Winter is only three months long

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - 20:00

This piece has appeared in the Star before, but I think it merits an encore in that it’s relevant to our physical and mental health. If you adopt a calendar that I’ve been using for years, you’ll learn that winter is really only three months long.

So at the risk of sounding delusional, which is not a rarity for Alaskans wearily resigned to winter’s dark cocoon, here is how I apportion the 12 months—a guaranteed sanity preserver— provided you are ready and able to do one thing: go outdoors.

I call the 2-1/2 months from February 1st through April 15th Spring. By February 1st increasing daylight is noticeable and although temperatures can still be nippy, the long sunrises are spectacular and the snow is usually in great condition for cross-country and downhill skiing as well as snowshoeing. Daylight burgeons rapidly by late February, early March, when with prudence, Cayman Island-type tans are possible.

Summer is my longest season, from April 15 to September 15—a full five months in duration. The sun has dramatically reborn itself by April 15, and snow is beginning to melt from the mountains’ south-facing slopes. Hiking is fantastic in these areas, like Bird Ridge south of Anchorage, because the leaves are not yet on the bushes and trees.

Clear-sky days in May and June are the real heart of summer for me. There is something psychologically uplifting about moving into increasing daylight. If you plan to pursue the outdoor things that Alaskans are supposed to do: fishing, hiking, camping, biking, boating, get with it as often as possible during these months.

July and August are often cloudy and wet, but they are genuinely good months for savoring the season’s flurry of photosynthesis, both in the garden at home and in the mountains. You will notice small incursions of darkness into daylight, but try to remain positive. It will take a considerable amount of time to erode all the daylight that’s been accumulated. When a sunny day pops out, drop everything and take it. Two consecutive sunny days at this time of the year are as rare as a legislator with a specific idea on how to cut the state budget.

September can produce a brief heat wave, or Indian summer, and by many old timer’s reckoning, is the nicest month of the year, with all of the autumn colors, the good fishing, hunting, berry picking, and crisp, cool mornings. This is still summer.

Fall begins September 15 and lasts until November 1. Trout fishing during the last part of September is excellent, and even well into October, as most lakes don’t really begin freezing until late October or early November. Hiking is again ideal, because leaves are off the trees and there generally isn’t enough snow at lower elevations to make traveling difficult. Pestiferous insects are almost unseen. Astronomy buffs welcome the reappearance of stars after several months’ hiatus—and aurora borealis viewing is good if you can find dark-sky locations.

My winter officially begins November 1, and extends until February 1—three months. An equal number of holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, help break this up, along with a possible trip to warm havens like Hawaii or Mexico. Moonlight skiing and snowshoeing, even weenie roasts, are great winter spell-breakers, as are good books in front of warm fires.

A south-facing window, either at your place of employment or at home, is a real plus during the depths of winter. Just 20 minutes of glass-filtered sunshine is uplifting, and of course, there is full-spectrum lighting, which some people claim is highly effective in ameliorating light-deprivation syndrome, or Seasonal Affected Disorder, called SAD.

At our south-facing home we receive about 90 minutes of direct sunlight on Dec. 31, the shortest day of the year. As many chances as I get, I’ll drop everything and crane my neck toward those precious photons. If you subtract sleeping time, your conscious exposure to winter, according to my calendar, is really only two months.

Before you know it, February 1, or Spring, has sprung. I do not allow snow-on-the-ground to define seasons. Rather, the sun’s warmth and light are the seasonal triggers. As I said earlier, the best skiing in the year is just beginning in February.

In summary, Spring is 2-1/2 months, Feb. 1 - April 15; Summer is 5 months, April 15 to September 15; Fall is 1-1/2 months, September 15 to November 1; and Winter is just 3 months, November 1 to Feb. 1. That’s a calendar I’ve lived with for many years. Why not give it a try?


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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