Postcard from Upernavik, II

“Land of the Midnight Sun,” a tag-line for high latitude Alaska, conjures a false image of the far north because it suggests an occasional phenomenon, like the aurora borealis of winter. In fact, here summer is a time of *perpetual* sun. Consider that for Upernavikians (Lat 72N), the bright orb fails to set at all between early May and early August. And on the June solstice, when other places celebrate their longest day, the sun over Upernavik describes a perfect circle in the sky, boxing the compass at 41 degrees above the horizon.

The opposite is also true. Winter is one long wearisome night. So, now Upernavikians are taking advantage of this perpetual day by being perpetually active, by being out and about always.

On Arctic Tern our sense of time also warps. Inexplicably, dinner hour has slipped from 8PM to nearer 11, after which I walk the town. I pass kids playing a form of football in the ship yard. They have been playing all day. They kick a ball against the empty Royal Arctic containers stacked to one side of a large paved lot. On impact, it says, kapow!

Sometimes older kids take over from the young. They kick the ball from further back and with greater force, but they wear out. They retire to the sidelines for a smoke and to check their cell phones and then the little kids return. They kick the ball with an enthusiasm being released from its hibernation. Kicking, laughing, kicking. Kapow!

But they are not the only ones out. Adults walk the streets at all hours, Inuit women often arm in arm talking quietly. Men go purposefully to the harbor and return. A fork lift roars to life, trundles a pallet of goods from the wharf to the grocery.

At 1AM I crest the hill that holds the airport in place. All over town people are moving. Two fishing boats return to port; a charter leaves for a run to Illulisaat, delivering a group of scientists stranded in town by a week of fog. A knot of people gather at the pier to wonder at Arctic Tern. A more formal game of football is being played on the crushed-granite field outside the gymnasium. Even bergs are energetic, growling out from the Upernavik Glacier and pouring into the sea.

I am in my bunk by 2AM. The sun has just come from behind cloud. I have hung my oilies so they block the light into my berth, but I cannot escape the impression of sunup.

Then fireworks erupt from the other side of the town. Kapow! Kapow! The sledge dogs begin to howl.

One Comment on “Postcard from Upernavik, II

  1. Randall, we met I believe aboard Arctic Tern briefly after my swim in Aasiat. I am the skipper of Mollihawk’s Shadow (Kinsale Ireland)who was anchored below you. We are safely back in home port having had an exhilarating trip to the Arctic. I am enjoying your writings and following you closely.
    Good Luck to you and all aboard, please pass my best on to Les and Ali.

Leave a Reply