A Note from the Artic
In late July, I spent close to two weeks in Norway and its Arctic
region,Svalbard.The purpose of the trip was work-I am part of a group interested
in promoting the protection, understanding and beauty of the Earth's Polar
Regions through the arts.
Spent a few pre Arctic trip days in Oslo--Its museums are wonderful laying
great emphasis on that nation's seafaring past and its importance in the field
of Polar exploration. Then there's the new opera house shaped like an iceberg
with amazing acoustics.
The journey from Oslo to the Arctic began with a pre wake up call-a fire
alarm which emptied out the whole Continental Hotel at 4:00 am.Fortunately it
was a false alarm but we all got to see all the Arctic voyage's participants and
the Oslo Fire Department all in one go! By 6:30am we were on the bus to the
airport and by 12.00pm on that same day we were in Longyearbyen, Svalbard's main town. We flew into the airport over the island of Spitsbergen' s tundra summer
landscape dotted with glaciers and punctuated by brown dry valleys.
Summer in Svalbard is a brief two month period of continuous daylight in
contrast to its winter which has many months of continuous darkness.Longyearbyen
was named after an American investor, a certain Mr Longyear, who developed
Svalbard's coal reserves in the 1920's.We soon learnt that one of our group was
his great nephew who had come to check out the family's investment.After a few
hours spent visiting the town's museum (whaling, fauna, flora, Arctic cultural
history) art gallery(wonderful representations of Arctic light and forms)
the university (Arctic marine biology,Polar bear and walrus studies) and
interesting architectural features-simply painted wooden houses built on stilts
and water and sewerage pipes above the ground because of the town's sub
structure of permafrost, we boarded the National Geographic/Lindblad's Explorer
and sailed out into the Arctic Ocean.
We immediately entered the magical world of polar bears,sea ice,fast ice,
walrusses,glaciers and eternal daylight. For many days, guided by a great
captain, naturalists and "armed against polar bears" experts and guides, we
sailed and hiked around Svalbard's fjords and sea ice,spotting and observing
polar bears, walrusses birds, reindeer and other wonders of the Arctic.
We sailed above the 81st parallel where the light starts to take on a halucinatory
quality. And apart for a few chilly winds, everything was unusually warm-which is
concerning. The ship constantly measures the sizes of glaciers. Some are static.
Others are melting quickly. Everything is haunting and quite beautiful. As the
Swedish polar bear expert commented as we encountered and viewed 30 walruses
lying peacefully on a bank. "This is indeed a privelige". I hope that the work
and exhibitions generated by this trip will accurately portray this wonderful
place, help preserve it's pristine beauty and delay its demise.