It's alive.

The largest single project of our field season has been the construction of a new kitchen hut for the field camp. While the building of a 24′ x 16′ structure may not call for much celebration in more southerly latitudes, things move slower in the Arctic. As the station is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary it’s incredible to see that the eating quarters have remained relatively unchanged since the beginning. We still use the original 12′ x 16′ structure built 50 years ago. Floorboards squeak, decades old food, and a chronological collection of (unopened) Spam containers through the ages are just a few of the memorabilia that decorate this living museum. As it’s only a few decades younger than some of the expeditioners’ huts in the Antarctic it really does have the feel of being a living piece of history. At the moment it can cook/feed about 6 people at a time in relative comfort, although it has served far greater groups in the recent past. While the mystery and sense of adventure when opening up old boxes will be missed, the completion of the new hut will be a wonderful doubling of the floor space and a vast improvement on quality of life. Fret not however that the living museum will be torn down – instead it will be re-outfitted as a reading room/library stocked with all the Nora Roberts books one needs to survive in the lonely Arctic.

Cleaning the mud after the rain.

Our new building has been a crash course on what it means to be Amish. Every piece of it was built from scratch, and aside from a miter saw and a drill, there were no power tools or pneumatic equipment. All the trusses for the roof were built by hand, the ground was leveled using a shovel, and the color of my thumb nail provides testimony to the epic number of nails put into the kitchen.

The view

The new kitchen hut has been perched on a gorgeous ridge that overlooks Colour Lake and Wolf Mountain in one direction and a massive glacier in the other. While this ridge at first looked to be rather level it still involved an entire day of digging to produce the correct surface. One of the cool features incorporated into the design of this building are the adjustable “wedges” that support the three main beams of the foundation. The freeze/thaw cycle of the seasons can cause dramatic shifts in the level of the building, and these pieces of wood can be pounded in/out in order to raise/lower the specific section of the building as needed.

Sadly, we weren’t able to complete the building this season. However, the main structure is up and it has been weather-proofed for the coming winter months. Not much remains to be done for next summer – simply adding in the windows and adding insulation to the interior of the building. Oh, and building the patio. Why build a ridge-top chalet in the Arctic without a patio?

This is the time-lapse video I did of the absolute start to near finish of our construction project (the music is by the incomparable Michael Stearns). Building in the Arctic is not just working on a static landscape – the environment is a dynamic, moving force that is constantly in motion around us and interacting with us while we work. The rolling fog, the rain, the ice shifting across the lake with the changing wind: these are all things that are easy to miss when our heads are down making sure we don’t hammer nails into our fingers. Enjoy!


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