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July 31, 2005

Here's Where the Story Ends

Saturday was departure day. We needed to have our baggage on the pallate by 5:45 AM for take-off at 8. Or so. I can't remember. I spent the morning on last-minute organization of the GPS equipment, and just missed the bus to the plane. So I got a personal escort from Ron. "I have to make sure you get out of here," he said.

The flight back to Schenectady was packed. Besides our group, there were a bunch of folks coming back from Summit. A lot of the people had been on our same crowded flight north. Our folks were the first to sprawl, including on each other. No politeness anymore, just Give me your shoulder. I slept for part of the time, but was actually awake for part of the flight, too. Quintin and I amused ourselves by playing music for each other on our iPods.

Luckily, we'd missed the heat wave in the States. When we arrived in New York, it was 80-something and humid but not ridiculously so. Whew. No major trauma there. Although it was kind of funny to see people in shorts and tee-shirts.

From the airbase, we split. Most of us went back to the hotel we'd stayed at on the way in, whether we were going to stay there or not. I cancelled my hotel reservation so I could head south with Darren to his stomping grounds, go swimming in a lovely lake and climb for a day or two in the Gunks. Unfortunately, the logistics were starting to seem complicated, so I ended up ditching the plan, re-reserving my room at the hotel, and keeping my flight out to Denver the next morning. Still, Darren, Arlie, Quintin, Quintin's girlfriend Jamie, and I went to lunch, which was a nice way to end things.

[My introduction to sticky seeds. Unfortunatley, you can't really see the one on my ear. Pretty cool.]

Then, Darren and Quintin took off and Arlie and I were left to be lazy in our hotel room. Jolene and Ken were also staying in our hotel, and Jeff and Maggie, but Arlie and I were both feeling deliciously lazy. So instead of being social, we both took naps, then woke up to order room service and watch a movie and then go back to bed. And that was that. The next morning, we were off (along with Ken, Diana, Jeff, and Molly) to the airport. And I flew to Denver.

I was sad to part with everyone, but if I had to go home, I may as well just get there. My friend John picked me up from the airport and drove me ALL THE WAY HOME, which was awesome. I travel so much that I hardly ever get picked up at the airport, and that bus ride home is probably the hardest part of the journey. Thanks, John.

Thanks, Greenland buddies. Thanks, barking foxies. Thanks, bunnies. Thanks, musk oxen. For not trampling me. Thanks, ocean. For not freezing or drowning me. Um.... Thanks, America, for making me what I am today. Oh, geez, let me try that one again... Thanks, TOW Club. Thanks, 109th for getting us there and back. Thanks, Greenland, for being there. And thanks, (H)Ellen, for hitting on Erik instead of me.

Posted by beth at 4:40 AM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2005

Full Day in Kanger

The flight to Kanger was apparently spectacular. “Every once in the while, the Arctic gives us this rare treat,” Ron said. He took over 200 pictures. Darren, on one side of me, took a bunch of pictures, too, as I think did Quintin, on the other side of me. I slept. The whole time. I woke up once and saw people milling about, but no one looking particularly fascinated by the view (only a few windows, remember—C-130), so went back to sleep. “You didn’t get up AT ALL?” Darren and Quintin asked. You guys didn’t wake me up! I accused. “I figured I’ve woken you up enough times the past three weeks…” Quintin said. As my friend Matt Gillett would say, Nobody loves a smart-ass.

I was greeted at the tarmac by three very familiar faces from Antarctica. I was ecstatic to get great hugs from Kelly, Burmy, and Commander. It was a funny mix of families--my new Thule family and my old Antarctic family, all in one place.

The first evening was mellow. I sat outside and listened to Commander play guitar and Burmy play violin, and went with Darren for a short stint to the Roost, the Air National Guard bar.

The next day, Friday, was our big Kanger day. We started with a hike out to some fences. Well, that's what us geology-types said. The biologist would probably say we hiked to some ecological study areas.


[Plants along the way.]

[Caribou skull.]

After the trip to the fences, we made time for a quick jaunt to the icecap. This was by far one of the highlights of the trip. Apologies for the funky photo sizes--I messed up a little here on the importing. I don't know what was more fun and beautiful--the drive or walking around on the ice. I guess it doesn't matter. The whole outing was great.


[Trina in a new world.]


[Transportation, Greenland style. Jolene for scale.]

After such a great day, and it being our last night in Greenland, and our last night together as a group, we had to do something. So we went for a beer in the closest bar. We could tell it was a bar because there was a paper sign taped onto the open door that said "BAR."

To our delight, it was happy hour. This was quite significant, since it dropped beer prices down from $7/bottle to $4/bottle. We were going to have one beer. But then I decided to buy a round, especially since I owed Erik a beer from Thule. But they wouldn't take my card, and I had no cash. Arlie arrived with thirst and some money. It was just after 8, which we assumed was when happy hour ended. We tried to convince her to go bat her eyelashes and ask innocently if it was still happy hour, but she wouldn't do it alone. So I went with her. "Not happy hour anymore," said the bartender, "but that man wants to buy you a beer." He gestured to a man at a table beside us. We were skeptical. "Six beers," the bartender clarified. Six? "For the women?" Arlie and Trina asked. "No," said the bartender, "for that table." He pointed to the table Arlie and I had been sitting at, where Erik and Darren and Quintin waited thirstily. No danger in that, it seemed. So why not. We chose our beer and took it back to the table. "What?" said Darren, back at the table. "We should refuse this. Don't drink that." Quintin and Erik's reaction was a little different. "Really?" they said, when we explained what had happened. "Cool." And took a swig.

The man, I think, bought a round for the other table, too, made up of the rest of our group. After a bit, the bartender called us to attention. He was standing outside of the bar with the man who had bought us the drinks. Both men looked Greenlandic--the bartender tall and somewhat big, and the other man small and older. The older man made a speech, which the bartender translated. The speech went something like: I am very happy to see such a happy group coming in to this place. You all came in very happy. We are Greenlandic people, we are from here, and we can see that you are happy with us. and that makes me happy. And we like to be happy. And... Yeah, somewhere in there I probably lost the exact wording, but there was a lot of happiness expressed. We were happy, too. We all happily raised the beers he had bought us and said, "Skol!"

We had also befriended another local: (H)Ellen. We could never figure out whether her name was Helen or Ellen, but it was easy to figure out that she was friendly. It was even easier to find out that she had taken a liking to Erik. "Is he your boyfriend?" she asked me, pointing to him. I wasn't sure at the time whether she was thinking of hitting on me or on him, and either way I knew I should have said yes, but I told the truth. I don't know what posessed me. "No," I said. "Why not?" she asked. "He has a girlfriend," I said. She looked disappointed. "A very serious girlfriend," I added. "He's almost married. They're engaged, actually." "Oh," she said. "I like him. He's a good guy. How old is he?" "Twenty-eight," I said. She looked surprised. "Really?" she said. "So young?" Yes, I said. He doesn't seem that young, she said. No, he doesn't look that young, I said, but when you talk to him you can tell. He's very immature.

I tried.

