the Southeast to above the Arctic Circle, writers are smart to make sure they have their details right.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

You nailed it, Jennifer. The light is the most obvious way that our lives revolve around the seasons here.Typical conversation in our house: my husband announced we lost 5 minutes of light today, but it would only be about two months before we're gaining light again. I am sure looking forward to that side of the equation. But I confess, cocooning inside with lots of hot tea and goodies is something I like about winter. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've been in Alaska too long-I don't concern myself with the cold anymore. It is the light. The amazing light, the ethereal light bouncing off the snow, blinding at 10 p.m. and casting odd shadows when there shouldn't be any light at all. It must be experienced because words are hard pressed to convey the amazing qualities they offer. Thanks Jennifer