Sunday, 20 January 2019

Lake Jack London, in far eastern Siberia's Kolyma Mointains: probably the most beautiful in the whole world

The grandest beauty sometimes arises where you least expect. In this part of Siberia, a century ago, lame and squalid prisoners of the gulags were punished with forced labour by a regime that did not tolerate dissidents; they built here the "road of bones" on hundreds of skeletons - a repulsing ruin of the Soviet regime that still winds through a deserted and frozen landscape of rivers and mountains, taiga and tundra.

    Camp Dalstroy, a gulag on the upper basin of the Kolyma in the neighbourhood of the abandonned mining village of Sinegorye,  rose up to 200 000 prisoners packed in abject conditions. They worked in the Uranium and Gold mines and building the tragic road R5O4 to connect Yakutsk and Magadan.

    - but also here in the Kolyma ridge exists a blessed lake, a place of most harmonious nature and beauty like few in the world, a heaven: the lake Jack London, close to the source of the river, north of the harbour city of Magadan.
    This mountainous area, reaching its highest at Pik Aborigen (2 300 m), is now a large protected nature reserve. 

    Lake Jack London
    Озеро Джека Лондона
    Coordinates62° 04′ N, 149° 31′ E
    [same as the Faroe Isands or Ålesund]

    The waters of Lake Jack London are located at an altitude around 800 m. It's much smaller than the most celebrated Lake Baikal, but quite long - some 10 km from tip to tip, and about 50 m deep.

    Low banks, with forested soft slopes - mainly larch, dwarf pine (Pinus pumila) and spruce - that end in wetlands or less often in sandy beaches.

    Why 'Jack London' ?
    The Russian geologists were highly educated, and Jack London was famous worldwide at the time, in the beginning of the 20th century. Those who led the first expeditions to the Upper Kolyma - where they would discover the gold and uranium mines - finally chosed their favorite author to name the Lake, in 1932, under Peter Skornyakov's proposal.

    Reminds of a fjord in Norway.

    Colours are intense in the warmer season, a feast to the eyes:


    Birches, Poplars and Fir trees join the dominating Larches to a warmly coloured forest that contrasts with the pristine blue water.

    But these are very cold lands. In July, temperature can reach at most 12ºC, in Winter it frequently drops to -30ºC.

    Perfect reflections

    Blizzard over the waters still increases the sheer, exquisite beauty of the scenery:

    And at twilight, a sublime irreality breathes out over the place.

    A rarity can be found near the lake - the Yagel Forest - a tundra-like layer of moss and lichens up to 30 cm  tall.

    This part of Siberia has almost no native population, and there is almost no reindeer grazing. As a result, the “yagel forest” resists. 

    It's like virgin terrain, a primeval Earth ground.

    A bit more visisted, a few sand beaches attract fishing or adventure excursions.

    Seen from above, the lake displays a boomerang-like shape, with several capes and a few islets.

    Tuesday, 1 January 2019

    NASA quoted Ultima Thule !!

    Wow ! NASA called the very very remote cosmic stone visited by its probe New Horizon, launched in 2006, as 'Ultima Thule' ! What an honour to this Blog ! :)))

    Named technically as Kuiper Belt Object MU69, the asteroïd-like object beyond Pluto, in the outer edge of Solar System, deserved the special nickname reserved to new discoveries in farmost regions of the known world.

    The faint light is our Sun, as seen by a graphic artist from the newly named Ultima Thule.

    Monday, 24 December 2018

    Illustrated Selected Poems by Robert Frost: a most beautiful book gift

    This 2017 edition by Sterling (New York) of Robert Frost poetry, with woodcut illustrations by Thomas W. Nason, is one of those rare books you cheerfully keep forever, a pleasure to handle and slowly turn the pages.

    A Patch of Old Snow

    There's a patch of old snow in a corner
             That I should have guessed
    Was a blow-away paper the rain
             Had brought to rest.

    It is speckled with grime as if
             Small print overspread it,
    The news of a day I've fogotten
             If I ever read it.

    The Telephone

    "When I was just as far as I could walk
    From here to-day,
    There was an hour
    All still
    When leaning with my head against a flower
    I heard you talk.
    Don’t say I didn’t, for I heard you say—
    You spoke from that flower on the window sill—
    Do you remember what it was you said?"

    “First tell me what it was you thought you heard.”

    “Having found the flower and driven a bee away,
    I leaned my head,
    And holding by the stalk,
    I listened and I thought I caught the word —
    What was it? Did you call me by my name?
    Or did you say —
    Someone said ‘Come’ — I heard it as I bowed.

    “I may have thought as much, but not aloud.”

    “Well, so I came.”

