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Solstice Celebrations

Polar Bear Plunge Bonfire

This weekend, a miracle occurred in Western Alaska: I got a sunburn.

Back in January and February – which I am already starting to remember as one really, really long night – I wouldn’t have believed that getting sunburned in Nome was possible. In fact, I was pretty convinced that I would never see the sun again. This past weekend was the solstice, though, and the sun shone in all its splendor on a town bustling with celebratory activity.

The festivities began on Wednesday with the Midnight Sun Festival potluck and dance performances, and the activities and sponsors accrued over the course of the week. On Saturday, Zach, Tara, Jenn, and I assembled in our kitchen hours before we would have woken up in the winter to work out who was going to what and when. Then we realized that we were going to miss the parade and headed down to Front Street.

Following the parade, some Nomeites staged a “bank robbery” in the style of the Old West (much to the watching kids’ delight, the “loot” turned out to be candy that the actors threw into the crowd at the end of the performance), and then the crowd headed down to East Beach for the Polar Bear Plunge. Last year there were ice chunks still floating in the water, but this year it was over sixty degrees and sunny. The beach in Nome could have been a beach anywhere else in the country: people were wearing swimsuits, swimming, and laying out in the sun. It was amazing.

We left the beach not because the sun was going down, but because we wanted to make it to the Midnight Sun Folk Festival open mic performances at the elementary school. Once again, the people of Nome demonstrated their remarkable talents in a series of ten-minute sets. After the show, I headed to the National Guard Armory to help set up the raft for the Bering Sea Lions Club Raft Race on Sunday morning, then high-tailed it back to town to see Town Mountain perform at the Bering Sea Bar & Grill. I have never seen a place in Nome so crowded, and the band performed until just half an hour before the sun officially set.

Jenn and I were up bright and early on Sunday for the raft race. We really had no idea what the day would entail, but it turned out that we were part of a fifteen-person double-raft operation. The “race” was actually a five-hour lazy-river float down the Nome River, and we stopped to grill jalapeno muskox sausages halfway through.

When I crawled into my bed on Sunday night, the sun was still shining brightly through my window.