Email from the Arctic

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Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail I got recently:

“Just wanted to let you know it’s going down to -43 Celsius here tonight with wind chills around 2600. For the metrically impaired that’s around -80F. It’s off the scale of my wind chill chart, anyway.”

Cabin fever’s a tricky disease. It’s not just a frustrated desire to get outside and enjoy yourself. It’s more a creeping depression brought on by getting sick of a monochromatic world in which the only things we can do are what’s left when everything else has been taken away.

“Helen’s been putting vegetable scraps out on the deck. We have three arctic hares that come around every evening and sit, munching away, about 20 feet from the window. They’re huge, especially since they keep their fur fluffed up for warmth.”

It’s always helpful to me, on those days while our world hovers between mud and ice, to receive e-mail from my friend Larry Whittaker in Kugluktuk, Nunavut, on the north coast of Canada at 67¿ north. The return of his sun is so much more dramatic than ours, and his joy so palpable, it makes our problems seem pretty puny by comparison.

Larry’s house sits on a bluff above the mouth of the Coppermine River. Its windows face the sea and the river. Water comes by truck, sewage leaves by another. Electricity is from a diesel power plant and communications by satellite dish, telephone, fax, and e-mail; very up to date. Larry sells radios and has a website, which you can visit to see pictures of Kugluktuk. And lest you think all he’s doing at 80 below is hunkering down, here’s more:

“I built two wooden trays. They’re painted black to absorb solar heat, and sized to fit on the south-facing dining room window ledges. I’ll plant 30 each of tomatoes, cucumbers, and cantaloupe around the third week of April and move them to the greenhouse in mid-June. My earthworms have been busy all winter, converting grass clippings into compost. The little devils have munched their way through 5 trash bags of clippings and produced about 50 pounds of compost, which will make about 100 pounds of potting soil. I’m also going to start cabbages and cauliflowers.”

Obviously there’s no grass growing under Larry’s feet. There couldn’t be at that latitude. But it’s wonderful to have his experiences to put ours into perspective. His sunlight is returning faster than ours. Still, even he imagines what it’s like farther north. On March 24th the North Pole gets 24 hours of sunlight, and as he says, “It must be quite spectacular to see the rapid changes at the top of the world.” Helen, he reports, has now named one of the arctic hares Buster, and almost tamed him. And their son, he says, has stopped “throwing things at them, which is a nice change.”

“I hope hearing about our weather makes you all feel better.”

It does, Larry. Thanks!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

–Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.

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