Where the songs of summer lead

Part 19, the songs of summer

Alaska, Arctic Ocean, The Arctic Circle, Barrow, climate change

Black Guillemots enjoy the summer water, ice floes and all, off Cooper Island.

25 Aug July

I am now paying for the nice weather I so cheerily wrote about the other day. It rained most of the night and has been sleeting and snowing and blowing a gale all day. Ye-ha. I’ve been busy with chicks, they are rolling in fast and furious. It’s too cold and nasty to push anyone off the nest if I don’t have to so I’m not pushing them. It seems they all weigh the same and have the same length wing the first day anyway. It is probably I who is in need of shelter from the cold and wind, but I’ll still try not to push anybody.

The folks who brought pastries – Mike and Patsy – returned on their way back to Barrow. They left me a whole white fish – yummy. I cleaned it and filleted it then pan fried half and made fish chowder out of the other half. I sacrificed a whole can of evaporated milk to the cause. I would rather have good chowder than a week of coffee. I hadn’t expected such a delight, but it was welcome!

George is planning to be in Barrow on Sunday and will come out here, weather dependent, on Monday. I’m not sure how long he will stay, but I’m going to tell him that if he moves one thing from its current location and drops it in the sand, I will have to kill him. That’s all there is to it. 🙂 I’ve spoken regularly with folks at ARF. There was a round of Guess the Product yesterday (BBQ sauce) – it took me a while to figure it out since I never use the stuff – the first ingredient: modified corn syrup… Yuk. Other news from ARF: the king eider chick is eating like crazy but somehow hurt its leg. So it goes. Dave is busy with the fish folks- they got their supplies to Atqasuk but didn’t have any toilet paper for the summer– oops. There’s no helicopter fuel.

I was thinking today about the songs that have randomly wandered into my head since I’ve been here – first it was Gordon Lightfoot’s “That’s what you get for loving me” – everything you had is gone, as you can see, that’s what you get for loving me. Then the Neville’s “Thank you, Miss Rosa, you are the spark, started our freedom movement. Thank you, sister Rosa Parks.” Then the title song from Oklahoma (egad!), “O-k-l-a-h-o-m-a (except I kept doing it as H-m-o-a-…) and the land we belong to is grand.” Then Bruce Springsteen’s “I ain’t nothing but tired/Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself/Hey there baby, I could use just a little help/You can’t start a fire/You can’t start a fire without a spark/This gun’s for hire/even if we’re just dancin’ in the dark/Message keeps getting clearer/Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place/I check my look in the mirror/I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face/Man I ain’t getting nowhere/I’m just living in a dump like this/There’s something happening somewhere/Baby I just know that there is.” Yesterday, I woke with Bonnie Raitt’s “Run like a thief” – How sweet the wine of desire. It’s both interesting and annoying to have one or two lines so solidly wedged in my mind that it occupies whole days (and weeks) and is the first thought when I wake. The worst stretch of days was when “Convoy” lodged into the deepest reaches of my head and filled every waking and most non-waking minute. “‘Cause we got a little convoy/rockin’ through the night/Yeah, we got a little convoy/Ain’t she a beautiful sight? …an’ Eleven long-haired Friends a’ Jesus in a chartreuse micra-bus.” Wow. That was painful.

I had another dream last night from which I woke startled and afraid. I only remember the end. We (me and several unknown people) were in a house; maybe I was supposed to stay there – I don’t know, but everyone went out. As I went back to turn off a light, I thought I should have someone stay with me; I was afraid. As I turned to ask, I saw the door close and everyone moving away. I couldn’t get to the door or say anything. I tried to call out, then tried to yell, and found I could neither move nor speak. The effort of trying to scream woke me. I jolted awake; I didn’t open my eyes (or maybe they were covered). I lay in the dark, awake, and startled. That’s twice in a week. Why am I feeling trapped? Trapped enough to be having such dreams. I am locked into nothing; I owe no one anything. I have no obligations. Perhaps that’s it. I’m trapped in my demands. This lack of stability, my boastful attitude of not needing any solid ground. No one would taunt me if I settled down for the rest of my life tomorrow. No one would be surprised, either, if I didn’t. So, why do I feel trapped? I have to face it all sometime.

I read a bit today and wrote a couple of letters. Too cold, raw, and nasty out there to be out and about. Too bad, I would like to check on the tern and Xena chicks. I haven’t been down that way in a few days. I also want to take photos of the freshy-bugger guillemot chicks, but it is too nasty to have them out of the nest longer than necessary. Maybe tomorrow I can flush somebody and take photos.

27 Aug [sic, actually July]

Where will I be in 10 years? Phew. I can’t even imagine where I will be next month. Well, OK. I’ll be on Cooper Island next month, but the month after that I have no clue.

The weather continues to be awful. Cold and raw, the wind switched around to the NE and picked up speed, remarkably. I spent today walking, in the colony and along the shore, it was pretty brutal, but I wanted to be out nonetheless. There is a lot of bird movement these days. The guillemot prospectors are in town, scoping out sites for next year. I thought I had pretty well eliminated the ranks of unbanded and cohort banded birds; there were a dozen or so left to catch. Then all of a sudden, numerous unbanded and cohort birds started appearing and sent me into despondency. I can’t band now as it is too late in incubating and too early in hatching. I watch and weigh and measure chicks.

This morning when I woke the sun was shining through the strips of cloud, heavy, dark, and 3-dimensional, crowding along the northern horizon and there was a dark, impenetrable wall of fog on the western edge. It soon moved in to obliterate the light and what little warmth there was in it.

While I was out this morning, in the distance over the water, I saw a line of common eiders, 70 or 75 of them moving west, single file. They flirted with the fog and the waves, growing faint in the thick gray air and then standing out sharply again. The line flew ever forward but also as if the energy of a wave was moving through it – as the wave rolls through water. The line never broke, if the lead bird dropped to the water the others followed in turn; when the lead bird rose again the undulation flowed through the birds and continued as they passed. Eventually, they disappeared into the mists and were gone. There is something striking about watching so many birds in a single line. Eiders almost always seem to move this way and, when they are out of lines, it only takes a few minutes for them to regain their structure, never losing ground or speed. Just as shorebirds know when to turn, land, or take off in synchrony with the hundreds of other birds, the eiders always seem to find their order and where they fit. Amazing really, and pleasing to see that long row stretch out across the sky, across the water through the fog.

Tomorrow I will walk down to the tundra again – I went yesterday for a bit. The tern chick is getting fat and is hard to see even still. Its parents always give it away, if it weren’t for them hovering and harassing me I would never find it. There are a dozen or so long-tailed duck babies on Pasta Pond. Gosh, are they cute? The pintails are back, and the eiders are more noticeable. The long-tails are probably still down the island, but I haven’t gone to look. Lots of glaucous gulls, they seem to have increased. I wonder what early dispersers I might see over the next month – there are already lots of western sandpipers.

Tern chick in Arctic

An Arctic Tern chick lays low in the Cooper Island gravel.