Memories of the high Arctic

I think I have mentioned before that I worked for years in the high Arctic and the summer season was something that you could miss by sleeping in late.


Case in point:

Last week, while digging through one of the journals I kept while working along the Dalton Highway and pipeline, some June entries caught my eye.

The notes made me feel like a primo wuss for grumping about what a rotten start we had to spring this year.

These highly edited versions of the notes for family consumption went like this:

June 10, 2000

Winter and spring are involved in a nasty rumble at the moment and they are fighting dirty. The reprobate siblings of Ma Nature are slugging it out for dominance and, as usual, I’m caught in the middle of it.

It’s near mid June, for &%#$@ sakes! Yet, one day I’m in a blizzard, and the next I’m sliding through mud up to my seat-belted butt dodging clueless caribou meandering across the road heading toward the calving grounds.

There are approximately forty gazillion migratory birds camping along the upper Dalton and when they’re not waddling down the middle of the highway, they are playing “Runway Final Approach” across the hood of my crew cab.

There are Snow geese, Canadian geese, Haven’t-Got-A-Guess-Geese along with a badly disoriented duck. If you add in arriving swarms of swans, terns, cranes, owls, falcons, eagles, plus other assorted mutant birds that must have taken a wrong turn in Mongolia, one might venture to assume that it’s spring time in the tundra except for a small problem. Ms. Nature’s spawn are having a knock down, drag out brawl as to who gets to control the weather.

Right now, one would have to have their head firmly implanted in a space where there is a significant dearth of sunlight to really believe that spring has an upper hand in the fracas yet.

June 11, 2000

Yesterday it rained. This morning it snowed. This afternoon it looks and feels like mid July on the Kenai. This place drives me nuts.

The bears are really out today. The grizzly boars are lazily drifting about snarfing up ground squirrels and sundry roots. They also seem to be mulling over the possibility a quick snack on some semi-frozen bicycle tourists while enjoying their post-hibernation stretches.

The bearettes are tied down to monitoring cub-care centers, breast feeding, conducting wilderness awareness training while breaking up tiffs between their constantly squabbling tykes.

Even the Dall ewes in Atigun Pass are already suffering minor mental breakdowns watching their kids take headers off shale bluffs because the twerps think that The Law of Gravity is something that only affects geezer rams over the age of three. Luckily the little runts seem to be made out of rubber.

Soon there will be baby beasties everywhere. Mama red, arctic and cross fox will be scrambling around trying to find which kit is AWOL on another unauthorized rodent stalk again.

Wolf packs will have wailing wolfies raising a din in the den while matriarch Musk Ox are herding around new calves resembling oversized dust mops with hooves.

June 12, 2000

Spoke with a field biologist today and found out that Musk Ox aren’t really oxen. They are actually related to the goat family. Talk about a bummer image plunge. Now I know why they grow all of that hair. They’d be a screech to see with a shaved look and a chin goatee. But, things are not all that bad. Bears can’t give them a hard time because bruins come from the pig side of the family that just happens to sport a ‘tude, fangs, claws, and serious fur. So, the bulls can actually mock and badger the bears, if they don’t mind ending up as lunch.

June 13, 2000

I’ve thought it over and a spurious spring in the arctic isn’t that bad. I just have to get used to not having four seasons. We have three. There’s the “It’s so cold that if you smack into something, a vital body part will snap off” season; a “Yo, this white-out’s not so bad, I can see my windshield wipers” season; and a “super-glue mud, crater-pocked road, miles-of-dust, mosquitoes-the-size-of-vampire-bats and swarms of tourists-without-a -%^$&*^%-clue” season. It really doesn’t matter. I love it up here.

June 13, 2013

There you have it. A sample of just three days of notes selected from working 22 years along the corridor from Valdez to Deadhorse. What a great ride.

Maybe I ought to fire up my beast and head north again for one more story. I could call it “From One End of the Road to the Other or Why I Should Have Taken a Bus.”

Nick can be reached at if he hasn’t drenched his body in Deet already and headed toward Prudhoe.


Sat, 06/23/2018 - 20:30

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