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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Alaska Solstice

Air Date: Week of August 7, 1998

All summer long, visitors from around the world travel to Alaska to find the land of the Midnight Sun. They usually steal south with the eternal sunlight captured in their cameras. But commentator Geo Beach says those summer visitors are missing something special: the land of the Noontime Moon.

Transcript

CURWOOD: All summer long, visitors from around the world travel to Alaska to find the land of the Midnight Sun. They usually steal south with the eternal sunlight captured in their cameras. But commentator Geo Beach says those summer visitors are missing something special: the land of the Noontime Moon.

BEACH: Our heavens have turned cobalt, and it's no use railing against the dying of the light. Not even the biggest dipper can bail out night this deep. Blue bruises to black, and a dark veil conceals all but a winking sliver of the Great White Alaska. This December packs a triple-play line-up of Chanukah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. But Alaskans start their holiday games a little earlier, on the 21st, the Winter Solstice.

Northern peoples have tracked the winter sun for millennia, stolidly surveying the skies from Stonehenge, boisterously burning the midnight oil in Roman saturnalias, and mischievously mumming across Manchuria. And succeeding religions borrowed and adapted these ceremonies that reflect life's intrinsic orientation to light.

But blinded by the blaze of commercialism, America has forgotten the reasons for these festivals of lights. Up in Alaska, we haven't forgotten. If light is life, it's only natural to be a little afraid of the dark. We live beyond the end of the road, past the last power lines. Like the sky overhead, there's a lot of black between a few minute points of light in Alaska. Winter Solstice is the beginning of the end of that night, the road back to the Midnight Sun. That's great reason to cheer.

This Solstice, we'll be standing outside around a bonfire, watching our world go round. It's traditional. The Anglo-Saxon's Solstice celebration was called heowl for Wheel, which became Yule in our vocabulary. Those guys had figured out the great circular course of the sun wheeling through the skies, and celebrated that everything that goes down must come up.

Alaskans have an expression that what goes around comes around. And on a clear night, you can really feel yourself riding around on top of a tilted planet, holding onto your firelight, your family, and your friends. And if we become brightened by a bit too much home brew, if we tilt and forget some of the words to those carols, our children will sing out the verses we passed along to them, and keep the music going around. And around again.

CURWOOD: Writer Geo Beach arrived in Alaska 15 years ago, on the Winter Solstice. He comes to us from KBBI in Homer, Alaska.

 

 

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