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Goodbye, sunshine!Posted Tuesday, November 13, 2012, at 3:50 PM
Time exposure photo of the Midnight sun, probably taken at Pt. Barrow, Alaska, on June 21, the Summer Solstice. No, this isn't my shot. I never got to go to Pt. Barrow, although I had two students from there.
Shortly after we switched back to regular standard time in October, I awoke to see a bit of light peeking in the window at my accustomed hour of 5 a.m. It was a pleasant experience, after sinking into the darkness of the approaching winter.
As usual, this time of year and the disappearance of the sun brings back memories of the seven years my husband and I tried to adapt to that harsh climate of the Far North, living in Fairbanks, Alaska. It is as magical and alien a land as ever graced the face of this planet.
I know that this morning, the sun rose through the big windows of our beautiful A-frame house on Teal Avenue at 9:22 a.m. This same sun will set at 3:48 p.m. Since we built the house to face south, the entire progress of that fiery orb can be seen through the windows.
The hardy folks of Fairbanks know precisely how many minutes they are losing each week. The sun rises 23 minutes later each week and sets 23 minutes earlier. By the Winter Solstice--Dec. 21--Fairbanks will be seeing a sunrise at 10:58 a.m. and a sunset at 12:49 p.m. Unless you have an office or a school room with a window, you will miss the sun altogether on those days.
Dec. 21 was a dark time. In the living room of our A-frame near the Chena River, we watched the sun on weekends, as it barely peeked above the spruce trees across the dirt street to the south.
During the week, I did not see the sun, as I was not fortunate enough to have a school room with a window. It was pitch black when I left for work in the morning and pitch black when I left school at four. I could hear the "swish, swish" of the cross country skiers, practicing in the field beside the high school. A lone light shone at the top of the hill where they practiced their downhill skills.
Alaskans and their transplanted friends from the south tolerate the winter quite well, learning to adapt to it at an early age, teaching their children to participate with them in winter sports, embracing the dog-sled racing, the curling events, the snow mobiling, and the skiing.
As the winter wears on toward spring, residents count the number of minutes of gained sunlight each day. Everyone knows, especially since the "News Miner," the local paper, has the count in the upper right corner of the front page.
By June 21--Summer Solstice--the sun comes up in Fairbanks at 4:20 a.m. and (more remarkably), it sets at 11:42 p.m. There is so much daylight that residents wear themselves out, rushing between one event and another, trying to get everything done before the short summer is over.
The standing joke is, "What did you do this summer?" "Oh, I was sick that weekend, so I missed it!"
Every year, when the days begin to lose sunlight, I think about those years we spent in Fairbanks, and I remember the magic of it all. I wouldn't mind going back as a tourist in the summertime to see all the things we were too busy to see, when we were working. But, as for an Alaskan winter, I've had quite enough of that to last me a lifetime.
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.