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?
In this post, I give a glimpse on lifestyle in Fairbanks in Interior Alaska which is below the Arctic Circle. This means that even on winter solstice there is some daylight in Fairbanks. Read how people up here fight winter depressions when it is cold outside.
- What Is Cold in the Interior?
- Artists Use media from Photography to Glass Beads or Maps
- Quilting and Other Needlework
- Ice Hockey, and Other Indoor Sports
- Playing Games to Fight Winter Depressions
- Life in the Dark, Colder than in a Freezer
- Social Events Are Rare, …
- It’s All or Nothing at the Last Frontier
- Sourdoughs Are Tough when It Comes to fight Depressions
- What’s a Sourdough Status
- Short or No Daylight Impacts the Mood
- The Role Summer Plays for Winter Moodiness
- It’s All about Vitamin D
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. All statements are just my observations, and report on the lifestyle in the Fairbanks area, but by no means scientifically approved to reduce, overcome or fight depressions. When you suffer from SDD and want to fight depressions seek medical help from a professional.
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.
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 and some men 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. Qiviut 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?
Playing Games to Fight Winter Depressions
Many old people love to play cards, board games, pull tabs or bingo to fight winter depressions. 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. Solving puzzles is popular among baby boomers. More on ideas what you can do when you are bored.
Life in the Dark, Colder than in a Freezer
At temperature below -20F (-28.9oC), nobody leaves the warmth and coziness of a heated room when they don’t have too. Even shopping gets postponed as long as possible. In the frigid cold, long winter with its long dark night, Alaskans fear nothing more than SDD (seasonal depression disorder) and cabin fever. The former leads to high suicide rates, the latter to the most weird things. Nobody can imagine that they really happened unless they had spent at least one winter in Interior Alaska.Baby it's cold outside, when it's dark outside. #Alaskan #quote Click To Tweet
Cabin Fever and SDD Are Big Fears
Given the extremes of cold, darkness and loneliness of the place – its the Last Frontier after all – people look forward to social every event that gives them a reason/motivation to bundle up and get out of the apartment, house, or cabin. Such social events are, for instance, the start of the Iditarod in Fairbanks or Anchorage, a fancy formal ball, a Governor’s inaugural ball, an ice hockey game, a sled dog race, the World Championship in Ice Carving, or once in a blue Moon even fashion shows!When you don't get a trip to Hawaii for Christmas, your risk for cabin fever or SDD increases. #Alaska #lifestyle Click To Tweet
Social Events Are Rare, …
but the odds better than everywhere. In large communities like you know them in Europe, on the West and East Coast, down south at the Gulf of Mexico coast, in the Denver area, or in the Great Lakes area, you wouldn’t think anything about several events taking place at the same time. There, it’s often so, that you can’t even get any tickets at all. But you would think that in a community of 33000 or so with maybe 100000 in a 6 hours drive radius, such social events would be coordinated, right?At least, you can get tickets when you want to. #Alaska #lifestyle Click To Tweet
It’s All or Nothing at the Last Frontier
Nope! Just two examples of this year. The annual 40 Below Ball and the celebration of life for the Chatanika Nightingale Theresa Burger-Bauer took place on the same day and time. She had entertained so many dance events in the community with her lovely voice and excellent music, ever since she started performing.
Another example was the start of the Yukon Quest in Fairbanks. On the same day, there were two other big events that competed for the audience/participation of young people between 14 and 20 years in age. One of them was the annual Valentine’s Day Dance with performances of the Lathrop High School Ballroom Dance Team. The other was a youth science show/event.It's all or nothing at the Last Frontier. #Alaska #Lifestyle Click To Tweet
Sourdoughs Are Tough when It Comes to fight Depressions
The running joke is: Fairbanksans always complain about the phenomenon of that there is either nothing social going on on a weekend, or there are several things at the same time that they would love to attend. Their explanation is “It’s Alaska. Its charm are its extremes.”You can't have everything at the same time. Click To Tweet
What’s a Sourdough Status?
When you are attending a party in Alaska and people don’t know you, the first thing they will ask is how many winters you have been in Alaska. Everyone less than three winters is considered a greenhorn. The time in Alaska is measured in winters being there. The unit is called Sourdough Status.
In Alaska, an old time Alaskan is called a sourdough. You are respected by the winters you survived in the darkness, and bitter cold weather of the harsh and beautiful land at the Last Frontier. The term relates to the facts that in the early times, Russian trappers and later in the Gold Rush time, goldminers carried their sourdough starters against their bodies everywhere. Doing so was needed, as their woodstove-heated dry cabins would quickly cool when the stove went out when they could feed their stove while they were outside.
Another curiosa is that companies who were founded very early often have the term sourdough in their name even when they don’t sell bread, pancakes and alike. The first photo in this post, for instance, shows the store of a rental car company in Bethel and their name is guess what?
Short or No Daylight Impacts the Mood
Recall Alaska is very large. Therefore, 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 won’t rise above the horizon again until January 22. Obviously, 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. More on white nights and dark days.
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 spent 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 to fight winter depressions.
Photos of me: G. Kramm
Other photos: N. Mölders
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