The first time my sister came to Alaska was in 1974. She flew directly to Barrow from the East Coast without any time off to acclimatize in Anchorage. She stayed for over six weeks. By the time she left, I wasn’t sure I’d ever get her back to Alaska again.
She came at the end of May, just in time for my husband and his family to be taking their traditional hunting trip on the tundra on Memorial Day weekend. It was possibly one of the coldest, wettest and most miserable of hunting trips I ever took in my 28 years in Barrow. Fortunately, I had many beautiful trips to compensate for the memory of how miserable this one was. My sister didn’t.
All she knew was that it was May and she was being snowed on. And the wind was blowing and the sky was gray and that mythical midnight sun was never visible due to the cloud cover that seemed a permanent part of the landscape. That she survived this hunting trip at all is a testament to how kind and gracious and loving the Inupiat people, and my in-laws in particular, are. They did their best to make up for the constant snow, wind, fog and – just for the occasional surprise – rain that seemed to be the full extent of our weather that spring.
The next time Judy came to Alaska was over 20 years later when she flew to Anchorage to help me celebrate my 50th birthday. My birthday is in February. It was cold, snowy, icy and the sun was but a distant myth. We did everything we could in the few hours of daylight available. I kept trying to make things seem better than they were by repeating that in Barrow the sun had just returned and wasn’t above the horizon for even an hour yet. I thought this would make our three hours seem special to her. It might have on some very deep level. But basically my sister is a beach kid who needs daily sunlight to find meaning in life. Three hours a day just wasn’t cutting it.
In fact, the only good thing I could find about the darkness was that she couldn’t see the drive we had to take to upper Hillside each day to reach my friend’s home where we were all staying. Some things are better imagined than seen in reality. The drive up my friend’s driveway alone would fall into that category, let alone the drive all the way up the hill in the middle of winter.
After I moved to Anchorage, I once again decided to try to entice her into believing that Alaska is more than rain, snow, darkness and clouds. She came up for Thanksgiving on the theory that she had liked the snow shoeing we’d done during my birthday celebration and she could keep herself amused playing in the snow.
Except this occurred winter before last when it rained straight through the entire month of November. The circle in front of my house had enough ice to double as an Olympic ice skating venue. Taking a walk meant slipping and sliding though ice and rain, mud and dirt. The sun never shone. The snow never fell.
And now she’s going to come up to give Alaska a chance in the summer. I’ve been bragging big time about the warm weather we’ve been enjoying, the sunlight that has bathed my deck in a golden hue, the long walks communing with a benevolent nature.
Then, as luck would have it, they tagged that pesky seed eating bear right on the street where I walk. And those darn moose started appearing with their babes so that I have to walk up, down, around and back trying to find a safe way to pass them. The mosquitoes finally came into their own and have made walking a hand waving sport. Worse of all, the sun went in. And the clouds appeared. And the rain started falling.
Once again she will be greeted by cold, wet and gray weather. The great and beautiful land I’ve always described will only exist to her to the extent that she still believes anything I say about Alaska anymore. And I find myself thinking that I will probably be paying her plane ticket to Alaska for a long time yet to come.