“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
“Where is home for you?”
How do you answer that question? Is it the place you grew up in? Maybe you call home the place where you currently reside. Either way, in most cases that place comes with a street address and a zip code. A valid mailing address.
Without that, you are almost … nothing.
“Living in the present moment with quiet joy and happiness”
I am looking forward to reading Sam Wright’s book “Koviashuvik – Making a home in the Brooks Range”. Sam was a biologist, priest, and teacher who lived with his wife decades north of the Arctic Circle in a one-room log cabin, reflecting on life, mankind, and wilderness. He called his home Koviashuvik, which means a time and place of joy and happiness. According to Inuit tradition one must live in harmony with nature to experience koviashuvik,
I have not found a street address for Sam’s home, but living in a place with such a beautiful name, I imagine you don’t care that you can’t have a residential phone line, a cable subscription, or even utilities…
Maybe it was just the lack of modern day amenities (and obligations) and the presence of a relatively undisturbed wilderness that made his home a happy place…
“I don’t like autumn. Yes of course, the colors are nice, but they’re the colors of necrosis.”
What a grump. Actually, the secret diary of diary of Hendrik Groen is apparently an enjoyable book. The name is a pseudonym, so we really can’t ask what Hendrik really thinks about fall.
I see a shark.
What do you see?
What was once an ancient seabed is now visible as one of the most recognizable mountains of the Brooks Range. Just 4,459 ft but close to the Dalton Hwy., so it can be climbed in a day. The limestone deposit was subjected to intense heat and pressure, which caused it to metamorphose into marble. Slowly crumbling away. Apparently ice forms in the winter, attracting hardy ice climbers. The East slopes just beg for some back country skiing.
Like a hunter and gatherer I collected this image on a rare calm day with interesting clouds swirling around the mountain. On June 13 I stood alone on top of the mountain. IT Is hard to express the awe, peace, and humility I felt.
“Over the years I have discovered that each minute spent in the Arctic – whether in a tent in foul weather, on top of a breath-taking mountain, or in the midst of ten thousand caribou – carries the fullness of a rare wilderness experience.”
“I am the lover of uncontained and immortal beauty. In the wilderness, I find something more dear and connate than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature.”
Summer 2018 seems to go into the record books as a relatively cool and wet one, quite in contrast to the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, there were clear, warm, breezy, and calm days sprinkled into the mix. The constantly changing weather patterns made for great photo opportunities, I think. Rainy days were used for sorting through my images, making pastry, doing laundry, roughly in that order.
On my blueberry and mushroom expeditions, I ended frequently on ridge tops, which offered the best views of the immensity of the Brooks Range, short of being in a bush plane. Haven’t seen a single paraglider, although these hills are just calling for it. Gentle slopes in all directions, no powerlines, no fences… Once in a while a golden eagle or a pair of ravens are cruising along the ridge lines, showing me where the upwinds are. The same hills should make for amazing backcountry skiing, sans the cold… Maybe I will come back in March or April, when the winter temperatures may be bearable, and come to think of it, when there is also sufficient daylight for this activity. At night, I could watch the northern lights.
The oldtimers say September brings cooler, clear days. We shall see. The North Slope has already been blanketed several times with a couple inches of snow.
One of my hopes coming up here was to see musk ox. Several groups of this hardy animal had been seen near the Dalton Highway, but they remained elusive, when I traveled up north. Then, one drizzly afternoon, there they were, walking next to the road. Smaller than expected, moving with poise despite hordes of mosquitoes swarming around their heads. What does that eye tell you?
Inupiaqs call this “the animal with skin like a beard”. Musk ox live in the open tundra, where there is no place to hide, not from weather nor from predators. Apparently they have changed little since the last ice age and are well-adapted to the harsh living conditions of the arctic.
Musk oxen are more closely related to sheep and goats than bison and buffalo, if you ask a taxonomists. They disappeared from Alaska in the 1800’s, due to over-hunting, what else is new? In 1930, 34 musk oxen were captured in Greenland and reintroduced to Nunivak Island. From there musk oxen were transplanted to former habitats. Today, there are more than 3000 musk oxen found in Alaska. Considering the size of the state it is still a rare event to spot one of these gregarious animals.
Some folks call this another success story in wildlife conservation. I call it another sad example of the devastating effect of inconsiderate human behavior that lead to the extinction in the first place.
“What shocked me the most about the polar regions was neither the cold nor the remoteness, but a bewildering confrontation with my own lack of understanding.”
When Galen Rowell visited the Brooks Range for the first time, he was not prepared for the loss of daily rhythms, such as sunrise and sunset. He describes the time as “flowing without punctuation “and “days merging into undark nights”.
Especially after a long winter this period of continuous daylight becomes a challenge to all visitors of the polar regions. Life seems abundant, with constant change. No time to sleep, no time to rest.
Well, it’s the end of August. The midnight sun has come and gone. For a few hours the sky turns dark at night. For the first time in several months I have seen stars. Last night the Northern Lights were dancing above the mountains. The tundra colors have changed from lush green to red, orange, yellow, and brown in some places. Quite a display.
About 2 more weeks for me in the Arctic. I will savor every day, rain or shine.
“A land of enormous geometry etched by the cutting edge of light. Implacable, raw, elemental, beautiful and threatened.”
T. H. Watkins
A picture-perfect day at the North Slope. 140 miles of undulating hills covered with wet tundra until the Arctic Ocean. This is the place that unimaginable herds of caribou crossed in the spring to give birth to their young, to escape from the mosquitoes and to find summer feeding grounds. Come fall the migration pattern reverses.
Musk ox and arctic foxes roam this place that looks so innocent on a warm and sunny day. It will turn into a frigid, wind-blown freezer that only a few species can tolerate and even thrive in.
This place needs to be experienced with all senses. A photograph does not do it justice. It will serve me as a reminder of a summer north of the Arctic Circle.
“As I walked for hours beneath the stupendous grandeur of the mountains, I felt humble and insignificant.”
Bob Marshall explored the Brooks Range in the 30s. It was his life-long goal to find true wilderness. Only natives and a few miners had ventured into the Brooks Range before that. He described his adventures in Arctic Travels. Between his matter of fact observations he sprinkled a few remarks like the one above.
I was able to hike a day here and there into this remote mountain range that comes as close to true wilderness as it gets. There are two native villages to speak of Anaktuvuk Pass and Arctic Village, and a few hamlets like Bettles, Coldfoot, and Wiseman. All in all less than 1000 folks living along the 700 mile long stretch of mountains that is crossed by just one road, the Dalton Highway.
The remoteness and ruggedness of these mountains has helped to maintain its wild character. Gates of the Arctic National Park covers the central part of the Brooks Range. In most years it is the least visited national park in the US. Isn’t that interesting?
The picture above was taken from the top of Sukakpak, with Mt. Dillon in the foreground.