Monthly Archives: March 2006

Signs of Spring in the Arctic

The passing of the Vernal Equinox is, of course, the official beginning of spring. The length of day and night is equal on that date, and then the days become longer and the sun rises further north and higher until summer Solstice. Here the farther north thing only applies until the 9th of May, at which point the sun commences circling the sky until August 2nd. It does keep getting higher until the solstice, though.

Given that we are so far north, and that the snow won’t melt from the permanently frozen ground for at least a couple of months, it might not seem like it could feel like spring. Granted, people have been getting ready for whaling (a major spring activity here) for months; umiaqs (skin boats) are out bleaching and curing. The high school basketball teams are at the state championship tounament and plans for the Spring Festival are in full swing.

Despite that, today it felt like spring. It warmed up to about 0 F, and was sunny, with not too much wind. I had to drop something off at the main office of the company I work for. The building they are in also holds the local courthouse and a mini-mart, and Barrow does not allow smoking indoors in public places or offices despite the large number of people that smoke, so there is almost always someone outside smoking when you enter the building. For months, they have been huddling out of the wind like musk ox on the tundra, smoking fast to get the nicotine on board and get back where it is warm. Today, though, a fellow was sitting on the steps (metal grate–so they get cold) enjoying his cigarette in a leisurely fashion. I said something about the nice weather and he smiled a huge smile and said “It’s spring!” And he was right. So there you have it, a sign of spring in the Arctic.*

*Disclaimer: Kids, don’t try this at home. TundraGarden emphatically does not advocate or support cigarette smoking, as it is hazardous to your health and the health of others.

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Arctic Buttercups; or a Preview of Things to come


Connectivity between camera and Mac was not the only issue on the recent trip; connectivity between Mac and Internet was just as big a deal. So it has been a while. Kodiak was beautiful on the sunny days, which bookended my visit. In between, it rained, snowed, sleeted, melted and repeated, making for rather messy walking. No good shoes at these meetings…

The Tundra Garden remains asleep under its snowdrift. Since the snow gets so deep, and the plants are so minute, I have yet to solve the problem of what to do to get winter interest in the garden. Given that winter lasts 7 or 8 months, this is a conundrum I would like to solve. The snowdrift changes, of course, as snow falls and is whipped away by the winds. As they bend around the building, they carve the snow into truly fantastic shapes; troughs, improbable-appearing overhangs, layer cakes of different shades of white. None the less, something besides snow would be nice as a change.

Since this is a gardening blog, and it will be a while before the Tundra Garden does anything this spring, I thought maybe people would like to see some picutres of what will be appearing in a couple of months. The first flower to really make an appearance is the Snow Buttercup (Ranunculus nivalis). The first picture is it in bud. In the next picture the flowers are starting to open.

There is another buttercup which can be found around Barrow, the Dwarf Buttercup (Ranunculus pygmaeus Wahlenb.) which is reportedly circumarctic. It is very petite, even for a tundra flower, and the petals are relatively smaller than those of the snow buttercup, giving quite a different effect. The color is the same, a clear brilliant yellow that just grabs the eye, especially after months of white. They start just a little bit later, but they are in bloom together, and finish about the same time.