4:01 pm – Yippee!

Today we cross another threshold in the daylight department – the sun will set today at 4:01 pm. Finally! Every day it’s brighter for a tiny bit longer and everyone is pretty pumped up about it. We’re still happily hibernating, but now we’re starting to feel something stirring. Winter isn’t over yet, but we’re starting to think about spring with great anticipation.

In the meantime, we continue to live in a picture postcard (until the rain came and washed all the pretty snow away.)

Dinner parties are frequent ways to pass the winter evenings, gathering with friends and sharing comfort foods. The best part of these events is listening to people’s stories. We’re still shedding our “cheechakos” (Alaska newbie) label, having lived here for just five years now. But many of our friends have lived here their whole lives, or all of their adult lives. One friend was telling us stories about when he lived way up in Kivalina – a very small island village about 80 miles north of the Arctic Circle, and about 1000 miles northwest of Anchorage. He and his wife taught at the native school there, and they had a five dog sled team to get around in winter. It’s not the kind of place with easy access to groceries, so subsistence hunting is a necessity. In winter people kept their caribou carcass up on the roof of their houses – because it keeps perfectly well in the frigid temps. When you wanted some meat for dinner you opened a window and whacked off a chunk of caribou. Our friend said that he used a bone saw to cut the piece; a lot of the locals used an axe, and that left bone chips in the meat. The things you learn over dinner!

Another friend asked if they were concerned about polar bears taking their caribou, but he said it wasn’t usually a problem. In fact, he said that sometimes a polar bear would come and socialize with their sled dogs – he knew this because he would find their massive paw prints in the snow by the dogs, but the number of dogs remained constant. Yikes! Polar bears are absolutely apex predators – they look at us and see “food.” But they must have had good seal hunting nearby, and were sated.

Sadly this little native community must relocate, as global warming has caused the sea ice to form much later, and for a shorter period of time. The sea ice protects the island from winter storms, and it provides a safe “land bridge” to get to the mainland in the cold months. Without the ice, the community is inundated by big storms more often, and the island will be uninhabitable in the next few years.

Four Minutes

Four minutes is how much more daylight we’ll have tomorrow, and the daily improvement has perked up spirits around town. We still fight the urge to fix dinner early, but now the feeling hits around 4:30 instead of 3:30.

We haven’t had much snow so far this winter, which is disappointing to people who actually enjoy getting out in it. Snow-machines sit forlornly on their trailers in driveways, skis and snow shoes sit patiently by the door. There’s still time. We did get a few days of temps in the 20s so people got out and skated on the slough, but it was spoiled by a snow storm…

…giving our hibernating selves some exercise shoveling it.

Loon in winter colors

Mostly, it has been a warmer, rainy winter. When we’ve had some sunshine we dashed out the road to enjoy the scenery, and it gave me a chance to photograph Jim in the new custom gansey sweater I made for him. Each of the motifs and symbols on the sweater are either very traditional, or I designed or chose them to reflect where and how we live.

There’s a row of salmon swimming around the sweater. Above that the basket weave motif symbolizes how a small community is woven together, and the wave above it is my own motif because water is such an important element in our lives. The anchor, diamonds, and ladders are traditional motifs, but the trees are styled like the tall spruce and hemlock in the Tongass National Forest where we live. Above the anchor is a traditional motif for the Eddystone Light in Cornwall, England. Down near Ketchikan there is a rock formation called “New Eddystone”, named after that English lighthouse. The rope cables on the shoulder straps and arms also echo our nautical roots. Winter is a perfect time to spend some hours on major knitting projects like this!

…but when the sun shines… we’re OUTSIDE! Everything is so pretty dusted with snow…

…and the mist and alpenglow make even long-time residents stop to savor the view.