Summer Solstice is Almost Here

SummerSolsticeby Anniel   6/14/14
In keeping with my need to be of good cheer, I want to tell you of Alaska and of summer solstice, the time of year people of the north look forward to. Solstice will be here in just one week. The uphill battle for light after winter solstice begins sluggishly, only seconds a day at first. Then minutes – think how minutes add up. Five minutes a day for seven days makes for a hair over seventeen minutes more light each morning, and the same at night.

This all has to do with the tilt of the earth in its orbit around the sun. During summer the further north one goes, the more daylight hours there are. The declension of the sun as it winds its way to the night of June 21st to 22nd determines the sunlight on the surface of the globe. The practical effect of this process is very different at different latitudes. Did you know that the Arctic Circle is the latitude where there is one day a year when the sun never rises over the horizon (winter solstice), and one day a year when it never sets (summer solstice).

In the far north of Barrow the sun never sets for 84 days during summer, from May 12 until November 13, and never rises for 84 days in winter. Either way, telling your children to come home before dark isn’t very practical. Sometimes it’s so light in Anchorage kids try to stay out all night, too.

Yes, we do think of being able to see Russia from our homes, even if Sarah Palin never actually said that. When people from Little Diomede Island in the Bering Strait can reach Big Diomede to visit family you know how close we are. And on a clear day the folks at Gambell on St. Lawrence Island have a pretty good view, too.

Standardized testing can be a pitfall for students in places like Nome. One year the test asked in which direction the sun rises and sets. The choices were: “east/west”, “south/north”, “west/south” and “none of the above”. All of the children were baffled by the question and marked “none of the above”. The direction of sunrise and sunset depends entirely on the time of year. The testing company would not back down on the “correct” answer. Surely everyone knows the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, don’t they?

One story that struck my funny bone was about a first year teacher in Nome from “Outside” (that’s how Alaskans refer to any other place in the world). Christmas was coming and the Teacher’s Manual told her how to do a pageant and dress the kids up as reindeer with tree branches for antlers. A few days before the big day she told the kids that since no trees grow on the tundra they would have to do without antlers. She was greeted with puzzled silence until one boy finally asked, “Why don’t we just use reindeer antlers? My dad has lots.”

We do get a chuckle about our home now and then.

Once Bear told an Outsider new at work that we NEVER have lightning or thunder in Anchorage. We were out that same night when a severe lightning and thunder storm rolled in. I couldn’t understand at first why he was banging his head on the steering wheel. He was so embarrassed. Now we’re careful to stipulate that we rarely have electrical storms here. Strangely just a few miles into the Interior they have lightning and thunder all the time. And they get big forest fires as well.

From about the end of April until September in Anchorage we can’t see the stars at all, and the moon is barely visible. When the first “star”, usually Venus, is visible you know winter is coming. When it’s finally dark enough to go out and look at the sky it’s so cold you have a limited viewing time. Aurora watching requires lots of warm clothes and very warm boots.

After June 22nd we start heading in the opposite direction towards winter, and the people who walk upside down begin their climb to the Southern Hemisphere’s summer.

How strange and wonderful it is to live on a tilted globe, orbiting at just the right distance from a medium sized sun, circling near the edge of a spiral galaxy somewhere in the Milky Way, in the midst of God’s creations.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handywork. Psalms 19:1. KJV • (1909 views)

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13 Responses to Summer Solstice is Almost Here

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Of course, I knew about the sunless days in winter and eternal sun in summer (“with the Northern lights a-runnin’ wild in the land of the midnight sun” from Johnny Horton’s “North to Alaska”). But I didn’t know the specific basis for the Arctic Circle. It doesn’t surprise me, though. I’ve read previously about the way Alaskans (or those who’ve visited long enough to know what it’s like) regard those who know only the false images.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Annie, I treasure your essays in particular.

    Anyone living in the Northwest is a pagan at heart…at least partially. And that is because we are sun worshippers. Oh, I don’t mean the airheads like in California who lie on the beach all day trying to do their best impression of a bronzed god. It’s not the ultraviolet rays we covet. Nor do we covet the sun as an object of the bringer of light.

    Most people understand that there is an Edison (somewhere) behind that gigantic hydrogen-helium light bulb, as marvelous as the atomic fusion process may be.

    No, I mean that we worship the light and warmth brought about by the lengthening of the days and the appearance (warm or otherwise) of the sun. They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. And we Northwesterners prove that because anything that doesn’t move for more than a day will soon be covered in moss.

    Yes, yes, I know I know. There are all kinds of foolish libtards (Wiccans, whatever) running around who actually do worship nature, not Nature’s God. And for some of that they can be forgiven, if only because of their lack of vision and lack of spiritual imagination — combined with the warmth and light of that immediate object (when she comes)…the sun. She is a warm ball that is hard to ignore and easy to appreciate on her own.

