I said I wouldn’t go there. It’s cold. I don’t do cold. It’s dark. I don’t like dark.
My husband was born in Fairbanks and had mentioned early in our relationship his desire to go back to Alaska at some point. I might have dismissed the idea as a quick flash and then didn’t give it a second thought.
So you can imagine his surprise when discussing assignment options in the fall of 2012 and I said, “let’s go for Alaska.”
At the time we were living in a place dubbed the Concrete Jungle, and at the tail end of several back-to-back transitions: 3 moves preparing for a 4th, 1 deployment and 2 babies all in the span of 5 years. I was exhausted, disconnected and completely unsettled. I needed something different.
From the options we were given, Alaska seemed to promise stability (a 3-year assignment) and a place for us to find our footing again, to reconnect and finally feel whole again.
But, it meant a mind shift. Alaska is cold. Really cold. And how would we manage 8 months of darkness? What would that feel like, look like?
Mindset is Everything.
In October, every year, I would wake up one Saturday and be struck by how dark it was. Boom. Winter is here. Ready or not. But, with the darkness also came relief. I could sleep. Life slowed down. We had an excuse to sit and hang out at the local coffee shop. It was time to pull out the down jackets, cozy winter boots and settle in.
Then came the anticipation. When would the first snow fall? We’d watch the mountaintops for the fateful Termination Dust, aka, first snow. And that first snow was magical. Every time. In Alaska, you rely on the snow not just for the winter fun it brings, but for the light it brings. Suddenly, winter isn’t so dark but a spectacular winter wonderland.
You Figure It Out.
I spent the first winter learning to cross-country ski right alongside my then 5-year-old daughter. It was in those evenings, where I saw dozens of families out, everyone skiing and celebrating in the gifts of winter that I really stopped in awe. Winter isn’t something to fear, it isn’t something to loathe, but something to embrace. It was in those evenings I began to find the community I so longed for and had missed in the years of our constant transitions.
Families were out skiing with babies or toddlers sometimes babies and toddlers in tow and it became clear that this is just something you do in Alaska. If you live here and have any hope in thriving, you just figure out how to take action with whatever you have.
Remember the Light
Circumstances are extreme here. We had ice for three straight months this past year. There were days on end where temps didn’t go above 0 degrees. Sometimes negative teens and twenties would hit. Trust me, it’s painful. But it is in these extreme moments where you cling to the hope of better days and you learn to celebrate the small victories all that much more. Getting above 0 on the thermometer is monumental and so is seeing the sun on the horizon at 8:30am again.
A big, fresh snowfall meant a community gathering was imminent either on the ski trails or sledding hills or usually, both. Chores and errands can wait another day. There is snow to play in.
As hard as some days could be, you learned to anticipate the return of better days. Better snow, better sun, better temperatures, and we were always rewarded for the long hard winter with a spectacularly stunning summer. And when those better days came, you got out and played! You do not wait for another day, you put down your pressing to do and you enjoy the gifts outside.
Before Alaska, everything felt hard. I am sure I got into this cycle where I dwelled in whatever wasn’t working in my life and it seemed there was no way out at times. It felt we were in this long unending tunnel and I couldn’t see the world around me.
Alaska taught me no matter how dark the days get, the light will always return.
This was a concept I contemplated before, now I know it to be a fundamental truth.
If I focus on the light and the good, I will soon see only more goodness and light in my world, my environment, my relationships and myself. As our time here unfolded, my health improved, my moods improved, I found my confidence again and I feel grounded again.
My first year here I went to a going away party for a fellow military spouse and with tears in her eyes she said, “a lot of healing happened here.” I remember thinking, “I want that.” I didn’t know what that would look like or feel like for me, but I knew then I could get there. Alaska is a special place and it can’t help but change you.