I stepped off the plane to be greeted by a frigid wind. To say it was cold would be an understatement; to say it was freezing, though accurate, would still not be enough. The temperature was subzero. To be specific, the temperature was about -18°F without considering wind chill (which easily pushed the temperature below -30°F). Our team had entered another world called Barrow, Alaska.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and met with the local science organization who provided us with myriad forms of assistance: snowmobiles, personnel, advice. We were anxious to get to the test site promptly since our time was short and the work abundant. Before departing via snowmobile, one worker opened a gun safe, retrieving a 12-Gauge shotgun from within. “In case of polar bears,” he said.
I quickly learned one thing performing field research. The field does not care how careful one’s plan is, nor does it mind how intelligent one’s fellow scientists are, nor does it appreciate golden intentions and noble goals. Despite trying to save a piece of Nature, it made every effort to hinder our progress. Extreme conditions create extreme challenges. However, Nature played a dual role of antagonist and source of inspiration. Gazing upon miles of barren ice expanding in every direction, I felt as if I were commingling with a frozen infinity. These moments reinvigorated me with a sense of duty and purpose.
Returning to my work, I realized that our work was not only about preserving environments for the sake of human civilization. We also worked for the protection of beauty, the protection of life in the Arctic, and the protection of a special place at the top of the world.
~ Paul Walter