    A Time to Talk

    When a friend calls to me from the road
    And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
    I don’t stand still and look around
    On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
    And shout from where I am, What is it?
    No, not as there is a time to talk.
    I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
    Blade-end up and five feet tall,
    And plod: I go up to the stone wall
    For a friendly visit.


    The Road Not Taken

    Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.

    Happy Christmas and many nice new readings!

    Friday, 7 December 2018

    The Lamp, the Ice and the boat called 'Fish' : an Arctic Yuletide gift

    The Lamp, the Ice and the boat called Fish is an illustrated book that tells an Inupiaq inuit tale: the story of the Karluk journey in the Arctic Sea as seen by a native girl's perspective.

    The Karluk (=fish) was one more whaler steamboat stuck in ice and then sunk as attempting an adventurous expedition in the far North. She sailed from Nome, northern Alaska, as part of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. Departing in 1913, the Karluk sailed north and stopped at Barrow (*), where a native Inupiaq family with a newborn girl, Mugpi (Makpii), joined the crew aboard to help with their knowledge and capabilities in Arctic ice surviving. 

    But after Barrow the Karluk was stranded by compact ice, then drifted westwards across the Chukchi Sea and finished sinking near Wrangel Island. Most of the crew from the ship set out for a journey through 130 km of pack ice to reach Wrangel's solid ground. There they built a camp and fought to survive, hunting and fishing until rescue finally came in September 1914. But few had made it. Disease, canned food poisoning, cold and accidents had taken the life of most. Among the 14 survivers was the Inupiaq family of four, and the ship's cat !

    Several serious books tell the story of the Karluk expedition; but the perspective of the native girl is what matters in "The Lamp, the Ice and the Boat Called Fish", an adaptation by Jacqueline Briggs Martin for children/teenagers with fantastic illustrations by Beth Krommes.

    Winter came early in 1913,
    and soon the captain
    was steering the ship between huge chunks of ice

    - some as big as houses.

    The crew and scientists used boxes and barrels
    to build the walls of a house on a large ice floe

    not far from the ship.

    One day in January 
    Kurraluk, Kataktovik, and five of the crew left to find Wrangel Island.
    The Inupiaq men knew how to travel ove sea ice with dogs and sleds.

    She had to wear goggles, too. Otherwise, the sun and snow
    would cause snow blindness. Some wore goggles of amber glass.
    Makpii didn't have to wear so many clothes
    because she rode inside her mother's parka.

    One morning in September
    Qiruk, Makpii and Pagnasuk fished for tomcod
    and caught enough for breakfast.

    Of course all ends well for Makpii, her Inupiaq family and the cat !

    Have a cosy, friendly, happy Yuletide !

    (*) now Utqiagvik


    Wednesday, 28 November 2018

    'Northern Lights' by Nancy Campbell

    As a Season's greeting, I offer this captivating and evocative poem by Nancy Campbell, an Arctic traveller and searcher who lives and works in Oxford but has done several artistic residencies at high latitudes - Upernavik, Ilulissat, Siglufjörður.

    Northern lights 

    Sometimes you can sense them,
    Guðny says. In winter she wakes
    at midnight to an intense silence
    as if the town is stalking itself,
    and she knows the skies will be bright
    as butter. She opens the window
    to feel the cold air rising from the snow
    and sits on the low sill, half-
    dreaming, watching the lights churn
    over the hills, whisky gold in her glass.

    When he's not working nights
    Björn likes to borrow Guðny's car
    and drive out of town. He believes
    you can always see the lights better
    in the next valley, but you have to hurry
    before they disappear. On the cliff road
    he'll switch the headlights off while his eyes
    adjust to the dark. Down by the fjord
    he stops, lies back on the warm bonnet,
    listening to the heat shields tick.

    When her husband's away at sea
    Alice often walks to the beach
    with her camera set to manual
    and a spare battery. If the tide's out
    she fixes a tripod among the small black rocks
    which smell of kelp. Each time the shutter clicks
    it captures new magnetic patterns. 
    Back home she patiently scrolls
    through hundreds of thumbnails,
    deletes them one by one, keeping the best.

    Far out on the North Banks
    the floodlit deck of Sindri's trawler
    is rich with fish. He heads for home:
    the lights of his town are hidden
    so it's good to see the aurora
    soaring over those mountains,
    and the slow sweep of the beam
    from Siglunes lighthouse to the east.
    A tiny satellite blinks above him
    collecting data for the storm report.

    Birna is tired, there's so much to do
    before the family visits. As she hangs
    glittering stars upon her tree 
    the weather forecast promises 
    perfect cloud cover, but tonight
    she's got no desire to look outside:
    the aurora will continue circling
    the world, and someone else will watch
    its fires dance, while she remembers
    the nights long gone.

    Christmans Lights, 
    Ten poems for Dark Winter Nights
    Candlestick Press, 2018