The following is an excerpt from one of our Travelling ambassadors - Martin Du Chaillu - recounting scenes from his trip to the arctic circle.
There are portions of our globe, away toward either pole, where the sun remains above the horizon for about two months of the year, making one long day. During this period the pleasant alternations of morning, day, evening, and night, are unknown in those regions; and there is also a long season of night, when the sun is not seen at all. This must be still more unpleasant, because it is winter-time. The pale cold moon sheds a chilling light at times over the snow and ice, and the aurora borealis flashes its splendors through the heavens. The cold is so great that old chroniclers, writing about the arctic regions, pretended that when the inhabitants tried to speak, their very words froze in coming out of their mouths, and did not thaw out till spring. It is not safe to believe all that old chroniclers tell us, and perhaps in this case they only tried, in an extravagant way, to make their readers understand how very cold it was in that Northern land.
Our next picture shows the pleasanter side of arctic life, when the sun is above the horizon most of the time, and disappears from sight for short periods only. Many travellers have gone as far as the famous North Cape, in Norway, for the sake of seeing the sun at midnight. Among them is Du Chaillu, whom many of our readers know through his interesting books about Africa. He stood on the very edge of the cape one July midnight—that is, it was midnight by the clock—and saw the sun descend nearly to the horizon, and then begin to rise again. Far to the northward stretched the deep blue waters of the Arctic Ocean; close around him was a bleak, dreary, desolate landscape. A few blades of grass sprouted at the edge of the cape. Further back, in places sheltered from the winds, the ground was clothed in rich verdure, and adorned with flowers. Still further inland were little patches of dwarf birch, scarcely a foot high, crouching close to the ground to escape being torn away by the furious winds that sweep over the land. There was none of the abundant life that we see around us in our fields and woods. A spider, a bumble-bee, and a poor little wanderer of a bird, were the only living things Du Chaillu saw.
But he beheld the sun at midnight. As the hour of twelve approached, the pale orb sank almost to the horizon, the line of which it seemed to follow for a few moments, as it shone serenely over the lonely sea and desolate land. It was a sight never to be forgotten by one who had travelled hundreds of miles to witness it.
Sailors and explorers in the far Northern regions find it hard at first to accustom themselves to the long arctic day; and animals carried on board ship from lower latitudes are entirely at a loss when to go to sleep. There is a curious story of an English rooster that seemed to be utterly bewildered because it never came night. He appeared to think it unnatural to sleep while the sun was shining, and staggered about until he fell down from exhaustion. After a while he got into regular habits, but was apparently so disgusted to wake up in broad daylight, instead of the gray dawn to which he was accustomed, that he discontinued crowing. Perhaps he thought he had over-slept himself, and was ashamed to crow so late.
It seems almost incredible that the dreary regions of which our pictures afford a glimpse enjoyed, ages ago, a climate even warmer than our own. The chilling waves that dash against the base of the dreary North Cape once washed shores clothed in luxuriant vegetation. Stately forests stood where now only stunted shrubs struggle a few inches above ground. The mammoth, and other animals that require a warm climate, roamed in multitudes through those regions. Their bones, found in great abundance when the banks of the lakes and rivers thaw out and crumble away in the spring, form an important article of traffic.
The people who live in the dreary regions of the far North are, generally speaking, industrious, sober, simple-minded, and contented. They have few pleasures, and their lives are toilsome. But in whatever region we find them—in the fishing villages of the northernmost coast of Norway or Lapland, and even in Greenland—they fondly believe their country to be the best and most favored part of the world. We must beg leave to differ with them. We love our changing seasons, that gradually come and go, the sweet succession of day and night, the joyous life that fills our fields and woods, and the comforts, luxuries, and all the advantages of civilization. But it is a great blessing to mankind that, wherever our lot may be cast in this great and wonderful world,
"Our first, best country ever is at home."