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When endless sunshine becomes too much to bear

Katie Bausler
In this photo taken on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, morning fog shrouds Douglas Island near the Juneau-Douglas Bridge in Juneau, Alaska. Michael Penn

DOUGLAS -- We’ve had a typical summer here -- cool rain most of the time, with an occasional brief blast of warm sunshine. A common weekend forecast is a 100 percent chance of rain during one of the wettest summers since the National Weather Service started keeping track in 1943. Nothing like last summer, when I snapped a photo of my husband crouched over an endless supply of salad. That midsummer carpet of greens in the community garden kept us out of the Costco produce section for months. In the picture, he’s wearing the visor reserved for vacation in sunnier places rather than our rainforest home, which gets up to 90 inches of rain per year, more than twice the global average. A mere year ago, cowering inside our rainproof jackets from bone-chilling rain seemed a distant memory. Our greens farm was one of several waking dreams of the summer of 2013, our sunniest in 22 years living in Southeast Alaska. For those who weren’t there or who have forgotten…

Summer of 2013

Summer evening sun graces Meg Mackey’s guitar. She plays and sings before an espresso-sipping audience at Heritage Coffee House in Juneau, just over the bridge from our home on Douglas Island. Mackey’s updo bangs and stage demeanor remind listeners of a young k.d. lang.

“Lift your glass up,” croons the singer-songwriter in a low, throaty tone. “It’s time for kicking ass. Forget the past. Cause I’ve got a ray of sunshine.”

Most of us who lived through Southeast’s summer of 2013 won’t be kicking ass anytime soon. Yes, we could paint the house, start a blog or clean out a barbecue that’s gathered more seasons of rust than we’d care to admit. Instead, we’re more likely to sit on the deck, gin and tonic in hand, head tilted back, eyes closed to the warm orb in the sky, justified in putting off our to-do lists that get longer as the sunny days go on. And on.

In a typical summer, 10 days of sunshine in these parts is a miracle. But by mid-August last year, I’d already lost track of the sunny weeks on end, broken up by mere days of rain.

Taking the sun for granted in this part of the world is anathema. Countless internal dialogues go something like this:

“I really should do laundry, write my thesis, clean out my sock drawer, go to work. But the sun can’t last, so I really better be hiking, bike riding, running or jumping in a lake.”

It’s a perverse, reverse sense of responsibility, like feeling guilty for not cutting class and going to the beach.

“It’s exhausting,” laments our daughter. "I feel bad sitting inside reading, even though I just got back from a run in the sun.”

Balmy air

So much sunshine allows you to see your hometown in a different light for the first time. Head high, you stroll down the street in sandals, wearing a light skirt and sleeveless shirt, as if in a dream.

The late evening air is balmy, the skies navy, dotted with cirrus clouds. The silhouette of scary-steep Mount Juneau looms above. Neighbors holed up in their homes the rest of the year are out and about -- jogging, skateboarding, biking, scootering.

A duo of classier, smaller cruise ships is tied up at the dock, while the channel has taken on a salient shade of jade. You want out-of-towners to believe that it’s always like this, one big summer of sun love.

A big difference between summer evenings in Douglas, Alaska, and, say, Springfield, Illinois, is the pervasive sense among Alaskans that the other shoe is about to drop, that this could be the last sunny evening of your life. The next morning you’re infatuated – spacey in love with the brightness warming the foot of your bed.

A curious lightness

After weeks of sun last summer, I began believing it would never end. It was OK to organize my CD collection as uncommon light made the dust disturbingly visible. I’d moved beyond the manic it’s-sunny-so-we-must-do-something-outside phase.

But the exhaustion of too much exercise told me I was fooling myself. Coming off a days-long binge of hiking and biking, my quads were killing me. It was hard getting up and down the stairs.

My daughter and I took a long hike up and down the mountain behind our house on Douglas Island. We came across several acquaintances along the way, and the conversations were predictable.

“Nice day. Unbelievable weather, huh? Another day of sun, eh?”

From the ridge of Mount Jumbo, aka Mount Bradley, you see downtown Juneau and some of the hundreds of islands that make up this outstanding archipelago. There’s even a natural swimming pool on top of the mountain. We dipped in turquoise snowmelt and then lounged on sun-warmed rocks overlooking Stephens Passage and Admiralty Island, named for British explorers of the 1700s.

The next morning I rode 26 miles to and from my job at the University of Alaska Southeast on a new commuter bike. As I pedaled away from work, the wind picked up and clouds rolled in. A mile into the ride, a head wind grew in intensity along Gastineau Channel. By the time I crossed the bridge to Douglas Island, heavy rain soaked through my thin windbreaker. I arrived home drenched, albeit with a curious lightness, as if a burden was lifted. Perhaps it was knowing I could return to my cozy car for the next day’s commute. Everything would be dark, rainy and blessedly free of sun-induced guilt.

“I’m a fair-weather biker,” I announced to my husband.

Then we headed out to our community garden plot to check on the greens.

Freelance writer Katie Bausler is a devoted resident of the island kingdom of rainy Douglas, Alaska.