Friday, August 31, 2007

Above The Tree Line ...

Tundra And Mountain Views, Near Pangnertung

The day we flew out of Ottawa we left a rain soaked, green landscape ... lots of trees and farmland. We headed almost due north to Kuujjuaq (sounds like koojoowac), a settlement of about 2,000 people, off Ungava Bay, where we boarded the ship. It once was an American military base (where haven't we been?), located in Nunavik, the province of Quebec's northermost region of about 500,000 square kilometers.

When we landed, it was to a completely different landscape of rock and trees only several feet high. It was a misty, gray day and clearly we had already passed above the tree line where trees grow only in stunted forms.

The next morning when I woke I saw no trees in sight. It wasn't until several days later when we went ashore, that I discovered the trees ...

Willow tree with hand to show scale

These trees, only inches tall and laying almost flat on the ground, can be very, very old. This is big sky country for sure ... if you were landing with a parachute it could be painful if you landed in a rocky area.

The tundra on the other hand is soft and spongy where I sat down and took the next photo of some Arctic grasses ... a lovely spot for a nap.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Polar Bears ....

I have to start this post by saying I did not photograph this bear on this trip. I took this shot in 2002 while on my first Arctic expedition. We were on a different ship at the time, cruising through the Svalbard Archipelago, some 600 miles south of the North Pole. Ice was very much in evidence. We saw numerous bears on that trip. They are fine swimmers but cannot swim very long distances. They need be on ice floes in order to hunt for the ringed or bearded seals that are the mainstay of their diets. With global warming the ice is melting earlier and forming later every year. The bears become stranded on land far from the ice pack. Though they may feed on ducks and geese or even berries, with loss of their ice habitat and the thick blanket of fat a diet of seals provides beneath their fur, they are in danger of starving and have difficulty reproducing. We did not encounter ice floes like this on this trip, but we were much farther south, even though we were above the Arctic Circle at times.

However I did see two polar bears on this last trip one early morning before breakfast, when we loaded into the Zodiacs and made our way through the Lower Savage Islands. The name of these Islands is apt ... they are cold and bleak. It was windy, foggy and sleeting at the time, sometimes heavily, so I did not bring my camera along, only binoculars. Though I was mostly warm, I had brought the wrong gloves with me and by the end of the hour and a half long trip I thought I would lose some fingers. I had also packed the wrong rainpants, throwing in an old pair of light weight ones instead of the the heavy duty ones I would have packed if I'd had my head on straight. We stayed in the Zodiacs the whole time, no walking, no moving around. I thought about how one might survive in an environment such as this if we couldn't make it back to the ship. I came away with a deep respect for the Inuit peoples who inhabit this land.

For birds on this stop we say Fulmars, Black Guillemots, Red Throated and Common Loons, Eider ducks, Glaucous Gulls and a small bird called a Northern Wheatear.

For more info on Polar Bears go here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The First Couple of Days ....

Arctic Cotton

The first couple of days on board ship, I was fighting a sore throat, runny nose, you name it .... so I didn't go off with the rest in the Zodiacs, hoping I'd win the fight with the germs and have some healthful days ahead! Well, ha, ha on me! I'm still sick with bronchitis after all that, so I'm glad I gave up and finally went about doing what I could do!

It's a busy schedule on board the Explorer. You might think, well, there she was sleeping and relaxing, perhaps reading a good book ... but hey, this was about
EXPLORING and going on EXPEDITIONS ashore to learn about the local culture and perhaps to catch a glimpse of some local wildlife. In between trips there were lectures to attend about the flora and fauna of this place called the Arctic, movies directed and produced by one of my favorite expedition leaders, Culturalist, John Houston, (not to be missed) and new friends to be made in the lounge over a brew or glass of wine. Dinners were mostly late .... 7:30 to 8 PM, and most nights I tumbled into the sack after my last bite. I sometimes read for a few minutes before falling sound asleep, lulled by the motion of that big cradle I was living in. Instead of fighting the pitch and roll, I decided it best to just go with the flow and sure enough, within a few minutes, I'd be out cold.

At around 6:30 AM, we'd be awakened by the voice of Head Trip Leader, Matthew Swan, over the intercom, telling us when breakfast would be served and when we would be expected to climb into the Zociacs for a cold, early morning excursion to shore; whether it would be a dry or a wet landing (you had to dress accordingly); what the temperature of the air and water was in Celcius; and of course the "Rock Report," by none other than, head rock hound and a Senior Research Scientist at the Geological Survey of Canada, Marc St-Onge, who has to be one of the happiest, most enthusiastic (mostly about rocks) people I've ever met. He would usually give a two or three word quip for the geologists and the rest of us who were interested, about which ancient "craton" we might find evidence of when we went ashore. (For the uninformed, a craton is a continental landmass created some 1.8 billion years ago, during a period of global amalgamation of the then existing continental landmasses.")

Lunch was always a full meal with an appetizer, a main course and dessert. After a while I had to ask for just a salad which was always a huge, fabulous concoction of fresh greens and vegatables with cheese or chicken or smoked salmon. The food was good, especially the soups. There was fruit available at all meals, but because fruit doesn't last a long time, there wasn't the variety I was used to. Anyway, I was really afraid I'd come home looking like a blimp! I still haven't weighed in and won't until I have a couple of week's worth of green smoothies for breakfast under my belt ... I am getting there! What I don't know won't hurt me, is my attitude toward vacation weight gain!!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lovely Ottawa ....

