The Sunny Winter Solstice Spirit Shines in Willow, Alaska

What a way to end our year, and start a new one. Happy 2024 from the frozen north country!

It seems like nearly every day we step outside, we are embarking on the coldest day of our lives. The last week of 2023 and first week of the year have brought sub-zero temperatures that so far have gone as low as -25 degrees Fahrenheit.

A moose / snowmachine trail across the street from our cabin.

Those bone-chilling effects of clear skies and dry air are two things I never imagined experiencing in my lifetime. And never in a million years did I ever think either of us would be crazy enough to actually go outside and do things in this weather. And sometimes, at night.

But that’s exactly what we are doing to make the most of these winter days.

winter running in Willow
Yes, the sun does shine here!

When we lived in Northern California’s Humboldt County, the coastal fog was relentless and depressing. Weeks would go by while a dreary, damp wet blanket of fog smothered the town. Moss and mildew was everywhere, and I swore I’d never live in a place with such crappy weather. But now here I am in Alaska of all places, re-defining what “crappy weather” means to me. And right now, it doesn’t always mean sub-zero temperatures and six feet of snow. I’m learning that there’s plenty you can do in these conditions. And have fun doing it.

snowshoeing with dogs
With our awesome neighbor and her dogs.

A Sunny Winter Solstice Walk Around Willow Lake

Contrary to what people in “the outside” often think, life doesn’t stop in Alaska during winter. The days are short, and the motivation to make hay when the sun shines is as strong as I’ve ever seen in sunnier, and warmer places. This is especially true among the Willow community. They’re tough that way. People try to take advantage of those spectacular days.

During the precious hours when gray clouds make way for clear blue skies and blinding sunlight that bounces off sparkly snow-flocked trees, you can feel the happiness rising over the community. Just go pick up your mail at the Willow post office and you’ll see the little bounce in everyone’s step.

unaddressed letter to Willow
This is such a small town, you don’t need an address.

Two months ago I dreaded winter solstice.

Not exactly sure how I would mentally cope with the darkness and impending weather of the shortest day of the year, I decided to make the most of it after learning that a few years ago this town would put on a Winter Solstice Marathon. At least a dozen hearty “Willowbillies” would show up to do a marathon on the shortest day of the year! Lucky for us, it hasn’t happened for a few years. Otherwise I might have been tempted to re-start it.

But I know that right now I’m nowhere near tough or experienced enough to run another marathon in Alaska — in winter. So instead, I organized a 2-mile Winter Solstice Walk around Willow Lake. I posted an announcement up on local Facebook groups, not really sure if anyone but Jim, Nellie, and me would show up. But the Willow Trails Committee came through in a big way by plowing a trail for it, and this is what happened on December 21 at 6pm, on a 16-degree night.

What a surprise to see a great turnout. Even families with young kids showed up to celebrate winter solstice. An event like this on such a cold night would be unthinkable in most places. But not here.

This place is proving that you never know what you are capable of handling, or even celebrating, during the most challenging conditions of your life. Willow is teaching us a lot about ourselves, and making the most of every day.

8 thoughts on “The Sunny Winter Solstice Spirit Shines in Willow, Alaska”

  1. As a long time friend and champion of your explorations I am so thrilled to read about your embracing the local community while dismissing the misguided perceptions. Not unlike yourselves we took a chance and moved to the Pacific Northwest, having done so has paid untold dividends, it has made us much more clear on what comprises a healthy appreciation for this life: wind, rain, snow, and Sun, each are friends and as the saying goes, “I have no enemies I have no friends, only teachers” – be it weather or people, the aphorism applies.
    VP of the Francis McDormond Forlorn Society, Pacific Northwest Chapter

    • Well Patti since you grew up in harsh weather you have every right to complain these days. It’s still novel to us. If we stay too long we might get grumpy about it too!

  2. I love hearing about your activities. Since I was in Alaska during the longest day, I can’t imagine what the shortest day is like. You bring back memories of my winter days spent in northern MN. Winter is always better when you spend part of the time outside for sure! Happy New Year!!

    • I’m so happy to hear that Kim! I always thought you were so tough to grow up in Minnesota. Now I see what it takes to live in a cold climate, and now I have even more respect for you! Happy 2024!

  3. This is SOOO inspiring, especially the video. Thank you for sharing your adventures. I’m always happy when I see one of your posts in my in box because I know it will lift me up and give me new insights. And make me laugh (I would have had the same thought about the marathon)! Here’s to more adventures in the New Year!


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