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The Midnight Sun in Alaska

Updated: Sep 20, 2018

Our house at midnight in late July

Those who have never lived in Alaska do not understand the constant and dramatic daily battle between light and dark that Alaskans experience every day. We are either losing or gaining six minutes of sunlight each day in the interior of Alaska. When I lived on the Beaufort Sea coast, that number was ten to twelve minutes. Maybe that doesn't seem like much, but every week and a half equals an hour lost or gained at my house.

Rush to Grow, Rush to Die

Suddenly you realize you can't see the moon and stars because of all the light, then just as suddenly the sun doesn't rise until noon. Every living thing is affected by this constant change. Plants have to green up, flower, fruit, and seed within weeks. Baby animals have to grow quickly to endure the coming winter or the long migration to safer climates.

For twelve weeks in the summer, double that in the arctic, the light is constant. Birds sing and feed throughout the night, or what used to be night. Time markers disappear. Sleeping and waking hours for teens totally flip so when school starts they struggle to stay awake in classes which just occur at the time they have been collapsing onto their beds for the past three months. From November through January the world is cold and dark with a few hours of a bluish glow. Many wonder why they should get up at all.

Carpe Diem Rules

Because berries are ripe for a limited time, they must be picked NOW. Because the frost can kill garden vegetables in August, they must be harvested as soon as they are ready, even earlier. Tomatoes are plucked green to ripen inside the house. When the salmon run, nets and poles go into the water. Opportunities don't last. Northern lights can be fluttering and swirling, and by the time I find my camera or tell someone else to come see, clouds have covered them, or they have turned faint. We quickly learn to indulge when we can, regardless of schedules or obligations.

In the Lower 48, cars and people rush toward the next stop light. Up here, the light rushes in or out, pulling everything living thing along for the ride.

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