It’s called “sun guilt.” For Alaskans, staying inside on a sunny day leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and dread. It’s akin to wearing your shoes inside the house: it’s just not done. Instead, more often, we abide by the mantra that we can “never waste a sunny day.” Because we never really know when the next one will come.
Especially those of us who live in coastal Alaska. Heavy cloud cover can last for days and weeks, rain falling steadily and unendingly, every day the same. Until the sun finally shines, and all of a sudden our spectacular world appears—mountains, ocean, flora, fauna, glaciers, rivers, and people. We flock to the outdoors. We remark to complete strangers on once-lonely trails how gorgeous the day is, and complete strangers respond with heartfelt agreement. No one stays inside on a sunny day here, especially one that comes after a long spell of clouds and rain.
But we also don’t know what to do with extended periods of sunny weather. After a week, we’re tired. After two weeks, we’re exhausted. After a whole summer (like last year’s record hot, dry summer), we’re zombies, all but walking dead. We pray for rain, not just to water the landscape and slow the wildfires, but because we need to be able to spend a day inside. We need to do laundry, clean our houses, make a meal that doesn’t involve the grill. We just need to rest.
And to me, that’s what it feels like right now. It’s as if the whole world is experiencing that first rain after a too-long stretch of good weather. Metaphorically, we’ve all been acting like Alaskans during a run of sunny days, trying to cram in as much as we possibly can before it clouds up and rains again. But the sunny weather has been around for far longer than we realized, and we haven’t been giving ourselves the grace to go inside without guilt on a sunny day.
It’s true that I’m looking for silver linings (or a lack of them, if I’m going to follow through with my metaphor), and a period of rest is one of them. Here are a few more: The clearing of pollution in some of the world’s megacities has allowed people to see sky and mountains again for the first time in a generation. Wildlife is taking over cities that have quieted due to extended lockdowns. National Parks closed to human visitors have been counting coyote, deer, and bobcat visitors instead.
I love that these things are happening elsewhere in the world. It’s like we’ve finally been able to share them with our neighbors. Because these things happen all over Alaska on a regular basis, even when we’re not going through an extended lockdown. Moose wander the streets of Anchorage. Bears and caribou appear regularly next to buses on the road in Denali National Park. We have always heard our migrating birds squawking and chirping as they return in the spring. Although, unless it’s intense enough to knock things off the wall, we don’t always register our seismic activity, since it’s so frequent.
But the lockdown has been difficult for us here as well. Social distancing and isolation are hard, even when you live in a state known for its affinity for both of those things. Yes, being distant from extended family in the Lower 48 is a fact of life for many of us here, but that means our networks of friends and colleagues have become that much more important. I miss hugging my nephews! I miss running into friends at the local coffeehouse! I miss hanging out in the parking lot after a long ski and talking about my favorite trails with fellow skiers. As remarkable as the digital age has been—and really, could we have weathered this storm without technology?—we are suddenly coming up against its limits, when it seemed before as if there was nothing it couldn’t be created to do. We can’t hug each other on Facetime. We can’t smell the cherry blossoms on a virtual tour. Digital just can’t replicate the human touch, and it can’t come close to being there.
So, grateful as we all are to technology and the innovations that allow us to still be connected while we’re all apart, it’s starting to chafe. For many of us, the lockdowns and quarantines have gone on for long enough, and we’re anxious to get out of the house and get the world started again. To hug each other, to talk to each other face to face, to head back to the office or the store or the studio and get back to work. Except, sadly, it seems that the world isn’t quite ready for us yet.
Let’s take this moment, then, for what it could be: an opportunity. For rest, for recovery, for space and breath. Ready as we think we are to get moving again, restarting too early only results in a more immediate need for yet another extended period of rest. Take it from an Alaskan who has experienced too many sunny days in a row, more than once.
Right now, it’s raining. We can go inside and stop moving without guilt, without worry that we’re missing the last sunny day of the summer. Sun guilt doesn’t happen if there’s no sun. But when the sun does come out—and it will; it always does—when the clouds finally break and those first rays shine through…that’s when the mountain peaks will appear out of nowhere and the flowers will open their petals toward the sky. And then, finally, it will be time to get back outside, to experience the joy and relief of seeing the sun again after so long. And everyone in town, including us, will be rushing outside with you, to wish you a lovely, beautiful, gorgeous day.
Watch Travel Alaska’s gorgeous video, “Alaska Will Wait, For You.”
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