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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 July 22, 2005 5:46 AM


That is one fantastic beach and I am glad you made it into the water...would have been a shame just to look at it.

Thank you for sharing.

Posted by: Clark at August 17, 2005 6:26 AM