Before we left Alaska, we noticed a dramatic shift in the sea ice adjacent to town. Here are a few pictures of the sea ice in Barrow at various times:
Sea ice on arrival, late October 2010.
By the time we were leaving, the wind had shifted again bring the ice closer to shore. For days, the wind blew the ice in and out but it ceased and colder weather seemed to promise that the pancakes of ice would soon lock together in preparation for merging with the multi-year ice farther out in the ocean. The markedly shorter, dark days and dropping temperatures gave us a small glimpse of what it must be like to overwinter on the North Slope. Fairbanks I think I could handle, but I now have even more respect for those that call Barrow their home year round. The clear blue skies and 20 degrees warmer temperatures in Anchorage were a shock after the darkness, and its return in Seattle was strangely comforting. I'm glad I have a few days to recalibrate before the next wild swing to nearly 24 hours of daylight down south.
Also on my list for these few days is to catch up on my Antarctic explorers and literature, to the detriment of the stack of Alaskan books I purchased this last trip. Jack London definitely reads at bit differently a couple decades and more than a few seasons in Alaska later. While more books are in the mail (to add to my stack of mostly unfinished tomes), I found a few interesting websites about the women of Antarctica, often overshadowed by the likes of Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen. I'm sure that to be interested in the women who have preceded me may be dismissed by some, but learning about the first American woman in an Antarctic expedition, current scientists and explorers, and all those in between is far more accessible and seems a bridge to those fantastical early tales. As a side note, I wonder if my little sister recalls me dragging her to see the IMAX movie about the Endurance.
Two days from now I will be (hopefully) sleeping on a plane to New Zealand. 2173 miles down, ~7500 more to go this week, give or take a few hundred miles. The relief of walking into a clean, good smelling house late last night was only tempered by the conspicuous absence of my puppy dog, and all I day I've had to stop myself from our usual routines. Despite my best intentions to get to the lab, scrubbing off field work (and the now infamous pink nail polish) and phone calls to banks, pharmacies, and medical providers took up my entire day. I vaguely recall the days of not being quite as tied down, and I know I'm not nearly as tied down as I could be. I really don't know how people do it year after the year. The logistics of arranging for bills to be paid and medications to be filled is not what first comes to mind when you hear you actually get to go south.
But who wants to hear about the mundane things of life? This evening I was able to check off some of the more fun things on my to do list including purchasing a new head lamp and picking up some travel guides on New Zealand. I've always found the travel section to hold my attention the longest in a book store, and I've only once purchased a travel book that has gone unused. The book for Iceland still sits on my shelf, becoming progressively outdated but still reminding me that there are more places to experience. Considering the numerous novels that line my shelves started yet unfinished, it's a small miracle that there is only one "extra" travel book. Of course, we can just overlook the stack of travel magazines that I've managed to keep.
(Note to my friends out there that are new moms: if you want to make sure your child is bitten by the travel bug, I recommend taking a short course someplace like Bali when your child is in elementary school and bring back all manner of exciting clothes and art. I still have a threadbare child sized t-shirt from Bali that has been sewn into a pillow cover.)
With that, I am off to relish another night in my own grown-up sized bed. Rotating dorms and tents are waiting for me soon enough.