Mark Mahaney

Polar Night

71.2906° N, 156.7886° W, Utqiaġvik, Alaska

Northernmost town in the United States. 320 miles above the Arctic Circle. The name translates to ‘place where snowy owls are hunted.’ No roads lead in or out. Flat as a board. No plants, no trees, no fresh food aside from what’s hunted: bowhead whale, seal, caribou, walrus, polar bear. Milk is ten bucks a gallon. An avocado, five. Polar Night. 65 days without the sun. Darkness brings darkness. Crime, substance abuse, and depression spike. Highest suicide rate in the country. Solastalgia is real. Police Department receives calls from disoriented citizens, not knowing the day or the time. Never have I heard snow like this. No moisture to it. Sounds like a shriek under the weight of the foot. And the wind. It’s so there, you forget it’s there. Nearly 40 below. Ten seconds and the bare skin hurts. ‘Three-dog night,’ a bygone arctic metric to define the intensity of temperature. The colder it is, the more dogs are needed around you for warmth to survive the night. Freezing, but warming. Thinning ice can no longer protect the land from coastal storms. Disappearance of landmass. The town is washing away. This place is no joke. When midnight sun is replaced by polar night, everything’s different. Eyes to the horizon and there’s nothing. And then more nothing, in every direction. Just waiting for the sun to rise above it, so time can exist again.

Top of the world they call it. Don’t feel that way. Feels like the bottom. So dark there’s no end. So cold there’s no feel. If I took ten steps into the night, I wouldn’t even know where I’d be when I’d look up. It’s all the same. What do you call a night that never ends?