Posted by: coastlinesproject | October 1, 2013

Arctic letter from Lija:


This is Lija’s third. She got back Thurs. and has returned to U-Conn. I’m going to try to get her to speak at the Duxbury Free Library. I’ll forward some picts. by separate message. Off to Ukraine for 2 weeks. Best, DAM]

‘Flip-pered’ out in the Arctic

by Lija Treibergs

(This is the third letter from Lija Treibergs, a 2007 Duxbury High School graduate, who recently returned from a six week scientific expedition aboard the Akademik Federov in the Russian Arctic.)

The primary color of the arctic is gray. Gray in every shade and texture. A soft, pillowy gray cover of clouds, with suggestions of purple, overlays jagged puzzle pieces of near white sea-ice contrasted with dark shadowy channels of steely blue-gray open water. Often, the topography is softened by a shroud of fog or veil of snowflakes. When we are in open water, icebergs appear out of the mist and then dissolve again, seeming only to half belong to this world.

The seabirds, too, soar in and out of focus, suspended between here and elsewhere. Day drifts seamlessly into night and into day again, with exposure only oscillating between pure gray and darker gray. Some find it monotonous, but it’s entrancing – perfect for dreamers and thinkers. It truly feels like the edge of the world. There could be dragons here…!

With that picture, you might be able to understand the exhilaration when the clouds break and the sun comes out in earnest. If the gray arctic is for dreaming and thinking, the sunlit arctic is for seeking and adventuring, looking forward past the horizon, rather than inward into oneself. The sky clears to pure cerulean, light but deep, and the sea ice brightens to a brilliant white, glittering so intensely that it seems to be emitting its own sparks, not simply reflecting the light of the sun. The horizon seems infinitely far and curves away at both ends – a reminder that not only is this the edge of the world, it’s also the top.

It was during one of these sunny spells that we almost collided with a walrus. On the top deck, a few brave souls, bundled up against the 15-degrees fahrenheit plus wind, were taking advantage of the bright light and clear air to scan the ice for bears and take pictures of the vast whiteness usually hidden by clouds and fog. We were walking the deck from end to to keep warm, when someone said, “What’s that brown lump?!”

I looked down, and there, sunning itself on a floe not 30 meters ahead and oblivious to our approach was the largest walrus I could possibly imagine. Tusky and husky! When we got closer (luckily for Mr. Walrus, we were only inching along at our slowest thick-ice pace), he finally looked at us over his shoulder, and then kind of shimmied sideways and dove away into the water. The poor pinniped – imagine waking up from a sunny nap to find a giant hunk of red metal plowing towards you. He probably “flip-pered out.” (Sorry, I’ve been at sea for three weeks….)

Later that evening, I had returned to the lab, when I was grabbed by the arm and forcibly led to the rail by one of the Russian scientists. He pointed excitedly at the horizon, his limited English at a loss, and shoved a pair of binoculars in my hands. Two polar bears, one slightly smaller than the other, were lumbering towards us across the ice. I ran back into the lab to get my camera and alert the scientists there. We all ran back outside and everyone – neophytes and seasoned polar travelers, Russians, Koreans and Americans – laughed excitedly and pointed at the two furry creatures playfully loping past us.

The younger bear kept looking over its shoulder at us, curious, but not enough to break away from its mother and investigate us more closely (unfortunately). In no time at all, they were just specks on the horizon. A few hours later, I saw three more polar bears and another walrus.

Right now we are in a storm. The sea is raging, sustained wind is around 33 knots and the snow is blowing sideways. It is awesome.

(And so is your writing Lija, thank you and Dave Mittell from forwarding them!)

Read more in; Storm Surge; A Coastal Village Battles the
Atlantic, Beach Wars; 10,000 Years on a Barrier Beach and The View From Strawberry Hill; Reflections on the Hottest Year on Record. See Strawberry Hill, UPNE, and Schiffer book tabs at the top of this page.

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