I’m writing this at about 38,000 feet in the air (fortunately in an airplane!) returning from a land I’d never been to—Alaska. Specifically Fairbanks, Alaska. I’d been invited by a shamanic colleague, Debra who I know from a three-year training program in advanced shamanism taught by Michael Harner, author of The Way of the Shaman and founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. We had completed this training in1997 and had only occasional contact with one another over the ensuing years. She and her husband, Dennis have not only established a nice home in Fairbanks, but on the same property have constructed a beautiful space for workshops and classes.
I recalled Debra as being quite dedicated to the shamanic path, and in the interim would occasionally hear about her activities up north, how she was doing classes for the Foundation as well as her own workshops, traveling around the Pacific Northwest. She was obviously quite active in teaching a number of shamanic workshops and trainings.
While I was there presenting workshops and doing private consultations, I learned that Debra was born and grew up in the bush of Alaska, some distance from any populated areas. Her father had moved here from New Mexico because there wasn’t any work and had found property to homestead. He commuted every day to work by airplane and had a landing strip on their property.
I was very curious to understand what it was like to live in a land where the seasons were so dramatically emphasized, one where mid-summer daylight lasts almost the entire day and mid-winter darkness envelops the land for what would seem to be an endless night.
Debra explained, “Well, if you take the example of one day and see our year like that it helps give you an idea. In the winter it’s like the sun is rising. It does actually get above the horizon here in Fairbanks, but only for a very few hours, then as the year proceeds, spring becomes active. As the snow melts and the buds start showing, we start to stir too, like in a day how in the mid-morning we start to really come awake.
“Then when summer is here, Alaskans get outside as much as possible. It’s hard to do business inside when you have such a relatively short time to enjoy it. Some say that Alaska has two seasons: summer and winter! Right now, with the leaves turning and the days getting a little shorter, we start to feel the effects of fall and start preparing for the winter. We’re indoors a little more, reading, knitting, or doing something that gets us ready for the longer nights. Just like in a regular day when the evening sets in, everybody starts to quiet down.”
I was intrigued by this description, thinking also how I define cold in southern California as somewhere in the 40’s; hats off to those sturdy and very friendly people of Alaska. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in such a beautiful yet challenging area, one where the temperatures in Winter often dip well below zero degrees—and frequently! The trade off for living in such a climate of extremes is the pristine air, the thousands of acres of unpopulated land, and the numerous outdoor activities available.