One Man's Paradise

Arctic Memories

“We felt very nice and snug, the more so since it was so chilly out of doors. The more so, I say, because truly to enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. “

Herman Melville

That’s a passage from Moby Dick.

Now that I am back from the Arctic, I had a couple of weeks time to contemplate about my summer up North.

Compared to other travel destinations few people travel to the far North, to experience foul weather, thirsty mosquitoes and a lack of most conveniences. Nevertheless, there are some, that enjoy this harsh environment. I was wondering if the inconveniences make you appreciate the little things that you have up there more.

Maybe a shelter in the woods feels more special than your standard home in a gated community. Or the blueberries that you picked yourself, while watching for bears and battling the always present mosquitoes taste better than the exotic fruits you can buy in the supermarket? Or the unexpected kindness that was offered to you feels better than the best online deal you ever got?

For me it was the solitude that came with the vast landscape, the absence of humans and their doings and the sense of self -reliance in the back country that made an impression on me.

I can appreciate the conveniences of civilized life, but in the spirit of Herman Melville, there comes the day, when I need a little bit of roughing it, just for good measure.

Brooks Range, Alaska

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Quote

Arctic Light

“You only get one sunrise
and one sunset a day,

and you only get
so many days on the planet. “

Galen Rowell


Thinking back about my summer in the Arctic I am dearly reminded that we only get so many days on the planet, although for months the sun would not set nor rise.

When days and nights unite in the Arctic summer time seems to stand still for a while. Nothing tells us that it is midnight and we should be asleep, or midday and we should have lunch. Without access to daily news, TV episodes, shopping days, release dates, and scheduled appointmements it is possible to forget about time…

Until summer changes to winter. Then, time stands still, or at least moves very slowly, so it feels during long, dark nights.

Summer or winter, the light up North feels special. Like a gift of Nature. Food for the soul when it’s abundant. And like an essential vitamin, when it’s sparse?

It feels like an eternity that I have left the Arctic, although it’s just been a few weeks. That must mean I miss it…

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Conservation

Gentle Giants

blog

Musk Ox, North Slope, Alaska

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.

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One Man's Paradise

Life in the Arctic

“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.”

Galen Rowell

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.

 

 

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One Man's Paradise

The Arctic

“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.

 

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