The first sunset of summer

I started this Cooper Island series back in February 2018 with a post from 29 July 2000, Sensory Deprivation, that chronologically fits here.

Part 20, another trip abroad

Alaska, Cooper Island, The Arctic Circle, Arctic Ocean, Barrow, North Slope, Birds, ice, ice floes, summer

Black Guillemots enjoy the sun on Cooper Island.


31 July 2000

I just finished reading Bob Kimber’s “A Canoeist’s Sketchbook.” It made me all excited about doing some paddling and being on the water. Looking out from my tent as I read I can see the Bay of Jaws water and the waves rolling across it – the wind never stops here. Finishing the last few pages on wilderness I set the book down and stepped out of the tent  – suddenly confronted by the reality of Cooper Island, not the comfortable, warm camp feeling I had assumed from the book. It is still 34º and windy and foggy and gray – I just forgot that while reading about Labrador and poling upriver and wet feet. How readily transported I was!

1 Aug

3 Aug

Well, guess I didn’t get to write much on 1 Aug… so that makes a while since I wrote. George made another splash appearance on Tuesday, 1 Aug. He was supposed to arrive by boat. I was about to radio to say there were two puffins in the colony but before I could do that, a helicopter landed, filling the tent with sand and blowing down the antenna. First thing was food and radio check. We walked the colony in the afternoon, weighing and measuring birds, talking and laughing. It was a lot of fun, really, both to have someone else to do the kneeling and to just shoot the breeze about everything and nothing. Much to my dismay, there was a new set of eggs in one of the long-empty nests I had stopped checking.

The next morning, 2 Aug, after two months on Cooper Island, I saw the sun set for the first time. I woke up at 0155 to see it –  long strings of clouds, gold and red and brilliant. A little later the very top edge of the sun skimmed the horizon as it began to rise again. I could sit up in my tent and watch. I woke in time to see the sun clear the horizon and rise fully into the sky at 0312 or some equally early time. I was up at 0530 and wandered the colony.

Cooper Island 2000-126 copy

The beach after the ice melted, plowed high by ice slabs breaking up and moving off the Arctic Ocean.

There are a lot of shorebirds flocking up, and the Parasitic Jaegers have found both the pond and the guillemots. They were working the area pretty hard. There was a swallow – I think a rough-winged swallow but am not sure – that visited George and me on the previous day (which was also the most spectacular and beautiful, sunny, warm day for this year – George kept saying “I don’t deserve this day, I didn’t live through all the rain and fog…” I agreed, of course.) Anyway, the Jaegers, they were relentlessly harassing the BGs for the fish they brought in for their chicks. They are phenomenal flyers, and it was cool to watch – even if they are not good news for my little birds.

George listened to the radio and the birthday announcements while I tried to figure out what the swallow was. Before George arrived on the island, I read him the riot act claiming proprietary rights over the camp and all of its sand-free contents. He is trying to be good, but I can tell it’s hard. The concept of not wanting sand in everything and throughout my food and everything else is utterly foreign.

We agreed I could get off the island for a day or so depending on weather and boats and timing. Dave radioed that he was gassed up and ready to go as he didn’t think the weather would hold into the afternoon. I was packed (taking a lot of unused stuff) and ready to go by the time Dave arrived – the wind had picked up but was at our backs for most of the trip. George was a bit put out that people at the ARF were excited to hear I would be in for a few days– I assured him that it was not because he was going out. They asked when I was coming in and what I wanted for dinner – I told them anything without sand that came with a clean fork would be fabulous. George was jealous no one offered to make him dinner. Anyway, it was nice to be in the ARF with the joking and bustling and general upbeat life attitude. After grocery shopping and a communal effort with cooking, we had a big stir-fry –you know you’ve been on an island in the Arctic for a long time when vegetables that were probably picked 4 weeks earlier qualify as Fresh – and then chocolate brownies and ice cream.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, there were packages and letters. One letter included this quote, “why have roots if you’re not allowed to grow? Why have wings if you’re not allowed to fly?”

I spent the day in the ARF tracking things down and finding info for tax forms – my SS# card replacement form. Blah, blah, blah.

4 Aug

Yesterday I made dinner for the ARF crew. A giant pot of black bean soup/chili – we coined it chiloup – and oatmeal muffins. The veggies and beans came from the Stuaqpak; I scrounged other necessary items from a variety of sources. We had a great dinner – lots of laughter – and Indian pudding for dessert. Today I spoke with Craig briefly about working on the whale census next spring. He said write a letter and a resume. Last year’s hires have preference but since they know me… It was good to tell him of my interest. He was shocked to realize I had been on Cooper since May.

Dave had a helicopter coming in so couldn’t take me back to Cooper. Instead, Benny from ARF, Charlie (the big boss), and Craig put the big boat in the water to take me home. It was a fast trip and comfy.

George was not prepared to leave but jammed a bunch of stuff together, and we dragged it to the boat. The afternoon cleared off beautifully, but the wind was switching and picking up again. George was in crisis/panic mode disjointedly talking about 50 things at once, trying to put his stuff together and half trying to figure out what he was doing. When they got off the beach and headed back, I turned to find one of George’s duffels still lying halfway down the beach. I yelled and waved my arms; Charlie saw me in time to turn back. I collected the offending bag and sent them on their way again.

Craig was a bit dismayed by the whole camp scene. The lack of a wall tent was particularly striking to him. I agreed. Interesting that the camp was thoroughly trashed. I finished the nest checks and chick detail and then spent the rest of the afternoon reclaiming the camp, moving the table back into place, clearing sand and junk out of the cook tent, moving around food and windbreaks. Washing the pots that were dirty and full of gross food residue. Ick. George did apologize for that later when we spoke by radio. We did all of the Guillemot checking in, catching up on colony news and project needs. He was going off to play softball with Dave this evening. The ARF crew also radioed to say they picked flowers for George and were making him a special frozen dinner.

I’m back on Cooper. For a few minutes, while being shit upon by a wily Guillemot, I was not happy. Then the wind picked up, and the rain came, and somehow that washed away the feeling of being alone and the idea that things were happening without me. Of course, things are happening without me. I have to figure out how to make things happen for myself and what I want those things to be.

Cooper Island 2000-82 tern egg

An Arctic Tern egg lies alone in a shallow nest ON Cooper Island.