Return of the Sun

Early afternoon, on December 3rd, the sun sets below the horizon for the last time in Wiseman, Alaska. There it will remain, for 40 days, before rising again on January 9.  Although it disappears, human life and activities does not cease to exist during this period.  High intensity light boxes, or happy lights, are dusted off, removed from storage and put to use.  Vitamin D supplements are consumed.  All  of these actions are taken in an effort to negate the chemical imbalance resulting from the absence of the sun.  Those more affected by the loss of light can find themselves dealing with increased fatigue, depression and irritability.  I have found that I sleep longer during this period, occasionally up to 12 hours a night  (Although in full disclosure, I’m not entirely positive if that is due to the lack of sun or sleeping on a poor mattress).   Those living without electricity generally have a tougher time with the extended darkness.  There was one resident who would only awaken during the 4-5 hour period of twilight, otherwise attempting to sleep and pursue a semi hibernative state. Though as mentioned earlier, on the 9th of January the sun finally returns, around 1:40 PM.  If one stands at the edge of town, near the gravel bar, they can watch the upper edge of the sun crest above the horizon.  The upper edge is all that shows that first day and only for a few minutes.  However, the gain and loss of light is significant in the Arctic, with increases of up to 14 minutes per day, equating to about a half a sun each day.  For comparison, areas in the Lower 48 states will, at a maximum, gain and lose light at 1-2 minutes a day.  On the second day of its return, January 10th, the sun is up for around 20 minutes.  Two weeks later it is visible for nearly two hours.  Like other natural occurrences in the area, such as freeze up, break up and the solstices, the return of the sun is observed and even celebrated.  Residents in the area will flock to whatever spot they believe gives them the best view.  Smiles cover the faces as a sign is finally presented that the end of the long dark nights are near.  Soon enough the bright days of March will arrive. March and late winter are followed shortly after by summer, the joyous time with an abundance of light.  Brighter days truly are on the horizon.


1 Comment

  1. Good essay. Interesting that the return of the sun is often celebrated – never thought of that, though it seems fairly obvious.

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