Arctic time fluidity

Part 21, Cooper time – night divides the day

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

Black Guillemots rest on ice floes in the fog off Cooper Island, Alaska.

5 Aug

I half dragged myself out of bed this morning at 0630. Had just gotten my pants and socks on and was opening the door when the first wave of rain hit the tent. It hasn’t let up since; that was 12 hours ago. I did a quick colony stroll. The Parasitic Jaegers seem to be working the colony hard. There were also two puffins again. I spent most of the morning in the tent eating and catching up on the data and notes George left. As hard to believe as it may be, his notes are more disjointed than mine.

It rained the whole day, all of it. No break. I did all of the nest checks in the rain. My clothes are no longer waterproof. I washed my chick-shit-covered jacket and rain pants in Barrow, and I think that was the end of any waterproofness. I wore my insulated bibs though today, and they got wet right through the knees and seat. It just pelted me the whole time, and I doubt anything would have kept me dry. My jacket did better than I expected. There were a couple of tears at the back of the neck that I stitched up this morning. I thought it would leak there, but it was more of a slow seep across my shoulders and at my elbows. Somehow I displeased the rain gods and expect the rain to continue indefinitely. For a short time, I had this ridiculous hope that since July had been so wet, August would come around clear and fine. Right.

6 Aug

Lots of bird activity today. There were hundreds of Xena, Glaucous Gulls, terns, and phalaropes (well, not so many terns). It was a busy, raucous day for the birds. It stopped raining sometime in the night and was nice in the morning – it never cleared but there were a few blue patches. I did a few rotations around the colony and nest checks; I weighed and measured all of the little buggers. George banded a lot of chicks already, which is great.

My hand seems to be seriously lacking in motor control tonight. It is cold and stiff and not responding well to my directions. I walked for two hours after dinner. Up through the tundra and back along the north beach; I crossed at Far West, back again along the lagoon side. The annual barge to Prudhoe Bay went by this evening.

7 Aug

Oddly enough, the barge to Prudhoe Bay returned this morning – it hadn’t been unloaded, and another ship followed it. A Greenpeace boat intercepted it, boarded it, and told it to return to Barrow – I don’t know what the issue was or why the captain listened. Dave told me he heard of the boarding on the radio.

It was gray and foggy when I awoke. Surprise! Eventually, it turned to showers and rained off and on through the day. Again there are lots of Xena though not so many as yesterday, and Red Phalaropes also abound. Did the usual weighing and measuring round.

I was thinking today about how fluid time is here, even though I sleep regularly and for the usual (more or less) amount of time, one day runs into the next undivided. It seems to be a perfect continuum of time. It is always light, day and night it doesn’t matter when you go to sleep or when you wake, it is light. The only apparent divide between day and night is the temperature. (You know the day destroys the night/night divides the day/tired to run/tried to hide/break on through to the other side – thanks, Jim!)  Sometimes I think of an event that occurred, and it will seem only this morning even though it may have been days ago. I’m often sure I did one nest the previous day but may well have missed it altogether for a couple of days. Even the weather has been so much the same – endless periods of gray, fog, and rain it doesn’t help to divide the time at all. Even though I measure out large chunks of the day with my watch, the passage of time seems unremarkable. There is hardly any difference between the heat of the noonday sun and the late evening light. It is often so diffracted by clouds or fog that it never seems brighter or higher or stronger. I’ve not even seen the passage of the sun through the sky in a single day. I haven’t the slightest idea what the arc may be. In the middle of the night I have seen it low on the northern horizon, and early in the morning, I have seen its place to the north and east and a little above the horizon. I don’t know, however, where its course lies in the southern sky. It has been all the same diffused and flat light that tells me nothing about its path.

I must say, I am sure that if I had been faced with this much gray and fog back east, I would have been a very depressed camper long ago. Even the eternal rain I endured my first summer in Maine and that I slogged through the second year wasn’t as ominous and all present as this unyielding gray. Each time the wind shifts I think, surely now the clouds will clear and some nice weather will move in from whichever direction. Alas, it changes not. It only makes me scurry around to rearrange the position of wind blocks and reset things so they are in the lee of the wind. It doesn’t actually change the weather. I fear that the passage of time in August will only bring colder weather not drier. I do not look forward to that.

Yesterday, and again today, I laughed to myself about when I met QQQ I had $6 to my name and no bank account and when I left him I closed the account I had and spent the withdrawn $300 to throw him a party. Full circle. Poverty and adventure. A much nicer mantra and way of life than slow decay in the known.

Give as much as you can. Receive what is given freely. Balance the two.

Never overflow; never be empty

8 Aug

It was mostly dry today, a few passing sprinkles and showers. It was gray and cloudy most of the day, but for a short while this afternoon it was sunny and fair. The bright, low light was intense and glorious. When the sun actually shines there is a quality to the air that is amazing. It is crisp and clear, and with the binocs, everything is sharp and in focus. It is astonishing.

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

Summer on Cooper Island’s tundra patch.

There was a peregrine falcon in camp today. I was weighing a chick when I saw it coming straight toward me. It went right over my head and hung for a long minute on the air currents just behind me before swooping low and away across the wastelands and over the pond. It landed in sub-colony 52 and then disappeared. Later, I walked down to the Sardine Box looking for it, but I got distracted by the phalaropes and flushed it before I saw it. When it went over me the first time, I could see the barring on the breast and the dark helmet.

The Jaegers were back working the north side of the colony. They are remarkable; they patrol the north beach, watching as guillemots come into the colony with fish in their bills and then they chase them until the guillemot lets the fish go. The Jaegers are fast and maneuverable and can drop on a dime. The BGs can keep speed but not for long and give up the fish pretty quickly. There doesn’t seem to be more than one or two Jaegers at a time but between them, the puffins, and now the peregrine they are very jittery and in constant flight  –as in fear – fight or flight.


2 replies »

  1. I’m sorry to not be commenting more, but I am following and reading, and it’s enthralling. Keep it up!