Monday, June 20, 2011

Regional Weirdness

I’ve had the privilege of living in three very different regions of the United States and have discovered with each region comes its own form of human behavioral “weirdness” (for lack of a better term).  The striking thing about this “regional  weirdness” is that it is nearly invisible to those who have lived within a region for some time.

F’rinstnace…I grew up and have spent much of my life in the Midwest (Iowa).  I think it is perfectly natural to stand out in your yard and watch an approaching thunderstorm front.  There are no mountains in the Midwest, but I’ll stack a 50,000 ft. storm cloud lit by the red rays of a setting sun up against a view of Denali from the Parks Highway any day.  And, when it’s 90 degrees with 90% humidity, that initial fresh blast from the cold front producing the storm is something no form of air conditioning can replicate.  Sure, there’s some lightning…but it’s all in the risk/reward ratio.  To outsiders and new Midwest residents, it’s just plain weird.

When I went to graduate school, we had the unique opportunity to live on Cape Cod for four years.  One form of regional weirdness practiced by long-term Cape Codders was to scoop up and taste the ocean water when going to the beach for the first time after a long New England winter.  One woman who was a member of the church I served described the practice as a form of blessing for the coming summer season.  This same woman later learned that regional weirdness doesn’t translate well into other regions.  My wife, Leila, and I hosted a tour of the Holy Lands and, when visiting the Dead Sea, this member of my church walked right down to the water.  In spite of the horrible tar-like stench, she scooped up two hands full of water and proceeded to drink it.  In a matter of milliseconds she was doing a spit-take that would have made any aspiring comedic actor jealous.  What passes for regional weirdness in one place is just plain foolish in another.

Next week, I begin my 5th year in Alaska.  And, yes, Alaska has forms of regional weirdness; an annual example of which begins this week.  As I write this, we are on the eve of the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere – the day in which there is the greatest number of daylight hours.  In Anchorage on June 21, the sun will rise a bit after 4 am and set just a few minutes before midnight.  Because the sun only dips a few degrees below the horizon this time of year, it never really reaches what I call “night.”  From early June to late July, as close to dark as we get is about 4 hours of twilight.  Of course, the further north you go in this great state, the shorter this length of twilight.

Here’s the weirdness: long-time Alaskans begin mourning the loss of daylight hours beginning about noon on June 21.  To listen to them, it’s as if by the end of the month we will be back to only the few hours of daylight we get in winter.  Some are able to tell you exactly how many minutes of daylight we lose each day.  The weirdness to me, as one new enough to this region to not be blind to it, is this – the days in July that are being mourned for the brevity of sunlight are identical in daylight hours to the days in May that were so celebrated as being refreshingly life-giving in their length of daylight.  What, just a few weeks ago, was seen as blessing will be seen, in a few weeks, as curse.  How weird…but, probably no more weird than standing outside watching an approaching thunderstorm. 

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