A parade of people itching to see the sun again, that is. The shortest day of the year has arrived, and Alaskans everywhere are set to stay up late and usher in brighter days and the advent of spring. Well, not really, but we like to think it's all downhill from here to green grass and singing birds.
Yukon, Bear, and I took a brief getaway to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort last weekend, partly to shoot another segment for a local television station's "Kids in the Wild" thingie I do once in a while, and partly to unwind after a frenetic few weeks of pre-Christmas activity.
Alaska, Anchorage included, had been in the grips of a cold snap the likes of which had not been seen or felt in quite some time. While we were spared the worst of it with temperatures only dipping into the -20 degree range at night, some Interior Alaskan communities (Fairbanks, Delta Junction, and the like) saw -60 F. That's cold in the definition of cold. Icy. Frightening. Too Damn Cold, as one old-timer griped while we filled up our cars at the gas station one morning, hands feeling like wooden blocks as they gripped the pump handles.
At any rate, AK Fam left in good spirits Friday, and spent a pretty fine day Nordic skiing, relaxing, and eating good food. The resort hosted a festival for Winter Solstice, featuring a band called "Church of the Flaming Funk", best known for their pyrotechnic angle. Let's just say it was part circus side show, part 1960's James Bond movie, as women gyrated to grungy, hard-core rock music (that wasn't too bad, really) while twirling flaming hula hoops and sticking fire down their throats. Children were lined up in a chorus line of sorts, knees knocking to the tunes and mouths hanging open with either awe or lust; I'm not sure which. My own son included. But nobody cared.
I must insert here a little history to help those from Lower 48 communities understand the nature of Alaskans in the winter. Since the habitation of White Men and Women to the Last Frontier, there has been an incredible drive to do something, anything, that will relieve the winter doldrums. Imagine no television, little radio, and few modes of entertainment beyond that which a bottle of whiskey and a dance hall girl could provide. If you know what I mean. Parties, bonfires, and general merrymaking are as old as Alaska herself, and when the winter days stretch endlessly into one another, anything will help relieve the pain of darkness and cold. One cannot fathom the depths of such nights unless experiencing it firsthand, and now, after six winters in Alaska, I get it.
Winter is beautiful in the 49th state, but it is also brutally unforgiving. No other place has made me so aware of where I am, what I am doing, and how I am doing it. No other place requires one to be connected to every feeling and thought, for those may be the link to success or the broken chain of failure in the wilderness. We are teaching Bear these lessons. I know now why the Native Alaskans are so in tune with nature and each other. Too bad so many miners and trappers and traders missed the point.
There is no other way to survive here.