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Outdoor Diary: What the Heck Is Summer Solstice and Why Do We Care?

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  • June 23, 2020

You probably know that “solstice” marks the shortest or longest day of the year. But did you know why it’s worth celebrating?

In this Outdoor Diary, Amy talks about Summer Solstice and why it matters so very much. Listen now!

Some of the good stuff:

[:34] The big deal about the light
[1:10] What is solstice?
[1:55] How to understand solstice
[3:00] What happens in the winter
[3:20] What happens in the summer
[3:35] How we celebrated Solstice
[4:39] This week’s outdoor hero: Cairn subscription box

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Follow us on Instagram and share your outdoor life with the hashtag #humansoutside365.

 

Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s outdoor diary on The Humans Outside Podcast. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

It’s another fabulous week in the land of the midnight sun. 

 

If you’ve been listening to this for any length of time, you know what a big deal the light is to me. And it’s not just me — the light, the lack thereof, when it comes back and when it leaves again are things we celebrate and fixate on constantly. Our entire lives revolve around the light, in a way.

 

The light is why we say things like “we can’t do that right now. It’s the summer.” It’s why we sleep so much more in the winter and not nearly enough in July. The light is why we feel so happy right now and much quieter in January. And it’s why we throw parties or have big adventures on Winter Solstice in December and Summer Solstice in June. 

 

If you don’t live somewhere far north, you’re probably exactly like I was when we moved here to Alaska in 2016. I had no clue about Solstice, other than a vague understanding that it was the longest or shortest day of the year. Who cares?

 

Alaskans, that’s who — and a lot. 

 

When we arrived to Alaska it was just a few days before Summer Solstice. The people we were staying with told “it’s solstice” with authority that implied we knew what that really meant, and then disappeared to take their families planes on a late night, sunlight flight. (And yes, family planes are a thing. Not for us, but definitely for other perfectly normal people).

 

We did not, in fact, know what that means, but we have learned. 

 

The only way to really understand the power of solstice is to experience the coming and going of light around it. Like everywhere, Alaska loses or gains daylight every day dependent on what time of year it is. 

 

It’s June 21 when I’m recording this, and we’ll drop 6 seconds of daylight over yesterday. Today there is 19 hours, 21 minutes and 19 seconds from sunup to sundown, meaning that it never actually gets fully dark — just a lot of twilight. By late September we’ll be dropping 5 minutes and 37 seconds of daylight each day, and down to 11 hours, 26 minutes and 21 seconds between sun up and sundown, with sunrise at 8:05 a.m. and sunset at 7:31 p.m. on September 30.

Then, on December 21, the shortest day of the year — winter solstice — sunrise is at 10:14 a.m., sunset is at 3:41 p.m., and the next day we start gaining again, with 12 extra seconds added to the ledger. 

 

The days in between the Solstices mark marches — the coming and going of light. As the light shrinks, you shrink in a way with it. We do our best to catch daylight, finding light every day. But the winter is a season for fighters, for people who can hunt for the light. And you do find yourself waning a little. I often find myself saying things like “it’s ok to take a break” or “I don’t mind if I gain a few extra pounds” at some point in January. And I remember that I have to hunt for the motivation and the light. 

 

And then there’s the summer, a season of boundless energy when the warm days and endless light beckon you outside and making you feel like you are wasting pressure material to waste any of that precious light by spending time indoors. Laundry and housecleaning will still exist in November, you know. 

 

Solstice is a celebration of light, both of the light in the sky and the light in us. It’s a celebration of the intestinal fortitude it takes to make it through the periods of darkness. It’s a celebration of being, living, moving, and conquering.

If you’ve been watching my Instagram, you know that we work hard to waste not one second of this precious daylight time. And so this weekend it was off on another adventure for us. I was bent on spending solstice at the beach, but so were a million other people. Instead of getting down to the coast on the Kenai, we found ourselves sitting with all of those people on the two-lane highway that gets you there, closed for hours for an accident. 

 

I know when to call it quits, and we turned heel and drove about 10 minutes back to the same campground where we rented that first dry cabin in late March, which you can hear about back in Episode 19. We hiked, read by the fire, and generally enjoyed some family time without having to sit in hours of backed-up traffic. 

 

And we celebrated the light in the best way we know how — outside, enjoying every second of it. 

 

It’s also Father’s Day when I’m recording this. That’s a day that can be really tough for some people, but in our house, it’s a moment to focus on the Father we believe is in heaven, and the father we have here in our house, Luke, who is a great daddy to our sons Huck and Dave. We have a great adventure planned for next weekend to celebrate his upcoming birthday, but for Father’s Day, we celebrated him with a Cairn Box subscription. Cairn can send you a box a month with a few cool outdoor-focused gadgets and items. We bought Luke a four-month subscription, and he got to open his box, packed with a cool, super lightweight hat, a snack and a first aid kit. Cairn is also our outdoor hero of the week because we think it’s awesome — and makes a fantastic gift. 

 

You can see all of our adventures for Solstice and beyond on HumansOutside on Instagram or by following the hashtag #HumansOutside365. 

 

And a belated Happy Solstice, friends. May you always find the light. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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