She was less confused this time, clouds were lifted and her rolling thoughts were more linear. She wasn't walking in labyrinths and having epic battles of the mind while she shelved books. She was free to think in a sensible fashion; this was a new experience and it bothered her a bit. She was the flaky one, the artsy one, the one with all the glitter. But she was getting older and the glitter was starting to wear on everyone's nerves, since it got everywhere and the vaccuum couldn't pick it all up.
There was a hike, shortly after they first arrived, on the Winter Solstice. People were invited to gather at a Nature Center down a windy mountain road to make lanterns out of milk cartons, then hike a crystal path to a yurt and bonfire for warmth and community. They went and they were cold. Their Tennessee skins hadn't been covered by an Alaskan layer of thin blubber yet. Their skin was still sub-tropical, but they made the lantern and they hiked to the yurt, in awe of the beauty of candles flickering in the 5 p.m. pitch black early evening, of candles in sconces made of ice lighting the way to the fire. They felt welcomed that night, though they spoke to only each other and the director of the nature center, a hearty German woman named Ute. They praised her on the organization of the event and the beauty of it; she smiled and explained it was her favorite day of the year, "For seventeen long years the best day out of all."
The temperature clicked below zero on the large barometer nailed to a birch tree and their nostrils pinched and their breath created snowy glitter around them. This was really Alaska. They had arrived. The entire Winter was a dream of varying intensity, with both moments of extreme joy and threatening nightmare moments that stalled their breathing a little.
For a little while longer they were hinting at bliss, though Ben complained that he felt shy and off-kilter. Theresa felt that way, too. These Alaskans weren't the instantly friendly southernerns and midwesterners they were used to conversing with. They kept their guard, so Ben, Theresa and even Alex, all natural social chameleons, kept theirs, too.
Regardless, they walked to the bonfire, Alex growing colder and progressively more miserable (his gloves of course were all wrong, his snowsuit too big) along the path. When they finally made it to the bonfire there were hot dogs, which cheered him slightly. They decided to go inside the crowded yurt, charmed by the warmth and the circular symmetry. They decided to stay in there a while, while heartier folks milled in and out. There were cookies, and cocoa, and watery coffee and all of the sudden they were fine again. Here underneath fabric and lattice and circled around a giant woodstove, the crowd around them, puffy in their winter gear disappeared and they sat back and looked at the fire. Alex ate too many cookies and got delightfully slap happy, which carried him all the way back to the van when the event was over. On the way back the candles flickered in a friendlier way, the ice sconces were full of rainbows, and the night sky was choked with stars.