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Being careful with what we have

July 10

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
-Aldous Huxley

In the Arctic, you learn not to take the basics needed for a comfortable life for granted. Consider:
• In some of the places we’ve been up north, there is no tap water. Most of the drinking water in the campsites is from rivers or lakes. Though the water is clear, it may contain giardia, wicked bacteria that can make you very sick. So one must carefully boil or filter water. We don’t usually have the patience for boiling water, so we filter – but filters can be temperamental. A water filter can easily become plugged with sand or silt. Good drinking water is precious!
• There are few service stations above the Arctic Circle. So you are more careful driving – watching out for the many potholes or sharp objects on the road, so as not to burn through your two spare tires (see my earlier post about flats). You fill with gas at every gas station even it if is $8 a gallon.
• In the Arctic, you are careful with your clothing. A tear in your rain gear or water over the top of your boots is trouble when rafting or hiking in the muskeg. Raft guides say “cotton kills,” because cotton doesn’t keep you warm when it’s wet and it can take a long time to dry, making you susceptible to hypothermia in cold weather. So we have a lot of synthetic, quick-dry clothing. And we are careful to wear clothing with a tight weave or that’s thick (like wool socks), so as not to get eaten up by hordes of mosquitoes. The mosquito head net I’m wearing as I write is a good idea, too, along with a bug shirt in case the swarm gets worse.
• When rafting, you really can’t take more than will fit in a waterproof river bag. And on our road trip, we’re limited by what will fit in our Subaru Outback, including all the camping gear and a couple weeks worth of food. Bringing the right equipment and keeping it dry is a priority.
• And last but not least, up here we can’t take our personal security for granted. In grizzly bear country, you need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, keep a very clean camp and keep a canister of pepper spray at the ready.
So why do we suffer all of these inconveniences? Because it’s a small price to pay to be in this spectacular natural environment, to feel a bond with our ancestors who did not have all the modern conveniences, and to simplify our lives to make room for reflection. Simple things like baking a cherry cobbler can be a challenge (which, I might add, we managed to considerable satisfaction with a Dutch oven and charcoal.) One payoff is seeing the world in a different way—and that’s worthwhile.
When we return to Rock Island, I hope I will do less of taking things for granted. It is important to not only fully appreciate friends and colleagues, but also appreciate the many conveniences we have that make life outside of the Far North relatively easy. And most important, it is important to appreciate the people behind the scenes who make those conveniences work for us.
(See also Jane Bahls’ Arctic Adventures blog).

2 Responses to “Being careful with what we have”

  1. OK, I was impressed that you and Jane handled the double-flat-tire day so well, but am even MORE impressed that you managed to make a (good-looking) cherry cobbler!

  2. You have never been to Indonesia? Lot of interesting things to find out in there that do not exist elsewhere.

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