18 July, 2002
Day 4 of uncertainty. Day 7 of week 6 within the arctic ecosystem. Both thoughts are overwhelming! Both thoughts are filled with excitement, dreams and reality.
I spent another hot, sweaty, buggy day walking around marshy areas North of camp and then following Wyoming creek back to camp. There were times today when I thought I was tired of the discomforts. Tired of wobbling over tussocks, of pulling my feet out of red mud filled with slowly decaying matter, of trying to relieve bladder pressure while combating "mozzies". At other times, though, I wanted to feel the mosquitoes dancing on my nose, to feel the tiredness in my legs as I escape the suction of the murky mud, to feel the heat of the arctic sun on my skin, and to feel the ache in my feet as they are twisted into new angles due to the wetness inside my boots and the instability of the tundra hummocks. Although there are moments I complain, I wouldn't trade where I am or what I've done for anything.
The most remarkable aspect of the tundra is found in its dynamics - both the changing weather and wildlife. And with that, a drastic change in my perceptions. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I hated the wind. The gusts of air would drive the cold deep through my layers of clothing. It would allow the coldness and dampness to penetrate the tent wall and sleeping bag while I tried to sleep. The wind seemed a foe. Yesterday, the wind was the best part of the day. With the wind, the mosquitoes retreated to lower ground. The air cooled the skin as it sped up the evaporation of sweat from my face. While walking downwind from lakes, listening to the waves it the ice heaved shoreline, I noticed an enjoyable smell of fresh lake water in the air I breathed. Yes, perceptions do change. Wind is my best friend.
The change of temperatures has also caused a change in my perception. A couple of weeks ago, when wading from island to island in lakes whose water threatened the tops of my waders, I would hold my breath. I dreaded the thought of the ice cold water flowing over the top of the waders, soaking my pants and then my socks. The dampness would remain for the day, making me chilled and uncomfortable. Yesterday, as I needed to wade out to check a tundra swan nest found about 100 meters from shoreline, I took off my waders and pants. Instead of dreading the feel of the water, I anticipated it. As I waded through the water, the coolness was welcomed. The slippery, once feared, ice at the bottom of the lake felt wonderful against my barefeet. Rather than avoiding the lake's coolness, I now look forward to a swim at the end of the day!
Many things have changed with me, as well. Some of the changes won't be permanent, I hope, but they are things I've found at ease with here. For example, I eat carrots without cleaning them!. I've used a piece of caribou hoof to clean my fingernails! I eat foods such as arctichoke hearts and pepperoni spaghetti! Other changes are noticeable, too. Little things. Like the confidence to catch a fish by myself, clean it, and then make a chowder with whatever food we have left (it turned out to be instant milk, one potato, a slice of cheese, a can of corn, dried onions, grayling fried with cajun seasoning and bannock dumplings!). Creativity has never been my strength, but I would have to say I was proud of my chowder! I see changes due to the work we've done in the clothes I wear. My once tan pants are now stained a brownish red from the mud of the swamps and marshes. I hold the worn and stretched pants up with a rope tied through the back three belt buckles. I wear a head band to keep hair out of my face. My once new, Cabela's hipwaders have been patched but still leak in many places. My feet are callused, my hands are scarred, my face is tanned (but my fingernails are clean!).
These changes, in myself and my perceptions, are from the tundra. Why wouldn't a person be willing to wade through a muddy sinkhole to see what I've seen and to learn what I've learned? Today, even with the heat and mosquitoes, I felt I was lucky. As I walked needlessly around a lake I hadn't been around before, I saw geese and goslings. I saw a pair of pacific loons and their two babies. I saw a swan "couple" and their 4 cygnets. Wet feet, sweat, tiredness - all is forgotten when you can stand and watch these animals float on the water. To stand back and see flowers such as Jacob-s ladder, Arctic Poppy, Arctic Lupine and Wintergreen color the tundra in front of a pond with two loons swimming, diving and entertaining with their "yipe" of surprise when they surface is worth every sore bone in my feet and every mosquito bite on my wrists and temples.
Then, to sit in a tent at night, thinking back on all that was done that day. Looking out the tent window at Xema lake, and to see a bull caribou walk along the lake's edge and up to about 50m of your tent. Standing outside the tent, swatting mosquitoes as you take pictures of the caribou scratching, fidgeting and running to avoid the same nuisance.
I am thankful for the delay in my flight out.
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