Unless the weather was completely unbearable I left the tent door partially unzipped so I could sit up and look out. My theory was if a polar bear was calling, I wanted to see it before it pounced. Of course, zipped into my sleeping bag, I looked like a puffy seal and an easy snack for a bear (granted in the photo above, out of my sleeping bag, I look like a puffy upright seal).
Sometimes while I slept people would stop on the island. They would pull up their boat, walk to the tent, see me buried in my bag, and leave again. Occasionally, I awoke to a plate of donuts or fresh fish left by unknown visitors.
When you live alone in a tent on an Arctic Ocean island you might expect heightened senses and light sleep. Hearing a boat approaching the island or a bear approaching your tent would be a good survival skill.
I took this photo after a good night’s sleep. I crawled out of the tent to find that the Arctic Ocean had moved thousands of tons of ice into this massive wall less than a hundred yards from where I slept.
It’s amazing I survived at all.
[This is a scan from the original slide. From film. Some of you may remember that stuff.]
It is already true that one can be dropped on any commercial strip in the USA and have no idea where they are. Each is so much the same, so not unique, that Chattanooga and Bakersfield look much the same. We have eradicated the prairies, slaughtered the forests, and filled the wetlands, must we also quash the individuality of the national monuments and make them conform to the ideals of capitalism, consumerism, and corporate expansion? What of calm, contentment, and courage to step outside of the box, to appreciate the subtle realm of time, space, and light that is not under our control? Where will we go for peace when we have used up all that is wild?
You have seen my photos over the last year. Many of those photos were taken in national monuments (including the two on this page). If you enjoyed my meager attempts at conveying the intensity of these landscapes, you will enjoy this (free ebook) photographic journey through the national monuments by exquisite landscape photographers
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
We turn clay to make a vessel;
But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends.
We pierce doors and windows to make a house;
And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends.
Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not. Dao de jing
29 July 2000, Cooper Island, Alaska
I’ve been walking since I got up this morning, and eating, of course. The wind and rain of the other day finally passed. Yesterday was foggy and freezing; everything was covered with a thin sheet of ice. The fog lifted briefly in the afternoon and it was warm. This morning when I awoke the air was absolutely dead calm, the fog as thick as it has ever been. And so, I walked.
There is silence and stillness to this fog world that is unmatched. Even intensely cold days in the north woods have sound and a feeling of motion: the creak of ice laden branches as they sway under their burdens, the crunch of sub-zero-temperature snow underfoot. This Arctic fog stillness is absolute.
To stand on the edge of the water and look into the gray void created by the sky and water uniting in color and texture is to truly experience sensory deprivation. Except for a few birds, my footsteps, and the almost imperceptible wash of water on the shore there is no sound, even these few things you must work to hear. All sense of sight is gone; the utterly calm water perfectly mirrors the sky, eliminating any evidence of a boundary between them. Without an automatic brain override of the fog, I would think I was losing my sight.
Now and then, on the lagoon side of the island, a dark spot that is a loon or a long-tailed duck will break free of the fog and show itself, giving definitive life to the water and proving that there is more than one dimension. On the ocean side, ice floes loom, moving imperceptibly; they often calve. The sound, that distorted fog sound, travels across the water. In the ocean there is no change, no motion, and no acknowledgement by the water or the air that the ice balance has shifted. Only silence once again.
Occasionally a red-throated loon gives its eerie, raspy, almost desperate call. No loon is in sight but I know it is among the ice floes, bill pointed to the foggy sky, head cocked to one side, listening into the silence for an answer. Listening for any sound at all, some proof that the rest of the world still exists. Is it only in our imagination that there was once wind and motion, sounds of water washing against the shore, or the persistent calls of numerous other birds?
I attempted many photos of this deprivation, some hard fast object in the foreground with the limitless depths of fog-gray-void behind. How does one record the lack of something to see? I’m not sure. If there is anything in these photos, any depth or contrast, any color, any motion, they will be stupendous indeed. In many ways this is the essence of my purpose here, to record that which is not plainly visible, to show that despite this seeming void, life thrives just out of view, and that there is usefulness in that which we cannot see and do not know.
In 1997 I moved from western Massachusetts to Maine. Several people asked me, “Are you going to get a gun?” I laughed. I thought this was an odd question.
When I left Maine to work in Alaska, many people told me, “You better get a gun.” I guess Alaska is a scary place relative to Maine.
After that summer in Alaska, I spent the winter in Utah. I went back to Alaska the next summer and then worked in Wyoming the following winter. I moved to Montana. Each step along the way, people said the same thing, “ You better start packin’.”
I left Montana and moved to eastern Washington State. My boyfriend at the time gave me his shotgun. It remained in the back corner of a closet until we broke up and he asked me to return it.
Now, I am leaving Washington. I have bought a camper for the bed of my pick-up and plan to spend a few months, maybe years, cruising around to the many places I haven’t had time to visit during other busy travels. And, once again, people have begun asking me if I have a gun or if I am going to get one.
I have never owned a gun. I have used them for clay pigeon shooting on occasion, I have carried one as a mandatory safety precaution in polar bear country, I shot at woodchucks when I was a teenager.
How many school shootings, mass shootings, random shootings have there been this year? How many people have been killed in the U.S. this year by a gun, self-inflicted, accidental, or intended?
I’m not anti-gun. I don’t think gun control will resolve all of the insanity of our society.
I may lead a charmed life.
I choose to step into the world unarmed. I believe that adding a gun to my travel gear will not make me safer.
Rather, I believe that choosing not to carry a gun will make the world safer.
An attempt to describe bits of summer on an Arctic Island –
Through all of this the one thing that I see repeatedly is that mysterious, surreal, ethereal color. The aquamarine of the imagination. Surely there is no real color like this. It is so intense it almost glows and, when seen in deep crevices, blocks all in a pile with a deep hole and light between them, it fairly jumps out of the blocks and into the air around you. This against a sky so gray it is almost violet, that bruised color of dark clouds on bright but sunless days. It makes for an incredible waking dream of time and motion.