(H)Ellen was still very interested in Erik. Later, when I was talking to Erik, Quintin interrupted us from my other side, leaning over to ask Erik if he would sit by (H)Ellen. She was on Quintin's other side, requesting. Erik declined, and Quintin relayed the message. He interrupted us again a moment later. "She wants to know if she can have a kiss," Quintin said. "What?" exclaimed Erik. He definately was not interested. "How about for a hundred dollars?" I asked. "How about for a round of beer for everyone?" Quintin asked. Quintin's a thinker. Erik declined, again. I thought he cared about us, but after three weeks I come to learn that Erik's just not a team player.

Soon after, a man took the stage with a keyboard and a microphone. He played accordian music, guitar, piano, drums, and who knows what else. On the keyboard. He sang along. He did both very loudly. We refrained from leaving right away, not wanting to seem rude. I think we stuck it out for two songs. Then, Erik, Arlie, Quintin, Darren, and I were off on a mission: To find Greenlandic coffee.

We went to the restaurant-bar where we'd had our pizza feed the first night. The same man was there running the place, and while Erik, Quintin, and Arlie ordered the coffees from him, Darren and I staked out territory in a cozy corner with leather couches and low lighting and a caribou head mounted on the wall. Erik came over shortly. We need your twenty, he told Darren. What? Turns out the drinks were $12 each. Yikes! Better be good, we said.

The others joined us and enjoyed the leather couches until the owner came over with the drinks.

A shot of whiskey, a shot of Bailey's, and coffee. Whipped cream on top. Beautiful.

At the table, the owner heated up a ladle over a flame. He dipped the ladle into Gran Marnier. He lit the Gran Marnier in the ladle and poured it, raising the ladle up high off the glass, as a stream of blue flame into the drink. He did this separately for each drink. We loved it.

The Greenlandic coffee was the perfect night-cap. Quintin loved it so much he managed to nurse it for about an hour. The drinks there are expensive enough that it pays to nurse. Another wave of our group came in to get the coffees, which of course came highly recommended. However, the owner said he had made a mistake, and that the drink was actually $20. Double yikes! Glad we got in when we did.

After the party was over, I organized GPS equipment, with help from Erik and Quintin. When I finally went to bed, I could hear that second wave of our group just coming home.

Posted by beth at 1:43 AM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2005

My Birthday

The last few days in Thule were somewhat crazy. There was a lot of GPS to be done. Monday, a long field day in what they call the Polar Desert, and in the evening a trip to D-Launch, a cold-war missile-firing site. Tuesday, a day at North Mountain and then a wrap-up session at the Pavilion in the afternoon. The Pavilion is a house-like building down by the water with a living room and a kitchen and a great deck. Our first week in Thule, we gathered there to be social and get to know everyone. Significantly, Patrick had brought a Frisbee and we threw around outside. This time, Molly made us dinner and the archeologists talked. Afterwards, I went with Erik and Quintin to the Community Center on base, which has free video games and pinball. We skied, snowmobiled, drove, and shot people (yikes). Then, went back and I got ready for the next day. Wednesday, everywhere: North Mountain, and then around town in the morning, the Polar Desert and then South Mountain in the afternoon. In the evening, relaxation and packing and more relaxation with wine and food. Thursday, we were off to Kanger.

There are a few things in these last days that are worth elaborating on, though. One is my birthday.

First off, I was not excited about having my birthday in Greenland. I realized that it could be fun, but I was thinking ahead of time that I’d be spending it again in a foreign place with people I didn’t really know. By the time my birthday rolled around, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather spend my day with. Except that I’d been up late the night before working, and had to getup early to go into the field, and was ridiculously tired and grumpy along with. I hadn’t woken up thinking, “It’s my birthday!” I’d woken up thinking, “God damn, I’m tired.” At breakfast, Cynthia said a bright, “Happy birthday!” as soon as I sat down at the table. I was a little traumatized. I’d forgotten it was my birthday, and it was way too early for anyone to be that chipper, and it was certainly too early for anyone to be that chipper towards me. Darren, too, and Quintin, wished me a happy birthday, and I just grumbled something in response—probably ‘it’s too early for that, man. I can’t even deal with that yet.’

I loaded up into the car with the other GPS-ers for the day, Cynthia, Lucas, Erik, and Diana, with Ron at the wheel. I couldn’t shake my thump. I was all the more grumpy for being tired because I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy my birthday. Cynthia said something about needing coffee, and Ron suggested we swing by the Igloo Inn, which is the Danish community center. I think they have red dogs, he said. “Red dogs?” I perked up. “I would *love* a red dog,” I said. I was thinking of a Red Bull, and coffee isn’t usually my thing, but an energy drink certainly sounded like it could make a difference in my day. “And it *is* her birthday,” Cynthia said. “It’s your birthday? Really?” said Ron, and the deal was done. We were pulling in. “Wait,” I said, waking up a little, are red dogs what I’m thinking of? Is that the energy drink?” “You’re thinking of Red Bulls,” Erik said. And then I realized that red dogs are certainly not Red Bulls. Red dogs are long, very red hot dogs. “No!” I exclaimed. “I do *not* want a red dog!” Nothing sounded worse. But it was too late. Ron’s mind was set. And, he is Norwegian.

Inside the Igloo Inn, Ron spoke with the Danish vendor in Norwegian and the Dane answered him in Danish. The rest of us didn’t understand either. There was nothing we could do. The vender prepared six red dogs for the six of us, complete with a sauce which is something of a cross between mayo and tartar, spoojed generously into the buns. Ron also got two pitchers of coffee, six paper cups, six spoons, and a pint of neopolitin ice cream. Since it was my birthday. So there you have it. 10 AM, coffee, red dogs, and ice cream all around. And, it was actually good.

We had a long day in the field. By the afternoon, it was cold and windy and rainy, but we kept on in good spirits until the work was done, and all went well. Ron said that since it was my birthday, he’d try not to give me a hard time. I don’t know if he tried or not. If he did, I don’t think he succeeded so well. We got back to the hotel around 7:30.

I was pretty excited about dropping my stuff and getting a shower and going to dinner when I got home. Dinner at the dining hall ends at 8, so we were cutting it a little close. A bacon cheeseburger was calling my name.

There was a group gathered at the top of the stairs on my floor as I ascended. “Have you been able to get into your room?” Jolene asked. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Quintin has your key,” she said, “and he was worried you wouldn’t be able to get into your room.” Right. Quintin has asked me for a handheld GPS in the morning right as our group was loading up, so I gave him my key and told him to just grab it off my desk. It would be a little bit of a bummer to have to hunt Q down rather than just getting into my room. I went down the hall to check it out, and saw my key in the door. Relief. I also saw a pamphlet tucked into the doorway above the doorknob. “The ABCs of World Religion,” the cartoon version I’m sure was plucked off the rack of inspirational reading in the dining hall. In the pamphlet was a note which said, “Happy ‘B’-day, Beebs!” Sweet. I really could use some spiritual guidance into my 29th year.

I opened my door. I couldn’t move. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t have been able to make it far. The room was pretty full. Toilet paper criss-crossed all the open space, which was limited by the fake trees and plants brought in from stairwells and lounges and other bedrooms, and by the full-sized American flag on a post which had been in the third-floor lounge. My coffee-maker had also multiplied (apparently asexually) from one to five, and each contained an article of clothing which I took on first glance to be socks. Not socks, as it turned out. My very own underwear.

