My View North

Light has Returned

Whether the skies are clear or cloudy, daylight is our constant companion now that high summer is here. If you arrived in Alaska fresh from southern climes where night is dark and day is light, the midnight sun can be a shock.

When the sun is still casting shadows at 10 p.m. sleeping can be difficult, telling the time without a clock confusing, and putting up with the manic pace of the locals nearly impossible. But for those of us who winter over, the long days are hard-earned and perfectly natural.

Beginning on the winter equinox, the light has been gaining ground steadily if not surreptitiously; first, just a few, imperceptible seconds a day. It?s not until February, when the sky is beginning to brighten on the way to work and sunset lingers into the evening, that it is apparent that winter is losing its grip on the landscape.

There will be plenty of cold and snow to follow before breakup is finished, but no matter what is thrown at us, the lengthening days make it easier to take. It?s funny how 32 degrees felt in October like a bitter harbinger of winter but, come March, the same temperature calls to mind the coming days of warmth and sunshine.

Now, after having sloshed through the half-ice, half-mud landscape of breakup, the Alaska summer is here. The first runs of salmon are already returning to their natal streams, dodging hungry bears, eagles and the flies and spinners of fishermen. Trails are dry and the undergrowth still low enough to make the hiking and mountain biking both enjoyable and safe. All but the highest peaks are free of snow, save for the deep gullies and shadowed rock faces, and the wave of green has reached as high up into the mountains as it will go.

So, the long summer days have arrived, growing quickly and stealthily so that those who live here barely realize the dramatic change we?ve experienced over the prior six months. For me, the arrival of the zenith of summer is a wake-up call, because with the summer equinox comes the longest day of the year, and the bittersweet knowledge that it also signals the gradual shortening of days, first by just a few imperceptible seconds a day but starting us on that inexorable march toward winter.

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