Saturday night, a night that came early and stayed late, I attended a solstice potluck party. This particular party has been an on-going event since before I arrived in Fairbanks almost 30 years ago. When I attended that first time in 1986, the host was English teacher and literary salon keeper Madge Clark. Now the hosts are her adult daughter Putt and son Tom, their spouses, three boys, and two extra large dogs, two medium sized dogs, two confident cats and one slender elegant snake. Now, as it was then, the Christmas tree was decorated with real burning candles. Add to those candles, a variety of Christmas lights, more candles, and eventually a roaring bonfire just outside.
That night the world was wobbling close to its moment when the north pole would begin to tip toward the sun, first by a few seconds a day or two, then a few minutes, then by the six-plus minute daily leaps toward those nightless days of mid-summer.
Surely there are no people living near the poles who don’t anticipate and celebrate the returning of the light. We are animals who crave the light.
I’m thinking about Dylan Thomas’s plea to his father to resist going “gently into that good night,” of that inevitable connection between darkness and death. Which is not to say that I’m feeling poorly these days. I feel pretty healthy just now; it’s our larger culture that seems to want to usher me down the exit ramp.
Item from the Ellsworth (Maine) American: “Gouldsboro police helped Winter Harbor police Sept. 20 in an accident involving an elderly man. Police said the man lost control of his bicycle and went off the road. He was transported to Maine Coast Memorial Hospital.”
That elderly man? I’m he. Yes, I was a bit befuddled from the knock on the head I suffered. But anybody would have been. What’s annoying is the implicit notion that somehow I should not have been where I was, doing what I was doing. I’d say I was simply living my life. I don’t know how else to live, and I’m not sure I or anybody else needs to live any other way than his own. We’re here to do what we can, what we love for as long as we’re able.
On that pre-solstice night, the kids ran and jumped off the stairs, played in the fire. A ukulele quintet serenaded us. People who’d not seen each other since maybe at the same party the year before sat and talked about the things we cared about. The table was crowded with delicious food and just as quickly emptied down to the platters it came on. Meanwhile, the dogs policed the floor, vacuuming up the bits that fell from people’s plates. The snake charmed, and the cats suffered themselves to be picked up and made over by strangers. When it was time to go, we found our coats in the mound piled in the arctic entry, found one shoe then its proper mate among the multitude on the floor.
The next day, sunny and sharp, I joined my fellow SCUM for a short ski. Before we adjourned to the SCUM clubhouse for doughnuts and coffee, we launched three sky lanterns. Once we warmed the air inside their paper sacks with a benzene torch, they lifted off, flew straight up. But high above us, they caught a light current and headed off to the east. When last seen, they passed beyond the tops of the distant birch trees.
Here were small episodes of joy, honestly come by. Tomorrow, the day you read this fellow writer, the Fairbanks day will be four seconds longer. In all our rushing around, we may fail to notice that little bit of new light. But it’ll be there.
Still, I find it difficult not to think on those I know and love who’ve been hit hard by events in their lives that make it hard to live as they might wish, or even to continue to live. Yet even at the worst times, we live, live as we’re able, live as only we can.
“More light”: those were said to be Goethe’s last words. They needn’t be a valediction, though. Instead, let’s think of them as a wish for everything that can happen in the coming light.
Frank Soos has lived in Fairbanks for almost 30 years, for the past eleven with wife Margo Klass. His next book of essays, Unpleasantries, will be published by the University of Washington Press in the spring of 2016. He is the current Alaska State Writer.