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.
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.
Welcome to the Arctic! This space is dedicated to observations and experiences related to daily life in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Atqasuk. Questions and comments are invited. Thanks for visiting! Quyanaqpaq!
nuna:tundra, the land atikluk:snow shirt, parka cover
Interested in Inuit culture? Check out these films...
The Fast Runner is an excellent representation of ancient Inuit culture. The R-rating is for nudity, violence, and some language. Subtitles are utilized throughout. I do not recommend this film for children, but it's an extremely accurate portrayal of the culture. It was introduced to me by an Inupiat woman who raved about it. And I agree!
For a preview, click here.
The Snow Walker is another excellent representation of Inuit culture circa 1940's. This film is rated PG, I'm guessing for language. No subtitles that I remember. It starts a little slow, but gets much better. It will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the survival skills of this culture.
For a preview, click here.
Great For Kids!
Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson is a warm and culturally sensitive story centered on the Inupiat subsistence tradition of whaling. It is available in both English and Inupiaq translation. The illustrations, by Annie Patterson are exquisite and add to the quiet softness that the story inspires.
To order this title on Amazon.com, click here.
The Alaska Geographic series is an excellent informational resource. The edition entitled North Slope Now deals exclusively with this area and even features relatives of my students. Although it was published in 1989, it is still current enough to provide a general understanding of culture, lifestyle, and issues faced by this northern-most region.
To order this title from Alaska Geographic, click here.
More about Kaktovik Disaster of 2005 (from Dec post, "The Edge")