Guest Blog: Linda Nicklin
April 4, 2017
I’ll be serving as Naturalist on both legs of the Eastbound voyages in the Northwest Passage, from Cambridge Bay to Pond Inlet.
I’ve been a professional Naturalist for more than two decades. My work has been on a variety of ships, from boutique ecotour cruises to private yachts. But this will be my first time on a tall ship!
When I’m not working on a ship I conduct training for naturalists and tour guides in the Art of Interpretation, or how to communicate more effectively and help clients connect with a place or subject. I am Training Director at a 100-employee company in my hometown – Juneau, Alaska – and I travel throughout the state to teach workshops, many of them with a curriculum called the Alaska Tour Guide Training Program that I developed with the Alaska Department of Commerce in 2010. Currently, I’m working on developing a Certificate Program for tour guides to be offered at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Every place I have worked has been great. That includes Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Russia, Greenland, Norway, the Galapagos Islands, Central America, the Caribbean, Antarctica, and the South Pacific.
But it is the northern latitudes that have captured my heart. I began the affair in the 1990's with voyages in Southeast Alaska and across the Aleutians to Kamchatka. In the time since, I’ve also worked in the Bering Sea and on the Seward Peninsula, in Svalbard, Western Greenland, and the Northwest Passage. I was on the 2016 Crystal Serenity transit of the Northwest Passage, a first by a cruise ship of that size, where I served as a lecturer and naturalist. But that wasn’t my most recent trip to the Arctic! In mid-November I went to Saint Lawrence Island (in the Bering Sea) to meet with the board of Sivuqaq, the local Alaska Native Corporation, to help design a plan which would empower them to meet their goals for developing tourism in this remote Yupik community.
My favorite experiences with animals have been those times when we were able to watch an animal going about its business, unconcerned with our presence. Bowhead whales poking their improbable heads up near the edge of the sea ice, a polar bear eating a seal while keeping a wary eye on another bear’s approach, an arctic fox prowling the base of a murre-nesting cliff, an ermine (short-tailed weasel) ducking into its secret tunnel to raid a dried-fish-storage cache.
Meeting people that live there can be life-changing too. A highlight of my last trip to the Northwest Passage was the chance to work with local guides Stevie Audlakiak, Roger Memorana, Leslie Qammaniq and Kirby Nokadlak, all folks with tremendous knowledge and a generous spirit for sharing it. We tend to think of the Arctic as a harsh place to live, but to the people who have long lived there it is home, and it’s fascinating to learn from them about traditional practices and what life is like there today.
What makes the Arctic such a great place? That’s easier to experience than to describe. Here are some aspects of it:
1) It’s wide open space, little visited and sparsely populated
The Canadian territory of Nunavut, for example, is roughly the size of Western Europe but has a population of about 33,300 people. Just 519 people visited the National Parks in Nunavut in 2015-16, as opposed to 7.4 million who visited National Parks in Alberta. There can be entire days of sailing there during which we see land largely unmodified by human activity and a pristine sea without a ship in sight.
2) It is infinite in detail and full of life
The closer you look, the more you see. What at a distance appears to be a rocky landscape in the high arctic reveals at closer look beautiful plants in every crevice. One can read the ecology of the landscape in the story they tell, of permafrost and wind, of the movement of water and the activities of animals.
3) And then there are the animals
Every chance to observe animals in the Arctic is special, not least because it takes vigilance and sometimes patience. Animals in the Arctic have predators, and many of them are hunted, so there is a certain wariness inherent in the survivors. But the more time spent looking, I’ve noticed, the more we see, and I have never been disappointed.
I can’t wait to see what special experiences this summer’s trip on Oliver Hazard Perry will bring.