Above the Arctic Circle

Above the Arctic Circle

It was the farthest north they had ever been
Three-fourths of the way around the world
through Frankfurt, Moscow, Magadan
Then north to a mine located above the Arctic Circle
Sitting in a windowless chartered plane
full of quiet, burly men with duffle bags at their feet

Five hundred people fly into this mining camp
Work for 28 days straight
Then another 500 people fly in
Work for 28 days straight
Each crew with identical jobs

The camp is self-contained
Miles of insulated tunnels connect
sleeping quarters, cafeteria, recreation areas
protect workers traveling to their posts
from eight months of winter’s bitter cold
Everyone eats together
sharing the few recreational opportunities
No alcohol, limited internet
No refuge away from work
except a few hours sleep in a tiny room
before it all starts again

 I arrive in September
A team conducting an environmental audit
The brutal winter will soon be upon this place
Then Spring with weeks of flooding waters
followed by a too short summer

A whole year of supplies arrives over several weeks
Transported by trucks along a road passable only during the chilly fall
In summer, this road is a permafrost mess
In winter, a blizzard whiteout

We travel 120 kilometers on this road
through awesome wildness, pristine lakes
Endless vistas of glistening snow-covered ground
Scenery more spectacular than some national parks

Operating facilities so clean one could eat off the floor
Gold ore veins so rich they can be extracted at great
profit by underground mining in the harshest of conditions
People traveling from far away for the pay
Long periods away from home straining family relationships 

Back in Magedan, little time to see the sights
but we occasionally venture out for short walks
Holy Trinity Cathedral is classic Eastern Orthodox
Black steps lead to an enormous white building
Narrow rectangular windows topped by three rounded spires
Golden orbs that look like Christmas tree ornaments sit atop these spires
A cross sits atop each orb

Market Urozhai, an old building with selling areas outside and inside
Most of the stalls sell fish, the other main industry of Magadan
Lots of caviar on display

The last night a most wonderful meal at a Ukrainian restaurant
Picture menu, pointing, gestures, smiles
No one speaks English, but we understand each other
Wonderful food and hospitality, an unexpected treat
A photo of us standing besides smiling costumed servers

The next day we leave Magadan
Stalin exiled millions of people to the nearby gulags
Millions died working in the gold mines
For us, middle-aged women in different uniforms at the airport
yelling at us in Russian
We have no idea what they want me to do
But we are easily able to leave

 Roger Funston

Photo: Kevin Yang on Unsplash

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