Coming home to Alaska in December feels like retreating into a snow globe. Emerald spruce trees are the only color in the winter, and even those are capped with snow. But coming home also means living with too-short days and nineteen-hour nights; we see hardly five hours of daylight on winter solstice. Waking up to complete darkness at ten in the morning is more than disorienting, especially in a small town that hibernates through winter in the wilderness.
In Alaska, even the charming holiday season can’t hide the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of seasonal depression associated with low light. I’m genetically susceptible; my family has a history of clinical depression and while my nuclear family hasn’t suffered an extreme case, it’s easy to see Seasonal Affective Disorder surface in the stunted days of December and January, when it’s light at 10:15 and dusk arrives at 3:45.
When the days feel too short, I need an elevated heartrate to chase out any melancholy. I rely on exercise to balance me out and ward off any creeping symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. One of my favorite ways to stay busy and active is cross-country skiing; it gets me out of the house to enjoy the precious few hours of daylight.
I hop into my dad’s embarrassing minivan and head up to the ski trails at Sunset Loop. Gliding along the fresh powder, in the silence of the woods, heals me. My only companions are the whisk of my ski scales, and the occasional rustle of a spruce bough as a waxwing alights to a better vantage point.
My hands are already sweating when I pole around the corner and shoot down my favorite slope. It’s an uphill climb from here–an ascent that wouldn’t phase me walking has me puffing on skis. Motion is harder and I’m breathless, but I feel strong. I feel my body absorbing every ray of natural light that bounces off the white winter world. I go again for another half loop, but my shoulders fatigue before my legs do. It feels better than anything to get out of the house in the peak of the day. I linger on a snowbank, then pack up my skis.
I drive home, invigorated and ready to work. I remember how little time I have left in winter break. Am I prepared to move into my new apartment? When can I send a wire transfer to my Canadian account? What about keeping up my personal blog? Should I have already ordered my textbooks? Term starts so soon, and I feel deeply unprepared. I sit down at my desk. It’s a mess. My brain, just so sharp from my ski, feels too sharp.
Inundated with tasks, and with no clear starting point, I pull out my planner and start to write. I have to address my nebulous second semester anxiety head-on. I pencil in all my theatre rehearsals for January. I write my rent deadline, I write my brother’s birthday, I write my weekly course-union meeting. I fill my planner with every time commitment I can possibly think of. Then, when it starts to look less bare, I pull out a stack of sticky notes, and write a short To-Do list: mail, library, bank, prescription, laundry.
I search UVic’s website and load my CAPP degree planner. It’s oddly the most comforting page on the university website. I scroll through each requirement and write down the ones I still need to fulfill. It’s reassuring that, even with a semester abroad in Spain, I can graduate in four years, without needing to renew my study permit. I log off and plug in the Christmas lights around my window to bring a little more light into my room.
Suddenly, the day opens up. It’s only 3:00–I ate, I exercised, I organized. I feel in control of my next semester. I close my laptop and pull out a book, then go to the kitchen and flick on the electric kettle for tea. My mom is reading at the table, and I join her with a mug of chai with cream. It’s started to snow again.
The far-off waves on Cook Inlet roll a serene blue-grey. The house is decked in gold and silver Christmas lights. Snow piles up in billowy puffs outside our door. The solstice blues and winter break anxiety of the day seem to melt into irrelevancy. I sip my tea and turn my pages.