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14 June, 2002

Into the second week (even if only one day) and still not bored or tired of it. Actually I am still learning more everyday!

Before I get into that, I would like to mention to those of you emailing me - I am receiving them, but due to battery life and satellite phone time required to respond, I am a little slow at that. I will be in Barrow the end of June or beginning of July and will respond to many of you then. Thanks, though, for the messages - I do appreciate them!

Now into the day - and what a day. It started out as about the most blustery day so far, but ended up being incredible! The sun was shining and it warmed up to the mid-50 degrees. That may not sound that warm, but the sun just seems to penetrate and warm you all the way through. After stumbling around the tundra, getting a little confused where I was, and only finding 2 new nests, I took advantage of the sun and bathed in a shallow pond. It was a little cold (as there is ice below the water) but it felt incredible!

Instead of talking much about what I've been doing, I'd like to take the next couple of days to introduce you to the people I'm working with - as they are definitely a part of my learning and incredible experience. I will start tonight by giving you a little insight into my primary investigator (head researcher), Robert Suydam.

Robert has worked with the North Slope Borough (NSB) as a wildlife biologist for the last 12 years. He earned his Master's degree from the Univ of Alaska - Fairbanks and is finishing up his PHd work through the Univ or Washington (his research is focused on Beluga whales). Although he was hired by the NSB to be "the bird expert", he studies belugas, bowheads and birds. His favorite subject is the tundra nesting birds. These birds demonstrate much variety in how they use the arctic and by the number of different places they migrate from. For example, some swans come from the eastern US, some sandpipers come from Argentina, some from Australia and some from the Pacific Coast of both North and South America, and the Arctic Tern migrates clear up here from Antarctica! Everyone form all over the world ends up here to nest. I think that is pretty cool! Robert chose to be a biologist because he likes working outdoors. As an undergraduate, he was trying to choose between geology and biology - decided on biology because (rocks don't move that fast!) Robert has had much field experience through his educational and professional career, but he believes his most interesting field experience was the opportunity to see Belugas break through ice to create a breathing hole! The King Eider study is just one of many he is involved in right now. He does think the research is important for 4 main reasons:

<il> 1) the birds are beautiful (and I'd have to agree with him on that!)</il>

<il> 2) the King Eider has made the Arctic its home (as he has)</il> <il> 3) very little is known about the King Eider at this point (and scientists are always curious!)</il>

<il> 4) the King Eider is an important part of the subsistence way of life of the native Inupiak people of the North Slope.</il>

On the lighter side, Robert has been great to work with so far, and I anticipate that to continue. He is intelligent and loves to share what he knows. He is patient with my mistakes and enthusiastic about all that is found and accomplished. Although he IS older even than I am (even if not by much), he (as he says) acts only 16! In his words, he is a California boy who grew up in the desert and ended up in the Arctic.

I would like to end with getting you to visualize two things I experienced today. First, it was around 1:00 and the sun just broke out of the clouds. I was sitting down for a lunch snack by Steve's Lake north of camp and here were my thoughts:

A day to be shared - the sun is shining as I sit on the edge of a lake. Ice covers most, but in the breaks, the calm water reflects the floating clouds and edges of ice. Nothing but bird calls to be heard. A few small insects float around and caribou dot the horizon. Smells of tundra are strong enough to taste.

Finally, to end the day after my "bath", I went for a walk to Wyoming Creek, which is about of a mile E of camp. Imagine yourself being on the tundra, bright sunlight, a slight breeze and you're walking barefoot over the hummocks and through the frost heaves. What an incredibly free feeling I had. How many people actually have had the opportunity to feel the moisture of the permafrost and plants of the tundra under their bare feet?


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