Winter Light and Polar Bear Prints, Point Hope, Alaska

Sun, 3 PM Dec 22, Point Hope_n

This photo was taken on December 22, 2012, a day in the midst of the month during which the sun does not rise above the horizon in Point Hope, Alaska. 

The sun dipped below the horizon 31 days ago on December 6 and did not rise again till yesterday, January 6. And yet, there was light each day, dim, brief, often breath taking.

We walked to the beach on one of those days when the sun didn’t rise. It was about 3:00 pm, and the sky was filled with shades of red, violet, amber and gold. The sea, which lies just 300 meters or so from our doorstep, is locked in ice. This time of year, polar bears are always a possibility as they roam the ice, searching for food.

Maia's hand in Polar Bear Track, Dec 22, 2012_n

Maia’s hand is dwarfed by a fresh polar bear paw print. 

Edging the beach where ice met land was a fresh set of polar bear tracks. The evidence that we share this environment with these magnificent animals was thrilling – but also a reminder that caution is in order. We scanned in every direction as far as our eyes would take us. No movement. The bear had probably passed through in the dark of early morning.

Polar Bear Tracks on South Beach Dec 22, 2012_n

Arctic foxes often follow polar bears in hopes of dining on scraps of the bear’s kill. Above, you can see the small paw prints of a fox near the bear’s tracks. Notice the tell-tale scrape marks in the snow on the forward edge of some of the bear tracks. Their long claws leave these scrapes as the bears amble along.

We waited and watched and listened. The wind moving over the seemingly endless frozen sea was all we could hear. In the distance to the east, we could see Cape Thompson’s snowy cliffs bathed in light etched against the pink horizon. As we walked along the edge of the sea, we found a murre, apparently exhausted, tucked into a snowy alcove against a bank of ice. The bird was lucky the fox had already passed by. Although the murre found the strength to take flight as we drew near, it is doubtful it went far. The Arctic winter is unforgiving.

Maia walking to ocean Dec 22 Point Hope II_n

Walking west, toward the sea, on a December day in Point Hope…

Daughter Maia was in the village for a two-week visit over winter break from college. Unfortunately, the Northern Lights didn’t cooperate, but the sky still put on some amazing displays.

Point Hope South Beach Dec 22 3 pm Nikon D90

34 thoughts on “Winter Light and Polar Bear Prints, Point Hope, Alaska

  1. I’m sure the pictures do not do it justice. In person I’m sure the sky’s are absolutely Breath Taking..You’re very lucky people:)

    • Before we got into photography (to the degree we’re now into it), we’d read about photographers and artists specifically going to places for the special light there. The Arctic is like that. Each day, we look forward to finding out what the light is going to be like.

  2. Wonderful shots and words on this one! I love seeing images that remind me of my days in the village. I hope you continue to take some shots as the winter progresses. Cheers and thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for the compliment. We will indeed continue to try to capture the winter as it unfolds and turns to spring. We’re really looking forward to getting out on the ice again. If you haven’t already taken a look at our posts about whaling and whaling camp, I think you’d enjoy them. Thanks for reading!

  3. Absolutely breathtaking! I’m from India and live in Dubai… this is such a change of pace. Every morning I look at your blog to be inspired and humbled. My husband and I dream of visiting Point Hope someday. I miss sharing life with nature back home. Thank you for all the inspiration 🙂

    • Thanks, Archie. Some years ago saw a film about fishing in the mountains in India… the river and the scenery were beautiful, and those images have remained in our minds. Also, the cities seem so vibrant and full of color. We would love to visit India!

  4. No polar bears here near Palmer, but lots of blacks and occasional grizz. Nature & the wildlife are part of why I love living in AK. My old bones aren’t enjoying the cold as much anymore, but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Beautiful pictures!

    • Thanks for reading, Amber! There’s a great line from the book (and movie) “A River Runs Through It.” The older brother suggests to his younger brother that he come with him to Chicago, to which the younger brother replies, “Oh, brother, I’ll never leave Montana.” That’s how we feel about Alaska. Can’t believe our good fortune to be up here!

  5. OH MAN! Polar bear!! Why didn’t you guys call me?
    Seriously, though. Beautiful description and winter light. Thank you for sharing a piece of Point Hope in December with us!

  6. Stunning…dazzling…incredible…radiant. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe those pictures of your Arctic sky. So I’ll just focus on the tracks and go with “how very beary”! Thanks for the great snapshots.

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