A small group had gathered in the hall, grinning. “So…. Should I guess who’s responsible for this?” I asked Molly. “Sure,” she says. “Um, Darren maybe?” “Yeah, Darren might have been involved.” “Mmmm, maybe Quintin?” “Maybe Quintin, yes.” “Is that it?” “Oh, there maybe have been other people involved…” “Were you in on this?” “No, I didn’t really have anything to do with this.” “Patrick?” “Mmm, Patrick may have been here.” “I wonder where all those guys are now,” I said, and someone suggested they were probably listening from their rooms. Darren’s, for instance, was right across the hall. I tried the door. Unlocked. I opened it. Darren was in there, sitting on his bed, with a tentative half-smile on his face. I attacked him. Then I got pig-piled by another body. Quintin. They had been watching through the peephole in Darren’s door. Sneaky rats.

Needless to say, I missed dinner, partly because I was just laughing too hard. I went to the dining hall just in time to be late. The woman at the ticket counter, taking pity on me, pointed out the desert rack and the fruit bowls and gave me to-go containers and two Coca-Cola Lights. I had already gotten excited to order my bacon burger take-out from the TOW club, so I walked out of there with a paper bag with two soft drinks and two to-go containers, one of which contained four jalapeno poppers and the other of which was empty.

When I got back to the hotel, the group was motivating to go to D-Launch, an old military missile launch site. No time for my bacon cheeseburger. I was sad, but being sad does not make a bacon cheeseburger appear, so I sucked it up. I mean, I can eat a bacon cheeseburger just about anywhere, but how many chances would I have to check out an old missile launching site in Greenland? To tell the truth, I was more excited about the burger, but my friends were heading on the field trip. So why not.

There are some neat underground chambers to check out at D-Launch. Ron said that you could ice-skate in them, there being a layer of ice over the floor, but the layer of ice was actually a layer of water, so not all of us went down into the main chamber. Folks who were wearing high and waterproof boots ventured all around the large room, but people like me descended the ladder but stayed perched on the wall. Until Ron discovered a pile of snow. “I don’t think I’ve ever climbed a ladder that fast,” said Quintin.

There was also a watchtower, from which Erik demonstrated his impeccable pirate speak.

When we got back, Erin shared the dinner she had made with me and Quintin brought out a bottle of wine. AND, Erin and Patrick had made an awesome cake. Love that. So I got spoiled, over-spoiled probably, and my belly ended up full after all.

Posted by beth at 5:51 AM

July 24, 2005

Sunday Recovery

Perhaps because of the 5-hour nap I’d taken the day before, and no doubt with help from the liter of water I’d drank before going to sleep, I woke up alert and reasonably peppy. Had another brunch. Joined a field trip to Dundas Hill, the prominent basalt peninsula just out of town.

We were joined by several archeologists, who showed us the remains of some old native houses insulated with sod. After the tour, we scaled the peak. The hike was steep, and up top is just a broad, flat plateau. Ron told us to look for the Lady of Dundas at the far end. Can’t miss her, he said. Quintin and I had our eyes out for her, but didn’t see anything resembling a woman. When I found her, I quickly realized my mistake. I was looking for something with a head. The Lady of Dundas is an rock formation which from the back looked to me like a phallus and which from the front looks quite like a woman’s torso, thanks to the skillful modification of bulbs into breasts. “Well, what do you want?” asked Quintin. “Conversation?” “I was at least hoping for a head,” I replied.

We did see some peregrine falcons, and that was cool.

When I got down from Dundas to the van with Jeff and Ron waiting and they asked how it was, I disappointed them. “It’s….. a big flat rock,” I said. I’d been spoiled by Green Valley.

Posted by beth at 5:51 AM

July 23, 2005

Back to Thule

None of us, that I knew of, were ready to leave. I wanted to stay there forever. Still, when we were all packed and ready to go and just waiting for the helicopter and Jeff said, “First eight people to put their stuff over there go on the next load!” there was a mad rush. The eight of us that were hanging out together closest to the landing site playing cards and chatting and such together rushed, anyway. For me, if we had to leave, may as well go and get the waiting over with, get back and get our showers and get on with it. That’s what I did. I got back, immediately took a shower, and crawled into bed. And took a loooong (5 hour) nap.

I found after I woke up that not everyone had gotten super-stellar, long naps like I had. There was some fear that not everyone would rally to go to the TOW Club as we had been talking about all week. But everyone did. Everyone from the class, anyway. Well, almost. Ken didn’t make it, and John didn’t come out. No professors, either. But almost all the students were there, the two field assistants, and some of the grad students. We had a great showing. In fact, as I later described to Ron, we probably made up 75% of the people on the dance floor 75% of the time. And, there were no wallflowers in our group. Everyone was up there on the dance floor at some point, including Jane, and no one really needed prodding.

At one point, chatting with Heather on the dance floor, I looked over to see Jenny dancing rather closely with a Dane. “Think Jenny’ll hook it up with that Dane?” I asked, and Heather said, “Maybe.” “You don’t think she needs help, then?” I asked. “We have signs,” Heather said. “I haven’t seen any signs.” “Like what?” I asked, and we both looked over at Jenny. She was facing us with the Dane behind her, his arms around her waist, and she grimaced at us with her eyes wide and teeth barred, I understood. That, for instance, would be a sign. We immediately went over to save her, each one of us grabbing an arm and leading her away dancing.

We drank and danced into the night. So far into the night that when we left it was light out. Oh, wait, it was light all the time. So far into the night, then, that we essentially closed the place down and were only 10 minutes shy of breakfast when we got back to the hotel. By the time we’d debated and recruited and tried unsuccessfully to recruit and got our meal cards and went over to the dining hall, breakfast was being served. Mmmm, omlette toast sausage 5 AM.

Posted by beth at 5:49 AM

July 22, 2005

Bird Valley

Ron put me in the soil group for the day. Jenny, who is researching the soils, stayed at camp on account of not feeling well, leaving her field assistant, Derek, to lead the work. Derek said I was the most enthusiastic member of the dirt team so far. That was at about 9 AM. That was also, as I later found out, before he knew who else was in his group for the day. Just the same, I think he would have said the same at the end of the day.

We hiked straight up from out camp over a ridge and across some high terrain and down into the next valley. I carried two shovels the whole way, which made me feel useful (especially after having everyone else cart around the GPS equipment the rest of the time) and, more importantly, made me look bad-ass.

[Ron starts out the hike. If you zoom in on the iceberg in the background, you can see that it looks like a '50s Chevy.]

We called the next valley Bird Valley, and did the same thing there that we’d been doing in Green Valley, sans the GPS. I helped Derek dig soil pits. The idea was to dig down to permafrost (frozen ground) and sample the overlying organic soil.

[Derek digs.]

[Ron advises.]

Meanwhile, Trina and Lucas, also in the soil group, recorded transects of the surrounding vegetation. The biology group, nearby, recorded the species distribution in different plots, installed some simple instruments to measure anion concentrations, measured ‘greenness’, and probably some other things that I didn’t catch on to. Both the soil and biology groups worked at several different locations along the length of the valley. The third group, the hydrology group, measured discharge and water chemistry of the valley’s river and its tributaries.

