The Long Sunrise


The last couple weeks, Anchorage was punished for God knows what with days and days of soupy fog and clouds.  Well, yeah, bad weather is more the norm than the exception for Anchorage; but the double whammy of it was it happened during what is already the grim time of year.  Limping our way down to the solstice, we are already under 5-1/2 hours of daylight every day.  You throw in that during that daylight we don’t actually get to see daylight, and it can make a miserable time much more so.  Think about it – skies are dark and gloomy from the time you wake up until just before 10AM, when the skies go to a grey for a couple hours then that grey becomes darker and darker until it’s time to go home in the pitch black of night (or more accurately, the pitch black of an hour before you go home).

Today, all that changed.  A cold front came in last night, bringing crisp dry air and blowing away nearly every cloud in the sky.  That means rather than guessing what the sun is like, we can actually see it … for only 5-1/2 hours of course, but still.    What is sometimes lost is when we talk about longer and shorter days, it’s not that the sun is speeding up or slowing down, it’s just further north or south on it’s path — when the moves across the sky it’s moving across our southern sky at a very low angle.  That’s pretty obvious this time of year when the sun at it’s apex is only about 10% angle above the horizon (or if you point your hand towards the horizon, then stick your thumb up, the sun wouldn’t rise above your thumb).

In all fairness though, the clear skies reminded me how pretty it becomes when the sun really is out this time of year; and it starts way earlier, lasts longer, and ends way later than you would expect.  In short — we have a really really long sunrise and sunset; in all honesty, the sunrise never ends.  While official sunrise was at 10am, the first light of day started before 8am.  Here, that means the glimpses of blue shadowed the edges of the Chugach Mountains.  Seeing them that way reminds me of cool winter mornings when visiting the Southwest, and seeing the first glimpses of the day crack over the rocky buttes.  Come 5pm when I navigate the traffic home, there will be glimpses of that same blue out over the waters heading to the pacific and heading out to start the new day in Asia.

There is a term used in photography and cinematography called “the golden hour” which represents the hour after sunrise and before sunset.  This time of day is when the sun is still bright enough to light a scene, but on its way to a orange sunset, the light goes from bright yellow to golden colors that seem to bring out all the additional accents of faces, objects, and landscapes.  It’s pretty widely agreed that this is the best time to capture an image.  Right now in Anchorage, that “golden hour” lasts for 5-1/2 hours.  At noon today, the sun gave off that soft golden hue.  It’s angle accented the shading in the mountains to the east and west of us.  The trees and snow glowed with the same color the sun reflected.  Further to the north, where the sun sits lower, Denali remains orangish pink in the constant sunset.  All of this awash with a sky heavy blue that hides little of the night above it.

Short days are tough on us Alaskans.  It’s a leading cause of depression, especially when compounded with bad weather and the holiday season.  Yet even we know that sometimes all you need is a little bit of sun … even if its just a little … to raise your spirits with what this place can give you.




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