As Christmas approaches, the thoughts of many children — and adults — centers on the activities going on at the North Pole.
For Vevay native Jared Hill and his family — living in Alaska means having the ability to actually travel to the North Pole and check things out for themselves.
Hill and his family — wife Laura and children Hunter, Noah, and Savannah — a move to Alaska came this past summer, beginning an adventure that has already seen days of light; an earthquake; and now days mostly filled with darkness.
Hill, a graduate of Switzerland County High School and Purdue University, is a pilot for UPS, flying deliveries to cities throughout Southeast Asia.
“We’re doing well now that the ground seems to be settling down,” Hill said from his home in Palmer, Alaska, a city of about 6,000 located about 45 miles northeast of Anchorage, which is the airport that Hill flies out of. “Things have settled down, but it’s a little discouraging, because they say that there are lulls in the aftershocks after an earthquake, so don’t read too much into the lulls and don’t read too much into the clusters of heavy shakes.”
Hill said that the earthquake that hit in early December caused a lot of damage in his area, noting that his daughter’s elementary school finally reopened late last week; while the middle school that his two sons attend still hasn’t reopened, but the school was expected to reopen yesterday (Wednesday, December 19th).
“When I was a kid, I would make up these dream scenarios where we would get out of school, but I never dreamed that we’d get two and a half weeks out of school right before Christmas break because of an earthquake,” Hill laughed. “They will go back to school for one day, and then get two weeks off.”
The Hill family moved to Alaska this past June. Jared went ahead of the family, driving from their home in Indianapolis to their new home in Palmer — a trip that took eight days. The rest of the family flew to Alaska, arriving, ironically enough, on the day of the Summer Solstice — the day of the most amount of daylight in the entire year.
Hill has been based in Anchorage by UPS for the past nine years, but he was allowed to live in Indianapolis. That meant that when he had a flight, he would travel from Indianapolis, to Louisville, where he would catch a UPS flight as a passenger going to Anchorage. Once there, he’d prepare for his flight to Southeast Asia; and upon arriving back in Alaska, he’d complete to routine in reverse. In convenience of living in Indianapolis for the Hills, however, was counter balanced by the long amounts of time Jared was away from the family.
The solution? Move to Alaska, which cut down on his time away dramatically.
“We made the decision on our own,” Jared said of the move. “They don’t care where we live. We probably have 50-percent of our pilots who are based here, live here, and the other 50-percent commute. For me, I was just losing so many days at home. It was just taking a toll on my body, so we decided to move up here. My schedule has changed so dramatically. I sit reserve, so I’m not flying nearly as much, and I’m home a lot more and sleeping regular hours. I got tired of watching my kids grow up through my phone.”
“Sitting reserve” is a term for Hill’s job that means that he’s on a reserve, fill-in basis. That means when a scheduled pilot can’t take the flight due to illness or some other situation, the company calls Jared, who then has to be at the airport to take the flight within two hours.
“If they take a sick call, or they build in something extra or an additional flight, that’s when they call me. It’s a much better deal than what I was doing before,” he said.
So, obviously there are adjustments to be made when relocating from Indiana to Alaska. For the Hills, there have been many.
“Relationally, we lived in Indianapolis for 19 years and in Indiana our whole lives, save a year in Louisville and seven months in Uganda, so I think just being an outsider is probably the thing we notice the most,” Jared said. “It’s taking a while to make those connections. Yesterday I was at Costco, and I ran into a couple of people that I knew, and that was kind of like the first time in six months that you’re starting to see people that you recognize and you know; as opposed to living in Indianapolis and going out and always expecting to run into someone that you know.”
Hill said that the kids have adapted much more quickly, because they are in school and have made new friends; but since Jared doesn’t go into work everyday, and with Laura not working, it’s been more difficult for the adults to form friendships.
And then there’s the daylight — or lack thereof.
“The light is a big thing that everybody talks about, and you see it,” Jared said. “In the summer when we moved here, the sun set at maybe one in the morning; and it got a little dark, but not totally, so you’re trying to do blackout curtains and trying to get your kids to go to bed and it’s 10:30 p.m. and the sun’s just blaring in on them. So you’re trying to figure out how to make it dark and get people to go to sleep. Then you wake up early because the sun’s blasting in.”
And now, in winter, it’s exactly the opposite.
