Fall has definitely arrived in Atqasuk! Basically, the only difference between autumn in the Arctic and the lower forty-eight (contiguous states) is timing. For one thing, it begins much earlier here. All those deep, delicious autumnal colors pour themselves across the tundra long before the calendar ever makes it official. Another difference is duration. The season may last three months for much of the world, but in Atqasuk the transition from fall to winter is fleeting and often difficult to define. Temperatures, having fluctuated between 30 and 80 degrees during the summer months, begin to plummet. By September, the grasses and leaves adorning the tundra are jewel-toned brush strokes painted by nature's cooling hand. With the thermometer registering between 20 and 40 degrees, the air has a snap to it. The almost constant wind is heavy with the scent of Labrador tea. September mornings often shimmer with a fresh dusting of snow and the delicate glint of frosted grass tinged by salmon-colored sunlight. Of course, there is another difference between fall on the tundra and elsewhere...nothing actually "falls" here. Having no trees, the descriptive term coined for this time of year is slightly wasted. Even the willows (knee-high, yet the tallest of local vegetation) don't really drop their leaves in step with the season. They retain their foliage through the winter months until snow, wind, and sub-zero temperatures eventually strip them bare. So, in this corner of the world, fall doesn't fall. It ripens and deepens and tastes like wild berries, but all of that happens very close to the ground. And, in a land where life is so intimately connected with the earth, it seems that is just as it should be.
This photo captures wild cranberries minutes (maybe even seconds!) before they made their way to my mouth! This is a very tart berry, but it's my favorite of all the tundra berries. My friend, Gail, makes WONDERFUL cranberry sauce every year and shares it with me at Thanksgiving and Christmas! The short-leafed plant growing in and around the cranberries (looks sort of like pine) is Labrador tea. Not only does it look like pine, but it has a very strong fragrance that is undeniably evergreen. When the wind is just right, I can close my eyes and actually imagine a pine forest right there on the treeless tundra!
Don't you wish you could take a bite? Be careful...they might make you pucker!
Welcome to the Arctic! This space is dedicated to observations and experiences related to daily life in the Inupiat Eskimo village of Atqasuk. Questions and comments are invited. Thanks for visiting! Quyanaqpaq!
nuna:tundra, the land atikluk:snow shirt, parka cover
Interested in Inuit culture? Check out these films...
The Fast Runner is an excellent representation of ancient Inuit culture. The R-rating is for nudity, violence, and some language. Subtitles are utilized throughout. I do not recommend this film for children, but it's an extremely accurate portrayal of the culture. It was introduced to me by an Inupiat woman who raved about it. And I agree!
For a preview, click here.
The Snow Walker is another excellent representation of Inuit culture circa 1940's. This film is rated PG, I'm guessing for language. No subtitles that I remember. It starts a little slow, but gets much better. It will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the survival skills of this culture.
For a preview, click here.
Great For Kids!
Whale Snow by Debby Dahl Edwardson is a warm and culturally sensitive story centered on the Inupiat subsistence tradition of whaling. It is available in both English and Inupiaq translation. The illustrations, by Annie Patterson are exquisite and add to the quiet softness that the story inspires.
To order this title on Amazon.com, click here.
The Alaska Geographic series is an excellent informational resource. The edition entitled North Slope Now deals exclusively with this area and even features relatives of my students. Although it was published in 1989, it is still current enough to provide a general understanding of culture, lifestyle, and issues faced by this northern-most region.
To order this title from Alaska Geographic, click here.
More about Kaktovik Disaster of 2005 (from Dec post, "The Edge")