To seasoned Alaskans it should come as no surprise that spring started with a pleasant little flurry of snow. Winter king fishermen probably weren’t shocked either that Saturday started marvelous and sunny and ended with snow. No one complained, at least those with long memories. One year the Homer Harbor froze solid and the Winter King Tournament had to be postponed. If all you get is some gently falling flakes, well, pfft.
This week has been chock full of important dates. On Monday, 3/14/16, we got Pi Day, because the date is close to the numeral pi, 3.14159. Break out the key lime pies. Yum. On Tuesday it was March 15, the Ides of March, famous for when Julius Caesar discovered that in politics, you can’t even trust your friends and don’t ever want to turn your back on them.
Should you stroll down Pioneer Avenue on Friday night, don’t be surprised if the streets look empty. Unless you’re at the airport or driving north, Homer magically slips into its mid-March slumber. Old men in suspenders sitting on the bench by the Poopdeck Trail will look around and say, “Seems quiet. Too quiet, Hoss.”
When historians look back at March 1, 2016, they will hail it as the day one man overcame obstacles and did what few before him have. One man will have traveled far, risen to heights unimagined, and changed the world.
Holy Spray Tan! Yes, Tuesday marked the day the American astronaut Scott Kelly returned to earth after 340 days in space. Kelly, the twin brother of astronaut Mark Kelly, circled the earth 5,400 times and went 144 million miles. He saw 11,000 sunsets, and has racked up a total of 520 days in space, the record for an American astronaut.
Happy birthday on Feb. 29 to Lord Byron, Gioacchino Rossini, Dinah Shore, Tempest Storm, Ja Rule and Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd
Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William
Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenberdorft Sr., who indeed has a Christian name for every letter in the alphabet. Oh, and let’s not forget local hero Kyle Caffroy, a Marine who served in the Iraq War.
Are there any sociology graduate students out there looking for a dissertation topic? Oh brilliant minds, if you haven’t figured it out by now, small towns can be fertile ground for research. And Homer? Holy doctorate, we’re like potatoes to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
Why, hello there friend of 3.57 degrees of separation. We don’t know each other yet, but according to a recent Facebook calculation, it would take that many links for any two strangers in the world to connect. Between Fred in Detroit and Vlad in Moscow are three-and-one half people.
The Iniskin quake so shook up the Betster last week that yours truly totally forgot about one of the most important Alaska holidays ever — Marmot Day, of course. Thanks to the bold vision of former Gov. Sarah Palin, Alaska declared Feb. 2 as Marmot Day in celebration of our own big furry rodent, known in Inupiaq as “siksrikpuk.”
Remember KLM Flight 876, the jet that went through the Redoubt Volcano ash in 1989? All four engines shut down and the jet fell 13,000 feet before two could get restarted. Everyone landed safely, but what a ride.
That’s sort of how Alaska felt early Sunday morning with the 7.1-magnitude Iniskin earthquake. It was like an entire state flew in a ginormous plane. For about 30 terrifying seconds we didn’t know what would happen when the shaking stopped. Other than some broken bottles, in Homer we did OK. Four Kenai homes burned, but no one died.
If the clouds clear, for the next month we’ll see all five bright planets clustered together. “Bright” here doesn’t mean planets that did really well on the SAT, but the ones visible with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. They’ll be spread out from east to west like pearls over Kachemak Bay.
Next Monday honors the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., widely considered the man who inspired the modern Civil Rights movement. Through his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Aug. 23, 1963 Civil Rights March in Washington, D.C., King motivated millions to work toward equality for all. King might have said he was nothing more than one man with a gift for oratory and organizing, and that the movement was won by the collective efforts of many.
Seven days into the new year, and already it’s shaping up to be a doozy. To recap the news so far:
• A big, sloppy winter storm roared in, causing ice jams on the Anchor River, knocking over street lamps on the Spit and blowing off roofs.
As our planet rounds the point on its revolution that we arbitrarily call a new year, you might think to yourself, “How did I get here?” Three-hundred sixty-four days ago there you were, chowing down on Hoppin’ John and starting the year.
Now here you are, the end of 15 years into the 2000s. No one has figured out what to call this decade. The Tens? A hundred years ago no one cared, so busy were they trying to stay alive during the Great War. Now we worry about not losing all those nifty electronic devices so critical to life in the 21st century.
By one of those odd coincidences, today marks not just Christmas Eve, but Eid Milad ul-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. The Muslim calendar is a lunar calendar, and Friday — that would be Christmas — also is a full moon. It’s the first time there’s been a full moon on Dec. 25 since 1977. As fans of Luke, Leia and Han know, that also was the year the first Star Wars film opened.
Congratulations, citizens. If you’re a new Alaska resident and you’ve stuck it out this long, hurrah. On Monday you will achieve an important Cheechako status, your first winter solstice. That’s also the day winter officially begins, although in Alaska your mileage may vary. We tend to count the start of winter as the day we change our snow tires.
On Monday the Homer City Council passed the budget for 2016, thus showing that unlike the Alaska Legislature they can do the one job they have to do on time and without a lot of drama. OK, a little drama, but still. They didn’t go into extra sessions and even saved the city some money by not meeting twice this month.
Yep, just like you the council has a punch list they have to get done before the end of the year. We’re not talking shopping for the holiday. We’re talking the things you must get done before 11:59 p.m. Dec. 31 ticks into 2016.
The Betster has this neat little iPhone app called SunGraph that can calculate hours of daylight anywhere on the planet. Punch in a few buttons and it shows, for example, that in Tierra del Fuego the sun rises at 5:44 a.m. and sets at 10:53 p.m. If you think our puny 6.5 hours of daylight is depressing, enjoy a cup of schaudenfreude. In Barrow, the chart for sunrise says “no sun today.”
Almost 400 years ago in September 1620, 102 immigrants on the Mayflower landed in Plymouth, Mass. Over the winter, almost half the colonists died of scurvy and exposure. The next spring, the Wampanoag people welcomed the Pilgrims. A Pawtuxet Native, Squanto, taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn, catch fish and tap maple trees. In November 1621, grateful for surviving the winter, the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag shared a feast. They lived in peace for 50 years.
We Alaskans know about darkness. We know about the chill that descends upon us, sucking joy from life. The events of the world break our hearts, and though we might light candles and pray, sometimes we will wonder if hope can stem the tide of darkness. More die. More are maimed. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, quoting Theodore Parker, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Winter can feel like that, an arc of the sun too long to rise far above the horizon. Ice seems to freeze instantly below our feet as we skate across Beluga Lake. Winter has us in her grip.
Now that we’ve dumped Daylight Saving Time for the season, we’ve entered that time when Alaska gets dark and gloomy. If you want to get going on a good winter grump, you’re in luck. Along with darkness comes all varieties of weather misery: snow, ice and rain.