When we lived in the lower 48, winter darkness was present, but it was fleeting in comparison to the hours without light in the North. Here, we feel the darkness, carry it really, like a weight on our backs. Who knew the void weighed so much? Who knew darkness tipped the scales in a way that light could never do? Who knew the dark was a bag of rocks tied to our ankles. A heavy trinket meant to remind all northerns of their location on the map.
It is dark when we wake up, and it is darker again just hours later. The light is fleeting and low. If it is a cloudless day, the sun can be blinding. It is as if the sun is only strong enough to look you in the eye—to climb higher is a summer activity.
And it is not just dark. It is cold too. To be outside for more than a few moments without layers of arctic fleece, wool, and down is foolish. Even indoors we are wrapped—we add and subtract these layers all day as we move from one activity to the next.
It is the cold that makes me angry. Makes me want to pack up and leave. Especially these last few years, when I have had glimpses of how southerns live. The decadence of shorts and sundresses in October! Sandals and flip flops in November! I am so jealous of their exposed skin.
This is my 21st winter in Alaska. I always think that this year, I won’t notice the dark cold never ending night of December. But every year, I do.
Sometimes I marvel—how can it be so dark? Will the sun really ever come back? Last summer, did we really pull our shades at midnight to block the sun? Could that be true?
And then Winter Solstice arrives. It happens. And at that moment, the north once again begins to turn towards the sun.
I love this day. There are celebrations and ceremonies. We wish each Happy Solstice! And we mean it.
In 2013, I wrote a blog post about Winter Solstice, and the quilt I made to celebrate it.
This year, I set a timer, and I photographed the view from our front stoop. These are the images you are looking at now.
Years ago, my Lila read this poem at her Winter Solstice Celebration. It has been with me ever since.
The Sun Never Says
All this time
The Sun never says to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
With a love like that,
It lights the whole sky.”
Hafiz (c. 1320 – 1389)
Or as George Harrison put it, “Here comes the sun.”
YES. Happy Solstice Dear Friends.
Odds and Ends
If you would like more Solstice news you can read this story written for the Alaska Dispatch News . The ice luminaries are worth the click.
My friend the artist and illustrator Kristin Link wrote a lovely post about Winter Solstice. Kristin lives in an off-the-grid cabin on the Nizina River.
And if you want to get really geeky about Solstice you can visit timeanddate.com.
Wow, Maria. I had no idea you felt this way about winter. I love the dark and I love the cold. I love all the seasons, but I truly love winter. The yin and the yang. The short days are gorgeous with the low light creating soft sunrises and brilliant sunsets. The hoarfrost and snow dressed trees look magical. It’s a time to slow down, recover from the endless activity of summer and take time to do inside projects that you don’t want to be indoors for in the summer. It’s my time to read more, write more and time to think about and set goals and objectives for the coming year. I’m so happy we have some snow this year; although not as much as I’d like and the temps have been very mild, hardly getting below zero. If anything, I almost feel that solstice comes too soon. I do welcome the return of the light, but I’d be happy with another month of dark. For your sake, I’m glad we’re on the way to longer days; but for me, it’s a little sad.
In many ways, I feel the same way you do, and I wrote about that in the Solstice 2013 blog post. The muffled existence of winter allows for time to think and write, and do indoors. It is also a great time to get out and hike and be during the white cold days, but my travels have jaded me. I love being able to wear a sundress and go some where without being onguard about the weather. This essay was simply a creative writing exersice for me–an attempt to say what I feel when we are in the middle of the darkness. And by the time winter solstice arrives I am ready for the light. That was all I was trying to say.
I loved this post. I have always wondered what it was like living where the sun disappears for this long. Thank you.
Gerri- Yes. it is all of what I described, but there are good things too–warm fires, slow time, reading, knitting, writing, eatting. All that good stuff. I hope you have a wonderful new year planned Gerri. It is always good to hear from you!
