Today, May 27th, just happens to be yet another gorgeous late morning here in the Talkeetna area; the sun rides hot and high in the azure sky while gentle WSW breezes riffle the new leaves on trees and other plants. The temperature is already above 60°F on its way to the middle seventies; that’s perhaps fifteen degrees above normal but then that’s how the temps have been running. After a ‘winter’ – and I use the term very loosely – sleep the landscape is once again not just awakening but flourishing. And with this seasonal shift comes other markers of the late spring in south-central Alaska. The mosquitoes are out in force and the village is once again awash in tourists…and there is no longer a dark night sky.
This is one facet of living in the higher latitudes I have yet to adjust to and truly wonder if I ever will come to embrace. As with my feelings towards the weather, in general, I prefer change on a relatively regular cycle but this is no longer an option. And it will not be until late August; for me that three and a half month period is a long time to wait. I know I have definite biases against the almost continual sunlight of the boreal summer based mainly upon my preference for cool temps – as in high temps in the low sixties – and I’ve always been a night sky watcher. With the advent of each new spring I find myself once again preparing for warm temps and a complete lack of a night, as in dark, sky. Couple these understandings with my distaste for hordes of mosquitoes and tourists – not sure which I dislike more although I also understand their value to this area – and it isn’t difficult to see why summer is my least favorite season right after break up.
Sure, I recognize there are some real pluses to the extended daylight. Plants really grow under 17+ hours of direct light and there is far more time for outdoor activities not tied to snow and/or ice. In addition, the moderating temps allow for the cycle of life to renew itself; if in doubt just notice how many cow moose have calves in tow now. Perhaps if I could more readily adjust my circadian rhythms I wouldn’t feel so negative towards the long boreal days..? My first two summers in Alaska were difficult for me with respect to dealing with the long days. I quickly learned how to seal up my bedroom against light that never really dies and is just plain bright from 04:00 through 00:00; this had to happen as I am light sensitive when it comes to sleeping. Late last summer I read about a study suggesting a small dose of melatonin once in the morning and again in the late afternoon to early evening can help reset one’s biological clock. In elderly folks this regime can also reduce stress and lower blood pressure when followed. I started this in August of 2015 and based upon that brief trial I was all set to start it again with the advent of this May.
It seems a bit strange to me that I have absolutely no issues with the extended darkness of winter; I was urged to take a vitamin D supplement to combat depression and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) but after three winters I just haven’t felt the need to do so. And, of course, being a cold and snow lover the environmental conditions suit me to a ‘tee’ although I’m still waiting to experience a ‘real’ south central Alaskan winter. But maybe most important to me is with the advent of very late calendar summer the night sky returns and I can once more relish the aurora, marvel at the constellations and hope for clear skies without a moon when the Leonid and Geminids meteor showers are in our astrological ‘back yard’.
I now laugh, as I’d wager other folks living at these latitudes do, when people from the lower 48 ask me how I can handle the extended darkness. Most are surprised if not shocked to hear I prefer the darkness and have a much more difficult time dealing with the 20 hours of direct light we see on the summer solstice. I think it is a matter of ‘imagination’ versus ‘reality’. People who’ve never experienced such extended daylight think it would be fantastic to have longer days to get out and do activities. But they fail to grasp the potential upset such long days with no real nights can and do wreck upon one’s normal biological rhythms. I have tried to explain some of the negatives to such long days but for the most part my attempts fall on deaf ears; in most cases I think one has to spend a summer in such conditions to begin to understand it is not all bright sunny days…
I suspect folks born to these conditions are wondering why I’m making such a big deal out of the natural flow of the seasons. In my time up here I’ve come to recognize such extremes in terms of light and dark are part of the ‘Alaskan Experience’ and fit right in with the often noted extremes in weather, wildlife and the landscape. And, ultimately, I’m really not complaining as I realize these conditions help fuel the majesty and magic that is ‘The Last Frontier’. Sure, if I could have my way I’d probably opt to make the long boreal days occur perhaps just in June and July but we all know the ‘value’ in wishing for things that cannot be… After all; would I appreciate the dark and cold winter as much without the counterbalance of the warm, bright summer? Most definitely not! Sooner or later I’ll reach some kind of equanimity with the boreal summer; in the interim at least it does sharpen my apprehension of boreal winter!
I should take a lesson from my canine companions who truly understand the value of living in the moment!