Summer Solstice in Anchorage means 4:21a sunrise today and 11:43p sunset. It never does get dark.
Alas…..we make the turn here.
Summer Solstice in Anchorage means 4:21a sunrise today and 11:43p sunset. It never does get dark.
Alas…..we make the turn here.
….And then my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils.
With sunset before 7a and sunset after 9p now we are reveling on the bright side of our seasonal calendar! As we fast forward toward the near constant light of summer solstice, this ever increasing daylight can make it hard to sleep, and since we’re in a new to us house this year, we’ve got a new set of windows that need blackout shades.
I’m not a house decorator sort of person. I don’t know how and don’t really want to right now, I guess. I definitely opt for practical minimalism if I get to choose. We have a homemade plywood dining room table, I’m saying!! And I love it – it fits in a narrow space and is long enough to hold a bunch of people, or as it often does – all our varieties of projects and room left for the four of us to sit and eat dinner together.
All that to say, I don’t really want long drapes, especially the dark kind that we need to block out light here in the summer – and the winter, actually. (It’s remarkable how much light the snow reflects. I nearly always woke up when it was snowing this winter, in spite of the fact that our shades were pulled down.)
In recent weeks Ethan has been getting up earlier and earlier, Ryan’s been waking up exhausted by his nights of light sleeping, and David’s much needed Saturday morning sleep-in was basically a full sunshine bath by 8a.
So what to do? I wasn’t eager to spend money on curtain rods and light blocking curtains because I’m not a huge fan of the result – so much material hanging on the wall! As a stop gap measure, we thumb tacked the curtains from our last home to the perimeter of the windows and sure enough, like magic! We quickly became a much more rested, much nicer family. But thumbtacked curtains aren’t a solution. They’re a pain to put up, a pain to pull down. Sometimes literally.
So….then. Cardboard and Gorilla tape! BAM! Pull the shades over that and it’s Sleep Great Dark!
The rest of us were instantly jealous of Ethan’s room, but we were out of cardboard now, so David made a trip to Lowes and classed it up a billion degrees for the rest of us with fiberboard and knobs.
Slide them in at night. Pop them back out in the morning. This. is so good.
After a several low snow months here in Anchorage, February delivered! We were more than 2′ below normal in snowfall at the end of January, but then came the snowiest February in six years. A fun fact because that was also our family’s first February in Alaska – back when we thought we had moved into a magical snow globe where it was all skiing, and skating, and cold!! Subsequent years have proven….not so much.
Our family likes the snow. For one thing, it brightens the long dark winters! When people ask me how it is to live up here in the deep dark of winter where the winter solstice sunrise is 10:15a and sunset is 3:40p, I always say – the snow helps!! Snow reflects moonlight and streetlight. It illuminates the landscape. It’s also bother. It needs shoveling. It makes a shopping cart in a grocery store parking lot difficult. Its relation to ice means there is scraping. And slipping. It is a mess in the melt. Yet we rejoice with every new snowfall (until April and then I’m soooooo done).
February 2018 gave us much to celebrate.
The city plowed. And hauled snow.
We pushed little cars out of stuck in the snow.
We watched sled dogs run.
And the Fur Rondy Parade.
We rode bikes.
And we walked.
We skied (and skated). We shoveled and scraped some more.
And also…..we grilled.
This morning I was making coffee in the kitchen when I heard Ethan flipping light switches in the next room. A little bit later he came to the kitchen and grumbled, “These lights are weird. I can never figure out which switch turns on which light.” My thoughts EXACTLY.
Recently I’ve noticed my irritation when all too often I flip a switch and get no light. I walk a few steps to a different switch and flip it only to produce light in a totally different part of the room. So then I walk across the room and try again with a different switch. Now the light that I’ve just turned on goes dark. And I still don’t have the light I wanted. Every once in a while, I get lucky and the lightbulb I want comes on with my first flip of a switch, but more often I give up in exasperation and just carry on, using whatever light is available.
Why – after nearly 2 years of living in this apartment – don’t I know the switch-light relationships?!? And then I realized, it’s because I go for days, weeks, months without using them! Living at this latitude means we have a long stretch of summer days and nights where it never gets completely dark.
But in the rhythm of seasons, there comes time to pay the price for the seemingly endless summer light, and that time is now. We lost nearly 3 hours of daylight in September and we’re continuing to lose at a rate of about 5.5 minutes per day, on pace to lose another almost 3 hours in October. When we first moved to Anchorage from Oregon in the fall 2012, David made me a graph to compare our sunrise/sunset times with Portland. Right now we are sliding down maximum slope, straight into the deep dark, cold winter and I feel dread rising. It started at the edge of a September sunset while I watched the sun slip behind the mountains, leaving glorious colors of sky to fade into the black of night. It dances with my memories in the chill air of season’s change.
