We are facing directly towards the Pole at twelve o’clock on a July night. At this very same moment that same sun is marking noon for dwellers at Samoa and on the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific!
Shall we let a master of word painting* help us to see color in our outlook at this moment?
“Far in the north the sun lay in a bed of saffron light. . . . A few bars of dazzling orange cloud floated above him, and, still higher in the sky, where the saffron melted through delicate rose-color into blue, hung wreaths of vapor, touched with pearly, opaline flushes of pink and golden gray. The sea was a web of pale slate-color, shot through with threads of orange and saffron from the dance of a myriad shifting and twinkling ripples. The air was filled with the soft, mysterious glow, and even the very azure of the southern sky seemed to shine through a net of golden gauze.”
Our vessel lies in Advent Bay, off the west coast of Spitzbergen, whose lonely cliffs rise out of these Polar waters at our right. The shores ahead are around an inlet, known as Ice Fjord. It is a strange, uninhabited land, which nobody claims to own. Centuries ago there were some small settlements of whale fishers along this coast, but the tradition of them is now hazy. In this twentieth century once in a while a vessel comes ; a vessel goes ; nobody calls the place home. The island is partly covered by glaciers, but warm ocean currents sweep so near shore that the ice and snow melt in summer on the lower levels. A considerable number of mosses, lichens, and even dwarf flowering plants, grow in sheltered spots, coaxed out by the sunlight of one continuous summer day four months long. A few Arctic hares and foxes are undisputed masters of the lonesome land.
Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorer, sailed past here in 1893 in the Fram on his daring quest of a passage to the unknown seas or lands about the Pole. The Pole itself is only eight hundred miles away, straight ahead, under that dazzling disk of the sun.
It was from this island that Andre’s Polar Expedition set out in one of the old-fashioned balloons. Here also the Wellman Expedition in 1906 were making preparations for a start in a “dirigible” balloon.
Beyond Spitzbergen at our right reach the little-known wastes of the Arctic Ocean. At our left, beyond another broad reach of sea, is northern Greenland.
Straight behind us lies the world of civilized men. A thousand miles behind us, Trondhjem sits on the green shores of her historic fjord. Still farther south, in almost the same straight line, the people of Christiania are now asleep in their beds under the soft, dusky twilight that marks their midsummer night from the day. Farther yet to the south, the stars may be twinkling at this very moment in the heavens over Hamburg, or sparkling like tropic fireflies through the feathery palm trees of far-away Tunis beside the Mediterranean Sea.
As the hands of a watch mark the day’s advance, the sun will sweep steadily higher in its obliquely circular path around the heavens, till it reaches its highest point in the south at noon ; then it will move lower till it reaches again the point where we see it now. About the end of August, its lowest sweep at midnight will take it just below the horizon. By the end of October it will cease to sweep above the horizon at all, and for four long months there will be never a sunrise over these cliffs and waters, but only moon and stars, and the forever mysterious, beckoning Northern Lights, whose speechless signal no mortal creature yet understands.