This November 19, 2011 sunset looking out over a Chukchi Sea nearly frozen solid reminded us of a Mark Rothko painting. The quality of light in the far north is often breathtaking.
I made this photo just a few feet from my home in Chignik Lake. The challenge was to somehow clean up the assortment of utility poles, wires, satellite dishes and the dissonant array of scrub alder closer to eye level. I actually knew as soon as this assignment (Winter Landscape in Black and White – the second weekly assignment from Outdoor Photographer magazine) was posted the scene I wanted to shoot. I put on a long lens, waited for the right light, and got this frame.
Next Thursday: Patterns of Winter
Abstract #4: Parallel Worlds – Among new projects in 2017 is a commitment to taking on the “Weekly Photo Assignment” challenge at Outdoor Photographer magazine. The first new assignment for 2017 was Winter Macro.
Abstract #4: Fracture – For the first time in perhaps five years, our lake, Chignik Lake, has frozen solid. The first day it was reasonably safe to walk on the ice, it was incredibly clear.
Abstract #9: Galaxy – As I walked around scanning the bottom for fish and aquatic insects, here and there I noticed bubbles trapped in the clear ice.
Next Thursday: Winter Landscape in Black and White
Bowhead whale mother and child: Walrus tusk ivory with bowhead whale baleen eyes set on bowhead whale baleen. The baleen is scrimshawed with marine animals commonly hunted for subsistence by the Inupiat people of Point Hope, Alaska.
As we’re preparing to leave Point Hope, we wanted a piece of local art to take with us – something that captures the spirit of Tikigaq (the traditional name of this village). Henry Koonook is both an outstanding carver and a friend, and so we commissioned this piece.
Detail, scrimshaw on baleen of ringed seal and walrus.
Henry still does most of his work with hand tools, using local natural media.
The entire piece measures about 11″ x 3″. Henry Koonook’s signature and the year the piece was created are visible in the lower right corner.
Bowhead whales constitute a vital part of the subsistence-based hunting and gathering culture in Point Hope. (Their numbers, which plummeted during the days when whaling boats from the world over pillaged the Chukchi Sea, are growing at a steady pace in recent years.) Seals and walruses are also culturally important. We are happy to take with us to our new home this piece of art that represent this beauty of this Arctic village by the sea.
The dancers in this short video are 6th grade students at Tikigaq School in Point Hope, Alaska, an Inupiat village 200 miles above the Arctic Circle. They are performing traditional songs and dances, passed down through the generations, sung in their native language.
The annual school Christmas program in Point Hope is a little different than in most communities. Yes, there are seasonally popular songs and carols, but many of them are sung in Inupiaq, the language of the Tikigaqmuit, the Inupiat Eskimo people of this small whaling community on the edge of the Chukchi Sea. There is also lots of drumming, singing and dancing performed according to traditions that extend back in time beyond memory. The drums – which resonate much more loudly than one might suspect them capable of at first glance – are made from material such as the membrane of sea mammal organs stretched over wooden frames. The beautiful mukluks (boots) many of the participants wear are hand sewn from seal, caribou, beaver and other natural materials.
The dances celebrate the past and the present. Aaka Irma (Irma Hunnicutt), who volunteered her time to come to our school and teach the students these dances, has an honored place as an elder in this village. Although the students speak mainly English in their day-to-day lives, these celebrations give them the opportunity to honor their language and heritage. This is a place where traditions are still passed down generation to generation; where some of the clothing and much of the food is still provided by the surrounding land and sea; where traditions are alive and vibrant and honored.
On this occasion, the students and Aaka Irma invited their classroom teacher to dance with them.
Wind and cold sculpted this mixture of sea spray and snow into a delicate arch. The sea ice has been late in coming to the Chukchi Sea this year. This photo was taken at 3:00 p.m. with the winter sun already skimming low on the horizon. Our month of day-long darkness will begin December 6.
The thick, slushy sea ice hisses and softly moans as it moves with the current past ice already frozen fast to shore. The hissing is vaguely reminiscent of a soft autumn breeze filtering through the dry leaves of oaks and maples in my native Pennsylvania. The moans sound like the muted voices of whales deep below the sea. All else is still, the ice stretching out as far as one can see. There is no wind, and there is no other sound.
This sea jelly, entombed in shore ice, is about the size of a polar bear’s paw.
We searched for signs of life, perhaps a seal out on the ice or a snowy owl coursing the shoreline, or even the tracks of an Arctic fox. There is nothing, just the steady hiss of the ice as it flows before us. We walk along the pebbled beach for maybe a mile and finally spot a small group of ravens. Tough birds, making a living up here during the winter.
If you look closely among the rocks along the Point Hope Beach, it’s common to find jade. Less common are fragments of mastodon tusks.
Thick ice prevents the shore from eroding during winter storms. Polar bears depend on the ice to hunt seals. Things are changing up here. The ice seems to be coming later, and there is less of it. Red foxes are becoming more common, pushing out their smaller Arctic cousins. Once winter truly locks up the sea and the sun sinks below the horizon, there is no place on earth that is quieter. It is cold and stark but beautiful.
We don’t always take our big cameras along on walks. Today we relied on “Little Blue,” our Cannon PowerShot D10, our trusty point and shoot.
Fashioned from polar bear fur and finished with intricate beading, this Inupiat yo-yo has transcended it’s traditional purpose to become art. Based on a bola design, in olden times tools like this were made of rocks tethered together with sinew and were used to catch birds.
Beautifully crafted by Molly Oktollik, one of the elders here in the village of Point Hope, Alaska, this Inupiat “yo-yo” isn’t what most of us envision when we hear the word yo-yo. In former times, they were made of rocks held fast on sinew tethers and in the right hands were a formidable tool for catching birds. Ptarmigan, for one species, are often easy to get close to, and ducks and sea birds returning to their headland roosts typically fly in on a low trajectory.
These days yo-yos are crafted as pieces of art, or, when less elaborate, as toys. It takes a certain skill, but the two ends can be made to rotate in opposite directions – that is, with one end revolving around the center handle clockwise, and the other revolving counterclockwise. It’s a pretty cool trick if you can get it to work.