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A Midsummer For The Ages

It was 95 degrees today...take me back to the Arctic please.

It was bittersweet to leave the pack ice, but I was anticipating even more wonders. We returned to land in Nordauslandet, Sørvika. This area was strewn with debris. Our artist residency traveled to this beach 10 months prior and cleaned it of plastics only to see it in a similar state when we arrived.

It is disheartening that so much plastic, garbage, and fishing products end up on the beaches in the Arctic. The ship was able to haul a rusty, 55 gallon drum on deck while we were on our way to the pack ice. It was just bobbing in the open ocean. While there was a lot of plastic debris on this beach there were also large amount of drift lumber. These logs are escapees from the Siberian logging industry. Mainly taiga wood, the logs drift at sea for 3 years until they end up on the beaches of Svalbard.

We came back to this same landing in the afternoon and completed an invigorating hike. We hiked up and through a pass in order to view both fjords in the area. It felt great to be moving and expend some energy. The gravel landscape was so unique. It looked so purposeful even though the area was not often visited by people. It is simply the freezing and thawing that breaks apart the rocks, moving them around, creating patterns.

At our furthest out from the ship we took a break in a snow and fog filled valley. In an impromptu performance another resident and incredibly talented musician, Kate Schutt, recited The Cremation of Sam McGee, written by Robert W. Service.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.

Why he left his home in the South to roam 'round the Pole, God only knows.

He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;

Though he'd often say in his homely way that "he'd sooner live in hell."

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.

Talk of your cold! through the parka's fold it stabbed like a driven nail.

If our eyes we'd close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn't see;

It wasn't much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,

And the dogs were fed, and the stars o'erhead were dancing heel and toe,

He turned to me, and "Cap," says he, "I'll cash in this trip, I guess;

And if I do, I'm asking that you won't refuse my last request."

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn't say no; then he says with a sort of moan:

"It's the cursèd cold, and it's got right hold till I'm chilled clean through to the bone.

Yet 'tain't being dead—it's my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;

So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you'll cremate my last remains."

A pal's last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;

And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.

He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;

And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn't a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,

With a corpse half hid that I couldn't get rid, because of a promise given;

It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: "You may tax your brawn and brains,

But you promised true, and it's up to you to cremate those last remains."

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.

In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.

In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,

Howled out their woes to the homeless snows— O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;

And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;

The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;

And I'd often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;

It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the "Alice May."

And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;

Then "Here," said I, with a sudden cry, "is my cre-ma-tor-eum."

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;

Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;

The flames just soared, and the furnace roared—such a blaze you seldom see;

And I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn't like to hear him sizzle so;

And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.

It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don't know why;

And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;

But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;

I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: "I'll just take a peep inside.

I guess he's cooked, and it's time I looked"; ... then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;

And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: "Please close that door.

It's fine in here, but I greatly fear you'll let in the cold and storm—

Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it's the first time I've been warm."

There are strange things done in the midnight sun

By the men who moil for gold;

The Arctic trails have their secret tales

That would make your blood run cold;

The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,

But the queerest they ever did see

Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge

I cremated Sam McGee.

We left Sørvika for Raudfjordbreen. We spent the morning along the beach, directly up against the glacier. The ice was scattered all across the shore. It was incredibly beautiful. The glacier looked almost like marble, the melt, streaking across the face. It was a particularly sunny day and the face of the glacier resting on the beach was active. Similar to the floating ice at Fuglefjorden, it sounded like Poprocks. The smallest bits were cascading off the side of the glacier, crackling as they hit the ground.

In the afternoon we took a hike up the side of the glacier. It was perfect out. I found the texture and patterns the melt created on the surface of the ice. The mud absorbs light more than the surrounding ice, causing more melt, resulting in a dimpled surface where the mud rests. This made for a really wonderful crunching sound when we were walking over the glacier. As we sat on the glacier (eating cheese doodles), taking in the sun it was extremely peaceful.

To end our evening we anchored in Alicehamna and had ourselves a Midsummer for the ages. We gathered around a bonfire, had drink and snacks, enjoyed each others company. Our resident musician, Kate, gave a moving performance of some of her own songs, as well as a few covers. Several took the night (never-ending day) into the wee hours of the morning.

It was a wonderful place to be.

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