My Alaskan monthaversary has arrived! Though I left New England on Dec 31st, I didn’t arrive in Alaska until Jan 1st (see Day 1 for discussion of how boring it is to celebrate New Year’s Eve on a plane). How did I celebrate my monthaversary, you ask?
I went to work.
First, though, it is time to discuss two very important things. In addition to concerns about moose, questions about S. Palin, and more concerns about bears, many people have wondered aloud (or through email) about two issues: the dark, and the temperature.
Let me address the question of the dark first. Yes, it is currently dark here – but that’s because it’s 10pm, really cloudy, and something close to a new moon. Where I am, on the Kenai peninsula (more on that later), we got 7 hrs, 47 min of daylight: sunrsise at 9:21am and sunset at 5:08 pm. (In comparison, Boston is currently getting roughly 10hrs). The longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice, is roughly 5 ½ hrs of daylight. At the Summer Solstice, they see about 19 ½ hrs here. (And remember, this is only for this part of Alaska. It’s more drastic to the north – and less so in the south-eastern part.)
Today we gained 5 min and 17s of sunlight. The day after the Winter Solstice, they gained only 6 sec of daylight. The day after the Summer Solstice will be a gain of only 3 sec. Can you see the pattern? The greatest differences in length of day fall in mid-December and mid-June, at the Solstices. But the greatest change in daylight comes at the Equinoxes – mid-March and mid-September. This year, for most of March I will see almost 6 minutes more of daylight per day. That’s about a half-hour gain of daylight each week. And that - the amount of change - is how the daylight (or lack thereof) really affects someone.
When I was working this fall on the Cape, I often went into the classroom at 6:30am (to be ready for a 7:15 start time) and it was mostly still dark. If I stayed to help students or get grading done and left around 4:30, then it was mostly dark again. So it’s not really the shortness of daylight that I think is most bothersome, because I think most people with 9-to-5s rarely see daylight in the winter anyway, as long as they live somewhere north of the Bahamas, unless they get out on their lunch break. My guess is that the real struggle here comes in only having a few moments of change for most of December and January, so it seems like the darkness of the days just drags on and on.
But, having only been here for a month (and counting!), that’s only a guess.
[As a side note, I had to do some googling to get these sunrise/sunset times for December and June, and in the midst of this ran across this delightful question: How many days does Alaska have? (The answer, as provided by wiki.answers.com: "365.23 on the average every year, just like every other place on earth.")]
As for the cold, this is the part with which I struggle. It is disconcerting that the temperature displays outside the banks – you know, the tall, LED ones that flash the time and the temperature – find it necessary to post a plus sign before the number. Because it could just as easily be -15 as +15, this time of year. And in fact, it does seem to have been uncharacteristically warm – hovering between 15 and 30 – sorry, between +15 and +30 -- in what is, as I still cannot say without laughing, “warm enough to snow.” There were some days that were below 0, and that was cold. There were some days that hovered right on 0, and unfortunately, one of those days I tried to go ice skating for the first time in a few years, and it was a little bit disastrous. (Disastrous for my ego, is all – I only lasted about 10 minutes on the ice and then had to spend 20 min in the car calming myself down until I could feel my toes again. Which, obviously, were really cold, but really fine.)
Just like I had to learn how to control my body in its relationship to gravity, many years ago, and then again with water not too long after that when I started swimming, and again in the crowds and chaos that came with living in a city, I’m learning how to control my body – mental and physical – in what I would previously have told you were temperatures just too cold to go out. And after weathering the recent spat of 0 degree days, the current “warm enough to snow” days of 25 degrees here on the Peninsula really do seem somewhat balmy.
Oh, and I’m here on the Peninsula now because, with the help of Chester’s mom, I was able to find some work in a bakery in the town where she lives. Chester is still in Anchorage, about 2 hours away where it appears to be slightly warmer. He’s coming down this weekend, the weekend after that I’ll go up to Anchorage (sound familiar, HJ?). The weather should turn towards 0 again soon, which is okay with me. As it says on the forecast, conditions in Alaska remain unsettled.
I’m working in front of a bakery oven all morning, so I don’t mind.