It's the most wonderful time of the year... Image: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anchorage_winter_sun.jpg">Wikipedia</a>
You head to a store to check out some overpriced produce, only to come out to darkness. You check your watch and see it is 3:47 pm. Several times a day you are overcome with the need for a nap. You are never full of energy. You curl up with blankets at any opportunity.
December 21 is the shortest day of the year — "the sad equinox," as I like to think of it. In Anchorage, Alaska, there are 5 hours, 27 minutes of daylight on December 21. The good news: The numbers only go up for the next six months. The bad news: December 22 has merely seconds more light.
I grew up in Anchorage.
If you follow my other work, you know I’ve suffered from depression basically since the day I was born. According to my maternal grandfather, I cried every day for my first year. I don’t blame the dim days of Alaskan winter for my psychological issues, but I can guarantee it didn’t help matters.
I’ve lived in the southwestern United States my whole adult life, chasing the sunshine. My parents still live in Alaska and I visit in the winter — just not too often. But this year, my sons wanted to see snow. They campaigned long and hard for special time with their grandparents and amazing traditional Christmas memories (I suspect they were in collusion with my folks). Before I knew it, a plan was hatched.
Fun, food, festivities, snow. We did the whole shebang. It was good.
But the dark!
It is hard to wake up without visual clues like a lightening sky. We all suffer through this in the winter, but in Alaska, you get up and are nearly to lunch before the sun is up. In elementary school, you’d only see light at lunch time. Walking there? Dark. Coming home? Dark. If it is a cloudy day or snowing, of course there’s no sun. The atmosphere is brighter, but squinty, like the terrible gloaming hour when you can’t quite focus.
Flashback to 1995. I’m 17 years old and a senior in high school. My primary memory of the year is sitting under my down comforter (with ugly striped flannel duvet) on my bed. This is where I do everything: Homework, reading, yelling at my siblings, etc. Mostly talking on the phone while watching myself make faces in the mirrored closet doors in front of me.
I lived under that fiery hot blanket.
This trip took me right back to those days. You head to a store to check out some overpriced produce, only to come out to darkness. You check your watch and see it is 3:47 pm. Several times a day you are overcome with the need for a nap. You are never full of energy. You curl up with blankets at any opportunity.
Going to a museum, we leave right before closing at 6 p.m. — it is pitch black out. My mother seems unfazed, while my little family drifts off to sleep on the drive home. She tries to talk about dinner plans and a holiday zoo activity, and I can’t quite understand that she expects us to keep going.
As much as I love Alaska, I can’t live there. This makes me sad. (But not as sad as living a whole day in the dark.)
In the summer, Alaska is magical. A large part of that is the shared joy with every moment of light. Truly we are all in it together, playing hard and rarely sleeping, sucking up every drop of Vitamin D and storing it away. The joy and camaraderie is palpable.
For me, the trade-off is too great. Those who make it through the darkness deserve that summer solstice magic. I’ll be back to enjoy the summer, knowing I’m not quite worthy.