ANTICIPTATION of the ARCTIC

In anticipation of golden ribbons of sun,
Upon a misunderstood, desolate land,
A country filled with aged rock,
Scarred and torn by giant ice claws.

In anticipation of being in the birthplace of polar winds
Watching floating blue-green mountains
Slide through the numbing sea
Southward toward civilization,

In anticipation of witnessing the Narwhal Whale
Carefree traveler of the Far North
Unicorn of the sea, shy and fearful of man
I watch for you with a camera, not a harpoon

In anticipation of seeing the Arctic through my father’s eyes,
My brother’s eyes and my son’s eyes,
The juxtapositions of sons, fathers and grandfather,
Our peers and fellow explorers,

In anticipation of joyous camaraderie
In a primeval land
Of man and the attunement to nature
O glorious lands of the north anticipate us.

June 1976

Our first night at our campsite was quite memorable in several ways. We had our first guests visit our meager surroundings, two Arctic ptarmigan just walked up to us oblivious to the fact we were human beings and not birds. Either they had never seen a human being or the interspecies juxtaposition was not a problem. The sun never really sets during the short summer season; rather it gets lower in the sky each day. On this particular day the sun appeared to hover just above the mountains, the light refracting off the snow and ochre colored rocks in shades of gold and red. I think subliminally our voices got quieter as the evening moved toward tomorrow. I decided to hit the bed early around ten. I got up and began locking up the equipment, cameras, lens, tripods and other sundry items. Several the men started laughing at me and when I asked why this task was the cause of such hilarity I was informed with the following fact. “Who is going to steal anything; there isn’t anyone around for miles and miles.” The city man was chastened and the duration of our odyssey nothing was locked anymore.

The next day was our first full day of diving. Those with wetsuits only realized just how cold, cold was and chose wisely not to tempt hypothermia. One of the more unusual aspects of diving in this hostile underworld in the particular locations was the confluence of fresh water from the creek mixing with the salt water of the ocean. As we descend below the surface you could actually see ice crystals form then disband when overwhelmed by the salt water. The depths of our dives I never noticed any thermocline. Thermoclines are stratified layers of water of differing temperatures and our deepest dive was to the depth of one hundred and twenty feet. The water was a constant twenty-eight and half degrees.

My dry suit I discovered had pinhole leaks and the water being so cold the seepage is amplified. What I’m sure many of you wouldn’t understand is the dynamics of scuba diving and cold. Regardless of my suit having tiny little water a droplet coming inside the “dry suit” this isn’t what made me cold. Scuba divers wherever they are in the world climates breathe in air at ambient temperature. Air that is twenty-eight and half degrees has to be warmed up by many calories and it is this draining away of these precious molecules of energy that makes one cold. Obviously if you are diving in a wet suit whereby a small amount of water is inside your suit and your whole body tries to warm the water so you can enjoy your dive is amplified by the extreme cold water within and surroundings and the frigid air inhaled.

The beauty of scuba diving is the freedom from gravity, you can float on the surface, and you can sink to a desired depth and maintain the position. What was heavy on land now weighs a fraction underwater. Buoyancy is controlled by the amount of air within the dry-suit. Shafts of diluted light followed us beneath the waves; tiny sea creatures swam silently by or were directed by the invisible currents due to the high fluctuations in the tides incoming and outgoing. Nevertheless we chose a good time to descend into the ocean. I seem to recall our first dive was shallow perhaps forty feet and to my amazement the ocean floor was covered with brown broadleaf kelp that silently waved their leaves. We took our time, uncovering the secrets and dashing assumptions of a barren ocean of small creatures, we saw shrimp long and fat; however we weren’t sure if they were poisonous or not. We weren’t equipped to deal with marine toxins so sadly we never dined on these crustaceans. These shrimp unlike their cousins in warmer climates moved very slowly whereas the shrimp in the lower Pacific Ocean around Vancouver Island moved very quickly and during the daylight hours were far below the surface. Jellyfish is diaphanous and within the frigid waters you can see right through them. We never saw any fish on our dives yet we know there is fish nearby.

We ascended and were met at the shoreline by the rest of the men, who assisted us by taking weight belts, cameras lights, and fins. The dive was exhilarating; the novelty for sure of being one of the first people to dive in this area, seeing marine life where I thought there would be none of these types was a wonderful discovery.

We decided to do a little exploring of our new surroundings and soon we came upon an unnamed river, too bad nobody thought to name the river and submit the information to the Canadian government. I have heard while growing up and subsequently the expression, “the fish were so thick you could cross to the other side on their backs”. We came upon this river and from a distance we could see sparks of silver glinting off the water, little did we realize that hundreds of thousands of Arctic Char were migrating back to their birthplace. I think David and Warren ran back to the campsite and got our fishing rods, within moments we had these beautiful fish on land. My dad s parents owned a butcher shop and my father learned the art of butchering. He had Warren help him. Warren being just a boy of fourteen found the entire operation gross, nevertheless he helped his grandfather in this task almost on a daily basis and soon we had wonderful filets for me to cook up for dinner.

Fish unlike meat is best when fresh and to my way of thinking there is nothing in the world that taste so good than wild fresh fish sizzling in a pan with very few herbs or spices. The fish changed our diet for the duration of our odyssey. Instead of freeze-dried whatever for breakfast we had fresh fish every morning and most nights

We hadn’t seen any whales; we took our trusty Zodiac across the bay in a north-eastern direction. Upon disembarking and dragging the boat far up onto the beach we set off to climb on of the low-lying mountains. Here the air is pure, clean and void of any man-made pollution. Distance is distorted to city eyes; with unusual clarity things appear closer than they actually are including mountains. We could see what appeared hundred miles north unending snow and ice. The entrance from the Arctic Ocean into the bay was still ice bound. Whales are mammals and share the same air we breathe and unless the ice breaks up there will be no Narwhals visiting us in Klucktoo Bay. We could have taken this as a setback and hope our flights out would be on time or make the best of the situation and hope the ice breaks up and whales would appear in the bay.

Tim and Ted decided that the perfect refrigerator for our fish is outside the mess tent in the form of a dam to hold the dead fish in perpetual cold fresh water. Quickly a small rock and stone dam was placed on the creek, water still spilled over the rocks determined to find the sea. We went to the unnamed river to catch more fish and did we ever, some were large and cleaned we figured in the twenty to thirty pound range. The fish was placed in the liquid cooler less the one we were about to consume.

That night the polar winds howled over the mountain behind us and dropped upon our small campsite with ferocity I had read about; my tent was ripped up while I was inside, the pole snapped and my tent collapsed around me. My external wind and rain overlay was blown away. And we were only into our fifth day of the expedition. The balance of our stay I was either damp or cold but mostly both.

The photos on this page were taken by Tim the group on the ice floe, David took the photo of the gull with one foot on the rock the balance by the bald guy.