While answering Nature’s call around 02:30 this morning I was surprised and then mesmerized by the site of stars through the bathroom window. It dawned on me that unlike any time in my past I hadn’t seen their presence in the heavens since early May based upon the lengthening daylight. Growing up I remember starry night skies in the lower 48 even when it was warm and muggy outside in late July; such occurrences will now remain memories as there is far too much daylight to observe the stars in June, July and even most of August north of latitude 62 degrees. While I intellectually knew this would happen as is so often the case I never really considered what this might foster within my being.
I’ve always been a sky watcher which explains my life-long interest in meteorology and star gazing. Early on I learned to discern the constellations seasonally native to the night skies of my location and astrophysics continues to fascinate me to this day. As with all things in this reality my choice to relocate to this area had consequences and the lack of night sky viewing opportunities from early May through late August was just one. I also knew I’d give up experiencing my beloved strong to severe thunderstorms but hoped stronger and more frequent winter storms might help ‘balance’ this loss. Given last winter’s dearth of cold and snow the jury is still out on this hope. I also knew that Talkeetna averages 134 days per year of ‘some’ sun which is just 36.7%; hardly the kind of numbers a sky watcher would fancy. This is exacerbated by the fact I’d wager even more evenings and nights are cloudy than 63.3% as I’ve noticed a definite affinity in this area for cloudy evenings and overnights despite the daytime conditions. I suspect this is tied to being surrounded by a boreal forest and being sandwiched between the Talkeetna Mountains to the south and the Alaska Range to the north. Regardless, I have come to realize I will just not see the skies clear as often as I had become accustomed. Long term it will be interesting to see if I learn to just accept this fact or continue to wish for more stars at night.
We are really accelerating towards a more typical day/night composition as we are down to 15 hours and 31 minutes of direct sunlight and losing 5 minutes and 56 seconds every day. This will peak at the Autumnal Equinox and then begin to slow as we approach the Winter Solstice before reversing the light loss and once again beginning to add daylight hours. While living in the lower 48 I was aware of the seasonal shifts in daylight but nothing like I’ve become since retiring to the higher latitudes. As with so much in Alaska these shifts are truly ‘in your face’ and it’s tough not to notice them. I know my own perceptions are exaggerated because of a lifetime spent around north latitude 43 degrees to 44 degrees; adding almost 20 degrees of latitude in a bit over nine days – the time it took to move my household from SE Michigan to Talkeetna – was indeed a large shift. And while I may miss being able to view a clear sky as often as I’d like I love seeing the pronounced ‘tug of war’ regarding daylight as the seasons unfold. This was something I once again ‘knew’ intellectually but didn’t appreciate its effect upon my psyche.
Perhaps because I can spend less time gazing skyward I’ve begun to look more around me but I also know since moving to Alaska my interest in my natural surroundings had dramatically increased. As we move to within a month of the Autumnal Equinox I’ve seen a definite shift in the insect population; the mosquitoes are much less prevalent (a very good thing!) but more gnats, bees and flies have appeared. At this point it appears there are fewer biting insects but the gnats regularly perform kamikaze dives at my eyes which are unnerving and annoying; thank goodness for sunglasses! Once again Nature’s exquisite rhythms are exposed for those willing to observe and remember. There’s been a remarkable uptick in the action at my tiny sunflower seed feeder; the Chickadees, Juncos, Red Bellied Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers are emptying it daily now whereas during the summer months from mid-May through mid-August they usually required two to three days to clear the feeder. I’m sure they ‘feel’ the oncoming fall and winter and are prepping for the seasonal shift. The flora of the boreal forest’s floor are also showing changes as the formerly bright green lichens and mosses are beginning to shift towards a dull green to light brown color and some species are turning an ashen gray. I suspect this is tied to the changes in light and to the fact we’ve seen a few recent morning lows in the upper 30’s. Again, this is Nature’s amazing rhythm being played out against the backdrop of the boreal forest and its inhabitants.
I feel so privileged to be able to immerse myself in these rhythms and to be able to observe them first hand! Previously I only experienced snippets of Mother Nature’s dramatic dance during my few brief weeks of visiting Alaska on vacation; now it surrounds me and permeates all aspects of my existence year ‘round. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. So I guess my choice to relocate remains, to this point, a wise one for though there have been some negative consequences to my decision in the final weighing I still find I’m pleased and very much contented. Maybe it’s the ‘wisdom of age’ or possibly just dumb luck or most likely a combination of both but it sure is great to see the consequences of such a major decision remain so largely positive!
As I am sure you experienced last winter the dance of the Northern Lights with its beauty and at times inspirational light show should compensate somewhat the lack of a night sky during our summer months. It is a sad commentary that I have become so jaded over the almost two decades of living here that I now only go outside when the Aurora is akin to a lazier light show.