Sunday, October 22, 2006


It ALMOST snowed last night.

Thankfully it didn't. The difference between a snowstorm here and one like Chicago, Buffalo or Denver recently had is that any snow that falls here in October stays on the ground until April. The white season.

We've lived here for 31 years. Although we escaped two of those winters to Argentina (for bonus summers there!) in 1997 and 1998 - and then we cheated on their winter by vacationing back to Alaska. So, we've endured 29 Alaskan winters, and the 30th is coming on. But each winter has been harder than the one before. Every year, starting around the fall equinox, I start to dread the oncoming darkness. I really don't mind the cold that much, nor the snow (we actually don't get a lot; but what snow does fall, stays), but I loathe the darkness. The first half - going into the solstice - goes quickly, and there are several holidays to help break the pattern. It's that second half - January, February and March - that I have the most trouble with.

Then, this past winter, I started learning the cello. I quickly got into a routine of playing first thing in the morning after Z left for school. After clearing out the last of the cobwebs with a few more cups of coffee, by 7:00 I am usually (trying) to make music. I play in my living room, which has lots of large windows through which I look out over our creek's valley and at the low hills beyond, as I torture my poor cello.

With our extreme solar cycle, every day the sun comes up at a different time and from a different direction. In the summer, it's well up before I start playing, and coming in from the north-northeast. By mid-September the sun is rising in the east at around 8:00.

One morning in late September, many years ago, we were driving home to Alaska on the AlCan Highway through the Yukon Territory. It was just before dawn as we neared Whitehorse. The highway in that area runs along a river between two mountain ranges. The mountains on both sides were completely covered with aspens, whose leaves had all just turned color. As the predawn sky started to lighten, it triggered an effervescence of intense yellow light shining off every leaf of every one of those trees. It was as if these trees were giving back some of the energy they had stored up all summer. The hills were so bright, I pulled off the road and we spent the next half hour just watching (of course, in those predigital days, we had no film left in the camera). We've always wanted to take another autumn roadtrip back through that northcountry to experience that again.

Our Kenai Peninsula used to be heavily forested with spruce trees, but a bark beetle infestation beginning 10 years ago has decimated our forests. As the spruce trees have died off and their needles fallen, we've begun to see an emergence of birch, aspen, poplar, willow, and even some mountain ash and larches taking their place. A few weeks ago, we had our week-long autumn, and everything turned yellow all at once - not just yellow, but YELLOW! For a few mornings that week, we had some rare breaks in the autumn drizzles, and I got to watch a couple of those incredible predawn light shows with the trees on the hills across the creek glowing bright yellow - as I played along on my cello. Who needs accompaniment with all that going on outside the windows?

Now, the leaves are long gone and the sun is rising later and later each morning - about 9:15 am today. This coming Sunday when daylight savings ends, our sunrise will step back an hour, but then the darkness will resume its quest to conquer the daylight. By the solstice, sunrise will have slid to 10:15 am. Then it stops changing, briefly, before that inescapable cycle starts all over again.

The view out your window sounds really beautiful. I'm not sure how I'd handle so much darkness. Have you ever tried one of those lightboxes that's supposed to give your daily minimum dose of bright light?
I've had to cut down more than 250 trees on my property since the infestation started in 1996. I finally dug out the closest stumps this summer. It's only this fall that I've really noticed how much the deciduous trees have (finally) taken over.

I've considered whether SAD is an issue, but I sort of don't think so. Athough the darkness is somewhat depressing, it really doesn't really make me depressed (does that make sense?) I just really detest it. I do have LOTS of lights in the house with bright white walls. At least in the winter the sun is low in the sky and when it is up, it fills the house with lots of direct sunlight.
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