Darkness. I stand in a clearing, surrounded by the boreal forest as snow falls down at a rapid clip. The clouds have sunk quite low in the valley, encompassing the mountains and the surrounding area, limiting my view to silhouettes of spruce trees a few hundred yards distant in the dark Arctic night. This land is shaped by the variations of light. The time of light and joy has quickly come and gone. As each day passes, the landscape moves ever more quickly into its winter state.
There are plenty of signs of winter abound even now in late October. Ponds and lakes have a thick sheet of ice atop their surface. My snow skates have been dusted off and have already been put to heavy use. The creeks are almost completely frozen, with small channels continuing to flow between sheets of ice. The river seems reluctant to freeze. Well past the typical freeze up point, there are ice jams and ice at the edges, yet water continues to flow.
The sun is becoming an elusive sight. Clouds continue to blanket the landscape, hiding the sun which is already showing itself less and less each day. At this time, it doesn’t show itself until right around 10 AM, up for just a few hours before setting once again after 6 PM. In less than a month, the sun will dip behind the mountains and then below the horizon, for where it will remain until it rises again in January.
In what many consider to be a depressing and bleak landscape, there still remains plenty of beauty and life. Ravens dance in the daylight as they dart back and forth in the air, looking for a source of food. Snow blankets the mountain and the forest floor, providing new perspectives and contrasts in the landscape. On clear nights, the sky is blanketed with stars and auroral displays, providing magnificent displays of light in a region that’s known for its lack of it.
Animal tracks lay abound, as the snow reveals all travel in these winter months. The tracks reveal vast stories. A fox wanders along the lake ice, circling “push-ups”, turf that muskrats shove in the ice to keep an unfrozen hole in the ice for breathing and feeding, in hopes of a meal. A lone wolf trots up the hill away from the lake, quickly changing its course after encountering the tracks of a snowshoe hare, possibly hoping for a meal of its own.
As the days continue to shorten, winter provides a time to slow down for all life. The Arctic ground squirrel and bears follow this in a literal sense, having denned up and gone into hibernation/deep sleep. For humans, it provides a period of silence, contemplation and solitude. A season for which one can recoup and recover after the busy and never ending days of summer.
The snow continues to fall, accumulating on the top of my jacket. Soon temperatures will plummet far below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Soon the river will freeze over. Soon the light will almost completely disappear from this landscape. I try to grasp the idea that this darkness will be present for the vast majority of the day. The sun will not show itself for longer than it does now for another four and a half months. Winter has arrived.