Monday, December 7, 2009

Where'd the sun go?


It's 9:34am, and the only sun around is the one I drew.  Wishful thinking.

It's 9:30am and still dark out.  I can't whine too much: folks in Barrow, Alaska said "bye-bye" to the sun until late January.  It does become hard though when one heads to work in the dark, works inside, and heads home in the dark, too.  I suppose it's a bit like working on the dark side of the moon or underground.  You just have to take it on faith that the sun came up, because you sure didn't see it.

I snooped around online and found some interesting weather stats at Alaska.com.  To help me get my worldwide bearings, I found that gardeners in Anchorage are at about the same latitude as Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Olso, Norway, Stockholm, Sweden, and St. Petersburg, Russia.  And those northernmost Alaskans in Barrow are at around the same latitude as Hammerfest, Norway and Wrangel Island, Russia.  Christine, you're thinking, what the heck does latitude have to do with your missing sun?  And I'd have a three word answer for you: the Arctic Circle.  Contrary to popular opinion, it's not a social group, alcoholic beverage, or hunting technique.  It's an imaginary line that crosses Alaska about 125 miles north of Fairbanks (our second largest city), at 66 degrees 34 minutes north latitude.  Put your finger about where you'd guess the middle of Alaska to be and your probably not far off.  This Arctic Circle is the point at which the sun doesn't set for a day in summer and doesn't rise for a day in winter according to alaska.com.  Thankfully, my garden is well below said line.  I can't imagine the sun not rising for even a day in winter.  The light is scarce enough as it is in Anchorage, but our 5 hours and 28 minutes of daylight on our shortest day, December 21st, seems bountiful compared to nothing at all.


It's 3:15pm and the sun has already set below neighboring rooflines.  A bit discouraging, isn't it?

Northern gardeners tend to celebrate (in a subdued fashion: I usually have my face pressed up against the window, eyes glazed over) December 21st.  Not because it is the official start of winter (puh-leez, that was months ago), but because the winter solstice marks the start of our ascension back to the land of light.  We get a bit more daylight each day culminating on summer solstice, June 21st, when gardeners in Anchorage enjoy 19.5 hours of daylight in a 24 hour period.  Barrow gets 24 hours of daylight.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Those poor light-deprived folk enjoy continuous daylight from May 10 to August 2.  It's feast or famine above the Arctic Circle when it comes to photons!  Just don't plan a Barrow visit between November 18 when the sun goes down and doesn't break the horizon again until January 23.


The last rays of sun illuminate the Chugach Mountain range to the east of Anchorage, 4:52pm.

I also found out that what I thought was the official start of winter, December 21, is actually termed "astronomical winter" and the "official" winter start, as far as how records are kept is December 1.  Yeah, who knew?  "Meteorological" winter, or the winter that has to do with the arrival of cold weather, and not some magical number on the calendar, starts earlier the farther north you live.  Read all about winter at the NOAA National Weather Service link above.  I had no idea things like when it got cold and snowed were so fraught with details.
What all this long-days-in-summer/short-days-in-winter stuff means for Alaskans, other than we grow really huge vegetables, is that we also have a lot of sleeping pattern issues.  My kids try the old "but it's not dark yet" in summer when it's bedtime.  And they also use the winter-time equivalent, the old "but it's not light yet" when it's time to wake up.  I can't blame them, I said the same things to my long-suffering parents as a kid, too.  It's hard for a body to adjust sometimes.  Alaskans (and other far north locales) have high rates of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), suicide, and depression often associated with the shortened or seasonally fluctuating amounts of daylight.  Where, oh, where did the sun go?  Australia, do you have it?

So I think I've figured out the Arctic Circle.  Now if someone could just explain to me what the Mason-Dixon line is...??

