Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Trees! There be Trees!

This week, the weather has gotten to the point that exploring outside my little village is possible. Now that the days are actually longer, it is not as dangerous as it has been so far. I also picked up a little "beacon" that will help folks find me in the event that I get eaten by a snow bank. I assure you this is a possibility!
So, off I went to explore a little bit. To my delight, I found a tree! An actual tree! Ok, I should back track a bit and explain my delight. I am from a beautiful, tree covered, mountain state in the lower 48. You realize how much you miss the simple things like pine trees when you don't see them surrounding you.
The Arctic is by definition, a desert. There is quite a fair amount of "berry bushes" in the tundra, but I have not found anything that is taller than my shoulder. Today as I was exploring a bit, I found this tree! It was about 200 yards from the path. I felt energized and had to challenge the snow covered tundra to check out this tree. Off I go! As I step off the path, it appears that the snow has melted and settled enough that I should be able to walk without difficulty. Suprise! After several steps, I notice that I am walking on ICE, again. Oops, not entirely true. After about 50 yards, I sink my left leg all the way past my thigh into the snow. It is a bit difficult to get myself out as I have now broken through a layer of ice/snow. I had no idea that it was so deep! Once I was able to "swim" my way back to the surface, I manage to make my way out to the tree. It is beautiful! I think they call it a "diamond cedar." I will have to investigate this a bit more. It is obviously an evergreen, with little needles like a Blue Spruce.
I head back to the path, being perfectly aware of the fact that the snow is deceiving me by looking like it is only a few inches deep. I fall through another few times, just to prove that the snow runs this place. Even as it melts, it still runs my world at this point. The ICE is really hard. I know that penguins live on the opposite end of the world, but I have discovered that they walk funny because it is slick, not because of their itty bitty legs. All the penguins with long legs fell, cracked their butts, couldn't lay eggs because of the crack induced pain and all the short legged penguins were the only one's left to reproduce. Yep, I have figured it all out as I penguin walk my way through my little arctic town. Just to clarify, I penguin walk for safety, not any broken tailbone issues. I bet you thought I wasn't having fun.....
I await my new camera to share pictures with you again. It should be here any day! Most of the time the United States Postal Service remembers we exist, however occasionally they too think that AK is Arkansa.
Next week, fishing on the frozen ocean!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Villages and Northern Lights

I have found that I love flying! Or maybe I just love flying in the Alaskan back country! The views are just incredible and it is really such an adventure. I experience something new each time. I have never flown much but I am certainly getting the hang of it. The one bad thing is the whole "flight fatigue" thing. I really was not sure what people were making such a big deal about when they talked about it before. Now I certainly get it! Between the dehydration of the dry air involved in pressurizing the plane, the slight hypoxia involved in small planes, the vibration of the plane and the constant movement of the plane. It is much like the constant movement of a steering wheel and your body makes these small adjustments constantly as well. It can wear you out more than I can even explain.
Last week I went to 4 more villages. I have been to most of them in my area at this point. I have sadly only visited them at night. One of the villages we went is currently having a large problem with Polar Bears. When we land, normally the pilots do a walk around the plane to insure everything is fine. At this village, they tend to be a bit hesitant, go figure. When we get to the clinic, the folks there ask if we had problems with the bears coming in. So far, I have not seen one. I really want to, uummm, I think? The obvious concern is that I will be considered Polar Bear Bait.
When we fly into the villages, we are normally heading into one of the medical clinics. Most of the clinics here are small with community folks who have some basic first responder/midwife/CPR knowledge "staffing" them. The hospital in the area has doctors that are each assigned a village to visit for a few days. They take care of patients with chronic health problems and basically see patients for regular doctor appointments. For all those times that an emergent patient comes into a clinic and there is not doctor there (more often than not), all the clinics are wired on a radio system straight to our hospital. We also have video cameras and telemetry that they can go directly one-on-one with the doctor who is one duty. Kind of handy for these folks.
I am going to be traveling to the villages every few weeks to get a better idea of the Alaskan village life. I am looking forward to that! I am going to try to go out with the doctors originally so I have someone to guide me through the cultural steps.
Our weather has been getting colder again, but still no new snow. Lots of freezing wind that is blowing like a fiend! It is turning everything very icy! I stepped out of my apartment building a few days ago to take trash out. As I stepped onto the "snow" I lost my footing on the ice/snow. Managed to stay on my feet but the wind was blowing so hard that I got "blown" about 20 feet or so. Still managing to stay on my feet, I am looking at the trash can and the snow next to it, thinking to myself," I am only going to be able to stop by either falling or making it to the trash can!" I swear it was one of those moments that if anyone else had been around, they would have laughed so hard they would have cried! I was laughing anyway! Managed to stop by finding a patch of snow that had not been iced over. Life in the Arctic, you find fun where you can!
However the weather has still been unseasonably warm. The sound is starting to show signs of it. When the tide moves in and out, under the 5-6 feet of ice in thin spots, it has been causing pressure ridges. It is "weak" spots in the ice that shift up and cause something that almost looks like a crack. It is really kind of neat to see. It then becomes this "ridge that can be anywhere from a few inches high to several feet high. These are like cliffs of ice that suddenly show up and are pretty dangerous if you are on a snow machine. We have literally been getting 8 minutes of extra daylight every day. It doesn't sound like much, but when you think about it, that is almost an hour a week. The sunrises and sunsets are always beautiful here. I mean literally everyday there is a beautiful display of oranges, reds, purples, and pinks. They last for about two hours each.
I saw my first sight of the Northern Lights last night! We were flying at night and the pilots are great about pointing things out to me. It was not the colorful display you see pictures of, but it was at a low activity level. It was this amazing, very distinct light green "wave of cloud" kind of thing. It was truly indescribable!