Alaska’s Arctic lights & Arctic nights
We’re continuing a series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity, in which we highlight the 50 states of America and give people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Alaska.
Capital: Juneau. Bird: willow ptarmigan. Dog: Alaskan malamute. Flower: alpine forget-me-not. Tree: Sitka spruce. State sport: dog mushing.
Right now in Fairbanks, located near the midpoint of the state, there are 5 hours and 41 minutes of daylight. Sunrise is around 9:45 A.M., and sunset is 3:26 P.M. By next month’s winter solstice, there will only be 3 hours and 43 minutes of daylight. Come June, the land of the midnight sun will boast 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight. Welcome to Alaska, The Last Frontier that stretches across land and sky.
I learned these facts from a picture book titled Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, which describes Alaska’s light, month by month. The book also includes a dictionary with Arctic-specific sky terms, such as alpenglow, blinks, diamond dust, flat light, glints, sparkles, sun dogs, and northern lights (reflected on the state seal). Fairbanks even has an Aurora Borealis Lane. Alaska is adventure, everywhere you go.
Its flag — dark blue with eight golden stars — makes you look up at the night sky. There’s the North Star, for the USA’s most northern state. And there’s the Big Dipper, part of Ursa Major, the bear, in honor of the state’s various ursine populations.
Alaska Day, the anniversary of the transfer of the territory from Russia to the United States, happened on October 18, 1867. Secretary of State William Seward, under President Abraham Lincoln, oversaw the raising of the flag at Sitka. But long before there were flags, the land belonged to the Aleut, Athabascans, Yupiks, Inupiaqs, and others indigenous peoples, which now comprise 16% of the state’s population. Alaska finally became a state in 1959, the 49th state to be admitted. (Hawaii became number 50 later that year.)
Alaska is known as The Great Land. It’s the biggest state in land mass — totalling 1/5 of the lower 48’s territory. It’s a place of islands and volcanoes, of lakes and glaciers, of twenty native languages. The economy is dominated by oil and gas. Its primary export? Seafood. Its primary import? Tourists.
You can enter Alaska by cruise ship, experiencing more coastline than exists in the entire USA. You can enter Alaska by plane, landing in Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau. You can drive North to Alaska along one of three different routes and meander through Canada along the way. You can go until you can’t go no more, to Utqiagvik, North America’s northernmost city, in the Arctic Ocean. If you visit this Iñupiaq settlement between November 18 and January 23, you will experience 24-hour darkess. If you prefer endless light, come May 12 to August 2.
Because Alaska is so remote and is comprised of so many people groups, a trip there can be like visiting another country. Look for local food that is Alaska Grown, for products Made in Alaska, and for art and artisan-work by Native artists identified by the Silver Hand Program.
And make time to go outside at night. The Northern Lights are best seen during Aurora Season, between late August and April, when it’s less sunny. Most people view them from the interior region, but if you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Arctic and marvel at electricity and gasses combining in wild colors above your head.
No matter which way you choose to chase the aurora, plan on staying up late and sleeping in or taking an afternoon nap. You’re on vacation, it’s OK.“
Emily Dickinson did not live in Alaska, but she did write about the northern lights.
Of Bronze and Blaze (319)
Of Bronze — and Blaze —
The North — tonight —
So adequate — it forms —
So preconcerted with itself —
So distant — to alarms —
An Unconcern so sovereign
To Universe, or me —
Infects my simple spirit
With Taints of Majesty —
Till I take vaster attitudes —
And strut upon my stem —
Disdaining Men, and Oxygen,
For Arrogance of them —
My Splendors, are Menagerie —
But their Competeless Show
Will entertain the Centuries
When I, am long ago,
An Island in dishonored Grass —
Whom none but Daisies — know.
The lights come when they wish, not when we wish them. They are “Unconcern.” Their beauty, “Competeless Show.” Dickinson devotes the first stanza (thirteen lines) to the lights and only the six lines in the second stanza to herself. When you look up into an Alaska sky, you realize you are very, very small.
Poetry Prompt: Alaska Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Alaska (research more, if you want!) and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Alaska: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Alaska Marine Highway, travel by ferry from Bellingham, Washington (book in advance!)
Aleutian Islands, site of a protracted battle in WW2
Hannah Elizabeth Breece, a pioneering schoolteacher in Alaska of old
Denali National Park and Preserve, includes the tallest peak in North America, Mt. Denali
Leslie Leyland Fields, author and poet
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, more than 8 million acres
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, frequented by cruise ships
Katmai National Park and Preserve, more brown bears than in any other national park
Jon Krakauer, author, not from Alaska but wrote about it in Into the Wild
Iditarod, sled dog race and reconstruction of old trade routes
Jack London, author, not from Alaska but wrote about it in White Fang
Bob Ross, learned to paint at the Anchorage U.S.O., host of PBS show The Joy of Painting. His calendar graced my wall this past year.
Photo by Vincent Guth, Creative Commons, via Unsplash. Post by Megan Willome.
Browse more 50 States of Generosity
“Megan Willome has captured the essence of crow in this delightful children’s collection. Not only do the poems introduce the reader to the unusual habits and nature of this bird, but also different forms of poetry as well.”
—Michelle Ortega, poet and children’s speech pathologist
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Bethany R. says
“Dickinson devotes the first stanza (thirteen lines) to the lights and only the six lines in the second stanza to herself. When you look up into an Alaska sky, you realize you are very, very small.” Love what you notice here, Megan. Thank you for another fascinating and unique tribute!
Megan Willome says