The sun has finally returned to Pond Inlet! After a 3 month hiatus, the sun peeked above the landscape enough to be visible from town on Monday, February 6. Technically, the sun rose above the horizon on January 29, but because of the landscape the sun was not actually visible for several more days. I can’t adequately explain how wonderful an experience it is to welcome the sun back. You never really appreciate it fully until you don’t see it for 3 months. I remember the first time I experienced the return of the sun, some 5 years ago. I was walking home from work at lunchtime and broke out into a fit of excited laughter when I saw it. While I may have gotten over this uncontrollable laughter, I still find myself overcome with an immense feeling of joy and excitement. Instantly, all the energy you lacked during the dark season comes rushing to you all at once and you feel as though you could run a marathon right there on the spot.
The sun remained, just barely above the horizon, for about 2 hours on Monday, during which time it moved slowly and horizontally across the horizon before setting again. The colours this time of year are spectacular because the sunrise turns immediately into a sunset, leaving wonderful shades of blue, pink, and orange visible for hours. With nothing but a blanket of white snow and no trees or buildings to obstruct the view, it is as if this painted sky is wrapping around you. It is so easy to imagine that you are the only person here and yet it is so wonderful when you hear a warm friendly voice behind you, reminding you that you are not alone in this vast, frozen landscape.
This time of year you do not feel any heat on your skin from the sun, but it is enough just to have it kiss your face, if only for 5 minutes. When the sun returns, it brings with it colder temperatures. So while we eagerly await its return, there is an ominous feeling that accompanies this anticipation. It is a time to prepare ourselves for the coldest month in the Arctic. The quickly increasing light level seems to make the bitter cold temperatures bearable. Each day we are receiving approximately 15 minutes more of sunlight and we find that we want desperately to be out in the sun for as long as we can.
The return of the sun is not only exciting for humans; the animals welcome its return as well. At work we have seen an Arctic hare sitting in the snow by the back steps of the building. The hare, who the students have named, Paul – although we don’t know if it’s a Paul or a Paulette – has appeared for the last couple days. It comes out with the sunrise and stays until the sun sets. During this time it just sits relaxed facing the sun. So during break time the hare and the humans stand together and peacefully take in the sun’s light.
In the past, the only source of light during the months of darkness was a qulliq (koo-dlick), an oil burning lamp carved out of soapstone. When the sun would return to the Arctic, a child would run into the iglu and blow out the flame of the qulliq in celebration of the return of the sun. Children were also encouraged to smile at the sun as a sign of welcoming it back. The sun’s return marked a time for re-birth and the return of life in the Arctic.