“I think today, we’re having five and a half hours of daylight,” Jared continued. “The sun will rise at 10 a.m. and set at 3:30 p.m., so in the winter time you’re trying to adjust to what your mind thinks. You look around at 4 p.m. and think, ‘Well, it’s time for dinner,’ because of the darkness and what your mind is used to; and then you realize that it’s not time for dinner, it’s only 4 p.m.”
Jared said that it’s also been tough trying to find activities and keep up with things going on outside, even with the darkness. At it’s shortest day, the winter solstice, he figures that there will be about five hours and 10 minutes of light, as the amount of daylight is dropping at a rate of about six minutes per day.
“For my daughter, she’s in school from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., so she doesn’t see the sun. It’s dark before she goes, and it’s dark when she gets out,” Jared said.
Hill said that the schools counter the lack of sunlight by holding outdoor recess for school children everyday — no exceptions.
“In Indiana, it may be indoor recess if it’s below 40 or something,” Jared said. “But here, it’s everyday regardless. Yesterday she was saying that it was pouring rain, and they didn’t even think about it, they just go out. In Alaska, if you let the weather dictate you about staying inside, you’re going to be inside the whole time and you’re going to wither. They condition them pretty early, They tell them to bring their gear, and they gear up and they go out.”
And the recent earthquake was a whole new experience for the family.
“The boys were at school when it hit, but my daughter was still at home,” Jared said. “They did the whole ‘dive under the desk’ thing. The boys had done earthquake drills at their school. If we have a tornado, I know where to go. I know what to do. I’d go in the basement of the house; but when we had the earthquake, I thought the house was coming down. I grabbed my daughter, and I was just sort of running around trying to figure out where to go. I went to the front door and was trying to decide if I should go outside or stay inside — I wasn’t really sure what to do. My boys, of course, because they had drilled it at school, knew exactly what to do. They were under their desks, grabbing and holding on.”
Jared said that the school suffered a lot of damage, with ceilings coming down and other structural issues.
“Their teacher said that the kids performed admirably,” Jared said. “The teacher said that there was so much damage and so much dust, she couldn’t see the kids in the classroom; so she was just calling out their names and waiting for responses. She got them to turn the lights on on their iPhones so they could see.”
As big a move as it may seem to go from Indiana to Alaska, for the Hill family, it’s just another adventure.
The family is heavily tied to the country of Uganda through mission work, having lived in the country for seven months.
“I’ve joked with them that they are probably the only kids up here who have had malaria,” Jared laughed. “I actually had it again a couple of weeks ago and reported it to the Alaska State Department because it carries over. I was in Uganda in April and had malaria, and it manifested itself. My doctor did the blood work, and all of the sudden I get a phone call from the Alaska Department of Health and they’re like, ‘Hey, you have malaria’, and I was like ‘How do you know?’ and they said it had been reported to them.”
The travels have been particularly eventful for the children.
“They’ve had some experiences, and are adjusting really well,” Jared said. “They seem to do really well and rolling in and out of different cultures.”
Jared also notes that his children have also been able to see a wide range of animals in their natural habitats as a result of the traveling.
“They’ve seen a giraffe and a hippo and a crocodile out and about; and now they see a black bear or a bald eagle or a porcupine. They saw a Beluga whale the other day on a drive.”
Hill said that even driving takes on a different element.
“Back in Switzerland County, where we’d drive and worry about deer; here we have to worry about moose,” he laughed. “How do you hit a moose? Where do you hit a moose if it’s in the road? You need to know those things in order to have the best chance of survival. We have moose crossing signs in the areas where they are, and there’s a sign my kids love to see that is update once a month that tells the number of moose that have been killed in the Mat-Su Valley since July 15th.”
So is Christmas much different in Alaska?
“It’s pretty much very traditional,” Jared said. “One thing that they have here that we haven’t done yet is that the North Pole is in Alaska, so when people send letters to the North Pole, there’s an actual post office in North Pole, so you can go up and see Santa at the North Pole. You’re pretty much guaranteed a white Christmas.”
The Hill family will be returning to Indiana and Switzerland County for the Christmas holiday season; and are looking forward to again visiting family and friends.
“It’s an incredible experience here for us, but we’re looking forward to seeing Laura’s family in Northern Indiana, then we’ll make our way back to Vevay for the rest of Christmas break. We’re looking forward to it.”