As our planet rounds the point on its revolution that we arbitrarily call a new year, you might think to yourself, “How did I get here?” Three-hundred sixty-four days ago there you were, chowing down on Hoppin’ John and starting the year.
Now here you are, the end of 15 years into the 2000s. No one has figured out what to call this decade. The Tens? A hundred years ago no one cared, so busy were they trying to stay alive during the Great War. Now we worry about not losing all those nifty electronic devices so critical to life in the 21st century.
By one of those odd coincidences, today marks not just Christmas Eve, but Eid Milad ul-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, and Friday — that would be Christmas — also is a full moon. It’s the first time there’s been a full moon on Dec. 25 since 1977. As fans of Luke, Leia and Han know, that also was the year the first Star Wars film opened.
Congratulations, citizens. If you’re a new Alaska resident and you’ve stuck it out this long, hurrah. On Monday you will achieve an important Cheechako status, your first winter solstice. That’s also the day winter officially begins, although in Alaska your mileage may vary. We tend to count the start of winter as the day we change our snow tires.
On Monday the Homer City Council passed the budget for 2016, thus showing that unlike the Alaska Legislature they can do the one job they have to do on time and without a lot of drama. OK, a little drama, but still. They didn’t go into extra sessions and even saved the city some money by not meeting twice this month.
Yep, just like you the council has a punch list they have to get done before the end of the year. We’re not talking shopping for the holiday. We’re talking the things you must get done before 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31 ticks into 2016.
The Betster has this neat little iPhone app called SunGraph that can calculate hours of daylight anywhere on the planet. Punch in a few buttons and it shows, for example, that in Tierra del Fuego the sun rises at 5:44 a.m. and sets at 10:53 p.m. If you think our puny 6.5 hours of daylight is depressing, enjoy a cup of schaudenfreude. In Barrow, the chart for sunrise says “no sun today.”
Almost 400 years ago in September 1620, 102 immigrants on the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, Mass. Over the winter, almost half the colonists died of scurvy and exposure. The next spring, the Wampanoag people welcomed the Pilgrims. A Pawtuxet Native, Squanto, taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, catch fish and tap maple trees. In November 1621, grateful for surviving the winter, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag shared a feast. They lived in peace for 50 years.
We Alaskans know about darkness. We know about the chill that descends upon us, sucking joy from life. The events of the world break our hearts, and though we might light candles and pray, sometimes we will wonder if hope can stem the tide of darkness. More die. More are maimed. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, quoting Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Winter can feel like that, an arc of the sun too long to rise far above the horizon. Ice seems to freeze instantly below our feet as we skate across Beluga Lake. Winter has us in her grip.
Now that we’ve dumped Daylight Saving Time for the season, we’ve entered that time when Alaska gets dark and gloomy. If you want to get going on a good winter grump, you’re in luck. Along with darkness comes all varieties of weather misery: snow, ice and rain.
Monday marked the 15th anniversary of continued habitation of the International Space Station. Ever since the first crew arrived on Nov. 2, 2000, at the big tin can in the sky, 220 people from 17 countries have called it a temporary home. Zipping around Earth at 17,500 mph, 26,500 meals have been served at Chez ISS. Drinks have been from water recycled through the station’s Water Recovery System. Don’t think too hard about where that water comes from.
Homer could be like this super-duper productive place except for one tragic flaw: We live in Homer. It’s not that we’re not hard-working souls, ready to take on the tough jobs and get our Carhartts filthy. We do that. Or rather, we try. Sometimes this awesome world on Kachemak Bay gets in the way.
As the city of Homer slouches toward a budget to be born, seasoned citizens might ponder how the heck we ever managed in the days before huge oil revenues and big federal spending. From what the Betster understands in talking to pioneers who lived here long before reliable internet, it was dang tough.
On Oct. 18, 148 years ago, at the Governor’s House in Sitka, Russia formally transferred possession of Alaska to the United States. Soldiers marched, sabers flashed and, oh yeah, the double-eagle flag of Imperial Russia got stuck on the flagpole. Several soldiers had to shimmy up the flagpole to get it loose, only to have the flag flutter down and get impaled by Russian soldiers’ bayonets.
If it seems like Alaska has gotten a little less populated, well, you’d be right. According to a recent report In Economic Trends by economist Neil Fried, 7,500 more people left Alaska than moved here in 2014. That’s not as big as in 1983, when 25,000 people left the state. Don’t panic: the figure is for 2014, before oil prices dropped and politicians began talking about revenue enhancements. OK, next year you can panic.
Should a 22.3-foot tide fall at the same time as a southwesterly, people are like, OMG, look at that, waves be crashing on the Spit. They seem surprised that rocks as big as basketballs get thrown up on the road, turning the asphalt into Tranquility Base after Neil and Buzz blasted off to Apollo 11.
Oh, and then when a cold front out of the west slams into a warm front from the east, the dudes go, Whoa! Snow! Yeah, that’s right. Snow, in Alaska, in September. What did you think this was, Maui?
In the past week, the weather has ranged from toasty warm to rain with a chance of seagulls to just a light touch of mid-elevation termination dust. On Tuesday morning ice covered the Betster’s windshield thick enough to require three minutes of scraping. That includes digging out the ice scraper. Some people never could find scrapers and so used handy implements like spatulas.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, started on Sunday. Yes, it’s now year 5,776, a pretty respectable run for a culture and a religion. It’s also the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, so congratulations ye distant ancestors.
The sandhill crane colts have begun to gather together for the big migration. On the Spit, except for a few brave businesses hanging in there for one last cruise ship visit, many places have closed. At Mariner Park, Mavis Muller and her magical assistants are getting close to finishing Reach, this year’s Burning Basket.
Now that Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has ordered Mt. McKinley be renamed Denali, will other prominent Alaska geographic features be next? The renaming of a mountain with a dead guy’s moniker on it to an indigenous name does raise the question of other appellations.
Ahem, like Homer.
The other day the Betster ran into a friend who has toiled for decades in the visitor industry. Oddly enough, she was not chained to the counter at her way-cool shop on the Spit, but out and about in the middle of the day. As if reading the Betster’s mind, she smiled, and said, “Late August.”
While school teachers, college professors and those who work in the education enterprise have been moaning about going back to work, summer employees run around town with big grins on their faces.
“Late August,” they say.
In the past it happened that moose hunting season and school opened in the same week. The School Board didn’t realize that a hunting family kid might want to skip school the first few days and go hunting with Ma and Pa on opening day.