Northern lights, high winds, full moon, and watch out for the ivu

 It’s a heck of a lot colder than June

I said out by the lagoon

    It was a good night

   To see Northern Lights

Dancing beside the full moon.

Synopsis:  I’m a family practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa.  Avoiding burnout, I’m taking a sabbatical while my one-year non-compete clause winds down, having adventures, visiting family and friends, and working in out-of-the-way places.  Currently I’m on assignment at the hospital in Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point in the United States.

The weather turned two nights ago, flights got cancelled, and the people who showed in the clinics wore more layers than usual.  The wind howled off the Arctic Ocean, closing the schools closed at 1:30.

Clinic walk-in traffic dropped off.  One of the patients who came said she hoped the ice wouldn’t get pushed up over the road.

“Does that happen?” I asked.

It does.  Sometimes the ice goes over the road into the lagoon.

She gave me permission to write about the conversation.

The Inuit have a word for a piece of ice thrust up onto land by the wind.  The patient warned me against walking by the shore in a gale.  “Watch out for the ivu,” she said, but the first time she said it I heard ‘evil’.

In the midst of the bad weather I heard about a large solar flare, and I anticipated a good show of Northern Lights.  Thus I arose at 5:30 this morning, and suited up for temperatures around minus 30 Fahrenheit (minus 35 Celsius). 

The full moon hovered off to the southwest, and the Aurora Borealis swept slowly, silently across the sky.  I went back inside and woke Bethany, then stepped outside again.  We watched the tuneless dance in the heavens till our glasses fogged up, then we went back inside.

Bethany had seen Northern Lights as a child at summer camp in Maine; I’d missed them during a short job in Montana. 

A thing loses its wonder if it is seen every day.

I spoke with a person (not a patient) who had left Barrow for the first time in her life, and who gave me permission to recount our conversation here.  I asked what she’d thought of Anchorage, and her eyes lit up. 

Of course I had my expectations about what part of the experience of seeing a modern city for the first time had brought her the most delight, and of course I was wrong.

“I saw a squirrel!  I’d never seen a squirrel before in my life.  And I saw a moose!  He just jumped over a hedge and kept going.  He was running between the cars.”

And the first time I went to Anchorage and saw a moose dealing with streets and cars, I couldn’t wait to talk about it either.  Such things, common in the largest city in Alaska, loom large in the eyes of outlanders, whether from Iowa or from the North Slope.

Contrast is the essence of meaning.


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