"Who knew Fairbanks was so fabulous! " Michelle
We’re rushing headlong into it now. I feel like a Chilean miner being lowered quickly towards the bottom of a dark chasm. Or like a coin that’s been dropped from the top of a very deep well. Falling, falling. We will hit bottom in just ten more days. People are counting down; noting the duration of today’s light along with a reminder that there will be 4 minutes less of it tomorrow. And 4 minutes less the day after that. This will culminate on Dec 21 – the shortest day of the year – and immediately boomerang towards summer, in daily 4 minute increments. (I feel like it used to be 7. Anyone?)
December 28 will mark one year since we’ve been here. These days remind me of that time. The sun comes up around 10:44am and it’s dark again by 3PM.
We had no idea what to expect from Fairbanks. The idea of arriving in Alaska in the dead of winter is pretty daunting. We landed just after midnight with the temperature sitting at minus 10.
What does that feel like? Not so bad.
I had steeled my nerves for what I expected to be complete darkness the next day and foreseeable future. But at around 11am something miraculous happened: the sun peeked up above the horizon. It stayed there for about 3 hours, casting long sunset shadows. But there was daylight.
Not so bad.
Fairbanks is just 4 miles wide and very easy to navigate. It was often too cold to snow and when it did, the snow was dry and powdery but it lay on top of a sheet of ice. Driving on ice? Nerve wracking. But not so bad.
(Ok, actually, it’s pretty bad).
It’s not hard to get to Fairbanks. It just takes a long time. It’s not the kind of place you accidentally end up in. You have to come here on purpose and decide if the reason is enough to justify losing an entire day of your life.
The first time I came here I felt like Red, Morgan Freeman’s character in “The Shawkshank Redemption.” I too was “at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”
The second time I came here I felt like The Warriors – battling through an arduous journey in search of the one thing that signals that everything will be alright. For them it was the Coney Island Wonder Wheel.
There has to be some famous quote that addresses the opposite of familiarity breeding contempt. Something about the need to find a recognizable touchstone, particularly when you find yourself in a foreign place. (I am not talking about that thing that drives Americans to eat McDonald’s while in Paris.)
Diane Lane’s character in “Under The Tuscan Sun” understood it: “Pick one room, make it yours.”
I guess that’s called nesting. Maybe you need to nest with the town.
The second time I arrived, I landed during daylight, scanning and searching the ground below for something familiar, anything to help make sense of this place.
(Cue the Talking Heads: “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife.”)
The plane descended clumsily like a fat bumblebee. Dangling over downtown I spied the steeple of Immaculate Conception church. I know that place. And all of my scattered ducks got themselves into a row. I know that place. And I know that river.
I am not home but I am now in a place I know.
(“Same As it Ever Was”)
P.S. If you’re wondering about that image, learn more here.