Friday, December 04, 2009

First day of sun

Yesterday was Juneau's 51st consecutive day of precipitation. Fifty one wet days. Rain, snow, sleet, slush and snain - sometimes just a trace, sometimes close to two inches of water, sometimes nearly letting an entire 24-hour period pass between squalls, but never completely, not quite. A lot happens in 51 days. Fall leaves wither and disintegrate. Friendships spark and fade. Snow falls and accumulates. Relationships begin and end. Fifty one days.

And then the sun comes out, and it promises not to leave again for a while, and you squint into its glaring light, and you're not even sure how to react, because an entire season rolled over while it flickered noncommitally, and even now that it's set to stick around, it's too late, it's December, it can only linger low on the horizon for six hours a day. No matter. Those of us wedged in the tight spaces between the mountains and the sea don't have the luxury of choosing our sunshine. We take what we're given, and we cherish every second.

My former roommate, Shannon, and I decided to celebrate the first day of sun with a trek up Mount Jumbo. We haven't really seen each other since I left for Utah in April, so it was a good day to get together. We're similarly struck right now, caught between strange hiccups in our lives, holding our breaths a little too long, hoping that when our heads stop pounding and lungs stop gasping, we'll finally breathe easy. When we last lived at the Cliff House in March, life was different for both of us, quieter. I was hobbling around on crutches and Shannon still ate sugar. Now he goes out for 22-mile runs training for nothing and I'm addicted to elevation, otherwise directionless. Five times 51 days.

We did the snowshoe thing, tough work for runners and cyclists alike, but at the same time so mindless that we could spend lots of time commiserating, joking and gaping at golden hints of sunlight against a cerulean sky.

Mount Jumbo. A familiar place, but not so much now. I must have climbed at least the first section of it close to 51 times during my tenure at the Cliff House. But I've never been up here in December, with snow shoved in every crevice and 12-foot-tall trees reduced to nubs. The wind-scoured, hardpacked surface crust kept us off the summit ridge - Shannon only had small running snowshoes and nothing more. So we stopped at the saddle.

No disappointment. On a day as bright as today, it doesn't really matter what you're doing. There are no goals, unless being out in the clear cold air counts as a goal. We settled in a wide spot of direct sun at 2,600 feet. Shannon snapped iPhone pictures and I plied him with king-sized peanut butter Twix bars. "Can I tempt you with refined sugar?" I asked. "Gimme," he said, and devoured two with a wide grin.

We laughed in the stark light as beads of sweat froze solid on our faces and frost stiffened around our fleece jackets. We pulled on coats, hats and gloves, sipped slushy water and fought to linger high on the mountain even as the chill gripped our cores. Sun invited us up and then refused to provide anything but views - cold and uncaring, noncommital to the end.

No matter, we make our own warmth. Sun just gives us perspective, and reason to hope.