Today is winter solstice, the first “official” day of winter.
(Although, it’s very much been Jack Frost here for months, as evidenced by the snow cover since mid-October and several days of below zero temps already. But I digress.)
Solstice in Alaska also distinguishes the extreme variance of seasonal daylight. Winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year, and most people probably don’t give much thought to its significance. I really only started paying attention to the waning daylight when we lived in New Hampshire in 2007-11, because it did get dark earlier than I ever noticed.
Obviously, Alaska takes the cake for short days. In Healy today, the sun rose at 10:47am and will set at 3:04pm, for a grand total of 4 hours and 17 minutes of daylight.
In comparison, New Jersey (where my mom lives) is experiencing 9 hours and 13 minutes of daylight. Denver (where Justin’s whole family lives) is experiencing 9 hours and 21 minutes of daylight.
Last year, I blogged about the darkness.
We had returned to Alaska Dec. 26 after weeks down in the lower 48. We were on the gaining side of light and were excited for our first winter in Alaska. After a few weeks, I claimed, the darkness is not as bad as I thought.
Everything was a novelty. The diamonds that sparkle across the blanket of snow. The slanted light along the horizon that illuminates the mountains in the pastel alpenglow. The sunrise and sunset that paints the sky with a dusk that lasts for hours instead of minutes. The auburn glow that spills out from cozy cabins. The moonlight that creates a spotlight on the snow-encrusted spruce trees against the seemingly deep purple skies. The tiny ice crystals that linger in the atmosphere, appearing in headlights. The lazier mornings. The early bedtimes. And of course, the auroras.
But this year was different. I’m not saying I haven’t appreciated the unique beauty that comes from the twilight hours. But I’m not going to lie, the darkness sapped and changed my energy. I mean, whose mood hasn’t been out of whack in 2020? Being in Alaska during the month of November and December meant we were on the losing side of light. Watching the sun disappear and losing 6 minutes of daylight everyday—that’s a change of 42 minutes each week—played a game in my head.
Compared with last year when everything was so new, I noticed things differently. I mentally recorded when the “flaming ball of sun” disappeared in mid November and we stopped getting direct sunlight on our street and anywhere in Healy. Since we live at latitude 64 degrees north, the sun’s disk moves left to right along the southern horizon instead of up and down. But because we are surrounded by mountains, the ridges and ranges obscure when and where the sun rises and sets. We can drive through the canyon south to see “the ball” if timed right, but otherwise, it will be mid-late January when it hits the sweet spot in the canyon and rises over the mountain range to return to our neighborhood on Hilltop.
I also noticed how dingy and monochromatic—mostly graphite and charcoal—the landscape can look on overcast days, something we’ve had a lot of in Nov/Dec.
Maybe it’s also been because we’ve been so busy with freelance writing projects. Getting outside during our 4ish hours of daylight has been challenging. I suppose it’s a real test of time management, and one I failed these last few weeks. I let myself sleep in later in the morning than I ever have, telling myself my body called for it. Breakfast turned into brunch, work commitments took precedence and once I finally developed a plan to get outside during the functional daylight, the window of opportunity had closed. So we spent a significantly increased time these last few weeks indoors. I will say we did up our outdoor and indoor mood lighting, thanks to Christmas lights and a Christmas tree, and that brought great joy.
Overall, I am looking forward to GAINING light and for the “ball of sun” to clear Mt. Healy and come back to Hilltop Road in mid January.