Dark was once cancer in my brother’s body. Dark is death. The loss of a grandparent. A friend. A dream. Dark is a move miles and miles from home. It is marriage in turmoil. It is a miscarriage. Again. Dark is the loss of a job. A career. Uncertainty. It is pain. Dark is anger. Anguish. And grief. Dark is a broken body. In the hospital. Alone. At night. Dark is parenting in moments of fear. It is a lump. A test. A waiting room. Dark is the blank spots in my brain. The terrifying holes I fall in.
“I don’t want this winter!” I proclaim in futile protest. “I’m not ready. It’s too hard. Too cold. Too dark.”
But this evening I pull on my hat and my gloves. And walk into the fading light. I crunch through frosty leaves and icy puddles. Winter is coming. I can feel it. The deep, cold dark. I flip switches that may or may not produce the light that I want. And yet. In a Gospel of John + Barbara Brown Taylor mashup – these words: “There is a light which shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.”
There is a light which shines in the darkness.
This is the light that I need.
Last night I walked down the hill to watch the 9:30p sunset. We have more than 15 hours between sunrise and sunset now and all the recent long days of “warm” sunshine have gone a long way toward melting out the lingering piles of snow. Yesterday was the first day that the Anchorage snow cover dropped below 1″ in 138 days. We’ve gotten past the worst of sloppy spring Break Up and for the first time since my November surgery, I didn’t have to decide between ice bugs or xtratufs for a safe, dry sunset walk.
Sounds of Spring were everywhere last night. Seagulls screamed over my head and flocks of geese honked across their flightpath. A steady flow of snow melt beat a path into a nearby drain and I kicked a small stone down the sidewalk until it eventually skittered off the edge.
Out in the Park Strip geese were busy filling their bellies and to the east, the snow covered Chugach Mountains basked in the soft glow of fading evening light. Just at the top of the hill lay a watering hose where earlier in the day I’d chatted with the man who, perhaps a bit too eagerly, stood watering the single yellow crocus blooming there. But after a long, dark Anchorage winter, who can blame him for putting on shorts and running out to join the front edge of Spring? Not me!
How I have missed these evening walks! I could see the triangular heads of Denali and Foraker off in the distant north, as I descended to my spot at the end of the road. Voices floated up from the Coastal Trail below. For the first time in months, that trail is mostly clear of ice and snow. Runners. Bikers. Friends on a walk. “Do you want to go get a beer? We can have a birthday celebration!”
I’ve walked that trail with friends. I’ve biked it. Skied it. And run. Last spring and early summer I logged miles and miles there, chasing an elusive dream. Tonight I simply stood above, leaning my elbows on the fence. Watching. And remembering.
It was quiet in the space where I stood. On my left, a middle aged (more middle aged than me!) lady faced into the setting sun and slowly moved her body through yoga poses. In my side eye view I could see her face, wet with quiet tears. On my right, a scruffy young man drove up in his full sized pickup truck. He turned it off, got out, leaned against the door, and lit a cigarette. A few minutes later his camera shutter broke into our quiet. On the far side of the water a jagged line drew mountains on the horizon and the bright gleam of an orange sun slid down behind them, painting color across the evening sky.
After 28 days in a row with no measurable precipitation, snowflakes were drifting in the air while Ethan was getting ready for school last Tuesday morning. There’s been snow on the ground (and often in the air) the majority of his fifth grade year now. We had some snow come and go in November, but by December, the snow was here to stay. A few weeks ago he thought it was pretty funny when I received this text from a friend in Oregon:
Just in case you were wondering what it looks like here when school is CLOSED for a snow day…..
Someday Ethan will tell kids stories about walking to school in sub-zero temps long before sunrise, and how he tromped home again just as the sun was setting. (sunrise was 10:15a on December 21 and sunset was 3:42p) He will tell how they always had outdoor recess unless the temperatures dropped below -10 (or there was a moose on the playground) and his stories about a recess sledding hill will be true (at least the part about changing into snow pants and playing on the hill). Some afternoons this winter he’d come home, drop his bag, grab his skates and meet up with his friends down on the frozen lagoon. So, having thoroughly adapted and embraced schoolboy life in Anchorage Winter, he joked, as he headed off to school last Tuesday, that perhaps “they should cancel school today for all the snow!”
