Several readers asked me lately
What do Alaskans do during the long, dark nights of winter when temperatures are below -20F (28.9oC) for more than a week or so to keep the blues away?
What is cold in the Interior?
In the Interior, the “cut-off” temperature for outside activities is about -13 to -10F (-25 to -23oC) or so. At temperatures above this threshold, they still run, bike, snow machine, ski, cross-country ski, ski-jor, dog mush, or walk their dogs, you name it.
Being self-entertaining is a must
Below this threshold, people avoid leaving the house and try to stay warm. If they have to leave the house, they greet other people who also had left their house
I hope it is cold enough for you today.
The first cold snaps with temperatures below -20 (-28.9o) typically occur in November. Cold snaps with below -20F are rare in March, but may still occur like in March 2007 when we had even less than -40F (-40oC).
When captured in the house for several days due to über cold, frigid outside conditions, staying busy and being self entertaining is an important key to not get cabin fever. In the Interior, many people play an instrument and they play their instruments well. Thus, Fairbanks has a semi-professional symphony orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, not to mention many bands including a community big band. Famous musicians from the Interior are the fiddler Caitlin Warbelow and the opera singer Vivica Genaux.
Artists use media from photography to glass beads or maps
There are many artists, for which there is a vivid First Friday culture. A silver smiting artist who is known beyond Alaska is Judy Goom who makes beautiful silver jewelry of Alaskan animals, plants and flowers. Some time ago I featured an artist who uses maps and satellite images to make beautiful paper and metal gowns. Unfortunately, you can’t wear them. 😦 Painting in oil or water color are very popular too. Many women spend the cold days with beading. The beautiful flowers are a traditional Athabaskan motive. However, contemporary designs are also beaded on barrettes. The art is sold in summer at the Farmer Markets, fairs, in hotel gift stores and in the souvenir stores in town or at the International Airports.
Quilting and other needlework
Many women quilt bed throws and blankets or wall decorations. Some of those wall quilts are exhibited at museums, and in the airports. The quilts are also often used for fund raising.
Women and men alike knit sweaters, scarves, beanies, socks, mittens, and/or head bands. These items are sold at local clothing stores. Qvuit items are super insulating and very durable. They are knitted from the under-wool of musk ox using traditional pattern.
Ice hockey, and other indoor sports
Ice hockey is a favorite indoor in the Interior as are basket ball, volley ball, figure skating, ballet and various disciplines of dancing like square dance, round dance, country dance, swing, Argentine tango, just to mention a few. Famous figure skater and ballroom dancer from Fairbanks are Cordero Zuckerman and Melaina Larson, respectively. Fairbanks also has several folk dancing and belly dancing troops. How do the names Friends in Dance or Tundra Caravan sound?
Many elderly love to play cards, board games, pull tabs or bingo. The young generation prefers video games. Well, over 200 TV channels also keep people busy switching from one to the next channel in search for passive entertainment.
Short or no daylight impacts the mood
Recall Alaska is very large. Thus, the length of daylight in Juneau, for instance, differs strongly from the lengths of daylight in Fairbanks or Barrow. In Barrow, Alaska’s northern most city, the Sun set on November 17 and it won’t rise above the horizon again until January 22. Thus, besides the cold, the shortness and/or lack of sunlight are a major problem. Without daylight (or in summer dark nights) you may loose your feeling of time. In summer, the lack of dark nights may even affect the orientation when people are in an area they are not familiar with.
The role summer plays for winter moodiness
In the Interior, people say that a rainy summer will lead to grumpy people in winter. This saying relates the vitamin deficit to the mood of people. The deficit builds up over winter due to the short daylight hours and low sun. Thus, in a rainy summer, the cloudy conditions mean that people build less vitamin D and go with a lower level into the dark and cold season. In March, the deficit is at its maximum, i.e. the vitamin D level is at a minimum.
It’s all about vitamin D
Studies show that Alaskans who spend their holiday break down south in sunny states or countries, get a boost in vitamin D and are less likely to get cabin fever. I was advised to take 5000 (five thousand) mg of vitamin D a day to keep the winter blues away. Some people go into tanning studios for vitamin D and to not have to take pills.
I hope this post answers the above question. However, I am sure it opens up a lot of followup questions. Please do not hesitate to contact me so I can address them too.
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Photos: G. Kramm (2016)
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