Tonight I feel profoundly discouraged.
My life stretches out in front of me, never different, never better, just longer.
Sometimes colliding events steal the joy of living. Tonight disappointment swirls into biochemistry and the increasing darkness of early winter. Snow and freezing rain coat the Seward Highway from Girdwood to Anchorage, pushing my driving phobia into panic mode, cutting me off from UU friends in town.
During this first part of Alaskan winter, when each day get darker and shorter, the walls close in, and “hope is hard to find” (as the song says).
Then winter solstice comes, a misleading moment of joy in the return of the light.
There’s still a lot more winter on the other side of solstice. Yes, there’s more light every day, and increasing energy comes with more light. But snow and ice keep building, and we don’t see anything green and growing until mid-to-late May. In their own way, the long months of lingering winter after solstice are just as dispiriting as the darkening days before solstice.
People who have never lived in Alaska often ask us, “How can you stand the winters?”
I have a stock answer––I talk about having hobbies, staying busy, getting outdoors when the sun’s out.
But there’s a deeper answer. Winter teaches perseverance. It teaches the hard-won skills of endurance and persistence, of doing what you don’t feel like doing, because the alternative feels worse.
So on nights like tonight, I move the laundry along, pay the bills, and take Brady with me on a short walk across the street to the post office. I write a post like this one, to get the toxic feelings out of my system, and I make dinner for Liesl and me.
I don’t feel like doing any of those things. I’d rather just curl up under a blanket in the dark. But I know from long experience that the blanket is false comfort. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth, and keep moving, keep doing the right thing.
There’s also some self-nurture involved in surviving Alaskan winters. We’ll probably watch a movie tonight, one that will take me out of myself, distracting me until the mood passes.
And it will pass. That’s the lesson of the turning wheel of Alaskan seasons. Long as the winters are, spring does come, and glorious summer, full of light and Sitka roses.
Photo by Gretchen Fitzenrider.