Point Hope, Alaska, along the south beach: An Arctic fox is silhouetted in the gold of a late fall sunset.
On Wednesday, December 5, the sun will rise at 1:37 pm. It will climb for just 19 minutes and 30 seconds before it begins to descend. At 2:16, it will sink beneath the ice-sheeted sea. It will not rise above the horizon again for 28 days. During this time, afternoon twilight will be the extent of our natural light. Cold and darkness will clamp down hard on our village. The Arctic winds this time of year can make a well-built house shudder.
The photo above and the next two are of an Arctic fox we found hanging around the deserted Old Town site of Tikigaq a mile or so west of Point Hope three weeks ago. They’re intelligent, inquisitive animals and will sometimes approach quite close.
In mid fall, foxes and snowy owls show up in numbers near the village. They patrol the beach for fish and whatever else may have washed up and they hunt the tundra for voles and squirrels. As the days grow short and the real cold sets in, they scatter.
This one is very likely out on the sea ice now, scavenging the remains of seals killed by polar bears. These foxes often travel vast distances during the course of a winter in search of food.
Caribou have moved down from the hills, and sometimes we see them now out on the tundra a few miles east of town. Wolves follow the caribou, and a few hardy ravens manage to scratch out a living throughout the winter. Every so often, we see a flock of murres – seabirds – heading out in search of open water.