Watching The Darkness Fall on Barrow, Alaska
Siri, lead me not into obsession. Ever since I set my recent short story “Fowl Play” in the fictional town of Nowhere, Alaska, I have been asking you to tell me when the sun rises and sets in the far north. Since you can’t find Nowhere on Google Maps (because it doesn’t exist) I’ve sent you off to Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the United States. Why Barrow? Simply because when Yvette, my six foot two lesbian detective, discovered half the citizens of Nowhere had been rubbed out while eating their Thanksgiving turkeys, I had her say: “We need to contact Barrow and tell them to fly a forensic team in here asap!”
I picked Barrow off a map without knowing anything about it, but oh the courage of the people who live there! For weeks, Siri has faithfully told me the times the good citizens of Barrow see the sun and the times they say goodbye to it each day, and it isn’t a pretty picture for someone like me who loves the tropics. In fact, the darkness that is slowly creeping over Barrow has become my own personal obsession, not to mention my own private horror movie.
At first is wasn’t too bad. They were getting seven hours or so of light a day in Barrow. I could live with that. But then, something unexpected started to happen. Like a black freight train rolling out of the north, darkness began to hit Barrow earlier and earlier. On November 14, sunrise was at 11:42 am, sunset at 2:35. On November 16, only two days later, the sun was coming up at 12:04 and going down at 2:14. That meant that if you sat down for a long lunch, you could miss the whole thing.
I knew that sooner or later there would be no sunrise or sunset at all in Barrow, but the speed of that change was more than I could get my mind around. With your help, Siri, I had learned that for about 65 days there would be endless night. When I think of Barrow dark for weeks at a time, and not only the Barrow but the vast expanses of frozen tundra surrounding it also cloaked in darkness, it makes me want to climb into bed and pull the covers over my head. I could never live through 65 days of perpetual darkness. Heck, I get cranky in sunny California on cloudy days. Light! Light! Give me light!
On November 21, I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my iPhone, and summoned Siri for perhaps the 60th time. I’d missed a few days, so when I called up Siri, I wasn’t ready for her response. “Siri,” I said, “when does the sunrise today in Barrow, Alaska?” As usual, Siri dithered around a bit and then said: “Sorry, there is no weather today in Barrow, Alaska.” Thinking she may not have understood me–frankly she’s not all that bright sometimes–I tried again and got the same answer.
“No weather”? What did that mean? Had Siri had a nervous breakdown? Had my internet connection turned on me? Or had the sun finally stopped shining in Barrow? It had risen and stayed up for about two hours only a week ago. As I tried again and again to persuade Siri to feed my obsession with new data, I thought about Yvette, trapped in Nowhere with a 24 murders to solve and no daylight to solve them in. I worried that she’d develop a bad case of Seasonal Affective Disorder and take to drink. Then I remembered two things: Yvette already drinks like a fish, and she’s a fictional character. So now I’m worried about the people in Barrow. How do they get up in the morning when there’s no real morning to get up to? How are they going to make it through the next 65 sunless days?
I tried asking Siri, but instead of helping , she offered to search the Internet for wheelbarrows.