Setting your timer for the photos was a great idea. Enjoy those extra minutes of daylight each day!
I was surprised I actually did it. The trick was to set the timer before you took the photo!
Even setting a timer can be tricky for me. Last week I was baking cookies and managed to set the timer for 10 hours, rather than 10 minutes…
Whoops! My problem is that I am not that attached to my phone. I set the timer then leave the phone in some random place….
Yep. In our two story house, my phone seems to always be on the floor that I’m not occupying. Who needs a stairmaster?
Wow … you are definitely challenged by the darkness to continue on with your daily life even in cold and darkness. What I find striking and find that I long for, is the peace and serenity that the beautiful Alaska has to offer. I marvel at the beauty that surrounds you …. from being able to see the stars at darkness or night, the pine trees and their beautiful scent or the love of the mountains. What an inspiration for my next quilt! Hope you and your family and friends have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! And you are right, we in South Florida have sunshine throughout the day and are fortunate to wear flip flops, t-shirts and shorts as we go about our lives… but I truly miss Christmas with snow and the bright colorful light decorations. Until next time… keep on with your beautiful artwork and enjoy your family time! God Bless!
Jean- Thank you so much for your comments. Yesterday my husband and I went for a two hour hike in the Chugach Mountains. It was so beautiful. The light was very grey and the snow firm to walk on. It was really lovely, and I can’t imagine my life without it. Still I think Florida is lovely too. I was there the first week of December, and I walked on the beach for hours. We just want all don’t we? Happy New Year! I hope your have many joyful hours of creating in 2017!
I’ve been in Anchorage a couple of weeks after the summer solstice and was intrigued and exhilarated by the way people were out and about all night! As if fatigue and need to sleep disappears in midsummer. I have always wanted to go to a polar region in the dead of winter to see what the opposite would be like. Trying to talk my husband into doing the Norwegian Coastal Voyage, which goes way up and around North Cape, considerably above the Arctic Circle, at Christmas or New Year. (cheap rates, too!) But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Looks like I should just come visit you in December — I would be so cheerful, enjoying the cold weather, I would be a real treat to have around.
Kathy, it would be an honor to have you visit! I would even have a sewing machine for you to borrow. We could document the darkness in fabric! January would be best. Still very dark, but we would have a guest bedroom–son number one would be gone.
I love the story the pictures tell of winter in Anchorage. The cold would bother me more than the lack of light, I think. And I really get what you are saying about southerns. This will be the third year I go to Anaheim for a rug hooking retreat in January. It still tickles me to wear flip flops and go to the beach, when at home I would be inside staying warm next to the wood stove.
Yes. I find the cold to be the hardest part. I am always–even in the summer–wearing several layers. I like the freedom of the heat. Can’t wait to see what you do on your retreat! Happy New Year Debby!
Thank you for this thoughtful, heart felt entry. The light always affects me greatly too. But here there is a joy in December — the sun reaches all the way across our dining room table, bathing us in one huge sunbeam as we eat. We oriented our house so the long side is to the south. That low slanting winter sun reaches in to us. (In the summer our wider eaves shield us. The sun is at a higher angle, and we are shaded.)
That sounds like a great way to enjoy the sun. Happy Holidays to you Martha. I hope you have a great 2017!
Alaska is so intriguing but I don’t think I could live through the darkness of winter. Even though time to read, knit, sew and work indoors would be wonderful. Wishing you well as the days lengthen.
I think everyone should experience it, although it is certainly not for everyone. Thank you Ann for stoping by and commenting!
I love this post! I just found it. Beautiful visuals and writing and I can feel the days getting longer now!
Dont’ freeze out there. It is going to be so cold next week!
I love this! Though I’m one of the people wearing sandals in November, Alaska has a charm all of it’s own. Thank you for sharing your pics too!
Thank you Dana! My kids all wear shorts almost year round! Hoping for some nice fall days this weekend.