The Northern Seas

IT is a dangerous thing to go to sea anywhere, but those who sail away to the Arctic regions, where are snow and ice and cold all the year round, must meet many dangers which sailors on the temperate seas know nothing about.

True, in those cold lands of the north they have what they call a summer, but it is very short, and we would hardly think it a summer at all, for it is colder than our coldest winters. During this short summer, which lasts about two months, the sun shines all the time, making a continual day; after this, the light gradually grows less and less, until for several months of the year they have one long dark night, noonday and midnight just alike. By the first of September it is very, very cold, and all along the shores are sheets of solid ice several feet thick, and reaching far out into the sea. The bays and inlets are frozen solid all over. In different ways large pieces of this ice are broken off, and go floating out to sea. Often the open sea is filled with these great cakes of ice, tossing and grinding against each other in the wildest way. 

Sometimes many of them freeze together, and so form large "ice fields.”  "When a ship gets in among these masses of floating ice, it is in a dangerous place. Sometimes these great "ice floes," as they are called, freeze together all around the ship, and so it is locked in for several months, until the warmer weather comes. Then the people in the ship have to stay there in the darkness and cold all winter. If they do not have food enough in the ship to last them, they have to go out on the ice fields, and hunt seals, whales, and other sea-animals, which they can eat.

At other times the great floes of ice close together under the ship, and lift it right out of the water. In our picture you see a ship in this condition. 

The sailors then have to work for many days cutting away the ice, so as to let the ship down into the water again. Sometimes they can do this, and at other times the ship has to stay up on the ice all winter. But worst of all is when the great sharp pieces of ice close around the ship, and instead of freezing it in, keep beating and tossing it about like a plaything until it is broken and crushed in pieces. 

Then the poor sailors must either perish with their ship, or be left on the floating ice, without a shelter.  But many times, companies of men so left have, by getting from one field of ice to another, finally floated to shore, or perhaps been picked up by some other ship. One such company floated about in this way for six months, but were finally saved. They made themselves ice huts to live in, and ate the flesh of the whales, seals, and other animals which they caught. They warmed themselves by fires made by burning the blubber of the whales.

Sometimes, too, ships are run upon, and crushed or sunk by an iceberg. 

These are great masses of floating ice, often a mile or more long, and rising very high above the water, like a great building. They are really glaciers, which have slid down from mountain-gorges into the sea, where thousands of them go sailing about like floating mountains. They are of many strange shapes, and often look like huge cathedrals with tall spires. 

During the short summer they do not melt, and as the sun shines upon these icy palaces, they look very pretty. 

As they float southward into the warmer seas, they gradually melt away, and streams of clear water may be seen leaping down their sides.

There are many wonderful and beautiful things in this northern world, and at another time we may tell you more about them; and then perhaps you will understand better why men leave their homes, and sail into these cold, dreary regions, where they must endure so many hardships and dangers. 

 E. B.