A Moment of Reflection

Several days later, tired from the pressures of field work and knowing I would be leaving shortly to return home, I decided to take the day off. Packing a small lunch, I struck out west with the prevailing wind, following along the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean. Walking briskly, the village quickly slipped into the background. After four or five miles, Tom Gordon's abandoned warehouse came into view. Tilted precariously at the edge of a high bluff a few scant feet from the sea below, it looked like it was going to topple over at any moment, forever stilling visual reminders of the 1930s when Gordon traded commercial goods and foods for furs along this part of the coast.

A few miles farther on, standing at edge of a long sandspit, I stopped and gazed at the foundations of several ancient Iñupiat sod houses, their base logs almost completely covered by sand. Stepping inside the entryway, I bent down, and after runni ng my hand through the sand several times, turned up a cracked wooden bowl partially held together by sinew, along with the rim of a birch bark basket - all that was left of what had no doubt been a trade item obtained from Athabascan Indians. Continuing another mile or so out to the end of the sandspit my pace slowed and finally stopped. In front of me was the Arctic Ocean. Behind me lay a tiny thread of sand.

Listening carefully, I heard the sound of the waves gently lapping against the curving line of beach. Somewhere far to the north a large unbroken mass of ice stretched endlessly out to sea, engaged in a continuing struggle with the sun over the distributi on of its frozen cargo. To the south, thirty or so miles away, the snow-capped peaks of the Brooks Range rose sharply toward the pale plue sky. It seemed as though I had stepped through history into another world untouched by human endeavor. The landscape , constant, enduring, permanent, showed no sign of being either friendly or unfriendly. It was simply there, silent and still.

Turning around, I became aware of a slight easterly breeze pulling gently at the hood of the parka covering my head. Many millennia ago, peoples out of Asia once walked this way on their long journey to Canada and Greenland. They too, saw the same mountai ns rising in the sky, watched the same sea carving its imprint on the shore, and sensed the same easterly wind brush against their face. Of their human traces, little remains. Nevertheless, standing quietly along the Arctic shore, I felt a close bond with those earlier travelers to this new world.