[Bird Valley. Like Green Valley, it's green.]

[The hydro crew works a stream.]

Bird Valley wasn’t such a hard place to work. We had beautiful weather, beautiful soil, and wildlife. Lots of dovekeys, of course, but also fox and musk ox.


[Me with muskoxen. Photo: Lucas]

The pits we dug, after our first couple, were beautiful. The permafrost (frozen ground) was shallow—maybe 30 cm down—so the digging was easy. We cut and extracted nice, cohesive blocks of soil which we could later easily replace to minimize disturbance, and ended up with a lovely, smooth, frozen-dirt surface in the pit. Ron suggested we dance in it. Quintin tried a breakdancing move, but got caught on the edge of the pit. “Quintin, what are you doing?” asked Ron. We resorted to ballroom dancing. You know, you’ve got to do it. Dance on permafrost. I mean, have you?

After the work was done, we ditched out packs on the hill and headed down to the ocean.

[Trina looks towards the ocean. Photo: Derek.]

[Photo: Lucas]

I think this might be my new favorite beach in the world.

[Photo: Lucas]

[Photo: Lucas]

When I got down there, Ken was already in the water. Then, Darren. I walked down the beach around a little outcrop, stripped down to my undies, and jumped on in. Sunny, warm, windless—I figured it was now or never. And I was right. And it felt great. Of course, I jumped out right away, too. But it was warm enough and sunny enough to be able to stand and dry off for a bit before (taking the wet undies off and) putting my clothes back on.

A handful of others went in, too: Ron, Erik (apparently, when Ron got out he tossed the pair of flips-flops he was wearing to Erik, a silent “You’re next” which Erik couldn’t refuse), Birgit. While a group of us decided to hold contests throwing rocks with our left arms (try it—goodness, it’s hard. And really, really hilariously silly looking), others began packing up and heading back up the hill. Then, from a cave in the small headland I had passed for my swim, a form came screaming out in boxers in jumped in the water. We looked around us, shocked and stunned. Who the heck--? It was Lucas, and he’d been over there so long that most of us didn’t even realize he was still there. We waited for him to dry off a bit and change, and then began our return trip.

I had to change into dry socks, and Quintin and Derek were kind enough to wait for me. Except that I had taken my dry socks out of my pack that morning. Bummer. So all I accomplished was holding us up from the rest of the group, which turned out to be a fine thing. We were the last ones to get to enjoy the valley that day. We walked back a different way than we came, up a steep chute between rock outcrops with a view back down at the beach, which prompted me to say, “Okay, I know I keep commenting on how great this place is—but just a reality check here. We’re walking up this beautiful slope with water coming and going from nowhere, with really cool rock, and there are beautiful cliffs and a beach and sun and it’s an absolutely amazing place—and then, on top of all that, as if all that wasn’t enough, there are icebergs in the water. It’s almost too much for me.”

We talked about Phish and Days of Our Lives and cereal and stopped to splash our faces with water bubbling up from the moss and then disappearing several feet later back down into it.

Up on the highlands, we came upon Lucas sitting out on a bluff. I don’t know if I even would have seen him, but Quintin pointed him out. Check out Lucas in his zen place, he said. Lucas was sitting cross-legged on a rock overlooking the coast. He did look very zen, very peaceful, when we approached. We easily could have gone around him, and almost did. Quintin seemed to want to check out the spot, though, so I encouraged it. Part of wanting to enable people to do what they want to do.

We apologized loudly for disrupting his peace. He said he was about to leave anyway, but sat a bit longer while the three of us stood, taking in the vista. Maybe it was exhaustion at the end of the day, or moodiness from feeling strongly about the goodness of the trip, of being in the valley and spending time with people who I was really enjoying. I wanted to cry. It was like being up on Bear Peak in Wyoming with Meg, lying on our bellies, looking out at the everything as the sun set, and me thinking and then her saying, both of us feeling cheesy, that it was so beautiful it made her want to cry.

Before us was ocean, grey-blue with white specs of icebergs. To either side, the coast stretched uninhabited and undisturbed, rough and continuous and steep. There was no one else out there. We were not on a tourist track, we were not there to see this spot. We just happened to be there, to have the fortune of seeing this place, of being part of its vastness for a brief moment. I knew I’d thought it before, but, I though, I think this is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I made Quintin take pictures.

When we got back to camp, there were already folks out at a bonfire on the bluff by our beach. But we needed dinner. Which was, as usual, awesome. If you ever need a camp manager and cook, get in touch with Sarah Sturges.

After dinner, and before going out to the bonfire, we decided it was time to shotgun a beer. I’ve done so maybe twice in my life, starting in grad school, and Erin never had. And since she never had, we figured she needed to have the experience. We tried to convince Trina that she needed to do it to celebrate her birthday (which wasn’t for a couple more hours), but she managed to convince us that we needed to do it in honor of her for her birthday. She took video. Darren, well versed in the art of shotgunning, punched a hole in a can for each of us—Patrick, Erin, Derek, and myself. And Darren, of course. Cheers. Open can, drink up. Watching the video that Trina took is awesome. Darren finished first, by far, with a flourish. Then Patrick and Derek. Erin and I had a little more trouble—I’ve never been good at pounding beer, and I have no pride issues with that. We both paused for breath, bringing out beers down. Then, up for more. Then, down again. “What’s up with you guys?” the boys chided, and then Darren pointed to Erin’s beer. “You didn’t open it!” he exclaimed. No one had bothered to explain to Erin the details of shotgunning. Once we came back to life after dying of laughter, they insisted that Erin finish the shotgun properly. Otherwise, as Derek pointed out, you still haven’t shotgunned a beer—you’ve just drank out of the side of the can.

We headed out to the bonfire with the remainder of the beer. Darren thought we’d be heros for bringing it, but it turned out there was still plenty of beer out there. A whole pile of it. I knew I should be social, but the bluff called to me immediately, so Quintin and I headed over to sit on the edge with our legs dangling over. Darren soon joined us. The three of us sat in peace until Cynthia came over with birthday cards for us to sign, and then suddenly everyone—including the birthday-ers—was over at the bluff, and the rock-throwing that started as a distraction to the birthday boys and girls so we could sign the cards turned into a full-on event. Darren went running down to a bench beneath us and positioned large rocks along the edges, as targets. The game was a huge hit. So to speak.

At midnight, we gathered for a hearty round of happy birthday to our birthday boys and girls: Trina, Lucas, and Erik. Yep, three of them—all on July 23rd. So they would be starting their birthday at a campfire on a bluff overlooking a secluded beach in Greenland, and would be ending their birthday at a club on a U.S. airbase in Greenland. But that’s tomorrow’s story.

As time wore on, the group around the fire grew smaller and smaller, until when Quintin said, I think genuinely, “This is a good party,” there were only three of us left around the fire to laugh at him.

It was a beautiful night. Way too beautiful to be inside, way too beautiful to not be out in it. So a few of us slept outside. Patrick snuck out of the party early to go find a secluded spot up on the hills above camp. Ken, Darren, Quintin, and I slept out on the bluff where we’d had our bonfire. It was hard to close my eyes to the blue sky and the dovekeys and the green hills, but eventually I had no choice. I think I fell asleep mid-conversation. Last night in Green Valley.

