The day the sun never set

Seventeen years ago, I spent this day with my teenage son in a remote Yukon camp above the Arctic Circle, where the Sun never sets on the longest day of the year. We’d come here to find a tantalizingly grotesque cocktail containing a mummified human toe—and maybe to prove I was still relevant to my son after my divorce. But something bigger happened on that magical day. Here’s an excerpt from my memoir, “The Sourtoe Cocktail Club” (2011, Globe Pequot Press).


While Matt sleeps, I watch the subtly changing sky as the sun circles around to the north. The clouds are breaking up and patches of blue are oozing through. The day is warming. I smell spruce, woodsmoke and musky earth. It is the first day of summer, yet it tastes and feels like spring here. It’s the kind of morning that made William Least Heat Moon doubt the existence of death, and now I know what he meant.

June 21, 2007, in the Arctic

I have strong visions of this place in empty times, before and after us. Its timelessness is daunting, relentless. It is not moved by our presence, nor changed in any significant way. It is as unchangeable as the past. Any wound we might inflict eventually heals without a trace. Even the rearrangement of its stones in our own image is ultimately temporary. As far as I can see beyond our camp, there is no evidence of human existence.

But I am here. My son is here. We came to this alien place for a reason that won’t matter in a thousand years, but why can’t it matter in twenty?  Why can’t this moment between a father and son last long enough, like a shadow that lingers, to change the future?  I don’t need a millennium, just a generation.

And a metal box.

My heart leaps. Rummaging through the van, I fetch a sheet of paper from my notebook and under the midnight sun I begin to write a letter.

I address it to my unborn and unimagined grandson, whenever he may be.

On the day I write this, you don’t yet exist. And maybe when you read this, I won’t exist anymore. I hope truly, madly, deeply that we crossed paths.

I tell him how I died once, how I have come with his father to this place to be reborn. I tell him about all the accidental bastards in his family tree, and how I wished he would never be one of them.

We came to share the longest day any father and son could possibly share, and I hope you and your father are doing the same now.

I can’t finish for the tears in my eyes, so I weight the half-written letter with a stone while I dig our empty cookie tin from the garbage and poke around for tiny treasures. Two pennies from my pocket … a picture of Matt and me from my wallet … the rusty link from Valhalla … a green sea-stone from Panama that went overlooked in my camera bag … and a black stone I’ve carried for luck since my first novel was published … they all go into the cookie tin.

Today, a day without darkness, I am happy. Honest to God, I hope you feel this way at least once in your life. Full and alive near the top of the world. If you are here today with your father, embrace him. Hold him so tight that no ray of that extraordinary sunlight can shine between you. And never let go. Never let him let you go either.

There’s so much to say, but too little time, just one brilliant day. I must trust that if he comes here one day with his own father—my son—the vital lifeline that connects two generations of fathers and sons will finally run unbroken. So I close:

 Let this spot be a symbol of your love for and faith in your father. Bring your son here someday. Along the way, tell him all the stories you know … and promise me as if no greater promise will ever be made: Never walk away.