Monday, October 15, 2007

About Darkness...

October sunset

I am asked quite often what it's like to live in a place where the definition for day and night can be so skewed. I guess the first thing we should do is set the record straight. There is no line of demarcation with six months of daylight on one side and six months of darkness on the other. Call it myth or misconception, it just doesn't happen that way. The transition from one extreme to the other is much more subtle as we gradually gain or lose sunlight in increments that are somewhat difficult to perceive.

You may have noticed the small black sticker on the sidebar of this blog indicating the time of sunrise and sunset in Atqasuk. Each day we're losing about ten minutes of sunlight. In a few more weeks we'll be saying good-bye to the sun for approximately 60 days. Well, technically, that's true. The sun will no longer rise above the horizon. However, that doesn't mean we won't have any discernible light at all. There will still be some ambient light, though that will eventually decrease as well, until finally the earth has traveled and tilted as far as it's going to. We'll reach our darkest point in late December. Then the process of slowly gaining light will begin.

Although it's only temporary, the darkness can be difficult to handle. For some, the loss of sunlight feels suffocating like a blanket covering the earth....thick and heavy and confining. The latest Buggy Side poll indicates that voters were evenly split. Exactly half thought they would prefer 24 hours of daylight over darkness while the other half expressed that they would feel uncomfortable with too much of either one. That's understandable and I think many Atqasuk residents would agree. Dealing with darkness can be tricky. Sometimes I'm not as aware of that as I should be.

There are some things that can only be experienced in the dark and I tend to be happy with the trade off. Winter is the only time (up here) that fireworks make any sense. Although the Northern Lights aren't confined to the darker months, excessive sunlight makes them impossible to see at other times of the year. And who would want to live in a land without stars? By summer's end, I'm ready, even anxious, for that time of year when some of the most spectacular mysteries of the universe are clearly visible from my bedroom window. Darkness does have a bright side.

Sometimes, I must admit, I don't even notice whether it's light or dark. Maybe it's adaptability or just being overextended. My days tend to revolve around the busyness of school and it's easy to function within the insulated cocoon of my classroom, unaffected by the sun (or lack of it) outside. But, sometimes, it really does feel, well...extreme. Wearing sunglasses at 3 am? How crazy is that? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the dark? How bizarre! Without the natural designation of what is day and what is night the order of things can get really turned around.

In Atqasuk, it is often said, that people have their days "upside-down." It sounds funny, but it's an easy thing to do. So much to do with time is artificial. Measuring and scheduling the moments is a purely human preoccupation. Without the aid of any calendar, the earth continues on its path, governed by its own rhythm, without much consideration for our conventions. Long ago, before any of us were here, the Inupiat understood that better. Like many Native people, they lived in closer union with the earth. Their lives were framed by the seasons. They worked with the earth's rhythm instead of around it. It might have been what we now consider a primitive exsistence, but it certainly made sense in the greater scheme of things. On these dark, frigid, mornings, as I wake to the tenacious yapping of the alarm clock beside my bed, I have to wonder if progress is really so progressive after all.


Believe it or not these boys are riding their bikes on the frozen pond in front of my house! You can see that the October sun is hanging low in the sky. A few more weeks and it won't emerge above the horizon again until the end of January.
On frozen pond

I happened upon this cutie at the post office one windy day. As you can see, she was very well prepared for the weather! We've been experiencing lots of wind for the past couple of weeks...anywhere between 20 and 40 mph.
Prepared for a windy day


Steve said...

Great posting! Informative and substantial.

Kimberlee said...

Thanks, Steve. I'm glad you liked it. And I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

Rose Mary said...

Another great installment. I really appreciate all the information and the descriptive and intriguing way you have of sharing it. Love the photos!

Love you,

Kimberlee said...

Thank you so much, Rose Mary! The photo of the boys on bikes is one of my favorites. I'm glad you liked it too. It really makes me happy that you are visiting my little blog. Thanks for letting me know you were here! :)

Love you, too!

Peggy said...

Hi Kimberlee,

Love the bundled-up child photo! How cute is that?


Kimberlee said...

Thanks, Peggy! She is a cute kid. Actually, this particular little girl was always either bundled up in this way or riding inside her mother's parka (in the back). It was a good long time before I ever saw her entire face! Funny, huh? :)

Johnny said...

I am such a sunset person...loved all of the photos, but especially the first one. My favorite time would probably be those days when the sun hung on the horizon. I have always been intrigued by the Northern Lights. It is one of those things that I have always thought would be so neat to experience. Lucky long sunsets/sunrises and the Northern lights. :)

Kimberlee said...

It's true, Johnny, the sunsets/sunrises are completely breathtaking up here. Even after all this time I never cease to be amazed. Sunrises and the Northern Lights are often easily seen from my bedroom window. So, there are times when I don't even have to go out into the cold to enjoy the view! One of these days I'll have a camera that will be able to capture the Northern Lights. Until then, I just have to hope that my memory doesn't fail me! :)

Jackie said...

I just so enjoy your blog (is that good English?) I didn't know about Atqasuk being a coal mining village...I mean, I've never heard you mention it. I also enjoyed reading your perspective on the dark/light thing. I think the thing I like least about so much dark is having to drive in it on icy roads. Add in the fact that the snow covers the lane markings and makes the edge of the road indistinguishable...should I continue...Thank God for His protection. I really liked the photos...isn't the one of the boys on bikes a contest winner? You should enter the little girl next year :)

Kimberlee said...

Hi, Jackie! Thanks so much for leaving a comment! I am fortunate not having to drive during the dark/snowy time of year like you do. Maybe that would change my perspective some...I'm not sure. Walking in the dark has its disadvantages too, I suppose. :) The coal mining thing died out in the late fifties. I don't think they ran out of coal, just started using other fuel sources. That's something I should research more. The Boys On Bikes photo WAS a contest winner. I went ahead and used it in the post because it was taken in October and I thought it did a good job of illustrating where the sun is at this time of year. I hadn't thought about entering one of the little girl, but we'll see...

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts! I think comments really do make the blog more interesting!