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

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Kolyma, the last of the four great Siberian Rivers


4. The Kolyma River

The Kolyma River forms from the confluence of Ayan-Yuryakh and Kulu rivers in the Kolyma Mountains, part of the Suntar-Khayata Range in southeastern Siberia.

It runs for 2 129 km, permanently winding along the mountainous and then flat tundra terrain as it flows nothernwards to the East Siberian Arctic Sea, at 69.5º N, 71.5º E.

Kolyma mountains

This is one of the most astoundingly beautiful wildernesses in the world, kept pristine by the limited presence of man. There are surely mines and dams and fuel-linked industries, but they are relatively confined to few locations near the infamous Road of Bones, between Yakutsk and Magadan. The mountainous sanctuary areas have been spared, and there lay the most precious Nature reserves, with glaciars, lakes and valleys.

Suntar-Khayata Range

The confluence of the two rivers in Suntar-Khayata happens near near Pik Aborigen, a peak at 61° 59' N, 149° 20' E.

Pik Aborigen, Пик Абориге́н

Few miles from its source, the Kolyma with Pik Aborigen in the background.

In its upper course the Kolyma flows through narrow gorges, deep canyons, with many rapids. Gradually its valley widens, as it flows more northernly through the taiga. The river is navigable upstream to Sinegorye, but the ice-free period is short: freezing lasts from late September until early June in the lower course. The breakup of the ice is accompanied by vast ice jams and widespread flooding.

Reindeer nomading, upper Kolyma

For the sparse population that lives in the basin, the river species are plentiful enough: sturgeon, Siberian white salmon, broad whitefish, Arctic grayling,  burbot. “For the neighborhood, this river is its daily bread”. Else, just moose meat - no vegetables here. This is one of the coldest rivers in the world.


The montainous region north of Magadan is crossed by the Kolyma Highway R504, also known as the 'Road of Bones'. The beauty of the landscape is amazing, one of the most magnificent Nature wildernesses in the planet; but it also has a very sorrowful and criminal story to tell, of gulags, of prisoners' forced labour and their massive death toll. Many were buried under the road pavement !

The sheer scale of the convict labour that was exploited is particularly evident in the hundreds of wooden bridges over rivers and streams, most of them now in ruins.

As the Kolyma receives an important flow from its tributary Indigirka river, in the proximity of Ust-Nera and Seymchan, it flows through landscapes which are among the most amazingly beautiful in Eurasia, as well as submitted to the most severe climate on the planet. In the area of ​​Ust-Nera is also located the Pole of Cold (Oymyakon) where cold has reached under -70ºC.

Right where the "Kolyma" highway R504 crosses the Indigirka river - itself a large and spectacular river-, Ust-Nera is a ruined gold mining settlement in the flat taiga region where most of the gold has been found.

The Indigirka at Ust-Nera, one of its few bridges

One of several ghost towns in the Kolyma basin.

From Seymchan to Zyryanka, the Kolyma starts widening, splitting into numerous branches, and permanently undulating through the swampy tundra.

This is the Kolyma Lowlands.

Futher north as it reaches the village of Kolymskoye, the Kolyma receives addtional water from tributaries that frequently cause huge flooding. In its final course, the river level can differ up to 14 metres.

Kolymskoye is a small Chukchi village of reindeer herders.


Chersky once was a strategic hub on the major supply route for northern Siberia. It was also the main base to support the Soviet Union’s Arctic expeditions and - most important ! - Moscow’s main military outpost in the area.

There were daily flights to Moscow and Yakutsk, the port was busy with barges and tankers; salaries were kept higher than in Moscow, though most labour in the mines was done by starving political prisoners transported in barges; many died of scurvy, maybe the most lucky.

Bur now the population shrank to 3000, ships and cranes are rusting, the airport ruined, the airstrip impraticable. Residential blocks were demolished or abandonned and left to crack under permafrost thawing.

Mounds of rubble, wrecked huge military installations and plundered storage facilities dot the area surrounded by the wild Arctic tundra. Chersky was a victim of democracy.

The only planes in Chersky are rusting on pedestals, decorating the squares.

Well,  the ugliness of man's transitory buildings versus the eternal wondrous beauty of wild Nature.

As it aproaches the Arctic Sea, the Kolyma flows smoothly through the flat tundra, creating multiple channels and islands that change unpredictably.

The Delta

The satellite view shows the delta of the Kolyma River with thousands of lakes.

The final breath: the Kolyma is hindered by a sandbar at its mouth.

Kolyma Gulf

This was the last of the four Great Siberia Rivers. Further towards the east, another river flows in a large basin, close to the Bering Sea: the Anadyr River. But this is a story I leave for later on.