Alaska After Dark

Posted On February 20, 2012

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It’s now late February. The sun crept over the horizon today at 9:30am! I couldn’t believe how early it arrived in the sky. The other day I noticed that when the sun shone on the icicles that garnish all of our buildings here, they began to drip. The seemingly eternal grip of winter begins to loosen in Coldfoot…

Outside the landscape still lies buried underneath a coffin of snow. Walking through the junkyard one morning, the derelict machines and vehicles I once remembered from summer peeked out from under the smothering white folds of snow. Dead silence reigned in this forgotten northern corner of Coldfoot. The rising sun sparkled only a cold, white light.

A few nights ago I went up to Wiseman with a few friends to hang out with Jack Reakoff and watch for the aurora borealis. If there could be a mayor of such a small little village, Jack would be him. He’s lived pretty much his entire life in this remote arctic town of fifteen people; he hunts all his food, traps to make a living, chops all of his own wood, and knows more about the arctic and Alaska than probably any person in the world.  Jack is the quintessential mountain man.

His small, one room house, looked exactly as you might picture it. The walls are a menagerie of Alaskan mementos, animal furs and skulls, maps, equipment, guns, and photos from eras long since passed. The tiny wood burning stove sits in the center of the room; tin pots for coffee sit on top, keeping warm. Boxes and shelves house myriad books full of Alaskan stories and knowledge. Two cats, one cream white and the other midnight black, lounge amidst the jumble of artifacts that fill the room. On a chair in the corner sits Jack Reakoff himself, plainly dressed, his powerful brown eyes scanning the room in a calm fashion. Nothing fazes him.

That night he regaled us with a few of his stories, all of which I guarantee you were supremely epic and hardcore. He showed us a couple of bear skulls, complete with bullet holes—bullet holes he put in them. Jack’s a surprisingly calm man; his speech is very languid yet learned. When he talks the whole room transfixes on him. Over coffee and tea we spent the night in the company of an arctic legend, sitting in a warm cabin underneath a starry sky. The aurora fluttered overhead, silent and mysterious.

The following pictures of the aurora I took the following night with my cheap and basic camera (hence the crudeness of the photos). The sky exploded with color and activity, brightening up the night so that you didn’t even need a flashlight. We sat around our bonfire, heads rolled back on our necks, gazing up into the stratospheric light show of the gods:

Mr friend Dan had a more professional camera on a tripod and took these long exposure pictures. They are far better than mine:

4 Responses to “Alaska After Dark”

  1. Ley Schleich

    Hey – loved this! You’ve got a new fan!

  2. Maria

    Wow, what an experience to meet Jack.
    What a thrill to see the aurora.
    It was 34 deg this morning! Think that is
    warmer than your place!

  3. John Blackman

    Jeremy, your writing is great as usual, and your photos are fabulous as well. I so much wish your grandfather Somers was still alive to see you doing this; he would have been so proud of you it would have popped the buttons on his shirt. His two greatest loves were the outdoors, and photography. So think of him when you are setting up your next photo shoot.

  4. Betsey Shapiro

    Thanks for sharing the photos of the Northern Lights. I’d love to see them one day. Great writing, enjoying the blog. Any good trivia leagues there?

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