I walked on the Arctic Ocean today

The continuing story of summer alone on an Arctic Island studying seabirds…


I cleaned up the camp yesterday. Reset the bear fence, packed and covered the extra gear and food. Set the extra antenna against the barrel holding up the antenna in use. The white-crowned sparrow has been sitting on it ever since, using it as a perch to call for a mate. Poor little guy, I wonder if he is supposed to even be here or if he is the only one so far north. I wonder if he got blown off course. He’s good company, anyway; he hops around camp eating rice and oatmeal and he chirps and sings to me. He doesn’t take off instantly the way he did at first but is still pretty wary. Yesterday he sat on the antenna and sang. I got my flute and played a few notes, he talked back to me; we were only sitting a few feet apart. He watched me; I watched him.

It’s about 2:30 am. It was and is dead calm this morning, no wind at all. I need to get out for a stroll before ithe wind comes up and kills me again. Except for the sparrow, no other birds are anywhere. I saw only one goose yesterday. They must be lying low after the storm the day before.

I forgot to write about the Inupiat couple who visited the other day – or about one thing – several greater white-fronted geese flew by as we were talking. The man called to them in exactly their voice – he was good – and as they went by the woman said, “Bang, duck soup.” I’ve always wanted to be able to do calls like that. And I always appreciate the need for food.

I walked to the west end of the island. It was early morning – no wind. I collected a lot of stones along the way. Smooth, shiny-black stones of all shapes and sizes. I walked back, ate again, and went to the east end of the island. It seems all of the Lapland longspurs live at that end of the island. The snow buntings are everywhere. I saw the black-bellied plovers again and a pair of Baird’s sandpipers. Also a female pintail. The white-crowned sparrow sings on.

I was just assaulted by 3 beautiful little common redpolls. Sitting with my back to the wind, they came zooming into camp and landed within 5 feet of me. The tripod is between my knees with the zoom set up but they were so close I couldn’t move. One landed on the bear alarm line, the other 2 on the ground. The sparrow joined them and fed for a minute. The one on the line flew right at the camera and me, at the last second went over my head. I’m wearing the parka with the fox ruff, sitting very still so I suspect they had no idea I was human. There seems to be an influx of creatures today. The south wind has brought out all the little beasts.

It’s funny, this whole 24 hours of light. I guess no one said 24 hours of sun – I haven’t seen the sun since I’ve been here. I get up at midnight; stay up all night. It’s light out. I stay up most of the day and it’s light out. I go to sleep early in the evening and it’s light out. But the nights are silent as if everyone is sleeping and it’s not until about 4 am, the time when all self-respecting diurnal birds are awake, that there is any sound or movement by the birds. They seem to keep their usual schedule regardless of the light. Why not rest during the busy part of the day, feed while everyone else is sleeping, when there’s no competition? Hmmmm. Interesting.

I’m not having any trouble sleeping in the eternal light or getting up at midnight or 1 am but I do get sleepy early in the morning – 6 am-ish, right after lunch as it was – how does my body know that it’s nap time then just like it is at 2 pm in June in Maine? I wonder. What will I do when I go back to the regular schedule and the regular days of light and dark? Yuk.

I’ve been trying to get photos of the male snow bunting. He is resisting and each time I’ve had a good opportunity I’ve let it go. Silly me.

It is remarkable to be out here where there is no sound. No voices. No cars, very few planes. There is the wind in my ears and in the tents. The calls of the birds and nothing else. No wind in the grass or the trees. No water. No music. I try to play my flute but unless I sit in the warm tent my fingers are too cold (and even then it’s hard). I’ve been trying to play a little every day and want to move up to the actual music part of the book, not just the fingering practice – though I have enough trouble with the fingering and can’t read music so… The book explains all of the symbols and meter and all but I have so little experience I’m still struggling just to understand the basic language. So the birds hear me practice and the sparrow even answers back to me : )

Sitting in the tent sometimes I think I can hear music. I’m not sure what it is but it is a regular, repeating rhythm. Every time I stick my head out of the door it goes away. I’m perplexed by it. I thought it was the wind in the nylon for a while but then I realized I could still hear it when there was no wind.

I also hear crows regularly. I know that they are not here but I hear them. The warriors are with me and are keeping me strong.

I walked on the Arctic Ocean today. Just stepped right out there onto the pack ice and had a stroll. I can’t part the sea but I can walk on an ocean.

Categories: Environment/Nature