If you walk a mile or so off shore out across the Chukchi Sea you will see some amazing things. Close to the village the frozen chop looks like a 3D lesson in geometry, fat planks of ice jutting up at right angles--triangles, rectangles, parallelograms of frozen sea. Close to shore the ice formations bring to mind polar bears--for every odalisk of ice seems to have a great hulking body of white just behind it--but no, you tell yourself, you are just imagining things. Just because the largest polar bear ever killed was killed right there in Kotzebue, weighing in at over 2,000 pounds--that was a long time ago--and the polar bears of today are well off shore, out where the ice gives way to open water again. They are busy being creatures of the pack ice while there is still pack ice to be had, mating and giving birth and hunting seals, resting up in the coves and caves of ice formed by the pressure ridges--where one huge tectonic plate of ice collides with another. The farther out you walk, the higher the ridges became until it seems you are climbing full blown ocean swells, scrambling up foothills of ice and sliding down again. The horizon no longer stretches into infinity but ends over and over again in twists and curves of blown snow and mounds of balls and bricks and cones of ice.
And it was out there well off shore that my hosts--my guides--chose the spot for the ice harvest, bashing away at the clearest lick of a crest they could find, filling plastic bags with chunks of sea that we then carried back to shore in anticipation for that night's dinner party. Pack Ice Margaritas--a rite of passage for a winter visitor--and marvelous preparation for facing the cold late at night--out on the sea again, this time awaiting the arrival of the aurora borealis. The arctic in winter is a place filled with the seemingly miraculous, with visual spectacles that seem at times other worldly, like the aurora borealis so close it seemed to blow not over you but through you, like the fata morganas that appeared daily on the white horizon, like the moon that circled so low on the horizon for the sum of its circuit you could mistake it for a giant headlight--and not the moon, our moon, the moon of our planet.
There's so much to be said about working with cameras when the temperature never rises above zero degrees, but I'll begin and end with just two things: remember that anything made of plastic is bound by the laws of the physics of cold to harden and shatter in a surprisingly short period of time--and for that matter flesh seems to follow the rule of plastic--which really should have been point # 1. What should bend soon enough will break in subzero air instead so don't venture too far off shore into the realm of real bears. Stick close to the village where mostly the dangers are of a more sublime nature, like not ingesting too much too soon of this Tex Mex Meets Arctic Alaska recipe and spilling all your stories--
1 can frozen lime juice (which costs $5 at the AC Store)
1 can tequila (which must be secreted in a suitcase, unless you have a permit)
1 blender full of sea ice (as clear as you can find & forget about the life that is the sea for the duration of the drink for the saltiness it adds is subtle and sweet)
Blend and serve.