It’s dark up here in Alaska. Really dark. And getting darker. We’re down to about six hours of daylight and losing four minutes a day. By mid-December, we’ll end up with just over five hours of daylight.
And trust me: Nineteen hours of darkness can take its toil. Which is why I run. And swim. And, even on rest days, take long walks with my partner and the dog or ride-the-bike-that-goes-nowhere at the gym simply to get my blood flowing and my endorphins going. If I don’t, I slump. I become depressed. I find myself complaining about everything from the price of dog food to the way my partner forgets to wipe the counters after washing the dishes (and bless his soul for actually washing the dishes, too).
And maybe it’s because the days are so very short that makes them feel that more precious, and beautiful. The blue shadows of winter are so mesmerizing and lush. They are like another language, one that speaks to the soul, not the mind. Sometimes I think that the whole reason I’ve stayed in Alaska for over 25 years is not only for the wildness and the diversity and the don’t-tell-me-what-to-do attitude but also because of the summer and winter twilight blues. There is truly nothing else like it.
Ironically, I don’t do well in the cold. I don’t have the body type. I’m tall and lean and flat-footed, with low body fat count, and no matter how warmly I dress, I’m always, always cold in the winter (and often in the summer, too). Especially my hands. My damned hands. If I wear heavy gloves then my hands sweat and become cold from the sweat. If I wear lighter gloves, then my hands are too cold. If I wear two pair, I alternate between both states.
This sometimes it gets me down because I want to be able to adapt to the cold, and because I can’t, this causes me to question myself, and my abilities. Shouldn’t I be able to better withstand the cold better? Shouldn’t I want to run 20 miles in single digit temps? Though, to be fair, I’ve very adaptable to the heat and when we vacation in Tucson in the winters, I’m one of those people who wears fleece when it’s in the 70s. Which makes it even odder that I’ve chosen to live in such a cold environment, isn’t it?
But listen: Almost every run, even the blah runs, even the I-don’t-feel-like-taking-a-damned-run, even the my-legs-are-so-heavy-they-‘re-going-to-fall-off run, I see something that awes me, something that takes me outside of myself and makes me aware of the wonder all around. Each time I marvel at how lucky I am to live here, and to have ended up here. I made a lot of bad choices in my life when I was younger and I struggled for years to find someplace where I fit, where I belonged. I moved from state to state, man to man, job to job, and it wasn’t until I reached Alaska that I finally slowed down. I finally understood what it meant to have a home.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for so many things: For my life and my health, my partner and my family, the dog we co-own (Seriously!), the runs I’ve taken and the runs I will take, for the mountains and trees and the moose and the bears and lynx I’ve passed on my many running journeys. Mostly, though, I’m thankful that I get to live in a place that still fills me with awe.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.