Posts Tagged ‘horizon’

Sunrise comes with sunset; the day really is too short when it’s 75 minutes long

January 25, 2011

We watched the darkness go away

At the side of a lagoon or a bay.

     Forget solar power,

    It’s only up for an hour

The twilight is longer than day

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  I’m taking a sabbatical to bring myself back from the brink of burnout, while my one-year non-compete clause ticks away, having adventures, working in out-of-the-way places, and visiting family and friends.  Currently I’m in Barrow, Alaska.

Barrow’s annual sixty-three days of darkness ended Sunday with sun-up a little past one in the afternoon, followed shortly by sun-down.  Another doctor, a guitarist, Bethany and I went out to watch, with a temperature of sixty-five degrees below zero.

The Arctic Circle runs slightly north of Fairbanks, dividing the land of the Midnight Sun from the rest of the world.  At the Equator, the sun shines twelve hours daily, and days last as long as nights.  As one travels north or south, day length during the summer grows, and during the winter shrinks, until at the Poles day and night each last six months.  In Barrow, halfway between the Anchorage and the North Pole, the summer sun stays up 82 days and the winter sun goes away for sixty-three days.  If light did not bend in the atmosphere, the darkness and light would be more symmetric.

Thus, the local joke about the detective questioning the suspect, starting with, “Where were you on the night of November to January?”

We dressed for the cold and set out from the hospital after lunch.   

Humans exude water, and in extremely cold weather groups of humans and their activities create what the meteorologists call “habitation haze.”  We left Barrow shrouded in fog, but three miles from home, clear of the ground cloud, we could see the tip of the disc peeking out from the horizon, and we turned east.

Punchy with the thrill of seeing the sun for the first time, we got out of the SUV, leaving the engine running and the heater going full blast. 

I underestimated the cold.  After forty-five seconds trying to use the camera bare-handed, I realized how close to frostbite I’d gotten, and I went back into the vehicle.  After I warmed up, I buttoned my parka, put on my aviator’s mittens, and went back out.

Such cold becomes a sharp presence, and the slightest breath of wind hones its edge and it cuts like a razor.

But the angle of view, towards the south, meant that the habitation haze of Barrow interfered with the best view.  We got back into the SUV and headed north towards the point, laughing and joking and giddy with daylight.

We stopped in the parking lot where the road ends, and angled the windshield south.  Out in the bitter cold, with a full view now of the sun, we watched it climb to its zenith, not quite clearing the horizon, taking pictures, while our breath condensed into white crystals on our outer layers.

We observed the sun’s descent from inside the vehicle, the robust SUV heater struggling against the cold. 

The colder the air, the more it refracts, and the horizon appeared further away than expected; rather than dropping away in the distance, it rose.

At quarter past two in the afternoon, the day ended, and we headed back to town. 

We’d been out all day and we still got back in time for football.

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