Arctic Kingdom: Life at the Edge

Genre: Documentary
Actors: James Coburn
52 min

Arctic Kingdom:
Life At the Edge

In the far northern reaches

of planet Earth

lies an alien sea of ice

its waves frozen in time

in darkness, in uncompromising cold

It's winter on the Arctic Ocean

But a great power is returning to

conquer this frozen sea

The sun's rays touch the ice

and like a living thing

it responds

As the ice surrenders to

the rising sun

it becomes a world in motion

a shifting stage full of danger

and drama

Where creatures are trapped

between moving sheets

Stranded on the frozen waters

Caught in the struggle to live in one

of the harshest places on earth

And where the ice meets the open sea

the sun awakens a world of strange

and glorious life

This is the Arctic under the sun

a short

brilliant season of survival a miracle

and a resurrection at the edge

of the ice

After three months of

winter's hard darkness

the first light of spring spreads a glow

across the ice It's dawn in the Arctic

in the season of eternal sun

A lone predator stalks the ice

in the early light

A polar bear is on the prowl

in different to the killing cold

Even in temperatures of fifty below

he doesn't hibernate

The bear is the supreme master

of winter on the ice

He can grow to seventeen hundred

pounds of hunting power

but his life depends on

just one creature

The ringed seal takes a quick breath

and returns to his world below

the ice

He, too, has endured all winter

just beneath the feet of his

mortal enemy

It's April. A female is also

on the ice

bringing her cubs out hunting

for the first time

They were born four long months ago

and since then, their mother's

had nothing to eat

Her sense of smell is so keen

that she can detect her prey

through several feet of snow

and half a mile away

She seeks out ridges

where drifting snow

covers the breathing hole of

a ringed seal

Inside this protective snow cap

a seal has dug al lair

She catches his scent

The seal rests but only sleeps

a few seconds at a time

its sharp hearing tuned to danger

A tense contest of the senses begins

Even the top predator on the ice

misses 19 times out of 20

And yet, the mother bear

will need to kill

at least two seals a week to keep

her cubs alive

The seal is safe for the moment

but each new trip to the surface

to breathe could end in another ambush

It's an oversized game of cat

and mouse

The bear eats mostly the blubber

licking bits of fat from the snow

A stealthy white shadow has been

following the bear

An Arctic fox

For days he has been tracking

the great hunter

crossing miles of ice in hopes

of leftovers from a kill

When hunting is good, the bear

leaves a feast behind

The fox finds a morsel and

buries it a precaution

against an unpredictable future

The sun now skims the horizon

and will not set again

for four months

Day by day

it begins to take control of the ice

in the seasonal tug of war

between darkness and light

But for nearly half the year

the far north is angled away

from the sun

and sleeps in the dark shadow

of winter

Left in the deep-freeze of space

the Arctic seas lie covered with

six million square miles of ice

As the year progresses

the planet swings around the sun

Light returns to the top

of the world

With 24-hour sunshine

the polar ice begins to retreat

By spring, the ice edge has receded

to a tangle of islands

in the high Canadian Arctic

and to the entrance of Lancaster Sound

An ice-breaker cuts the first breech

of the year

through six feet of solid ice

It brings goods to and from villages

and mining outposts 500 miles north

of the Arctic Circle

For the ship, the ice is an obstacle

For some, it is home

The Init have carved life from

this place for 4,000 years

The ice is their world

and spring promises a rich season

of hunting ahead

The ice itself has been guarding

a secret world

But now the crystal fortress

begins to crack

its walls pierced by light

In the shallows forty feet below

the sun reveals a garden of

unexpected color

Golden sea anemones...

bright orange starfish

and small crustaceans awaken

from a winter trance

Overhead, the skylight of ice glows

green with life

A vast pasture of algae now blooms

on its surface

spreading across the sea for

hundreds of miles

Countless young fish

and shrimp like creatures come

here to graze

These in turn become food for

staggering numbers of Arctic cod

Protected by the shield of ice

some half million tons of cod flourish

in Lancaster Sound

All this abundance is solar powered

As light floods the water, it sets

off an explosion of life

Great stores of food can now

be reached

where the ice meets open water

It's May, and animals begin

to gather

for this annual feast of spring

Thick-billed murres fly in

from the North Atlantic to plunder

the cold waters for cod

They flock to Lancaster Sound

in the hundreds of thousands

Murres are uncertain aviators

Their true medium is water

Once beneath the waves

they're the Arctic version

of a penguin

With short

flipper like wings they dive

nearly 300 feet

for three minutes at a time

On the way back up

air trapped in their

feathers expands

They rocket to the surface

in a jet trail of bubbles

At the ice edge nearby

a polar bear scents

the shifting wind

As though navigating by satellite

he continues to hunt

across the same range

even as the ice turns into ocean

Beneath his fur

the white bear has jet black skin

to absorb heat

from the sun when he's on the surface

In the near freezing water

four inches of blubber keep

him warm and afloat

He's not above taking a bird or two

But the murres take no notice

and prepare to leave

for they have an urgent

appointment to keep

Timing is everything here

and the schedule is set

by the sun

The murres head for land

The short breeding season

has begun

and for those who come late

there'll be no second chance

Their destination is a lonely

outpost in Lancaster Sound

...the towering cliffs of Prince

Leopold Island

Half a million seabirds crowd onto

these rocky ledges

one thousand feet above the sea

The murres alone number

almost 200,000

Vicious fighting breaks out

as the murres battle

for the safest nest sites

They lay only a single egg

pear shaped to prevent

it from rolling off

the narrow rock shelf

The stronger, more aggressive birds

win sites midway down the cliff

leaving the weaker birds at the top

where they're most vulnerable

An Arctic fox has been stranded here

as the ice retreated from the island

His white winter fur has been replaced

by a sleek, brown coat

A castaway for the summer

he hunts alone on an island of birds

He heads for the cliffs the only

place to find food on the island

Faced with a dangerous thief

the birds abandon their eggs

And though they can lay another

a late season chick will not survive

The fox steals all the eggs

he can reach

but he'll need dozens each week

to stay alive

Some he stashes in the cold ground

There will be lean days ahead

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Janet Hess

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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