P.S. I couldn't resist sharing a funny memory (as it is pertinent to the post topic): A nationally well-known garden speaker was visiting Alaska for a statewide gardening conference a few years back and gave a talk on "moon gardens." She had a beautiful slide show to accompany her encouraging dialog and vivacious manner. Among other things, she emphasized using flowers that open up at night, scented white flowers in particular, inviting friends over to enjoy sunset, and lingering in the garden before retiring for the night, etc. She had me convinced, enthralled would not be too strong a word, but then one elderly, longtime Alaskan gardener raised her hand and said a bit shrilly, "But how can we enjoy a moon garden here? It doesn't even start to get dark until two in the morning!" And I'm thinking to myself, oh yeah, I forgot that bit. To her credit, the speaker did not walk out or say "oh, how awkward" and she did manage to sputter and stumble through her talk.  I'm guessing she won't be coming up to speak to us again and I still have yet to see a moon garden in Alaska.

50 comments:

Gloria Bonde said...

Hi - I enjoyed your post - I am a South Dakota Gardener. I'm growing tomatoes indoors in my office - I think I benefit from the extra light. Keep warm - Gloria

The Garden Ms. S said...

I too longed for a moon garden, but I am rarely up past 11 p.m. :)

My antidote for this time of year is looking at all the xmas lights. At least it distracts me. (And I'm hinting to hubby that it's time we joined the parade and chucked a few on our house as well).

Lovely sky photos!

azplantlady said...

This is just so interesting. I wouldn't to live above the Arctic Circle either. I don't look forward to the summer solstice because the only respite we get from the summer heat is when the sun goes down.

PS. I don't know what the Mason Dixon Line is either :-D

Christine B. said...

@Gloria Bonde
Hi there in S.D.,

Alaska does a brisk trade in SAD (seasonal affective disorder) lights, which look like fancy grow light you're supposed to look at for 20 minutes a day, but cost 10X as much. I think you have the right idea with the grow lights, AND you get tomatoes. Great idea.

CB

Christine B. said...

@The Garden Ms. S
Hello Ms. S,

My hubby will not take the hint, he is afraid he will break his neck putting up the lights. I do love driving around to see all the lights, figurines, nativities, santas, etc. at other peoples' homes though. Some folks even have a radio station you can tune into when you drive by their home that plays their own blend of Christmas music...amazing.

CB

Christine B. said...

@azplantlady
I know the M-D line has something to do with the south, I just don't know what. Surely some southern gardener will fill me in. I'm such a wimp about heat, I need "respite" when it hits 76 degrees.

CB

Gunilla said...

Hi.
You have nearly the same climate that we have here were I live.
Now the sun rises at 8 o´clock.and get´s down at 15 in the afternoon.
We haven´t got any snow here yet but I hope that we get a white christmas.
I´ll come back.

Have a nice day
Gunilla

leavesnbloom said...

I got shivers down my body reading your post! Not too much of the sun here in North of UK either! I look forward to the 21st Dec also - brighter evenings are on the way! I am sure you get the Northern Lights where you are which for me would make up for not getting much sun - I've only seen a glimpse of them once where I live.

Hocking Hills Gardener said...

I would need SAD lights for sure. I dread winter as it is and need the light. I had to laugh at the children's comments they will try won't they ;-)

LeSan said...

I told my husband I was reading your blog but I left out the part about you living in Alaska. I told him that we shared the same light issues and how much I related to you when the sun starts to sink at three in the afternoon. He kindly nodded, humoring me I suspect, until I told him where you lived. Then his eyes sprung open and he said "NO! She lives in Alaska. That can't be right. We don't live in Alaska they're dark half the year." LOL "Yeah, and we in Seattle where it rains for nine months of the year." I think that considering the natural beauty of our respective places it's best if we just let those little misconceptions continue. If the truth gets out we might end up like Hawaii.

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Oh, yes, I do look forward to December 21 each year. I feel a weight is lifted off of me when the days start getting longer. That's a funny story about the garden author.

I would have trouble adjusting to living in Alaska.

Christine B. said...

@Gunilla
Hi Gunilla,

Snow makes such a difference when it's dark in winter. It just makes everything brighter even at night. Hope you get some of the white stuff before Christmas!