Posted by beth at 5:46 AM | Comments (1)

July 21, 2005


The next day, we were able to work. It wasn’t the bluebird day people had hoped for, but it showed some promise. Sort of. Ron said the wind was supposed to die out throughout the day, which at least gave hope.

The GPS crew consisted of Patrick, Erin (a UW field assistant who I worked with in Antarctica last season), Erik, Quintin, and John (high school science teacher from Missouri). I think Erik and Erin and John wanted to come, while Patrick and Quintin were recruited. Ron had told Patrick that we needed some men with big muscles and small brains.

[The drill team, plus Ron, at the toe of the flow.]

Our goal was, once again, to drill as many holes as we could. Sort of. As many holes as we had pins for, and had time for, and based on the latter we were hoping to drill five. But we did better. We did eight. Go drilling team.

[Erik, Pat, Erin.]

[Finished marker.]

I came behind the drilling team with the GPS gear to occupy each marker the drilling team installed. I taught Quintin how to level the antenna (I told him it might not be as glamorous as drilling, but while the other guys were just laborers, he was a skilled worker) so that he could do it. The following picture pretty well represents division of labor.

[Erik, Erin, and Patrick drilling; Quintin leveling; John standing by.]

Our system worked quite well, especially after the drilling team discovered the benefits of using water in the drilling. There was plenty of water around. Did I mention that there was plenty of water around? We were on a solifluction lobe, right? Two, actually. Anyway, my definition (see two days ago) was ‘blah blah blah saturated soil blah blah.’ Saturated. As in, wet. Downright mooshy.

[Working in the mush.]

[Drilling. Is there actually a rock somewhere in that mush?]

[Pat loses his balance. Mush.]

[An instrument recording at the end of the lobe.]

When the drilling team finished, they packed up and left for camp in a hurry. We were already on our way to being late for dinner. Earlier in the day, I had told them that the surveying would probably take a lot longer than the marker installations, in which case I could stay on alone and they could go back to camp. But things went pretty well with both the marker installations and the surveying, so that the surveying wasn’t very far behind, and when I saw them packing up I was bummed. I mean, I knew we had been unofficially and unintentionally divided up into drilling team and surveying team early in the day, with set roles that all were reluctant to change, getting into that specialized role and then going with it because it’s something comfortable and known and efficient, but I still thought—I mean, I just figured that—well, that we were still one team. But no. Just like that. They were ready to drop everything and go, without even checking to see if I needed anything else.

Quintin stayed back to finish the surveying with me. Quintin’s a good man.

Turns out we weren’t the only group to arrive late for dinner, or even the last arrivals. Everyone had put in a long day. And it would be another long day to follow, since we were planning to hike to the next valley over to do more of the same. More of everything else, that is. Our GPS work was done. And, it seemed to have gone well. So I got to join the group for the hike and some exposure to different science.

Posted by beth at 5:38 AM

July 20, 2005

Storm Day

On Wednesday, we awoke to wind. And rain. I was actually one of the first in the main tent for breakfast, as I was supposed to be, but it was looking like a no-go. However, when the GPS crew for the day wandered in, they were mostly game, so we decided to go anyway. Then Erik, one of the day’s crew, went out to help some folks better secure their tents, and came back soaked. I don’t think we should go, he said. So Quintin and I went down to the beach.

You can get down to the beach via a scree slope at the corner of the bluffs. At the far end of the beach, just cut off at high tide, is a cave. A relatively spacious cave that stays dry and windless on wet and windy days. Quintin and I camped out there for quite a while, watching the storm smash the grey-white waves against rocks and icebergs, lifting and throwing the spray into the air. It was awesome. The dovekeys were out despite the storm, landing on and hanging out on the choppy water. If I were an animal, said Quintin, I always thought I’d want to be a duck, but now I want to be a dovekey.

After a while, we saw some more figures down the beach. They gradually grew closer. “Do you think we looked like that?” Quintin asked, watching Jolene and Derek staggering towards us through the wind, soaking wet. We’d been in the cave long enough that we’d forgotten what it was like out there. Or, it had gotten worse. Either way, we didn’t care. We were sheltered. It was all about the cave.

Jolene and Derek joined us, and then Cynthia. Jolene and Cynthia were quite nervous about the state of things, thinking that the tide was coming in rapidly and that the rocks being blow off the bluffs above posed a serious hazard. True that the rock thing was a bit of a concern. Some of the rocks were pretty big. But it was also just time, so we all headed back to camp. On the way down the beach, Quintin and I ran so that the wind pushed us along. I sometimes had trouble controlling my momentum. It made me laugh, and laugh. I was a superhero. Luckily, my laughter was swallowed up by the wind.

The rain and wind continued. Ron politely kicked everyone out of the group tent so Sarah, our camp manager, could have some space to prepare dinner. I told Patrick and Darren, who wanted to play backgammon, that they could come hang out in my tent so as not to disturb either of their tentmates. Shortly after they arrived, though, Jane arrived. I figured she was going to stay in the main tent, but she’d been kicked out too, so had come home to take a nap. “Is it alright that we have visitors?” I asked. “Or should we send them back to their tents?” Jane said it was fine. “I’m having boys over!” I said to her in a loud whisper, and she said back, “Which one do you want?”

We hung out with the boys playing chess and then backgammon, and Jane napping, and me doing nothing—quite a nest, with four people and four sleeping bags--until Darren discovered that Patrick’s tea had spilled and Darren left with his sleeping bag to air out.

[Not even enough room in the tent for Jane to get in the picture. Jane, Darren, me, Patrick. Pre-spill.]


Dinner was a welcome chance to stretch the legs and fill the belly. And then the storm broke. And the sun came out. And everyone went out to play. It all seemed to happen very quickly. There was a group sliding down the nearby snowfield on their feet and on shovels, and another group—including myself—went down to the beach. Ron pointed out a pile of very angular, fresh-looking rocks at the base of the cliff. They weren’t from that day, but they were recent—from the summer, at least, because they hadn’t been reworked by winter storms. Quintin and I noted that we’d been standing in that exact spot, checking out the cool rocks in the overhang above, just earlier that day. Huh.

[Sunny camp.]

After hanging a bit at the beach, Darren, Quintin, and I decided to take a different (steeper, of course) route up to the top of the bluff. We joined Ken at a lovely sunny spot where we all lie in silence for a while, watching the dovekeys or the back of our eyelids.

[I watched the sun on some grasses, too.]

Our walk back took us past several lovely ponds, and gooshy ground. Did I mention all the gooshy ground? The coolest thing about the valleys, for me, was the water. I'll talk about it in the next entry. Suffice to say right now that there is water *everywhere*. Just like the dovekeys, except different.

The sun didn’t last all that long. It was already starting to hide again before bedtime. You have to take what you can get, I guess.

Posted by beth at 5:00 AM

July 19, 2005

Green Valley 2

Tuesday was a big field day, and started for me with drilling a hole in a rock. We needed to get a base marker in and a receiver running on it before taking a helicopter upvalley to do some surveying there. The night before, I had asked Ron when I should do the drilling. He smiled. “How about 6:45?”

