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