It drizzled snow off and on all that day and by evening the forecasters held fast to their predictions of 5-9 inches coming in the night. I wasn’t too excited about this prospect. Spring breakup is a nasty affair. Layers and layers of snow and ice melt off to form huge grimy puddles and reveal hidden “treasure”. Here’s an old, good article on the science of break up. This year, the dry month of March had allowed melt off to happen in a rather tidy fashion. In spite of the cold temperatures, the sun has been busy. Downtown roads and sidewalks were largely clean and dry Tuesday night. But it had started snowing in earnest by the time I went to bed, just after midnight, and sure enough, a 5:30a text announced that schools would be closed. It was still snowing and it kept snowing throughout the morning. It turned out, Ethan really wasn’t all that into having a snow day. Piles of snow were pretty much old news on the 29th of March. Meh. In the early afternoon (10 inches later) it finally stopped and the sky brightened. But by evening it shifted again and the whole grey snowy show started up once more.
It’s been a good winter for skiing. Last year was a low-snow year and warmer temperatures these past few years have meant more ice and yucky ski conditions. But this year made for good Alaska fun and the boys regularly came and went with skis and skates and bikes in the snow. At night I’d listen to snow plows scrape down our street and remember our first winter here (2012-13 for reference on the chart below) when my experience of living in this dramatic winter landscape was all curious and brand new.
But it’s not brand new anymore. A big snow dump on March 29 feels kind of pointless (except for getting a day off school, apparently) and mostly annoying. It may extend skiing the trails by a little bit, but it much more significantly tangles traffic, and when the forecast is for rising temperatures by the end of the week, it essentially serves up a big batch of time release rain. Not necessary!!
Sure enough. By the weekend we shifted up to 40 degree temperatures (it’s been a long time since we’ve had a stretch of 40+ degrees!) and break up is officially ON. Standing water. Frozen drains. Potholes. Ice-rutted sidewalks.
The newspaper published a chart last week, showing how our late snow day compared to other years, and offers some perspective for how long it may take for it to all be gone.
As Ethan and I walked through the Park Strip on the way to school this morning we talked about the fact that by this time last year I had joined the Skinny Raven run club and we were running on bare grass out there……
After 3 weeks of August rain, the sun finally came out! We spent the gift on a hike up Mt. Baldy on Sunday. We’d been there once before as a family – in fact, Baldy was our first Alaska mountain hike. On July 14, 2013 I wrote a Google+ post that went like this: Yesterday we hiked up Mt Baldy – in the Chugach above Eagle River. There was no signage and we had very little navigational info but we’d heard it was a good family hike and it was a beautiful day so we went exploring. It was a fantastic hike. We tromped through the trees and scrub (black bear country but we were prepared) before eventually coming out above the treeline where the trail through the tundra took us up to a rigeline where it was an easy walk to the peak. We talked to a couple people along the way who pointed out other hikes and gave us information about the general area. We look forward to returning for more adventures here. Including blueberry picking in the fall! The mountainside tundra turns red with the blueberry bushes and the boys are eager to return our own very own Blueberries for Sal adventure. Preferably without Mother bear and her cub!
During these past 4 years David’s been up Baldy a couple more times, but I never returned. We ended up finding our Blueberries for Sal adventure the following year in Arctic Valley and then we moved away. And now we have returned. As we drove up to the unmarked trailhead we reminisced – the boys recalled the night we got them out of bed, bundled in snow pants and coats, and drove up there to watch the northern lights. That was our first experience standing out under a great big dancing sky. And I remembered aloud how nervous I had been on the trail through the scrubby trees the first time we hiked to the top. I was scared of the bears. Three years later I’m still scared of the bears, of course! But I know and understand so much more now. For one thing, I know how to actually use the bear spray. I also know there are not likely to be bears lurking around every corner up there. Now I can walk prepared. And aware. But not so nervous. It’s way more fun.
The trailhead begins where the road ends. It’s a “park against the mountainside where the road ends” sort of spot and by Alaska standards (there aren’t that many of us up here), there were a lot of cars already parked when we arrived about noon, but we easily slid into a spot near the top, gathered our things, and set out. There are two trails to the top of Baldy. One is pretty much straight up the face. But we take the laid-back, 2-mile walk up around the backside that has a little stretch of serious UP before reaching wide open tundra, and then the saddle where you can pretty much just stroll to the summit. We actually didn’t encounter many people once we got away from the trailhead and into the trees. It’s been a banner year for mushrooms and Ryan periodically stopped to practice his identification skills as we meandered up the trail. Eventually we broke out above the treeline and OH! that view.
As we continued toward the top we pulled off every once in awhile to eat blueberries and exclaim at the mushrooms growing even way up high on the tundra.
The berries were plentiful and easy to pick at the top and we stopped to fill one of our containers before catching the trail along the saddle to Baldy. At the top we encountered several groups of people who had come up the face of the mountain and were happy when we told them about a different way down.
I think flowers in the scree at the top of a mountain are awesome. Because resilience? Determination? Beauty in the hard things.
We stopped and picked our second container of blueberries near the top before heading down the mountainside, surprised by the numbers of people heading up through the trees as we worked our way down and out.
Moose’s Tooth take-out and blueberry pie for dinner.