I really wanted to get up in time to start drilling right at 6:45 to wake up the camp, but two things happened: 1) Ron started waking up the camp early, and 2) I just didn’t have the equipment together in time. I did start drilling soon after 6:45, though. RrrrrrrRrrrRRR!

The helicopter came for the first trip around 8, and ferried people and gear up towards the top of the valley. Like in Thule, we had split into groups. Lucas and Darren were on the GPS crew with me. Our GPS gear was dropped partway up the valley, near some solifluction lobes (to be described later), but we were dropped at the top of the valley with everyone else. Ron wanted us to be able to do the whole hike, to not miss out on seeing the upper valley. We started out with the soils crew (marketed originally as dirt, but changed to soils due to low interest). While they dug a soil pit to observe and sample the soil for carbon, Lucas, Darren, and I hiked farther up the ridge to check out the dovekeys. Dovekeys. Dovekeys should have been mentioned earlier, due to their significance, but now is a fine time. Dovekeys, I had been told, look something like flying penguins. It’s true. Dovekeys are medium-sized, somewhat bulbous, white-bellied and otherwise black birds that move awkwardly on land on webbed feet, like penguins. They waddle, and they hop from rock to rock. But, unlike penguins, they fly. It is because of the dovekeys (we think) that we were in Green Valley, and in Bird Valley, the valley next door. The birds fly to the ocean and hang out on and in the water, eating plankton, and then come back into the valley to nest on it’s steep walls. While nesting, and while flying to and fro (which the do a LOT of), they poop. Their poop adds nutrients to the valley floor, resulting in a much lusher vegetation than that around Thule. Pretty cool. The lusher vegetation also accommodates more wildlife, like musk oxen. Very cool.

[Photo: Lucas]

[Photo: Lucas]

The dovekeys were everywhere. They were constantly flying about in big packs, often disturbed from their roosts by gulls or ravens. They didn’t seem to mind us so much. “I want one!” exclaimed Darren, and almost immediately one flew within about four feet of Darren’s face, surprising him. “What would you do with one if you actually caught it?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “Probably freak out.”

Eventually, the dirt/soil group was ready to head lower. We headed with them, to a lush spot of spongy green mosses.

[The soil team at work.]

[The physicists, Lucas and Erik, stand by.]

Darren jumped from a rock onto the mossy mat. “What are you doing?” I asked him. “Testing,” he said. He then stepped back up onto the rock, and with no warning and no build-up did a handless cartwheel off it onto the mat. The surprise factor through us. That, and the fact that he only made it about 270 degrees out of the 360, and landed with his knees against the ground. We were so impressed (read: we were dying laughing) that he agreed to try it again, for the camera.

[Note dovekeys on horizon.]

We eventually ventured down the valley on our own.

Ironically, or not, if we’d had a hand-held GPS, things would have been much easier. But the batteries in the ones I’d brought were dead and the BX, where I figured I’d be able to buy some if that were the case, was all out of AAs. So we went by instinct. Which wasn’t very good. We did stay in pretty good spirits, taking our time mostly to check out wildlife.

[Can’t argue with that. Musk oxen. Note 1) the hair flowing in the wind, and 2) the baby on the left. Cute! Wooly. I wanted to just stick my fists in it's fur.]

We finally came upon the equipment by what felt like chance, with Darren spotting it first. You’d think two yellow boxes and two red boxes would stand out in a place like that.

Our goal was to drill as many holes in rocks as possible. Sounds like a simple goal, but it turned out to be a little trickier than anticipated. We drilled one. Well, two, but one turned out to be unusable.

Why were we drilling holes out there, anyway? Solifluction lobes. What the heck are solifluction lobes? Allow me to (try to) explain. Solifluction is the slow downslope creep/flow of saturated soils. I think that is as technical as I am going to get. Nobody really knows how fast or slow they flow, so Ron decided to use GPS to get some good constraint on the problem. We were hoping to install and measure a small army of markers on two solifluction lobes in the vicinity. Then, when Ron returns next summer, he (or a UNAVCO engineer) can measure their locations again and determine how fast they’re moving. Unlike tectonic studies (earthquakes, volcanoes), where we try to install markers in bedrock, we were installing markers in small boulders “floating” in the soil. The trick was to find a boulder big enough to be somewhat stable and to not shatter when drilling into it. Luckily, we had two days to complete the task, because the first day wasn’t especially fruitful.

We hiked back as the second-to-last group to arrive. Got the base station, which had died, working. Ate dinner. Drank a few Danish beers. Called it a night. There had been word all along that a storm was going to move in on Wednesday, but if it didn't, we had another big day ahead.

Posted by beth at 4:25 AM

July 18, 2005

Green Valley

We were supposed to leave for the field on Monday, but things weren’t looking good. The weather had crapped out and things were windy and rainy and generally unpleasant out there. I was actually kind of hoping we’d get stuck in. In case of bad weather, we’d stay based in town and fly out via helicopter for day trips. A 28-person camp for all of 5 or so days seemed a hassle to me.

Monday brought news that camp was a go. The first group headed out around 9 to get camp mostly set up and to scope out the scene for the rest of us. Everyone else, including myself, was then scheduled to go out at 4:30. I worked to tidy the GPS equipment and to track down another rock drill, since ours only had one good battery. At 4, after a last-minute trip to the BX (base exchange) for supplies (alcohol and chocolate), we headed to the heliport. To find out that we’d been delayed an hour. Of course. Ken, Patrick, Darren, Quintin, and I walked over to the gym where the former three played around with a soccer ball (with their shirts off—awwwww, Quintin and I wined, why’d they have to do that—) and Quintin and I played a few pitiful games of PIG and around the world with a basketball. It’s obviously been a while. (He won PIG. I won around the world. On the last shot. I could go into the minute excrutiating details, because it really was quite an exciting game—down to the last shot, literally, where all I had was one left to make and I’d been stuck there for turns and turns and hadn’t risked my second shot because didn’t want to end up back at the beginning—which is where Quintin ended up, turn after turn—and time was running out, we were risking being late, and Quintin said last round and I missed my first shot and on the second either I would make it and win or miss it and we’d both lose (as Quintin reminded me with a smile) and as I already gave away I made it and all was well in the world (for me, maybe not for Quintin) but it’s not worth telling you all that because really, it was just a game of around the world.)

Back up to the heliport. We’d missed the chance to make it on the first flight, so were on the third. The first group was just getting weighed in. We waited. And ate some chocolate. (I bought about five bars of Ritter-Sport chocolate from the BX. When I returned with it to the van, Darren looked at my stash and said rather harshly, “Why’d you get so much chocolate? Are you really going to eat all that?” “I got it to share,” I said. “Oh.” Rather sheepishly, because he knew he was no longer likely to get any.) Helped load up the second helo with gear.

[Our ride.]

[I feel like I’m pulling my big red wagon, said Sean.]

We played cards, build pyramids, designed a new jet liner. Actually, we mostly played on the scale to see how much we weighed in kilos and how much less we’d weigh without items such as heavy boots, hats, coats. We were interrupted by the arrival of the helo. It was time to go. I was kind of bummed, because I hadn’t had a chance to weigh my boots yet.


