Who are you?

A huge thank you to everyone who supported The Arctic Circle fundraising campaign – the residency fee is paid and I’m gearing up to go back to the Arctic in October. I hope you will come along, and I hope you enjoy reading these excerpts as much as I enjoy reliving them. Read on, my friends.

The Arctic Circle, Alaska, Cooper Island, Barrow, Climate Change, Tamara Enz

Wow, my hair was brown. Photo: D. Ramey

Part 16, a return to Barrow

10 July

Dave and a couple of other folks tried to boat out from Barrow the other night. They only got halfway before turning back because of the ice floes. Early yesterday morning two boats came right up to the island and then made a hard west turn and disappeared. I thought it had to be Dave, but no. As it turns out, it was good they didn’t make it. George called from Seward to say he wouldn’t be up for a while. He said on the first boat trip out they should collect me up and take me back to Barrow for a few days of R&R. Dave had my mail and groceries packed to bring out so now it has to wait for me to get in – but it still all depends on the ice and when it clears enough to get a boat here. Dave said even if they had gotten here the other day they wouldn’t have stayed long for fear of the ice closing them off.

It seems I have a following at the other end of my radio. There are quite a few folks who stop in to chat with Dave and who hear me each day. Today he said they couldn’t wait to hear my voice – I asked what they were going to do when confronted with my physical presence in the shop. Dave said they would probably just have to bow down in worship. I could suffer that.

I walked down on the tundra today – the first Brant chicks hatched. There were some gray balls of fluff out on the ocean with their parents. The first long-tailed chick was in Big Lake. Oh my goodness, it shouldn’t be legal for anything to be that cute. It was a ball of down bobbing around. All tan and brown like dried grass and incredibly adorable.

I found a tern nest with an egg just hatching. The chick had broken a hole in it. It was not peeping but moving its bill. The adult terns are ever vigilant, and I didn’t get too close to their nest. I found a second tern nest farther up the beach.

Meanwhile back here in the colony, I lifted one of the covers to a snow bunting nest and found a whole pile of fluffy chicks. They all tried to hide under the edge of the board so then I couldn’t set it back down. They scattered around and about while I attempted not to squish them. When I finally was able to resettle the board, I helped the parents gather up the little ones, shushing them back into the nest. I felt horrible. I thought they long ago fledged, but no. Oops. I’m sure the parents didn’t need that stress. I sat off to the side and watched for a while to make sure they were all there. The parents seemed ok and continued with their feeding and singing.

Last week I was laughing at myself for being the vigilante tourist – carrying the shotgun slung across my chest and having the binocs around my neck and the camera slung over my shoulder. Pretty silly really. I laugh at myself a bunch. So much of the daily tension and constant uptightness that I became over the last 5 years has dissipated and I’m a much happier person. I wonder how long that can last when I return to the world of everyday life. Perhaps the answer is to never return to the everyday life but to make every day a unique day.

12 July

Wow, has life changed drastically. I was up early (evening 10 July) about 2200. I didn’t band because of the wind, rain, and cold. I did some walking and tern tormenting trying to take photos. Radioed as usual but Dave said it looked like the lagoon/bay was open and he was going to try to get out to Cooper Island. I put some earnest effort into organizing and containing the camp. I was just about done when Dave radioed that he was within 3 miles.

He was on the north side of the island and had to circle back around to the south to land the boat; he towed the boat, wading through the water, beaching it at the sardine box. I met him with a big hug. We hauled food and water down to the tents and hauled a few other things back, then ate the last of my lentil soup before loading the boat and starting on our way. There were tons of long-tailed ducks on the water, as well as loons. Although the wind was at our backs it picked up and made the ride choppy. The spray made my face freeze but I had a survival suit and was otherwise cozy. We made it to Barrow just in time to drop the boat at BASC base and get Dave to his league softball game. Dave’s girlfriend and a researcher staying at the ARF went as well; we were the three cheerleaders in the bleachers. We drank scotch while hanging at the game. Dave’s team lost and after a few shots of scotch, he didn’t do too well. Alas.

And – I almost forgot – it was a beautiful day. By about 1000 the skies were clear, and it was blue and beautiful. I almost didn’t want to leave Cooper Island; it was too beautiful to go anywhere. It actually stayed nice through the ball game. Finally, at about 0130, after six weeks on Cooper, I had a shower and went to bed. I had been awake for 27 ½ hours. It was time.

13 July

I spent most of yesterday wandering back and forth between BASC base and ARF. I feel like I’m a bit of an imposition wherever I am. I can’t just eat at the ARF because everyone has their own food and expenses. I don’t want to eat in the cafeteria each meal, though I can and suppose I should.

Yesterday, when I walked into ARF at 0630, three guys were sitting at the table. I said, ‘Hi.’ One of the guys said plainly, “Who are you?”

“I’m Tamara”

“YOU’RE Tamara?” He jumped up, shook my hand, got me a bagel, and made me a pile of scrambled eggs. He and George go way back. He’s been doing work on snowy owls for a long time. We laughed and talked about George. The other guys were working on eiders. Eight people are staying at ARF, as I was introduced to each, I told them what I was doing. One by one they said, “You’re where? For how long?”

The Arctic Circle, Alaska, Cooper Island, Barrow, Climate Change, Tamara Enz

Who wants to leave Cooper Island on a beautiful day like this?