Moonrise

16-2703-moonriseLuna. Stare at the full moon too long and madness will pursue you to the grave, or so the ages old myth goes. My teacher, Mrs. Britt, told me that tale in the 4th grade and seven years later I met the living proof of it – my high school chemistry teacher.

I can remember thinking about that myth off and on for years and the fascination of it might have motivated me to buy my first telescope (with my own hard-earned savings). When I was 13, I used it to photograph the lunar phases. I even printed my own photographs and entered them in the science fair. My teacher gave me a disappointing grade for it. He thought I had bought the pictures somewhere. Well, I told him a thing or two about how I had used my own telescope and developed my own film and printed every one of those superb pictures and they weren’t pictures at all they were photographs. He changed my grade to an A+. I was pretty proud of my daring self. I still am.

Now, I love the sky. Moon, clouds, fog, it doesn’t matter. And the Arctic Circle comes with some unexpected benefits. Sunrise and sunset take much longer up here. It has to do with the angle the sun takes as it slides below the horizon. It prolongs the display of colors, significantly so. The affect is akin to watching live action taking place in slow motion, or like being able to make your children move at half speed while you try to photograph them. Nice!

There is a color cast in this photograph that comes from the sun which was setting to the west even as the moon was rising in the east. I adjusted the contrast a smidge, clipped the highlights a little and desaturated the image somewhat. That’s all. I’ve added this to the Galleries/Arctic Sky page where you can see a larger version of it.

River Grass

16-river-grassThis will be my sixth and final year in Fort Yukon. I have become a hunter gatherer of sorts. I picked raspberries this fall and I have gathered zucchini, salmon and fresh moose from my neighbors. I haven’t a garden, and I have neither a rifle nor a fishing rod, but that’s okay because everybody else does. My freezer is stuffed, just enough room left for ice cream.

When I made the Arctic my home six years ago, I immediately fell in love with the land. But when I leave, it will be my students and the friends I have made that will fill my memories. It is so much harder to love people than to love a place, but so much more rewarding in the long run. So this year, my goal will be to introduce you to some of the people who have enriched my life in this great land on the edge of nowhere.

I woke this morning to a frosty 19˚F. Already there is an inch of ice on the slough a short walk through the woods behind the school. The geese have flown south now, but the ravens are here (they never leave), and the hares are thick again. Finally!

The hare population is cyclical. It was quite low during my first four years here but then last year their numbers exploded. Some moved into the wood beside my cabin. New neighbors! Every morning about 7 a.m. Mrs. Snowshoe hops out into my front yard and gleans a few microscopic remnants of something I can’t even see. I have no idea what’s worth her nibbling, but she seems content.

She’s sporting quite a fashionable outfit, too – brown fur coat (a little worn but still attractive), white ear muffs and lovely white shoes. Breakfast over, she hops across the street into the wood on the far side or our street to begin her daily rounds, wherever they may lead her. Hares are creatures of habit and will follow their trails over and over again. Silly Wabbit! Don’t you know you’ll get caught? The boys in my neighborhood haven’t dispatched my little friend yet and I’m glad.

Before I head to school, I spend a few minutes in my yard and peer into the tunnels that Mrs. S has made through the drooping wild roses that grow beneath the spruce beside my cabin. I don’t disturb her trails. She works hard to make them and if I get too close she might decide to move on to some other wood. She is a good neighbor. Well, maybe she’s a he, I’m not up on rabbit anatomy.

Thank you for visiting. This is my first post in a long, long time. Best wishes!

Two Old Men

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There he goes, rolling along the horizon, studiously reluctant to climb the heavens. Old Sol’s a bit shy this time of year, probably embarrassed to have been bested by Old Man Winter. A pale blue light, sometimes faintly dusted in rose, is about all Sol can muster. But everyday he peers a little higher over the willow banks and holds his wink a little longer, and someday he will send his “forever foe” packing.

Yesterday afternoon the temperature hovered around -10 ˚F; pretty nice, so I layered up and headed down to the river in search of something to photograph. Where are all the wildlife this year? I saw no rabbits, no ptarmigans, no tracks of any kind, apart from those of a few ravens and stray dogs.

People have been out on the Yukon – I could see where they had cut trail with their snow-gos. But I could see open stretches of water, too – some dark & forboding (“I’m deep and swift and can swallow you whole!”), others catching feeble rays from the sun – daring me to risk the ice. No thanks! I followed the shoreline and finally turned homeward.

A pleasant outing, but my efforts earned me more chilly toes and fingers than good photographs. It seemed colder on my return. Sure enough! Within hours the temperature plummeted to -44 ˚F. It’s still in the 40’s, in fact. Finally, it feels like winter around here!

Darkness of Another Kind

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the Yukon River in winter – sun at zenith

Nine days to winter solstice. Six hours of half light, eighteen of darkness. Snow fell through the night lightly, and continues even now. Temperatures hover around 0 ˚F (-18 ˚C). One year ago today the mercury fell to -52 ˚F, so we consider ourselves blessed by this comparably warm winter.

The whole village has been on electrical short rations since Wednesday night. The situation is expected to be fixed by tomorrow. Of course, if the situation worsens, we may experience darkness of another kind – pitch black.

In the meantime, city and tribal offices are closed. The post office and clinic are closed. The gasoline station and the AC, our only store, are opened for only several hours a day in alternating shifts. Runway lights at the airport have been turned off so planes can only land for  a few hours around noon. And our school is closed.

Hooray for five day weekends – life is so exciting!

Looking For Their Moose

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Troy is one of my students. He is headed up the Yukon with his dad, looking to fill their winter cache with a moose. Boys learn to hunt at an early age. Most learn at the side of their father, a grandfather or an uncle, but sometimes the role of teacher falls to somebody who is not a relative. Some of the girls enjoy hunting, too.

Once taught, youngsters often hunt with friends and many of our students have sold us some of their catch. I have several students promising to bring me grouse. I hope they deliver because I have lived here more than three years without tasting one.

More About Richard

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He is one of the funniest men I know with a humor that sneaks up to take you by surprise. He will tell you a story that sounds like pure drama out of a wilderness survival book, then blindside you from nowhere with a punchline that will split your sides wide open in mirth.

Richard told me one of his famous stories three years ago and I am still trying to figure out if it is truth or wit.

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Like most Athabascans, Richard is a man of the river. He knows every braid of the Yukon, every tributary, every backwater slough. Look at this region on a map and it might appear easy to navigate. But as I look at the passing shoreline from Richard’s boat, this place is a maze without answer.

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This was a good spot. Richard wanted to check the brush beyond the gravel bar for moose and I wanted to check out those rocks. I am an incurable rock hound and these bars are a feast of delights. Serpentine and agate, jasper and jade. Igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. I got my rocks. Richard didn’t get his moose.

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Up the Porcupine

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Every year I try to catch a ride on the river. This year I went up the Porcupine. The island in the picture is on the Yukon River just outside of the village. Pass by, turn right and follow the meanders. The Porcupine will carry you northeastly all the way to Old Crow, Canada. The land rises in that direction and the river has etched its way through canyons. Someday I hope to make that trip.

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Richard has a home in Fort Yukon and a lodge way up the Porcupine toward Old Crow. That is the real wilderness. Richard wintered over there last year, just he and Mary.

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Wood ducks on a backwater slough. We saw many ducks on our trip. Richard invited several to come home for dinner.