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.