Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bold light

That bold Northern Light
that barges in at all hours
without knocking first

When summer came Alex couldn't sleep. Or rather, getting there took an hour as opposed to ten minutes. The sun would be weak behind typical Alaskan grey clouds all day, but would shine tyrannically starting at around 8 pm and wouldn't let up until around 11. Usually Alex, punch-drunk with exhaustion but tricked by the sunlight into thinking that it was 3 pm, would hem and haw and try to get away with playing with Legos when he was supposed to be tucked in his Batman blanket, sleeping.

Theresa tried wearing him down: they went hiking, biking, they visited nearby lakes and attempted to skip stones with varying success. They came back home and he played outside with other kids in the neighborhood who were a bit older than he until around 7, and then came the evening "wind-down" with books and soft music (usually Sigur Ros) and cups of milk. Still, all summer, the light tricked him. He grew progressively weirder the more sleepy he became, and Theresa became progressively more ticked off. When Ben was out searching for shore birds and caribou with his camera it was worse. No rest for the weary and all that.

She was tricked by the light, too. And when it finally grew dark (sometimes as late as midnight, but never really dark enough to see fireflies or stars) she would troll around places she had no business in online - her mother always said that any place you're in after midnight is a place you have no business in: the Missed Connections on Craigslist, sex blogs of young twenty-something girls (the better to live vicariously through you, my dear), and retailers that either didn't deliver to Alaska or charged exorbitantly to do so. But this was when Ben was a ferry, a train, a float plane ride away; when he was home they either drifted to other evening interests (usually with one another) or Theresa stuck her nose in a book and her arms and legs into warrior pose. Ben edited his photos with a quiet, sometimes mad glee, as he drained cup after cup of coffee until after 1 am.

The light. The lack of it exhausted them all when it was elusive from November to March, and when it was bold and unceasing from April to October it drove them to the brink of twitchy madness. Alex complained when it crept around the makeshift red blackout curtains in his room, Ben marveled at it, and Theresa respected it and loathed it after 9:00 pm. She suspected it was the bane of all Far North mothers for countless generations. The fathers gaped and picked up their tools to continue the hard work of agricultural labor until the sun finally grew slightly dim (around dawn), glorious in their efforts. The mothers sighed at their children's windup-toy-like energy and bit their lips in attempts to stay awake to care for them. Theresa wanted to be back where darkness crept around oaks, erasing humidity and bringing with it the croaking of tree frogs and the whine of cicadas. Where the cover of night was a giant blanket you couldn't shake off even if you tried. She was tired, was all. She knew of course that it was incredible. She was just so tired.

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