ShowsBefore You GoBulletin BoardContactAboutSearch
Show and Features |
Culture Watch | Question of the Week | Letters of the Week |
Traveler's Aid | Library | Host's View

Alaska Summer Sosltice

About this time of year, the folks up north are getting ready for June 21st, the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year. It's a time of celebration in many parts of the world, but who could appreciate all that light more than those in Alaska? Geo Beach sent this postcard to tell us how Alaskans do it.

Alaska Summer Solstice
by Geo Beach

Real Audio Listen with RealAudio          help Need audio help?

Dear Rudy,

There's a riot of light up here, a riot in broad daylight, even in the middle of the night. Or, as Theseus, Duke of Athens, pronounces in A Midsummer Night's Dream, a "riot of the tipsy Bacchanals." It's Solstice in Alaska, Rudy, and the sun never sets on this party.

This is "The Land of the Midnight Sun," and around the world of Barrow, Alaska, at 71 degrees North Latitude it's not just a phase. Sunup to sundown lasts more than 80 days. Farther south in Fairbanks they're swinging at midnight: no-artificial-lights-baseball games and teeing off on 24-hour-a-day golfing marathons.

In the United States, calendars proclaim June 21st the First Day of Summer. But in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries, Solstice is celebrated not as summer's genesis but as the apex: Midsummer Day.

The old Celts and Teutons seasoned their years differently, still slicing time into quarters, but spicing the middle of each season with an equinox or solstice. These days in Stockholm, "Midsommar" is a mince of pickled herring, flowers, and liquor-laced dances around the Midsummer Pole.

But for roaring revelry, Rudy, it's hard to beat Alaska, which has plenty of Scandinavian sagas and Viking-types to go around, from Petersburg, "Little Norway", in the Southeast panhandle to the descendants of the Matanuska Valley Colonists in Palmer.

Alaska. Why this is very midsummer madness! The sun stops and stands still as it straddles the Tropic of Cancer. There's no equilibrium up here in this state of extremes. No stars now and the moon is a hollow echo, a thin wisp of winter dreams. "That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow," the Duke would say of Bottom's silly play, but at the Top of the Planet, frosted in blue glaciers and drenched in gold sun, it's true.

It really is a crazing spinning top, this terrain that seems so firm in the Lower-48. Truth is, Earth's tilted, 23-1/2 degrees to be exact, and for one very long Midsummer Day, what a riot, Rudy! Even the most grounded Alaskans are inclined to point at the sun, a little tipsy, and act just about out-of-this-world.

Sun-cerely yours,
Geo Beach

The Savvy Traveler's Geo Beach writes for Sky: A Traveling Magazine on the web at delta-sky.com.


Stonehenge Maybe you know already that Stonehenge, outside of London, is a popular spot to celebrate the Solstice. For a lot of people it's a very spiritual place and, if you're more scientifically minded, it's interesting to note that Stonehenge's axis is pointed roughly in the direction of the sunrise at the summer and winter solstices, so some scientists believe that early people were able to foretell eclipses of the sun and the moon by the positions of them in relation to Stonehenge. Now the reason I'm telling you all this is because this year, for the first time in sixteen years, Stonehenge will be open for the Summer Solstice. British authorities say that, in the past, Stonehenge was a hangout for troublemakers. Last year, riot police came in after gate crashers pushed down fences and climbed all over the stones.

Authorites plan to keep things in check this year by opening Stonhenge for only eight hours under tight security.

Check out these other Solstice websites:

American Public Media
American Public Media Home | Search | How to Listen
©2004 American Public Media |
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy