July 08, 2006

A Quiet Day at the Den and a Thrill Ride to the Astrolab – (Day 10)

Today is Grayback’s turn to be the nanny. This begs the question: How is the nanny-for-the-day chosen? Or is he/she chosen? This family seems to take turns with the role of babysitter. Gray takes the job seriously. The pups are eager to play, and their wishes are indulged. We leave the den late in the evening and soon head back out, down the gravel road on ATV's. This time our destination is a state-of-the-art atmospheric research lab located at the summit of a high and precipitously steep hill. Getting there entails a harrowing ride – the climb is formidable but safe enough if done slowly. The ride down is even more of a theme park thrill! This is why low gear was invented.

The purpose of this midnight ride is the annual hare indexing. Dave does this count each year at exactly the same place. The same method is used for the musk oxen. In this manner, he can compare the numbers between and among years. This year, he counts 23 hares on the climb up the hill from the water’s edge to the astrolab. That’s fairly close to last year’s count. The breathtaking panorama of Axel Heiberg Island just to the west is worth the trip. Mountains slice through the clouds, their peaks never free of snow. Stories about the petrified forest there intrigue me. This region was once tropical, believe it or not. Volcanic activity warmed the region, and it was lush with plants and animals long vanished.

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