Christine

Christine B. said...

@leavesnbloom
Hello in the UK!

I get shivers reading the post too, in fact I am tapping away at the computer with a blanket around my shoulders. We don't see the northern lights in our city very often, too much light, but in less populated areas on cold clear nights they are spectacular!

Christine

Christine B. said...

@Hocking Hills Gardener
I have considered getting a SAD light, it just seems so corny that a little (expensive) light can make such a big difference in mood. I've had a lot of aquaintances swear by them, so it must help some people.... I'm thinking a quick trip to Hawaii might fix me up instead;)
CB

Christine B. said...

@LeSan
What? It doesn't rain nine months of the year in Seattle?!;) I love that place, you can grow anything there, but it's no use, my hubby will never move. I still have people ask me if I live in an igloo when they find out where I'm from.

Cheers from Alaska,
CB

Christine B. said...

@Corner Gardener Sue
Hello CGS,
I have lived here forever and I still have trouble adjusting! December 21 is not too far away: I am thrilled. The next milestone is in March when you can really tell the days are getting longer.

CB

RainGardener said...

What a great and informative post. I was in Fairbanks for about 4 years and didn't know much of that. I know it was light all night long in the summer, they had baseball games at midnight and many people put foil over their windows. Not me, back then I could sleep through anything - I could be so lucky now. When I went to Anchorage once I was thrilled to find it got dark enough there in the summer you even had a drive in. I wanted to go to it so bad but didn't make it.
Love your photo of the pink mountains and especially love your first one with the sun! LOL
Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting on my post!

Christine B. said...

Foil still seems to be a tradition here, along with blue tarps encasing cars like an auto cocoon, hibernating in the driveway. Your four years of Faibanks winters must be the equivalent of 12 Anchorage winters. How many Washington winters do you think that would equal??

Thanks for visiting!

CB

ChrisND said...

Hi, another Chris B. here...I really notice the shorter winter days now that I have to be at work when the sun is up. A little depressing to leave and arrive home in the dark. We just got a health notice from the company about SAD and vitamin D. I am out soaking the sun up when it warms up in March.

debsgarden said...

You live in a far away land I would love to visit, but I think I will come in the summer. I would love to see the day the sun stays out all night!

Christine B. said...

@ChrisND
Hey there fellow C.B.,

I too am looking forward to March. I am glad there is more awareness about SAD these days. And thanks for the reminder about Vit. D, I need to get some!

Christine

Christine B. said...

@debsgarden
Hi debsgarden,

Definitely visit in summer. Weather around summer solstice time is usually great if you want to visit on one of the long, long days.

Christine B.

Rebecca @ In The Garden said...

Wonderful post! I won't complain about our short days anymore, promise. Love the picture with the drawn sun, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. Very informative and the moon garden story is great. :) Rebecca

Christine B. said...

@Rebecca @ In The Garden
Hi Rebecca,

I had fun drawing in that sun, maybe my next snow picture will have some grass, a beach, or palm tree drawn in. The beach sounds nice about now. Thanks for visiting!

Christine

Hank Moorlag said...

Yeah, we'd have trouble with a moon garden too. Even the patio lights are not very effective in creating that nighttime mood we were going for when we bought them - we have to wait, like your longtime Alaskan gardener said, until two in the morning.

Anyway, I also wanted to comment on how much I enjoy your copper salmon swimming over the bergenia in your header photo. Awesome!!

Christine B. said...

@Hank Moorlag
Hi,

Thanks for the compliment about the salmon. My hubby made them out of an old bathtub.

Thanks for visiting,

CB

Deborah at Kilbourne Grove said...

Christine, I live in Toronto, but I also leave for work in the dark, work inside (actually the concourse level of a bank tower, and come home after dark. The only time I see daylight this time of year is on the weekends. The only perk is it is a flower shop, so I am surrounded by scent and beauty. I read somewhere that florists are very happy as all the green plants are cleansing the air and they work in a higher percnetage of oxygen then the rest of the world.
Yay, a natural and legal high! lol

Judy said...

beautiful blog Christine! I'm fasinated by your stories and experiences in Alaska. -- love your drawing of the sun in that first photo! and I'm a hugh fan of the rusty salmon sculptures in your garden.

