Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Not the Quantity but the Quality of Light

Often forgetting I wasn’t born there, people are intrigued when they learn that I lived in Alaska for nearly a decade in the 1980s.

I’ll hear more such comments yesterday and today which mark the shortest days of the year. Beginning now each day in Durham will extend by several seconds of daylight per day until by January 10th, when Durham will begin picking up more than a minute of daylight per day.

Anchorage, where I used to live, will pick up daylight much faster, increasing more than a minute per day by December 27th and all but catching up with Durham by the end of

By March 1st in Anchorage, days will be lengthening by more than 40 minutes a week compared to less than 16 in Durham.

At this time of year, Durham may have 40% more daylight (10 seconds more than even Raleigh in fact) but it isn’t the amount of light that distinguishes Anchorage. It is the quality of the light. Frankly, in either Anchorage and Durham at this time of year you get ready and commute to work in the dark and it is already dark by the time you return home.

What distinguishes Anchorage at this time of year are the incredibly long stretches of dawn and dusk, accentuated by beautiful pastels (captured beautifully by watercolorist Byron Birdsall and in photography by Clark Mishler) and vistas and long, spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

I can understand that some people experience light sensitivity there which often involves mood swings. Most don’t. I’m sure it is like sensitivity to humidity in Durham during some months. It takes a toll on some people but most adapt.

Other things make Anchorage and Durham similar yet unique. Their populations are comparable with Anchorage having more than 286,000 and the single city county of Durham nearly 270,000 and they are both ethnically diverse.

Bears come into Durham as they do into Anchorage, especially along the railroad track. Anchorage is home this time of year to more than 1,000 moose (300 year-round), Durham 0. I’m sure though that Durham may have as many deer overall. They each have bald eagles but Anchorage often hosts snowy owls. Anchorage has salmon, Durham has bass.

Annual precipitation in Anchorage, at 16 inches, is less than the 20-25 inches where I grew up in the Rocky Mountains (similar to most ski resorts there) but with far less snow. Durham gets 41 inches a year, an amount similar to Seattle.

I’ve been blessed to live and work in both but what I’ll never forget about Anchorage at this time of year and nearly every other time of year is the quality of the light.

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