The Sun at
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
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."