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  • It's the middle of November already and a gnashing, eye-blurring, energy-sucking, icy wind is simultaneously invigorating and eroding my spirit. I'm standing at the end of a point of land (that is so defined that it shows up on the map of Alaska, a state more than twice the size of Texas) outside of a small Inupiat Eskimo village that sits further back on this point. I'm watching and listening to a phenomena that defines winter on the arctic coast: the development of the slush ice. Only this year, it's late. Sometimes it arrives in September, sometimes October. But it's November 12 and there is still open water beyond and between the fingers of slush ice. I've been hearing affirmations of this lateness from the local Inupiat--a people who have lived by the cycles of this land for thousands of years.

    I watch the waves beneath the slush as they roll--smooth-like, soft--towards me and crash in a burst of energy at my feet where the slushy particulates have piled a couple of feet deep. When will the giant pack ice approach on the horizon, shimmering in an illusory display? When will it crash into the coast, as locals have told me, with such force that it can be felt throughout the town? When will the blocks of ice pile up along the shoreline creating a load of work for the whaling crews whom, come spring, need to take their boats out to search for bowhead whale?
    I thought I was in the arctic in wintertime? I had some expectations.
    We all did.

    (I took this photograph on a dawn flight headed north last week along the northwest Alaskan coast where it meets the Chukchi Sea. It shows the development of the slush ice just offshore.
    I gathered the audio at the edge of the slush ice--a few miles from the tiny village I'd landed in. This village makes its life from the sea).
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