Today, the day after the official winter solstice, we have five hours and fifty-eight minutes between sunrise and sunset. We’re on the gaining side of the pendulum now and by March it will be light until 9:00 pm.
Solstice doesn’t go unnoticed in Alaska. Some people have big parties in celebration of the shift toward summer. Others acknowledge the day in a more introspective fashion. Either way, it feels very Pagan, living in a state where no matter how far removed you might be from nature you can’t ignore the extremes in the seasons.
I’ve had a hard time with winter the last few years. For me, and others I’ve spoken to about the subject, there seems to be a cumulative effect going on. Coping with winter didn’t seem to be so much of a problem for the first decade of my living here, but now I have to actively work on my sanity throughout the winter months.
This winter I’m taking 3000 IU of Vitamin D every day. I haven’t read any scientific studies about its effectiveness in fending off the winter blues, but I figure it can’t hurt.
A few years ago I bought a light box. The idea is that if you start using it daily in the fall when each day loses a few minutes of light, then you will feel the benefits of it in late winter when the days are getting longer. And that brings up another interesting and strange dilemma. Most people who have a hard time with winter feel it the most around the spring equinox, when the days are long again, and the hope of summer is just around the corner.
For me I’ve found that my ability to make it through the winter without feeling despair hinges on the previous summer. In 2008 Alaska had a very cool summer. In Homer the temperature only got to 70 degrees twice. Most days the thermometer hovered around 55 degrees. In July we went camping in McCarthy and had to cancel our hiking plans due to snow. Winter rolled around and I never felt like I had had a summer. It was tough.
I can endure pretty long winters, but if I don’t feel like I have a summer I get cranky, and desperate. Last year we planned a trip to New Mexico in June, the hottest time of the year there, because I was determined to get some sun. I didn’t want to rely on Alaska for a summer. After 2008 I didn’t have much faith.
As it turned out we had an unseasonably warm and sunny summer last year. So between that stroke of luck, or El Nino, and the New Mexico trip, I should be in good shape for this winter. But certain things about myself, in relation to the long, Alaskan winters are still predictable. By late February, even on a good year, I’ll start dreaming about that feeling of the sun’s rays on my skin and I’ll wake up under my down comforter and feel like crying. By that point in the winter I know I’ll have to rely on some inner strength to get me through those last few weeks of winter. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again.
It helps if I remind myself of the opposite extreme that Alaska brings out in me. Every summer I experience moments of euphoria, usually while I’m out on our skiff on Kachemak Bay, or when I’m looking down on the meadow in front of our house and a black bear lumbers by. At those moments, when Alaska’s bounty is all around me and the days linger into the early hours of the morning, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.