The wind goes on

Part 6. Visitors – human, animal, bird, and wind, again

Flying from Fairbanks the other day was amazing. It was clear almost to the Brooks range; there were several large, wide, meandering rivers and dozens of smaller streams. Sometimes there were three or four rows of oxbows with the current channel carefully hidden among the old. The mountains are sharp and straight-edged. There was snow everywhere.

Eventually, it clouded over, and we flew over the range without ever seeing it. Approaching Barrow, I saw open water and then pack ice, mile after mile of pressure ridges and leads. Like giant, dry salt flats, cracks led every which where and the pressure ridges ran in long intersecting lines…

An older Inupiat couple came across the ice yesterday. He drove the snow machine; she sat in a chariot sort of sled. They came from the mainland to collect firewood off the beach. It’s funny that in a land with no trees driftwood is plentiful. We talked a while; they were surprised I would be here alone through the summer and said I should radio anytime. ––– was their call, channel XX.

He wore a simple over shirt, long and lined with sheepskin, the ruff on the hood was magnificent wolf fur, it flowed and moved in the breeze as if the fur itself was alive. It was silvery bright with black tips. The man was sun-darkened, almost the color of dark chocolate, and was creased and aged, the ruff danced around his face and made him beautiful. The woman was quite small and also quite round.

She talked about her grandchildren and daughter-in-law and about collecting wood, their camp here, home in Barrow, and their winter home in Anchorage – the south, you know. She was lively and chatty in a way that was familiar and pleasant. It was nice to have these visitors.

Later, I walked through the snow and across the island. I watched the fat, lazy seal basking in the hazy sun over its breathing hole. Two Pomarine jaegers sailed by; a flock of 60 or so common eiders wove their way across the ice, they disappeared behind pressure ridges and came out again into view. Eventually, they found their way into single-file and went off toward the lead to feed.

A short-eared owl played tag with me, gliding near and past before I noticed how close it was. It landed and watched me for a long time, as I watched it. When I approached, it lifted off, glided away, and landed on a peak of the pressure ice piled up on the north shore.

The wind goes on. I haven’t been out to check on even the existence of the other tent. It may well have blown away by now. The food, stove, and I are crammed into half the tent as the wind has the other half pushed flat up against me. There is snow in the air.

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