Also, I live about 30 minutes from "the Mason Dixon Line! Simply put --in the 1760's it was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute between the British colonies. Basically it marks the cultural boundary between the North US and the South US (Dixie). Read more about it here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mason-Dixon_Line
It's one of those imaginary borders we cross over when we drive from Pennsvlvania to Maryland.

Christine B. said...

@Deborah at Kilbourne Grove
Hello there Deborah in Toronto!
Working in a flower shop sounds like fun (and good therapy for garden deprivation). Only 11 more days until we start gaining more daylight: hurrah!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Judy
Hello Judy,

I appreciate the compliments. Most people are suprised when I tell them my thrifty husband made the salmon. I paid about 50 dollars for our first one and he said "I can make that" and now we have eight. I am glad you shared some info about the Mason-Dixon line. I kept reading about it in Dr. Michael Dirr's garden book, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, and have always forgotten to find out just what it was.

Thanks for commenting,

CB

lisa said...

Very interseting post! Much as I've always loved the cold and snow, I think Wisconsin is far enough north for me...the growing season is short enough here as it is. Somehow I don't think the day/night cycles would bug me too much though, my sleep patterns tend to be messed up all the time anyhow :)

Christine B. said...

@lisa
Hi lisa,

The light and lack of it tends to affect people differently. My hubby, for example, not at all. Me, I feel like a bear that knows it should be hibernating but for some reason it can't comprehend, it not. I just resist the urge to sleep until it's light out, very hard some days!

CB

walk2write said...

Yours is the first Alaskan gardening blog I've read. It's great! Our daughter is dating a man who just loves Alaska and wants to return there when his Air Force Reserve training is finished. One of these days, she may be moving there too. I'll add your blog to my bloglist so she can get a taste of what Alaska is like. I do like that part about the veggies growing larger. Our soil is so poor here in NW Florida that it's a challenge to grow much of a garden without constant amendment of the soil and lots of water. Rain just soaks right into the sand, and the hot sun evaporates the moisture too quickly. Then there are the insects to contend with. One can't have everything just right, I guess.

Becky said...

I love your blog so much that I put it on my Bloglines so I can read it whenever you post. Want to take a little tropical vacation? Visit Sunita at the-urban-gardener.blogspot.com. It always warms me up.

Chandramouli S said...

Hi Christine,
It's great to meet a blogger from far northern part of earth. I've always wanted to be in a place where it snows, but I guess you must've gotten tired of it and the really short days. How about the plants? Do they survive there or is it a new garden every year?

Pam/Digging said...

I read your post with interest. What a strange concept to this lifelong southerner to hear about 19 or 24 hour days and nights. Your winters sound very difficult indeed, but I bet you have a lot of time for blog reading (there's always a silver lining, eh?).

BTW, the Mason-Dixon line is the imaginary line that divides the northern and southern states along the East Coast. Old-time Southerners are acutely aware of this line and who was born below or above it. In fact, by virtue of birth in Oklahoma, even though I lived in the South from the age of 2 onward, I was never considered a native southerner by my childhood friends. Strangely, I was often called a Yankee. Huh?

Christine B. said...

@walk2write
Hello there in Florida,

We visited Florida last Christmas and my four year old still asks when we are going back to the beach. I'm missing it in this cold weather, let me tell you! But you're right, you can't have everything just right, I suppose, there is always something that is galling, whether it be insects, cold, heat, poor soils, what have you. I don't think there are many Alaskan garden bloggers out there, so I'm glad you stumbled onto my blog. Send some of your warm weather our way....

CB

Christine B. said...

@Becky
Wow, thanks! I'm honored you like my blog so much (and I'm always ready to take a little virtual vacation, so I'll stop by and check it out).

CB

Christine B. said...