[Thule from above.]

When we stepped out of the helicopter at the camp, I knew I’d arrived. I mean, of course I’d arrived at camp, but I’d arrived in the sense that I was there, and that there was nowhere else I needed to be, and that nothing about where I was needed to be different. The valley held me. Cheesy, but it just felt good to be there. No more feeling of hassle. I was excited to be at camp.

[A view of camp from the bluffs at the bottom of the valley.]

Being on the third helo load turned out to be a pretty good deal. When we got there, everyone else was busy—and had been, the whole time—lugging around sand bags and rocks to secure tents. The camp was pretty much done. There was a large, round main tent for cooking and eating and organizing, and an army of sleep tents for two people each. I tented with Jane, one of the two teachers on the project. Jane is from Denmark, but has been living and teaching in Nuk, Greenland for the past ten years. And Jane is a kick. Our tent was very close to another tent, which turned out to house Erik and Quintin. “You guys don’t snore, do you?” Erik asked. Jane does. I do, too, sometimes.

We secured our tent with rocks and sand bags, and then I ran out over the bluff to explore before dinner. I mean, how could you not? There was just this nearby bluff between us and the ocean, and how could you not immediately go run over to check things out?

[The coast by our camp.]

[Cool rocks.]

[Darren. And caribou antlers. Apparently the caribou in the valley were over-hunted, leaving none today.]

Sarah made us a great dinner, which we ate excitedly, and while some others went to check out the beach, I went to bed. To tent. Jane was already in there, snoring gently.

Posted by beth at 10:05 PM | Comments (1)

July 17, 2005

TOW Club!

I was tired. Really tired. My recent nap schedule had been completely interrupted, and I was wiped. Still, it was Saturday night and there was nothing we had to be up for in the morning until a meeting at 11. So when I overheard a couple folks talking about going to check out the TOW Club, I inquired within. The TOW (Top of the World) club is the military’s dance club and bar, and how could I possibly leave Thule without at least checking it out? I figured there would probably be other opportunitites, but you never know. I figured I’d probably stay for about half an hour, just long enough to see it but not really get into it since I was so tired. Silly to even go, really, but at least my curiosity would be satisfied.

I headed over with Darren and Patrick and Jolene. To get into the TOW Club you have to be a member, which the man at the counter explained costs $5 for a night or $4 for a month. Yeah. No, that wasn’t a typo. So we joined for a month. Besides, hopefully we’d be back. So I am now (still, as of the time of this writing) a legitimate, card-carrying member of Thule’s TOW Club. Sweet.

The bar was what I expected. It stank of smoke and was thick with men. It was still looking like I would only be there half an hour. I wasn’t sure that I even wanted a drink. But then I found the dance floor. In another room, with lots of cocktail tables and another bar and a DJ booth framed by fake torches consisting of light and a fan aimed up at flame-shaped strips of fabric. The only problem was, no one was dancing.

Apparently it was still a little on the early side for the TOW Club crowd. I didn’t know if I would make it. But how could I leave without busting a move? Surely you see the dilemma. So I had a drink. And Quintin came. And then Erik came. We were increasing our numbers. And then, about ten minutes later, Erik left. Too bad for him, because things finally got started soon after. Jolene and Darren got up to dance, motioning for me to follow, which I did—just long enough for them to get to the dance floor thinking I was following. They danced. I just wasn’t feeling it anymore—my groove had passed. But it was fun to watch them. Then, something happened. I don’t know what, exactly. Darren and I were on the dance floor being total goofballs. Which is pretty much my favorite style of dance. Then, the DJ put on the cha-cha. A called-out dance that everyone in the club got up for, simpler than the electric slide but no less silly. And we were no less silly. I got some help from the guy beside me, apparently a pro. The cha-cha. Heard it? Danced it? If not, you should. We were pretty excited about it. So then we were all busting a move, and sometime around 1:30 we motivated to leave. But then Cynthia came. We motivated to stay (it didn’t take much). I mean, how could we leave Cynthia? So Darren left and the rest of us went in for another drink, and more dancing, and eventually left. I had definitely stayed more than half an hour. Whew.

Sunday was, of course, a day of recovery. I woke up for a meeting at 11 and went back to sleep after the meeting without indulging in brunch. I set my alarm for it, but ignored my alarm until 3. I like to be well rested.

Posted by beth at 10:04 PM

July 16, 2005


We made it to Thule on Wednesday. We got up early, flew for three hours (I… um… slept), and arrived in Thule in time for lunch. One of the options was red dogs, or really long and really red hot dogs. I avoided that one. Probably went for the fish. After lunch, we had a bit of time off to get settled in before meeting in the late afternoon for a short tour. I organized the GPS equipment with my time off, while others got caught up on sleep in the hotel. The accommodations in Thule are quite nice—a hotel in which each of us had our own bedroom with a TV and freshly made beds every day, and the bathrooms, which were communal, were clean. This seems like it should be a given, I guess, but it’s not always, so it was very nice.

In the evening, we went on our tour driving around town and stepped out on top of a hill somewhere where Jeff was very excited and the rest of us were very cold. We’d prepared for a driving tour, and most of us were underdressed for the foggy wet chilly windy mountaintop. Luckily, Jeff’s wife was along to speed Jeff up and save us from freezing. There would be other times. Times with puffy coats and hats and long underwear.

The next day was one of those times. Jeff and Ron took us around to all of their research sites around Thule, and also took us up atop P Mtn for lunch to get a good view of our surroundings. Maybe. We had a nice view of fog.

[One of the study sites.]

[Heading into it.]

In the afternoon, we went to check out the Greenland ice cap. A little part of it, anyway. We even walked on that little part. It was slushy. Our feet got wet. But it was worth it. We stood on a sled which had been abandoned after being used to drag supplies up onto the ice sheet for construction of Camp Century, a camp carved into the ice sheet to prove that we could do it. This is, like the construction of Thule, an interesting America Cold War story, so check it out if you’re into that sort of thing.

We were just into checking out the ice sheet. And, Quintin was into doing a hand stand. (He made the mistake of telling us that he used to do gymnastics. We’d already introduced ourselves twice by the time we got to Thule, so for our third round (with the grad students and Ron) Molly suggested we tell something about ourselves that the group didn’t yet know. Thus we learned of Quintin the gymnast.) (Probably not a mistake, really. I think he just wanted to be egged on a bit to do what he was too shy to do otherwise. Handstands on sleds on ice sheets, for example.) And, Darren was into doing a back flip. (Darren’s not shy. No egging on necessary. Backflip off sled onto ice sheet. Whatever.) There’s a great picture of Darren’s back flip, but he accidentally deleted it a couple days later along with about 300 other photos he’d taken, including one of him with a dead musk ox. Bummer.

I just sloshed through the slush. And laughed at them.

We spent Friday and Saturday rotating groups in half-day sessions, which for me meant I gave a little spiel about how GPS works in a classroom and then headed out with a group to South Mountain, one of the research sites. I did this once in the morning and once in the afternoon for two days. Needless to say, by Saturday afternoon my lecture was a little stale.

