Vernal Equinox Vexations

Although it is actually St. Patrick’s Day as I write this piece my thoughts have already drifted forward this week to Friday, March 20th which is the Vernal Equinox or at least it will be at 14:44 AKDT here in Talkeetna. For me this is a much more significant date as I have no known Irish blood and I long ago gave up the need to drink green beer all day long especially as I usually had to go to work the next day. This Vernal Equinox will be the second one I’ll experience since I relocated to ‘The Great Land’ in August of 2013. This is meaningful to me because many of you have asked when will I no longer be a ‘Newbie Alaskan’; I arbitrarily decided that after I’ve experienced two complete years in my new home it will be time to update my moniker. As such I have just the upcoming spring and summer before that time occurs. Okay, one could make a case for me not having actually experienced a real Alaskan winter, let alone two, but that is not my fault; I was here and ready but Mother Nature had other ideas.

With the approach of this equinox I find myself once again trying to prepare for what it means; the beginning of some of my least favorite seasons. Indeed, I find the spring up here to be my least favorite season followed closely by summer. There are a myriad of reasons for my feelings but the single largest centers on daylight or, more accurately, the inevitability of almost 20 hours of direct sunlight by the Summer Solstice. Already we are seeing 11 hours and 56 minutes of direct light and that will reach 12 hours and 14 minutes in just three more days before maxing out at 19 hours and 55 minutes on the Solstice which falls on June 20th. To many people it will seem strange that I find so much light to be a negative; for them I can only present this scenario – there is no night sky, no stars and no aurora from mid-May through mid-August! Initially I do not mind the ever-increasing light but by late June it is wearing thin and by mid-July I’ve had enough. I know I’m a sky watcher and that’s especially true of the night sky but somehow it escaped me that I’d be doing without for almost a quarter of every year!

Some folks find it strange I can be so negatively affected by long periods of light yet have no issues with just five hours of direct sunlight in December. Indeed, most folks I’ve spoken with think that much darkness would drive them insane but I don’t even notice it until I begin to see the days lengthening in early January. Of course other factors come into play; the darkness happens during winter and I live for cold and snow. The lengthening days promise the coming of mosquitoes and tourists; both are aspects of Alaskan living I’m still coming to grips with and not all that successfully at least to this point.  I have learned how to deal with the mosquitoes – it’s called ‘Deep Woods Off’ in copious quantities along with long-sleeved shirts and long pants – such that I am beginning to develop a somewhat sanguine outlook regarding these little bloodsuckers. Last year I learned that the best way to minimize the impact of the tourists is to completely avoid the village from May through early September just as the locals do. We basically surrender the village to the masses during that time period knowing that without those tourist dollars Talkeetna would not be half the place it has become. What I have yet to discover is a way to ignore all the noise they create. One of the joys of living here is the ‘immense silence’ that surrounds us in the off-season; sadly this disappears as the numbers of tourists increases. And along with the warmth comes the ever-present dust; this entire area sits on land that was riddled with glaciers which have since retreated.  In so doing they grind up stone and earth and create a very fine dust called ‘glacial flour’ and it is everywhere. This is a dual edged sword as the abundance of this material allows water to quickly drain away which helps make break up less muddy and wet. But said ‘flour’ is blown around by even a light wind and if there’s a way to keep it out of one’s home I have yet to learn the secret.

So all told it shouldn’t be a surprise that I so favor the winter and find some aspects of the warmer months a bit less than ideal. But life in Alaska is really all about making compromises; far more so than anywhere else I’ve ever called ‘home’. Because I so love the semi-rural lifestyle, the majestic landscape, the incredible wildlife, the wonderful albeit quirky people and that amazing winter night sky I am okay with having to deal with mosquitoes, noisy tourists and dust come the spring and summer. There were a myriad of possible retirement locations I considered before settling on Talkeetna and almost all of them in the Lower 48 would have been much cheaper in terms of the COL but I had been well and truly bitten by the ‘Alaska Bug’ in the fall of 1996 so once I realized I could retire up here there were no other options for me. And as I continue to settle into this lifestyle and learn more and more about me new home I am always reminded that just like life, Alaska living is all about making choices and living with the consequences. As such I think I can deal with some mosquitoes, noisy tourists and dust..! 

How would you like to see this kind of light at 04:07 in the 'morning'..?  This was the Summer Solstice +2 hours in 2014.

How would you like to see this kind of light at 04:07 in the ‘morning’..? This was the Summer Solstice +2 hours in 2014.

Aluminum Foil and Break Up

Although it’s a good three weeks earlier than normal even the naysayers in the Talkeetna area have conceded that our ‘winter that wasn’t’ is now history and break up has taken hold.  We’ve seen afternoon temps above freezing for the past 17 days – I’ve included today but given its already 31.7 F and sunny at 11:46 AKDT I’m confident we’ll break 32 F – and even the hard packed ice of the gravel side roads is beginning to yield to the solar blitz leaving patches of brown earth not seen since last November 9th.  We are approaching fourteen hours of daylight and it is indeed very noticeable; as I returned from doing my Monday evening music show on KTNA I drove home in twilight at 21:10 with the western sky still ablaze from the sun which officially set at 20:34 that evening.  There remained even a dim glow on the western horizon a bit past 22:00.  This morning I noticed a faint glow on the eastern horizon around 06:30 and it was light enough to read outdoors by a bit after 07:00.  We are really seeing the flip side of the darkness that pervades winter in the higher latitudes!

As the light becomes more and more persistent I find myself having more difficulties falling asleep even when I’m tired.  For some reason my body seems to resist sleeping when its light outside; this could well explain why I’ve never been a successful napper.  While my retirement makes my sleeping schedule less of an issue I do have some routines such as my weekly trip to a Palmer warehouse to load up donated food stuffs for ‘the Pantry’ (technically the ‘Upper Susitna Valley Food Bank’…see why we just use ‘the Pantry’?) which requires I depart here by 07:15 so I can guarantee an arrival by 08:50.  Since I enjoy a quiet cup of coffee before I head south I find myself needing to be up and about by 06:00 on Thursdays.  Once a month I make a similar trip to Anchorage and I have to be on the road by 06:30 on that Thursday morning so I can make the warehouse in the Muldoon area by 09:00.  Since retiring I found my sleep has moved from barely 6.5 hours to something approaching 9 hours a night; I also noticed I feel so much better with more sleep.  As the season progresses it will be blazing sunshine even at 22:00 and that’s the time I need to be falling asleep.  I’d read a while back that folks in the higher latitudes often use aluminum foil to cover south and west-facing windows in their bedrooms to promote sleeping in the late spring through early fall time period.  Yesterday I did cover my one south-facing window in the master bedroom with a layer of aluminum foil and it made a wonderful difference.  Yes, I do have light blocking drapes on all my bedroom windows but far too much light leaks around the four edges to make them really effective at blocking sunlight.  My aluminum foil cover guarantees no sunlight leaks through and is easily held in place by duct tape.

This is working so well I plan to cut up some paperboard boxes awaiting the burn barrel and fabricate large panels which can be pressed into the window recesses and fit via friction.  I will cover one side with the aluminum foil and thus I can use them season after season; this saves on aluminum foil usage.  While I suspect this will not look particularly ‘stylish’ from the outside I’ve learned that living in Alaska is much more about functionality as versed with style.  If the solution to an issue works well Alaskans embrace it and move on with life; after all, up here there is just so much life to experience..!!