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Story Last modified at 10:21 p.m. on Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Here comes the sun, finally

On Jan. 23, residents of America's farthest north community, Barrow, celebrated the return of the sun after its two-month dip below the horizon. To the east at Prudhoe Bay, oil field workers did the same, despite the fact temperatures hovered at about minus-30 degrees. The following day these Arctic communities were blessed with an additional 33 minutes of daylight. It comes on fast in the high latitudes of the Arctic.


The sun peeks over the mountains in Ship Creek Valley.
Photo by Frank E. Baker

Even down here in Southcentral, at 61 degrees North Latitude, we can definitely notice how much higher the sun is in the sky than just a few weeks ago. I like to multiply the daily gains to get the weekly total, which is now up over 35 minutes, and it will soon reach 40. After-work hikes and ski trips will soon become possible.

The keen anticipation we experience each year for the sun's return reminds me of a touching short story by science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury, titled "All Summer in a Day." The story is set on another planet where it rains continuously and the sun only shines for a few minutes every seven years. A 9-year-old girl, Margot, moves to the planet from Earth and tells the younger children – those who haven't yet reached age 7 – what it is like to see the sun and feel its warmth. As the day approaches, Margot is the most eager among the children for the sun's return because she is one of the few who have ever seen it.

That's all I'll say about the story so I won't ruin the ending, but suffice it to say it's one of Bradbury's more sensitive, poignant tales.

Some of us, I'm sure, are more attuned to February's increasing daylight than others. Those who work in windowless offices all day probably don't notice the shadows sprouting up everywhere, or how brightly the sun lights up the clouds in late afternoon. Sunrises and sunsets at this time of the year are quite memorable, and you'll notice quite a few such photos on Jackie Purcell's Channel 2 television weather reports.

From my south-facing home in Eagle River Valley, daylight took a quantum leap about two weeks ago when the sun completely cleared Hiland Mountain, Mount Gordon Lyon and adjacent mountains. Almost overnight my place went from two hours of direct sunlight to about six.

We will receive more snow this winter – that is almost certain. And there will be more cold. But from this point forward, the sun, as it arcs higher and higher into the sky, will begin to take over. I'm already pondering the gardening possibilities this spring at my south-facing location.

With the sun's return, I'm also looking forward to some color in my face. I don't put white sheets on my bed in winter because I'm so pale I have difficulty finding where I am. I exaggerate, but not by much.

This is the time of the year that whenever possible, I park my truck facing the sun. I'll take that little boost of heat any way I can get it.

I've known quite a few professional photographers over the years, and there seems to be agreement among most of them that Alaska is a very special place for photography – not simply because of the spectacular scenery that abounds, but because of the subtle, ever-changing light.

Photographers, I've learned, live for the light.

We all do, I think. We're like trees and flowers that bend irresistibly toward the light. We can't help it. We wait for it, expectantly, like Margot, in Bradbury's tale. We wait for it because we know our endlessly long summer day is not that far away.

Here's a poem by former Alaska poet laureate Tom Sexton, with his permission:

"For the Sake of the Light"

The lantern cleaned and put away

after a long winter, I sit by the window

writing about the last snow

turning to mist beneath the alders.

Long before dawn, I can see

the glacial mountains to the west

flecked with blue and braided silver.

Soon bog candle will bloom in the marsh.

For all our sadness, melancholy and regret,

at times it is possible, even necessary,

to believe we are here for the sake of the light.

Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River. His books of poetry are available at the Book Shelf.

This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, February 9, 2011.