To Begin at the beginning, Bill and I spent a couple of nights in Ottawa, capital city of Canada, before we left for the Arctic. We flew in just as the sun was setting into a moderate sized airport surrounded by farms. On the way into the city, I enjoyed the mild evening air blowing on my face and the sound of crickets and cicadas singing just as I hear them here at home. The sides of the road were uncut and green, dotted with Queen Anne's Lace and other late summer wild flowers. The city is so green and spacious I didn't realize we were there until we were smack downtown in the middle of it all.

The next day we watched the changing of the guard at the Parliament
and took a fascinating city tour to learn more about our surroundings. We do this every time we go to a new city and find it really helps to get ourselves oriented as to where we are and what interesting sights we might like to return to at another time.

Though Ottawa is definately inland, there is water everywhere. The Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers plus the Rideau Canal Waterway provide water access throughout the city to those with kyaks and other small boats. In the cold northern winters the water level of the canal is lowered and people are able to skate to their places of work. There are bike paths everywhere and on Sundays, certain scenic parkways throughout the city are shut down to car traffic so that bikers and roller bladers can view the wonderful gardens so beautifully planted throughout the city. In the winter those bike paths become cross country ski trails.

There is a huge government run farm in the middle of it all where experimental crops are grown and school kids can go and learn all about where "Pizza" really comes from ... NOT Papa John's or Pizza Hut ... but the fields where the wheat is actually grown (for the crust) and the rest of the ingredients are grown. The children apparently get see pizza being prepared and to have a taste before they leave.

There are green belts galore and it is really difficult to feel that you are in a city when you visit Ottawa. It is quiet and so green ... I figure a country girl like myself could live in a city like this. I wonder if they would allow me to have a few chickens??? I was told that before I get real interested in moving to Canada I should visit in the winter!!! Oh, well!

There are many museums. The most fascinating to me was the Museum of Civilization which we didn't get a chance to see, but hopefully we will on our next visit ... yes, we plan to go back and do some more exploring at some future time.

Just a few blocks away from the middle of the city is a wonderful market where you can buy food, plants and just about anything else you might want. The veggies and fruit sure looked good. You apparently have to live within 75 miles of the city in order to sell produce at the market.

We bought a cup of berries for a late afternoon snack!

In the coming days this would be the last of the berries we would see, except I did get to taste a handful of warm blueberries that I picked myself on the the tundra in Greenland on our last day!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Back On Solid Ground ...

the little ship, M/S Explorer

This ship was my home for the past two weeks. I went on board on August 6th and disembarked for the last time on Sunday, the 18th. Though I am back on land, I still occasionally feel the pitch and roll of being at sea. I was one of the fortunate ones who didn't get seasick, but did catch a cold and am still dealing with the remnants of that. The first week we had cold rain and some heavy seas ... the lecture hall and the dining room were often sparsely populated. The second week was quite mild with the sun peeking in and out between clouds, a few light showers and occasional glass smooth seas.

The Explorer holds 104 passengers and 53 officers, crew and staff. We plied the waters of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Most of the passengers were Canadians with a handful of Americans like myself and one Aussie. A number of the passengers have traveled on this ship before and continue to return every year or so to explore the magic of the Canadian Arctic. They are victims, like myself, of a disease called "Arcticus Feverous."

Our route at through the Canadian Arctic

This particular trip was entitled Rock Odyssey, because 30 or so of the passengers were geologists on a field trip for the Geological Survey of Canada. They came with maps and words most of us couldn't understand but did give us a basic understanding of 'plate tectonics' or how the earth came to be the way she is today through the movement of large, thin, but rigid pieces of the earth's outer layer which form the continents we are familiar with. And come to find out, it isn't over ... our continents are still drifting and pushing about, causing
earthquakes, tidal waves and eruptions that fortunately most of us
have not experienced.

Once on board ship we stopped frequently, traveling by Zodiac, to visit particularly interesting geological sights or small villages where the Inuit people of Northern Canada live. It was an amazing, life changing trip for me and I hope to share my experiences over the next days through this blog and my photos.

Loading the Zodiacs

Stay Tuned for more over the next days ....

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Lost Language Of Plants ...

Bhudda Garden, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

I am off tomorrow for points north. I'd like to leave you with this quote I found in a wonderful book, The Lost Language Of Plants, by Stephen Harrod Buhner.

"It is only when we are aware of the earth and of the earth as poetry that we truly live. Ages and people which sever the earth from the poetic spirit, or do not care, or stop their ears with knowledge as with dust, find their veins grown hollow and their hearts an emptiness echoing to questioning. For the earth is ever more than the earth, more than the upper and the lower field, the tree and the hill....It is this earth which is the true inheritance of man, his link with his human past, the source of his religion, ritual and song, the kingdom without whose splendor he lapses from his mysterious estate of man to a baser world which is without the other virtue and the integrity of the animal. True humanity is no inherent right but an achievement; and only through the earth may we be as one with all who have been and all who are yet to be, sharers and partakers of the mystery of living, reaching to the full of human peace and the full of human joy."

Henry Beston, Herbs And The Earth

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Honors ...

Balloon Flower After The Rain, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

Becca, over at Becca's Byline has honored me by mentioning me on her list of "reflective" bloggers. I feel quite humbled by this, as Becca is one of the bloggers who really inspires me and keeps me writing.

Along with her and the others on her list, I would like to include many more inspirational bloggers that I haven't even met yet but are included in the new Artful Blogging magazine hot off the press today. Among them is my friend Susan from Visual Voice. I got to see an issue last week when Susan was visiting and it is truly beautiful and a whole new way to hook up with so many creative people. You may even find someone there that you already follow! Congratulations to all of those who were selected!!