low sun in Anchorage

Low winter sun

We’re a couple of weeks past the autumn equinox now and daylight hours seem to be dwindling fast. I can feel it in the persistent sleepiness I experience every morning. That’s how I’ve always responded to limited daylight — the darker it gets, the sleepier I am, and no amount of caffeine can compensate.

My recent novel Termination Dust  is set in the fall and winter, in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska, so there’s a lot of darkness in it. I remember those days. We woke up in the dark, got ready for school in the dark, caught the bus in the dark, went to our first two or three classes in the dark. By the time we got home in early afternoon, it was almost time for the sun to go down again.

When I graduated from college and returned to Alaska, I went to work and came home in the dark. And I had a crummy car that wouldn’t start unless I ran the engine for a full twenty minutes to warm it up. I kid you not. If I tried to cheat by putting it in gear at nineteen minutes, it died on me. So I’d sit there at the end of my work day, in the dark and arctic cold, and run that engine for twenty minutes. Every day.

The guy I was dating worked night shift. He woke up in the dark, worked in the dark, went to bed in the dark. He didn’t even see the sun on his lunch break, because that came at two in the morning.

At midday in December, the sun hovers low in the sky. Long, blue shadows stretch across the snow. It’s high noon, but it looks more like twilight.

It’s hard for people from lower latitudes to understand. You can describe it to them, but they don’t really get it unless they go way north during that dark time of year. When they see for themselves that the sun is just rising at ten in the morning, then it clicks for them.

Here in Oregon, we have more daylight hours in the winter, but the quality of daylight is pretty low because of the cloud cover. Also, light reflects nicely off snow, not so nicely off the green grass we have here all winter long. So I think it’s kind of a toss-up as to which place is gloomier. It is a lot warmer down here, though.

I’m working on getting up every morning and walking as soon as it’s light, so I get enough sunlight to feel normal this winter. Taking supplemental vitamin D helps me too.

Is the darkness getting to you yet? How do you cope?