    Even so, in the Northwest we do not dance around maypoles to the pipes of pan even though we do have a slightly pagan heart. The most dancing you’ll typically get is jostling (politely) in line at an espresso stand. I often think that light and warmth in the libtard Left Coast doesn’t reach very deep. I think it probably should. Maybe a little dancing is in order.

    And I could well understand the joy for the sun in those parts (such as in Alaska) where the sun all but disappears for long stretches. But you have brothers in sisters in the Northwest on this point, for it might be the Autumnal Equinox and beyond that stands in the way of the sun where you are. But down her we call it “constant drizzle and low cloud cover.” Both amount to much the same thing, even if they are perhaps on different astronomical schedules.

  3. Anniel says:

    I’m embarrassed, I really do know that reindeer have antlers, not horns. Caught not thinking again. And November 14th is NOT the day Barrow is still light, it’s the day they begin their long night. Not thinking x two. I need remedial science.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Any slight edits you want are no problem. Just let me know here or email me. Nobody’s perfect. 🙂

  4. Anniel says:

    Brad. Thanks if you would just change horns to antlers, there are 3 places, same paragraph. Did you know antlers shed, horns just keep growing? I’ll not worry about Barrow.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    July is almost gone. And it has been a throughly summer month here in the Pacific Northwest. We had a hiccough when about a week of cloudy weather interrupted the summer blitz. But, in retrospect, it was a welcome breather from the sun and clear skies which have delightfully dominated. For some (but not for me), it is too much of a good thing.

    Knowing mostly moss and rain, we Northwesterners are in danger of toasting away into brittle and desiccated nothingness by such close proximately to so much sun as were the novelty vomit creatures in the Star Trek episode, Operation: Annihilate!

    And it is about this time after the summer solstice that you can begin noticing Sol giving way, even as temperatures tend to peak. It is not so light as early as it used to be. Neither does the sun linger so long delaying dusk.

    August will come and with plenty of opportunity to another month of summer (even here in the Northwest). Even so, with the summer solstice so far past, warm August days are distinctly punctuated by a slightly cool chill to the night, a reminder of June 21st’s long-ago passing.

    I mark the time in berries. In mid June, salmonberries ripen. In mid July, the red huckleberries are ripe and abundant. And just now — not quite at its peak, which may be in a couple weeks — the blackberries are ripening.

    By the time one gets used to summer in the Northwest, it is beginning to wane away. I’m not sure if I miss the warmth or the late 9:00 p.m. light skies most. No, scratch that. I wouldn’t mind freezing my cojones off if it stayed light until 9:00 pm in January…or July. What must it be like to live on the equator where it is the same all the time?

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    What must it be like to live on the equator where it is the same all the time?

    Generally hot and humid where I lived. The sun rises at about 7:00am and sets at about 7:00pm.

    I didn’t like the humidity, but liked the times of sunrise and sunset. Sunrise in the tropics can be particularly beautiful.

    What I missed was the seasons. After the first five or so months of 90/90 weather, I started to ask, “when does autumn arrive?” Needless to say, it didn’t.

    To those who ask me if Singapore had seasons, I reply, “hot and hotter and wet and wetter”.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, we do have the seasons. Sometimes. It’s not an exaggeration to say that sometimes we have three seasons: Spring, Summer, and Fall. This year the winter was so mild that it was a de facto extended Fall.

      And sometimes Summers are little more than an extended Spring with lots of rain and cloud cover. And that can suck. Even so, you can usually depend on at least three weeks of good weather in the Northwest, usually starting by the second week in July.

      And occasionally we’ll have a bit of an Indian Summer in which late September and maybe a few days in October are warm and sunny. But that tends to be a rarity.

      I certainly wouldn’t enjoy the humidity that some regions get. We just don’t have that in the Northwest. Or when it is humid, it’s never warm. Hot and humid isn’t unknown here, but it is rare. But we do get lots of “cold and clammy.” That’s when you separate the real Northwesterners from the California transplants.

  7. Anniel says:

    Equinox in September is next. Supposedly the whole globe is divided 12 hour day, 12 hour night. I’ve wondered how accurate that is.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I would imagine it isn’t exactly the same all over if only because near the poles it should be possible to cheat out a few more minutes of daylight because of the rays of the sun hitting fairly obliquely. For instance, I’ve read the dusk and dawn are rather abrupt at the equator.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This reminds me of one of our “Friends of FOSFAX” dinners, at the San Antonio world SF convention in 1997. We ate at a revolving restaurant, and by pure chance Elizabeth and I got to see the precise moment when the Sun went behind the hills to the west of San Antonio — a truly lovely sight.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I’ve read the dusk and dawn are rather abrupt at the equator.

        This is correct. Perhaps this is one of the reasons dawn is so beautiful. It is here and soon gone.

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