Posted on August 27, 2008
You probably know what an igloo is.
OR DO YOU?
In fact, the word igloo simply means home, and is used for more than just the dome-shaped abodes made of ice.
Posted on August 26, 2008
Elijah disclosed to us the secret of why Inuit eat raw seal meat. Apparently it digests slower … your stomach essentially has to cook it before it can break it down. Tasty!
Posted on August 21, 2008
The toilet on Axel Heiberg Island is a rusting old fuel barrel with a plastic seat stuck on top, giving new, literal meaning to the phrase “sitting on the can.” You think your toilet seat at home is chilly sometimes? Try sitting on a metal cask in the Arctic.
Yet the view from this toilet made it all worthwhile. The chance to sit and stare at glaciers and mountains was my number one motivation for staying well-hydrated during my stay on Axel Heiberg Island.
Rob shared my sentiments, and made a short video on the subject. Watch it:
Posted on August 16, 2008
With our team in the Arctic were two incredible Inuit teachers, Naomi and Elijah, who taught us a bit about their language (Inuktitut) and culture. Here’s something I learned form them:
The phrase for break a leg or good luck in Inuktitut translates literally to may you have good shit.
Why? As you’re bidding your friend godspeed on his hunting trip, you might hope that he’ll be able to eat the whole time he’s gone. And if you eat well … you shit well.
Posted on August 12, 2008
One of the most interesting features on Axel Heiberg is the existence of perennial springs. They come in a variety of forms. Some look like little streams flowing down the side of the hill, others look like ponds bubbling up like tiny jacuzzis, still others look like seeps coming up from below. Some of them leave deposits that form shapes like pipes over the springs.
But don’t let the bubbling jacuzzi effect fool you–these springs are not hot. Not even close. Intriguingly, the temperatures vary from spring to spring, despite their proximity to one another. Most are around 4 degrees Celsius. The really neat thing is that these springs flow year round, despite a mean annual temperature of minus 15 degrees. And they come up at a constant temperature and flow rate, despite air temperatures which, over the seasons, change drastically from above freezing to 40 below.
The springs also reek of that delicious rotten egg smell, like a giant fart. Thank you, sulfur.
The grayish stuff you see in the pictures above is a film of sulfur-reducing bacteria. The white stuff is gypsum, a type of salt.
Posted on August 11, 2008
If you’re in the northern hemisphere tonight, look up. You might catch a glimpse of the Perseid meteor shower.
Posted on August 7, 2008
Picking up from my last long post:
Flying to Axel Heiberg was breathtaking. Pack ice breaking up to look like a big doily on the water, huge glaciers sliding off mountains, expanses of ground covered in strange polygonal patterns formed by the freeze-thaw cycle. The twin-otter touched down on the tundra. Those planes need a terrifyingly small amount of space to land, so we were able to land right at camp. The little food hut is just across Colour Lake from where the plane landed. Up a steep hill are the sleeping and working quarters: two tent-like “weather havens” and a sturdy wooden hut. We’re the only humans around. And while a poor-quality video hardly does it justice, here’s a 360-degree view of camp:
Posted on August 6, 2008
I’ve posted some pictures from Axel Heiberg on the photos page.
Posted on August 5, 2008
Sigh. It’s back to reality for me. Back home from the Arctic. Back to the jolly unpredictability of automatically flushing toilets. Back to a dichotomy of night and day.
Since I was mostly without internet for the the duration of my Arctic adventures, I suppose I’ll fill you in on what happened. I will start from where we left off: Resolute Bay.
Resolute more or less consists of a small Inuit community (population 229) and an airport. I’m told it’s the northernmost place in this hemisphere to which you can take a commercial flight. When I say “airport” don’t think tarmac and terminals. The runways are gravel. The buildings are very small and very hearty. The planes, too, are very small and very hearty.
Resolute is also home to the Polar Continental Shelf Project (PCSP), which provides such exciting luxuries as hot running water, a pool table, and a kitchen. Outside, it’s foggy and frigid, with bare ground stretching to the left and right, and iceberg-littered water swathing the horizon. Inside, it’s a huddled group of scientists and explorers. Most of them are waiting for the fog to lift so they can hop a tiny plane to whatever wild, remote Arctic island is their destination. Many of them are wearing an endearing mishmash of down vests and woolen things. None of them are wearing shoes (a sign over the door in the entryway reads: Leave your boots here. THIS MEANS YOU! )
After dinner, the eight members of my group met for a round of icebreakers (which, of course, is a funny pun when you’re in the Arctic). We were assigned a tent, since the beds available inside the PCSP hut were already taken.
Above the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn’t set during the summer. You can imagine that waking up at 2:30am to broad daylight is disorienting. Waking up at 2:30 to broad daylight and roaring airplane propellers is even more disorienting.
The following morning we waited in a large warehouse before climbing the ladder into the tiny belly of our tiny twin-otter plane, and taking off at last for Axel Heiberg Island.