Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's not as dark

Ok I'll start off, no, no pictures from the trip. This as, was expected, has been another busy week. The good news is, life is getting back to relative normalcy, whatever that is.

On Monday night I stepped out of the office about 10 minutes to six, and blinked in what felt like the bright light.
In all reality, the sun had set just less then an hour ago, but the last tinges of twilight left the parking lot more than bright enough, and I thought to myself, this confirms it, it's brighter this year.
As we head into the final days of January we leave behind what I consider to be the darkest days of the year.
Last year I wrote (link) about the fallacy and myth that surrounds Alaska's dark winters, at least in my opinion.
The short of it was that my first winter I looked on worriedly as the sun hung lower and lower in the sky and the days shrunk at rapid speed.
By solstice however I saw that my active lifestyle and positive mental attitude kept the darkness at bay.
All the same, I couldn't help but feel a little intimidated by it.
Last year, my focus was on the dark. It was always, "Look how dark it is, look how much daylight's been lost, look how long it takes the sun to rise every morning."
I was looking for it.
I distinctly remember an October day in 2008, after a long period of rain, the sky broke and the sun shone. I strode across camp for something, and stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of the sun, still struggling to make it over the tops of the scraggly spruce, hours after it had risen. The sight scared me to think what was to come.
There is something to be said about the shock effect of having long periods of rain where the sun is out of sight and suddenly to see it shining one day as well, a common weather pattern in the fall here.
Anyway, this year, as early as October, things seemed brighter.
I waited every week though to feel that same pressing fear I felt the year before. It's the same sensation I've had when the shadows of the trees stretch long across the forest floor in woods I don't recognize, only the haunting feeling follows me everywhere.
Still it didn't come, and more often I found I was surprised how early the light returned in the morning and disappeared in the evening compared to what I remembered.
Then came Thanksgiving. This was the beginning of the darkest days. Until late January, I'd drive to work in the dark, watch the sun beam its weak twilight for over an hour as it worked so hard to clear the horizon, then sink again, leaving me to drive home and put in a ski in the dark.
Trips to the backcountry were dialed back by the light. Hit the summit too early, and the lighting was flat leaving us to careen down the mountain unable to differentiate up from down. Hardly could we get two runs in before were were looking at our watches and the disappearing ball of fire.
After work, the headlights of oncoming cars burned my eyes.
I noticed a little of that this year, absolutely.
More however, I felt like my experience Monday was just as likely.
Indeed, there was no solar event that made things brighter this year, but sometime after Turkey day, I began to wonder.
Certainly there were more then a few times I cursed the low light these past two months, but for whatever reason, it seemed like the darkness was less noticeable.
I can only reason it through another experience I sometimes have. The first time I drive, hike or bike somewhere new, where I'm not sure of my surroundings, it always seems to take an exceptionally long time relative to whatever distance I might be covering.
I've noticed this over and over again.
To an extent I imagine that I might actually be going slower as I absorb new sights and sensations or watch for unknown junctions or landmarks.
When I do these same trips again later however, they almost always feel like they go by quicker by orders of magnitude though.
I think my journey through the darkness last year was much the same. I know this trail, even in the murky depths of a stormy new moon winter night.

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