The Colors Does It

August 12

Steve failed to wake me for the sunrise, but I’ll forgive him. Celia showed me the pictures and impressive though they are, I’m not sure the clouds have moved since the previous evening’s sunset, which all by itself took several hours to perform—and every time I sat down to type something Celia came back inside to tell me how different the light looked now, and even better than before—and I had to come outside to the back deck and take a look. She wasn’t wrong. The resurgences of the new day fell softly upon the slow death of the old, and I’m sure no one complained whose watch it was to work through, cleaning nets and flying the Mocness* in the midnight sun.

And now get to journey into a world of color again, if only for an evening and a day—all the yellows and oranges and shades not quite turquoise we needed, a breather from the grey on grey. The night watch gets to work through a sunset and a sunrise—thought isn’t that all the same thing here. The sun at best is giving the world a glancing blow, and the color gradients that Celia tells me really are changing, because look at the latest pictures, and I need to go back outside and see, “because it’s better than earlier.” It’s always better than earlier. I’m tired. I’m done with pictures. I should make a case that all my memory cards are full, that the portable hard drive and the thumb drive backups are stuffed and the laptop itself has begun to fit files into uncomfortable places. When I’m not looking, it shoves them onto the phone for safekeeping, which makes the Instagramming pretty, but then the phone and the laptop are dogging like they’re homesick.

Today, I began to pick on members of the science crew I feel are a little underserved by the current bursting-state of the photo archive on the ship’s server. I have their names written into my notebook. So, I spent a day stalking some of those who’ve shown skill at ducking behind machines as I approach.

I should tell Celia I’ve had to jettison all the videos and audio books and podcasts I brought with, erased from my own memory half my recollections of growing up in suburbia. They were all wrong anyway, the wrong parts sticking, and too many felt like photographs taken from angles that should have been impossible, or backwards. Now need the space for sunset panoramas, the 11-photo-stitched 200 megabyte vistas that—well, where are they ever going to be printed larger than my head?

But Celia’s right. The sunset does keep getting better. One band of color gives way to another, and then the sun pops out and then it goes away again, but not in a sad way, because there it is again and we didn’t have to wait a whole day, and now a blue cool chunk of ice comes into the frame like an actor making an entrance from stage right. It’s a float on part, but where it falls across the bands of light, I just hold down the motor drive. The camera’s so hot the frames are going to stick together. Now I have to look over the gunwales to see what’s coming next, what in this parade of blue and white party floats is trying for their once in life time cameo. Don’t look at the sun; time’s shorter than it would lead you to believe. Not a floe changes course to avoid me. For this I thank them.

Eventually I go to bed.

And behold, the sun is still there in the morning, and beaming in my porthole when I open my eyes. I live in Fairbanks right, so I don’t even bother shutting the curtains when I fall asleep. If I’m ready for sleep, I sleep.

The winch is what wakes me up anyway, generally. Cal’s and my stateroom is the farthest aft, right up against the CTD control room. The winch is two decks down, but the Baltic room is just a deck away and the great big door that opens in the side of the ship to let the CTD out takes a minute to open or to close on hydraulics. Then the boom that tracks out is louder still. It’s really quite okay. The night watch stations are only every couple of hours and most of time I sleep right through them.

So, maybe it’s not the sunlight and not the winch. Probably breakfast then. The aroma of bacon and eggs sunny side up floods under our door at the same time every day, like the best of alarm clocks, smells so rich you can see the colors. The kitchen is right across the corridor, taking up most of the width of the ship, this deck, this far aft. We don’t need much room to sleep, not with sunsets and sunrises, and fresh berries (still) at breakfast.

Cal’s not in the lower bunk this morning, so he’s still on deck with the night watch. He’ll go to sleep shortly after breakfast. He’s Alaskan through and through. He leaves the light on, and sometimes even the door open, because, this is a skill.

Which is all just preamble to the really big news of the day. We are going to fish, and Jennifer and Mike will take point on the Tucker Trawl. The acoustic sounder is hung on the net and will allow them to target the depth at which the ship’s echo sounder says the fish are.

And for the first time this trip I’m shooting photographs in the sun, which feels odd, to finally be able to drop the iso. I also have to contend with hard shadows.

But the paint and the rust on the trawl’s doors look great in the direct, raking light, and the odd ice floe passing behind everyone to remind us where we are.

The trawl doors are shaped like airplane wings but work like kites—underwater. While they swim behind the boat, they open as far laterally as the bridal allows, until the net’s mouth is some 10×12 meters wide. The amount of wire let out depends on the depth of the water. Today, the wire goes out more than 700 meters. I suppose that’s like seven and a half football fields, if that is something people have a sense of the length of anymore. I dream of a day we can think in terms of things much larger.

The wire and the net and the doors put more than 2 tons of load on the winch, and in the end, we’ll catch mostly jellies. The fish, the arctic cod, when we do go after the right water, will only be a few inches long. This is a test run today, the first time the ‘fish people’ have got the team working on the deck with the big net. We’ve chosen this spot on the chance we’ve found a lake in the ice field. The lake’s not where we want to be—but it’s open water.

And I need to worry about where the sun is, at noon as well as sunset.


*MOCNESS: Multiple Opening and Closing Net Environmental Sampling System


You can also follow the R/V Sikuliaq @rmtopp@Sikuliaqon Twitter and @toppworldon Instagram and @R/V Sikuliaq on Instagram and Facebook. To further chart the course of this August 2018 expedition, look up Arctic Winds, Fish, Fins, and Featherson Facebook.

—Thanks to the R/V Sikuliaq, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and the National Science Foundation.

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