Environment/Nature

Forces of good and evil

Part 5. The continuing saga. Still 1 June 2000.

Cooper Island, Alaska

A little wind.

In theory, the guillemots will be back within the week. Given the snow cover, the cold, now the pelting rain, I hardly expect them at all. It is hard to believe any creature would choose this place to start a family. It is, actually, quite beautiful and I am sure that when the snow melts, the pack ice recedes, and the 8’x10’ patch of tundra greens it will be even more so. There are Brant that nest here, greater white-fronted geese, and, in the past, large herds of Arctic terns. The snow buntings have been singing and chasing around since I’ve gotten here. I am happy to give them my oatmeal; they seem to enjoy it more than I do.

Although the sun has really not shown itself, I have been aware of its journey around the horizon. The difference in light during the day and night is muted by the hazy sky and heavy clouds, but the change in temperature is obvious. The first morning it couldn’t have been more than 15ºF – the radio said it was 19º at 5 am but I was up at midnight, and it seemed colder. When I woke this morning, it was dead calm, and I knew something was coming. The wind now is out of the south, a Beaufort 5 or 6 (19-30 mph). The rain fly is pushed up against the wall rendering any waterproofness useless. The rain comes and goes. The wind continues.

The snow bunting sings its cheery, bright song. I drink more hot liquids. I wander out now and then to reinforce, stretch, fill garbage bags with snow for drinking water in July, empathize with the birds, scan for bears. I should be well read by the end of this.

The rain seems to have stopped. The wind has increased by a couple of notches. I am due for a radio call in ten minutes. I will be lucky if the antenna doesn’t blow off when I raise it. The white-crowned sparrow is still working the edges of the camp. There is a glaucous gull having an absolutely fabulous time playing in the wind, two Pomarine jaegers just screamed past. Perhaps the wind will blow out all the clouds and clear the skies. But, given that it’s from the south, I doubt it.

Aborted radio call. My sleep tent moved about ten feet across the island before I hauled more gear into it. The cook tent, where I’m sitting, is folded in half; sitting in the middle of the tent, the south wall is pressed against my shoulder. The fiberglass extender for the antenna wanted to shatter but flexed about in half trying not to. I guess everything that was soaked by the rain will dry in a short time.

The sparrow and bunting only come to feed when I am out of the tent, and I have my back to them. They will land 10 feet from me when they can see me standing there but not at all when they know I am in the tent. Buggers.

Hours later: The forces of good and evil are at work here, battling for control of the Arctic.

I just stepped out to take a photo of the tent being folded in half by the wind. I was barely able to stand against it but had to do something other than sit. I can see the bluffs six miles to the south. They stand out, clear and sharp. Immediately above them is a wall of cloud thick and heavy. Over me is another massive bank of cloud. Everything west and north is gray down to the horizon. Between me and the bluffs is blue sky. The wind is straight out of the west, off the Bering Sea. I can see the snow slanting across the lagoon and now and then there is a sharp spit of it right here. The wind has increased since this morning. I put a Halberton case full of books and a10 gal propane tank in the other tent to help keep it in place.

I just made another cup of tea. I shut the gas off earlier, afraid of the unpredictability of wind and fire. Given that both sides of the tent are almost directly over the stove I thought it might be a good idea. I shut the gas off again and finally was able to zipper shut the door – there are several broken teeth, which make it a challenge. Although it keeps the sand out and holds back the wind a bit, I am now cut off from the view – snow, ice, sky, and the occasional bird. It is much more claustrophobia-inducing this way.

I bought a wooden flute before I came here. I’ve wanted to learn to play for a long time and thought here no one would have to suffer through the initial squeaks. Each time I bring it out the wind seems to pick up.

Cooper Island, Alaska

Swans stop for a visit.

Join me this fall on The Road not Taken Enough when I go to Svalbard on an Arctic Circle residency – Artistry in the Arctic.

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