Monday, January 27, 2014

Northern Nights

Let us begin at sunset, and what it is not like, in the North. It is not a dark blanket, a velvet curtain enfolding the sun and tucking it away in a manner of moments, like in the Lower 48. But I digress.

Sunset in Alaska, in winter, is a painstaking, drawn-out affair, an amber-orange twilight which can last hours, especially when there is snow-cover, and begins early, while the children shuffle their way home from school. The presence of the snow captures and reflects artificial light, which glows like marmalade and fades slowly, imperceptibly, into gray, then into dusk. The dance of twilight and snow is enchanting, it absorbs all sensations and sounds into its muffled spell, and one does not feel like speaking aloud.

When the dark finally does come, if the night is clear, and one pulls on a warm coat and ventures outdoors, the familiar stars appear: the Great Dipper, Queen Cassiopeia, Orion.

One New Year's, I went out and saw the entire black arc of heaven filled with bright, flickering green swatches of Aurora. A most dramatic display occurred one night several years ago, just as Vespers finished at a local church. The parishioners exited in their usual noisy way onto the porch, and everyone gasped in surprise at the glory in the sky, at the sudden bright slashes in every direction. I ran out past the crowd, in a hurry to tell anyone, everyone, no-one, to let my soul be all eyes. The most common colors of the aurora include dancing gleams of green and white, but sometimes we see red, purple or other colors. That night the sky was alive with teal and red streaks, pulsing, rippling, clotting and bursting with joy.

Morning may arrive in the winter like a nasty hangover; then we must do violence to pry ourselves from our blankets and trundle ourselves to school or work in the dark. The mountains flush pink with the promise of an anemic sunrise. The color of the sky during the day is often the same color that it is during the summer at midnight: nearly skim-milk. But then there are the days when the snow sparkles in the sun and the sky becomes a true cerulean, glad of its own existence. This jewel-toned blue is unique to wintertime framed by the hills.

The amount of light allotted to us increases during spring, then summer, until it reaches an almost unbearable, feverish quantity, in June. Then, the plush green of the leaves becomes a constant giddy symphony, but one must guard against the insidious invasion of the light, the white nights, into one's dreams.

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