Greetings from Kangerlussuaq! I’m an incoming IGERT/Earth Sciences student spending the summer helping Julia with her field season. We arrived in Kanger just four days ago, but already it feels like we’ve seen so much!
During our first few days out in the field, Julia and I have been doing a lot of hiking and driving (in our photogenic red squeaky truck) in order to scope out the scene and give me a feeling for the landscape. At this point, I am trying to absorb as much as possible, to get a sense of how this stark yet surprisingly lush landscape functions.
For me, one of the best ways to observe is to sketch. I find that by actively sketching, I force myself to look more closely and more slowly than I would otherwise. In order to accurately portray physical relationships on the page, I have to question my assumptions; I have to try again from a new perspective. This past year, teaching ecology and geology to eighth graders, I had my students keep detailed field journals to keep track of plant species, rock formations, and animal sightings they observed in the field. Here in Kanger, I am inspired to do the same. The miniature flowers of the tundra call for up-close inspection. Here are some drawings of male and female Salix catkins in multiple stages of development.
Of course, you cannot always crouch down and observe the miniature. The arctic is also a place for standing back and surveying the scene. With my limited colored pencil options, it is hard to capture the colors of the sandy tundra and riverbed. Once you start looking closely, the shades of brown, tan, orange, silver, and green – just on the sand dunes – are overwhelming. Here is a rough sketch of the view from Lauren and Danny’s camp on the dunes.
It is overwhelming to look for everything. So many new sights: adult muskoxen protecting their young, an arctic hare bounding across the road, moraines striping the landscape like corrugated cardboard. Sometimes it is helpful to focus on just one thing. Right now, I am focused on the soil deflation patches that are scattered along most south-facing slopes. These are patches where it seems as though wind has removed the top layer of loess, leaving behind the rough cobbles of glacial till. Observing (and sketching) these deflation patches has brought to mind many questions. Here are a few things I’m thinking about as I keep my eyes peeled for the distinctive overhanging scarp and rough knobby terrain.
As I continue to observe, and as questions continue to come to mind, I will try to organize my thoughts; I will try to articulate precise, quantifiable questions. For now, however, I will continue to sketch, to soak up as much tundra as possible.