@Chandramouli S
Yeah, I am a bit sick of the snow but am trying to cope by picking up winter sports and doing a lot of reading. We have a limited plant palette compared to some more temperate or tropical places, but a quick glance at my master yard list shows I have about 44 different types of hardy grasses, 88 different types of trees, shrubs, and vines, and 158 different types of perennials that are hardy in USDA zone 3/4. It's probably a good thing I am limited as to what can overwinter here, I am the type that wants one of everything and I have no room!

Thanks for visiting,

CB

Christine B. said...

@Pam/Digging
Oh I wish I had more time for blogging but I have to restrain myself sometimes. I am a kid wrangler by day, two little ones, so I try not to get sucked into being on the computer for hours. If you are a Yankee from OK, what are we way, way up here in AK?

Thanks for the low-down on the Mason-Dixon line,

CB

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Pam's comment caused me to remember what my grandma told me about her teen years. She was a baby when her parents, Germans from Russia came to the U.S. They lived in our state, Nebraska for awhile, then moved to Oklahoma. They worked farm fields. When they moved back to the area of town known as the "Russian Bottoms" she was called an "Okie" among other things, and wasn't quite accepted into the community. I probably don't know the whole story. I wish I had learned more about her life before she died. There are photos of her and my grandpa in the western part of our state, working the beet fields. My dad as a little boy is in some of the photos.

Karen said...

Hi Christine - Thanks for this interesting post. I had never heard of the difference between astrological/meteorological winter but it makes a lot of sense, duh! Our seasons line up a bit more with the calendar than yours, but still... wow, you Alaskans are made of tough stuff. I could not do the all or nothing thing with the light! Seattle is dark enough this time of year.

James Missier said...

I would be very worried if the sun doesn't show up in my place. It happens sometimes when it rains all day from morning til night.
Thanks for sharing this. Never knew this could happen.

Christine B. said...

@Corner Gardener Sue
Sue,

Yeah, I feel the same way, wishing I had asked the grandparents more about their lives. Maybe I will send out a questionnaire to my mom and other surviving relatives and get some details. That would be a fun suprise for them, opening the Christmas card and a "quiz" falling out. Thanks for sharing your memory with us!

CB

Christine B. said...

@Karen
I never knew (before this post) about the different types of winters either. It still isn't much of a comfort though, winter is winter! Did you know it's cheaper for me to fly to NYC (499)than to Seattle (524)right now? The airlines know we Alaskans love Seattle! I could even fly to Honolulu for cheaper (438). Hmm, that actually sounds really tempting right now. Maybe I'll save my Seattle visit for the big flower and garden show in February.

Cheers,

CB

Christine B. said...

@James Missier
Yes, the sun is very moody up here. Not enough or too much!

CB

Mary Anne said...

The Artic Circle reminds me of the highs and lows of freelance work. You don't have the advantage of a steady paycheck, but there is no 9-5 and it's great to be able to set your own hours; you take the good with the bad. I'd take 24 hours of winter if it meant 24 hours straight of my favorite season, summer. What a glorious day that would be.

Your hand-drawn sun in your photo is adorable!

Christine B. said...

@Mary Anne
I like that freelance comparison. As for the artwork, well, what can I say? Maybe I'll be the next Sydney Laurence of Alaska.

CB

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Now, I'm really embarrassed, because I remembered I was visiting the blogs of those who left comments on my Wordless Wednesday post today.

The freezing drizzle stopped, but they are still saying there is an 80% chance of snow tonight, and 100% for tomorrow. We could get 6 to 12 inches by Friday. Does it snow a lot where you are in Alaska? It's my impression that you are pretty much snow covered all winter, but I really don't know.

Christine B. said...

@Corner Gardener Sue
If we are lucky, we are snow covered through the winter. It helps with plant hardiness, having a little snow blanket. Where I am, we usually have snow but sometimes it melts entirely in Feb/March so we get teased about an early spring. That doesn't happen, we eventually get more snow until "real" spring.

CB

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