We spent the GPS sessions doing real work, which was nice. As in, we weren’t just doing a demonstration to see how the equipment works, we were collecting data that will hopefully be used. We mapped out the patterned ground resulting from repeated freeze-thaw of the soils. This concept is a little too hard for me to explain here, meaning I don’t really understand it. Basically, in cold places, the soil can freeze—the upper layer freezes and thaws while the deeper soil is always frozen, and the phenomenon is thus called permafrost. Repeated freezing and thawing actually results in sorting of the rocks and dirt, resulting in patterns on the ground.

[Ron explains the stripes behind him.]

[Ken with an even better view of the stripes.]

[An example of polygons. Photo taken in "Bird" valley, to be described later.]

We were joined by one of Ron’s grad students, Heather, which was great because she knows the area. I mean, because Heather’s just great. Both. Right. Anyway, since it was such a gorgeous day, and since our afternoon group was getting a little ornery, Heather suggested we go to BMEWS to take in the view.

BMEWS stands, I think, for Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, and is a radar site which was used to watch for the Soviets’ nukes. We didn’t actually go to the site. We went near the site, where there’s a great view of the bay north of Thule with three outlet glaciers spilling in. The glaciers drain Greenland’s ice cap, calving chunks of ice into the bay to float around teasing us because we had no kayaks.

[Ken, Quintin, Heather, and Trina.]

Luckily, the field work on Saturday was pretty much the same as the work had been on Friday, because I have no pictures of it. It was cold and windy and sometimes rainy. I told the afternoon group that they should let me know if any of them was getting too cold, because it wasn’t worth any of them getting hypothermic right before heading out to camp. I worked to drill in a marker with Derek, a UW field assistant hired for the summer, and when I went back over to check on the damp group there was a mild mutiny. “How’s it going?” I asked as I approached. “I think we’re done,” said Lucas. “We’re cold.” “It’s just not fun,” Darren said. I accused them of being weak, and all three said immediately that they were willing to stay out longer, but it really was pretty unpleasant out and we’d gotten a good amount done, so we headed home.

Besides, it was Saturday.

Posted by beth at 9:38 PM

July 11, 2005

Greenland Revisited

Greenland. I went once before, two years ago, and loved it (see July 2003). This time, I loved it more.

I wasn’t guaranteed to love it, mind you. I was loathing it. My third Arctic trip since getting back from the four-month stint in Antarctica. Not stoked. Ready to be warm. I mean, July—it’s supposed to be summer. Plus, it’s my birthday month. Spend my birthday with a bunch of almost-strangers again? Not that it’s a big deal, but it wasn’t feeling very inviting, either. And not only was I doing more Arctic stuff, but more training, which I was also feeling very done with. The whole project was a class, which merits a brief explanation.

The class, High Arctic Field Studies, was conceived of and run by biologist Jeff Welker, of University of Alaska, Anchorage, and geochemist/etc. Ron Sletten, of University of Washington. Their goal was to hold an interdisciplinary course to look at high arctic ecosystems, broadening students’ views of life/environment interactions while hopefully gaining a few insights themselves. Both have had research going on in northwestern Greenland for a while now, Jeff’s group looking primarily at the plants and Ron’s group looking primarily at soil and water. Each had students already working the better part of the summer up in Thule.

Thule merits some explanation, as well. Thule (pronounced Too-lee) is a U.S. Airforce base established to watch for Russian missiles in the 50’s. I’m not sure what the activities of the base are now, other than what I read on the dining hall tables—but I doubt anyone gets assigned to Thule to bowl or to participate in the first annual Thule duathalon (biking and running). Ron and Jeff stage their groups out of Thule for the summer, and it’s because of cooperation with the base that they are able to conduct their research there. The base makes their long field seasons and sometimes energy-heavy experiments feasible.

My role in the deal was to teach a GPS component of the course and to manage the GPS work, which included both installing and measuring markers to determine flow motions (I’ll explain later) and mapping out patterned ground (which will also be explained).

On Sunday, July 10, I flew to Schenectady, New York. My flight left in the morning, and of course I hadn’t gotten much sleep—besides the usual last-minute errands, I realized at midnight that my sleeping pad was at my friend John’s house in Denver and then, while packing after my return from his place, ended up opening my door to my next door neighbor who decided that 3:30 AM on a Saturday night would be a good time to introduce himself. My flight was delayed in Chicago, and I didn’t make it to the hotel in Schenectady until about 11 PM. Was up by 5:30 the next morning for transport to our flight from the 109th Air National Guard’s base. Actually, I was up an hour early, having mis-set my clock while fumbling the night before to set the alarm. Sweet. I chatted while waiting with Ken, a student starting his PhD at University of Alaska, Fairbanks. We know a person or two or maybe three in common. In fact, if you know anyone in or around or who has ever thought about Fairbanks, Ken probably knows them, too.

I managed to chat with one or two other people, and met Jeff, but when we got to the airbase and all the students were sitting in a circle chatting and getting to know each other while waiting, I retreated to the comfort of my day pack to lie down and take a little nap. The social thing just wasn’t happening for me yet. Especially with so many people. Twelve, to be exact. Jolene, Trina, Quintin, Darren, Erik, Lucas, Cynthia, Arlie, Patrick, Diana, Jessica, and Ken. Traumatic. Instead, I tried catching up on my sleep, there and then upstairs with my head down on a table after the guard gave us our briefing. One of the students, Quintin, was nice enough to politely wake me up when it was time to go back downstairs. I work hard on first impressions.

[Our C-130.]

The flight to Kangerlusuaq was long, and I also slept on that. I slept sitting up, and I slept folded over. I slept until the stopover in Goose Bay, Canada, to refuel, and then I slept from there to Kanger. Apparently this strengthened the others’ first impressions of me. I finally perked up in Kanger at dinner, which was pizza. And not just any pizza. One of the pizza had pineapple, bacon, and musk ox. After dinner, though, I played aloof again and let the students leave while I stayed on to chat with 109th’s colonel, Max, who I had met my first season in Antarctica and then again the following summer in Greenland. It was Max’s birthday, so I very graciously agreed to have a beer with him and his colleagues. Twist my arm.

We were scheduled to fly to Thule the next day, but were delayed. Instead, most of the group went on a long hike up around the hills and I stayed in to read about GPS. I figured it would be good to revisit the basics that I’ve been taking for granted to be able to give a better explanation during the class than I had during earlier trainings this spring. I guess I still hadn’t gotten enough sleep, though, because that’s mostly what I did. Everyone else came back from their ambitious hikes and 30-mile bike rides, and I woke up.

Dinner that night was a little disappointing (probably mystery meat, definitely at the cafeteria in town), but dessert was not. Did you know the Danish have such good ice cream? First of all, did you know that Greenland is affiliated with Denmark? An interesting (hi)story which I won’t get into. Regardless, the Greenland that I have experienced has been a cultural mix of Danish, U.S. (military, remember), and native. I say native last not because it’s not important, but because it has been overpowered by the other two in the only two towns I’ve been to. Anyway. Ice cream. Dessert was bear-shaped, chocolate-covered ice cream. Can’t go wrong with that. Creamy ice cream, as in probably made with real cream. Wow.

Posted by beth at 9:32 PM