I have adjusted to Alaska time. Arctic Alaska summer time. Stay up late and wake up late. That’s what the locals do.
At first I thought, This is silly—it’s just a matter of discipline. If people would go to bed earlier, they could wake up earlier.
Now I know. It’s not a matter of what you could do if you had to, but what makes sense to do in the situation. You go outside when the weather is nicest, when the wind is calmest. And for reasons I don’t understand, that’s at night.
In Texas we talk about summer weather according to the heat index. People in the arctic talk about the direction and speed of the wind. The temperature is secondary during the summer. Wind is more important. Wind determines temperature. Direction and speed of the wind tell arctic travelers—who go onto the sea and then upriver by boat, or out to villages by plane, never by car because there are no roads—whether or not it’s safe on the water or in the air, whether they will be traveling off this peninsula at all today.
The days are often foggy and cloudy, and then around 9pm the clouds make room for the bright, sideways glare of the evening sun. And everyone takes to the outdoors. Down to the beach to cook hotdogs over a fire. Or to pull in the salmon nets and see what today’s catch looks like.
I’ve become accustomed to waiting for phone calls when the weather changes. When it changes and the call comes, everything else gets put aside, and I go. Work hard and write fast while it’s raining and windy, and then make the most of the sun. Run to the plane to take off for an afternoon of flying, ride out to the tundra to pick berries, sit by the water’s edge and watch the seagulls and barges and fishing boats.
Now I, too, stay up when it’s sunny and still. I would feel guilty telling people from the Lower 48 what time I get up most mornings. But I’m not in the Lower 48 right now—I’m just trying to live as the locals do.