Welcome to the Arctic: Day 6
SEE ALSO: Welcome to the Arctic: Day 5
Another day, another early morning sun. I’d taken to wrapping my head in a black t-shirt because it was the only way I didn’t get woken at 3:30 in the morning. Don’t get me wrong, I hate being woken up that early, but at the same time it was such an awesome feeling to have that problem. Here I was in the Arctic, getting to see some of the most incredible landscapes that this planet has to offer. There is a lot of geography in the Arctic. Without massive trees or grasses, farms etc, the underlying geology of the landscape is fully exposed. Huge pillars of rock jut up from the ocean and massive cliffs expose the layers of an ancient planet, all of it out in the open. However, it’s that lack of plant and animal life that makes the Arctic such a delicate ecosystem. In the south, biodiversity is far higher and that tends to make environments resilient to disturbance. Knock a few areas of forest down and those areas may lose many species, but overall, the diversity doesn't drop that much. Critically, southern ecosystems can also recover from disturbances fairly quickly.
The Arctic is very different. Without a long growing season and a limited biodiversity, disturbances, human and otherwise can have deep and long lasting effects. Drive a truck over Arctic tundra and those tracks may still be there a decade later. One good example was a crashed plane that I saw in Greenland. To me it looked like it had been there just a few years, but our guide informed us that the plane crashed in the 1950’s. Trees that had been planted near the town of Kangerlussuaq in the 1980’s were just a few feet taller than me. Rampant growth just doesn't exist in the Arctic.
This lack of resources for growth and biodiversity means that to explore the Arctic, you have to tread as lightly as possible. Tourism is becoming a big thing for the Arctic, but as so many things are, the relationship is complicated and it would become quite obvious to me a little later in the day.
When I finally got myself going and down to breakfast I was starving. Despite the abundance of dinner the night before, I was ready to grab whatever was on the buffet table. Oh right, did I tell you that there was a buffet for breakfast each morning? Yeah, it was awesome and today it was bacon, eggs, sausages, pretty much all the good stuff. It might seems extravagant, but given that there was no real way to get food while we were out on our expeditions, getting the clients well fed before was critical to being able to keep things going on board and out on the land. This abundance would come back to haunt us all in a few weeks when we stepped onto Beechy Island in the High Arctic…
We finished up the food and Boris stepped up to the mike for morning announcements. His plan for the day was to enter Sunshine Fjord which was bisected by the Arctic Circle itself. About halfway up to the end was the Circle and he wanted to park the ship there and then send out the Zodiacs to do a landing on the beach on one side of the fjord. It was going to be quite interesting as this was the first real landing without any civilization anywhere. Out there we’d be on our own and vulnerable to any predators that happened to think that we looked yummy. Ok, I exaggerate a bit, pretty much the only predators that might be interested in us would be pirates. You know, those famous Arctic pirate fleets? Yeah, lots of those around.
Luckily, there were few pirates around, but the scenery more than made up for that. The fjord cut deep into the land around us and on either side of the water, vast hills sloped upwards. The colours were all muted, dark browns, dirty oranges and subtle blacks blended into a wash of images that stretched across the hills. It struck me that I could see no green at all, just greys and blues that played alongside the browns. There was no ice other than a hint of a glacier high up in hills far to the west. It was a desolate and lonely place, a true wilderness in the far north.
And yet, something nagged at me…
Boris had a system in place to ensure the safety of the clients. First, a scout Zodiac would be sent out with a couple of spotters to ensure that no bears were visible. If there were bears in the area, an alternative landing site would be sought or the expedition scrubbed. In the Arctic, the sail and daily plans are subject to change without notice. Once the area was declared free of bears, the rest of the Zodiacs would be launched and the clients would be allowed to go ashore. A perimeter was always set with staff members trained in observation and rifle usage in lookout positions. If a bear was sighted moving towards the landing zone, the staff would call everyone back and get them into the boats and offshore as quickly as possible. This was all done as much for the safety of the bears as is it was for the clients. Bears aren’t particularly interested in eating people. In fact, they’re pretty much not interested at all. However, a starving bear could come in search of food and almost all poor interactions between humans and bears generally end with the death of the bear.
Today, the scouts saw no bears so it was on to the beach we went. It was more of a gravel/stone scree than an actual beach, but it was still dry land. We dragged the boats up so they wouldn’t float away and everyone separated themselves into a number of groups. Some would be taking a hike up into the hills, others would be staying around the beach and a few would be doing art in the rocks above us. George and I decided that the time would be best spent filming along the beach and along the bottom of the hills. We did our usual signature shots, one of which was the set up the camera and walk past it into the distance. And then we did it again. And again. Filming and being on TV only looks glamorous on TV. Actual filming is sometimes a little less than fun. We did a few shots of me crawling through a cave, then playing with the Zodiacs, then walking along the beach talking about tourism in the Arctic. Then I got to handle some dead fish, pick up seaweed and in general, chat about the Arctic. I think George was hoping that I’d be chased (and possibly lightly eaten) by a polar bear, but no such luck.
We exhausted the possibilities of the beach and then decided to split up. I would go up into the hills to catch up with the hikers and George would head out along the beach. As we were planning, one of the semi staff members named Christian wandered up to us and asked us to help him out with his project. Now, Christian had explained his photography project to us earlier and we’d agreed to help him out, but I hadn’t thought of doing it right then. However, it turned out that this was the perfect place.
A bit of explanation; Christian is a photographer who had come up with a brilliant plan for a book. He was the type of person who was part adventurer and part artist and his wonderfully creative mind had come up with a brilliant plan. He had been looking at an atlas one day and noticed the line of the Arctic Circle. He had been on a few expeditions by that time and he had fallen in love with the Arctic. So, his plan was photograph people who lived, worked, and vacationed on or near the line of the Arctic Circle. He had been around the Circle in countries like Russia, Iceland, Norway, and Canada. Some of the photographs he’d already done were whimsical, other serious, still others poignant, but all of them were amazing examples of photographic art.
George and I were happy to be shot and so we started out with a few serious poses, with the fjord as a backdrop. Nothing too odd, and kind of boring to tell the truth. We then moved on to hitting each other with our cameras and that made Christian happier. Then George had an idea. He asked Christian if he really wanted George to get silly and Christian hesitantly said, “Ok, um sure…”
George ran off and minutes later came back with something in his hand. I groaned because I knew exactly what it was. He’d brought the rubber mask horse’s head that he’d bought a few months before. It had made an appearance in Tornado Alley and now here it was in the Arctic. George donned it, looked over at me and I just lost it laughing.
And Christian snapped the shot. And it made the book.