We were in the calm between the storms when I took this photo. It gives a good look at life on Alaska’s tundra. The airstrip for the village is in the background, with the hanger, housing the grader/snowplow, on the horizon. A plane had not been able to land for several days, and it would be several more before one came in. People were going about their business: walking or riding a four wheeler or snowmachine. Dogs roamed about, on their own personal business, as well. “Bear”, my seemingly constant canine companion, was sitting in the snow at my side, taking in all the action with me.
It’s been a warm winter so far for Interior Alaska. The low temp for this winter season was officially -29F at the airport. At this same point last year, we already had seen two weeks worth of -30 or colder. We have not hit that mark yet, although I have seen a few -30F degree mornings at the cabin.
The winter started out with some decent dumpings of snow, but that tap has been turned off since mid-November. We have had a total of 5″ since November 16. That is well below the average of 22.4″ during that period. The record snow over that same time frame is 86.8″, which fell during the 1970-71 season.
Anchorage and Fairbanks combined have had 8/10 of an inch of snow over the past two weeks. By comparison, and I’m enjoying this, several towns in Texas have had more snow the past two weeks: Austin with 1.3″; Midland: 3.2″; Waco: 4″; College Station: 4.5″; Lubbock: a whopping 7.6″! Congrats on the snow.
Airmen out of Elmendorf AFB take packages by dogsled into the village of Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island. It was -20F when they unloaded their C-123, Christmas Day, 1963. The huskies look to be getting impatient.
In 1921, Ada Blackjack had been abandoned by her husband outside of Nome, Alaska with a five year old son who suffered from tuberculosis. She needed money to care for her son, so she joined an Arctic Expedition to Wrangel Island, which was being put together by explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson. The expedition sought an Alaska Native seamstress who spoke english. Ada was hired on, and left for Wrangel Island in September 1921.
The expedition itself, was on thin ice from the very beginning. The goal was for the team to travel to Wrangel Island to claim it for the British Empire, even though the British government had shown little interest in the island previously. Stefansson, who organized the entire expedition, had no intention of going himself. Instead, four men: Allan Crawford, 20, Lorne Knight, 28, Fred Maurer, 28, and Milton Galle, 19, went with Blackjack, 23, and Vic the cat, age unknown, to claim the island.
The team had enough supplies to last six months, although Stefansson assured the expedition members that wild game would be easy to find.
The first year went relatively well, but by the end of autumn 1922, game had suddenly diminished from the island. By January 1923, the expedition was in trouble. Crawford, Maurer, and Galle left on foot across the sea ice to Siberia for help. Knight, who was suffering from scurvy, was left behind with Blackjack and Vic. The three men who went out on foot were never seen or heard from again. Ada cared for the ailing Knight for six months, until his death in June.
For the next three months, Ada Blackjack was alone on the island. She trapped fox, shot birds, and patrolled for polar bear. She even used the expedition camera gear to take selfies outside of camp.
On August 20, 1923, almost two full years from first arriving on Wrangel Island, the schooner Donaldson arrived to rescue the last surviving member of the expedition. The crew found Blackjack doing quite well for herself, stating: she “mastered her environment so far that it seems likely she could have lived there another year, although the isolation would have been a dreadful experience.”
Blackjack took her money from the expedition, which was less than promised, retrieved her son, and avoided the spotlight. Stefansson profited greatly from the failed expedition, but none of that money went to Blackjack. She spent much of her adult life in poverty. She did remarry, and had a second son, Billy. Bennett died in 1972 at the age of 58 from a stroke. Ada Blackjack passed away on May, 29 1983 at the Pioneer Home in Palmer, Alaska. Blackjack is buried at the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery, next to her son Bennett.
Part III: “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of food.”
This is the third part of the After the Ice series. The video is less than 6 minutes long. Part III delves a bit into the Arctic Report Card, which is an annual assessment, and how our local Arctic population is finally getting a seat at the climate table.
The weather gurus have told us to expect temps to drop below 0F the past few nights, but the expected mercury drop has not occurred. One night, I stoked up a nice fire in the stove, and ended up opening windows.
Now the low temps being forecast are back up into the upper teens. The below zero weather will arrive, but we’ve received a bit of a reprieve.
October started out fantastically mild. Fairbanks even saw three consecutive days over 60F, which is quite rare. As in, three times in the past 100 years, rare. The high temps have consistently been 10-15 degrees above average.
For the next week, lows are looking to be in the low to mid teens, and highs hovering around freezing. I think The Pond will remain coated with ice until the spring. Of course, we can certainly hope for some strong Chinook Winds, which drive our temps upward.