Greenland State of Mind

The wide expanse of Greenland offers perspective. IMG_3398Cold and stark, vast and relentless, the ice and rocks render the observer smaller than small, the tiniest thing, nothing at all. IMAG2838The land couldn’t care less about politics, philosophy, rights or beliefs, nor even global warming or nuclear annihilation. It does not listen nor offer thoughtful looks. It gives no comfort nor acknowledgement. IMAG2909It will be here long after humanity has run its fretful cycle, long after the next bacteria has had its day. Everything means nothing, nothing everything. And as much vertigo and agoraphobia as this might inspire, it is a wonder to behold. IMG_3403It doesn’t matter what is thought, what is screamed; it will remain, silent, deaf and indifferent. And there’s peace to be found in that.IMG_3397

Rockwell Kent in Greenland

Rockwell Kent (1882-1971), an enigmatic artist from New York, spent an extraordinary year painting on a remote island in Greenland in 1931-32 and went on to write a book about his experience, Salamina. salaminaWe went to see the country; I, to paint. (266) 1_rockwell_kent_artist_greenlandPainting; painting incessantly. Pursuing beauty in bewilderment at its profusion, greedy to get in one short year the whole of what might thrill a man a lifetime. (315) tumblr_lzswlc5OqX1qizj9ko1_500Let all your dreams have been of warmth and tropical luxuriance; let what at last is given you be bare, bleak, cold, in every way unlike your thoughts of earthly paradise, your chameleon soul cries out, “By God, I love this barrenness!” (22) IMG_3422One may speculate – I often do – on what we need, what human beings need, to be contented. On whether books and ark, or work, or leisure, or fresh air, or so many pounds per week of potatoes, oatmeal, meat, or love; what do we need? It would be good to know. (161) artwork_images_143276_700998_rockwell-kentThe beauty of those Northern winter days is more remote and passionless, more nearly absolute, than any other beauty that I know. Blue sky, white world, and the golden light of the sun to rune the whiteness to the sun-illumined blue. (197) IMG_3190

Silent Danger: Icebergs Calving

We hiked along the Ilulissat Ice Fjord Trail on our third day in Greenland. IMG_3169We wanted to go down to a bay but were warned away. IMAG2775I considered this perhaps an overstatement – after all there were no glaciers here and thus no real sense of danger as that captured in this well-known Greenland tsunami video – but we nonetheless heeded the posting and continued along the ridge. IMAG2814A small trail then led down to a secluded cove filled with fantastically delicate forms. We couldn’t resist that. IMG_3333IMG_3334I broke off a piece and tasted the frozen water – cold and clean, a tad salty – and then we climbed a small cliff.

We hadn’t even time to sit when the water suddenly surged – not a tsunami, but a swell of several feet – and crushed everything we had just photographed. (The end of which I caught on video.)Ilulissat Ice CalveIt remained silent throughout – except for the swirling water and ice – as the force that could have dragged us out into the cold washed back and forth and slowly abated. IMG_3332We sat and thought about that.

The WOR tourists of Greenland

The biggest problem with tourism in Greenland is the price. IMAG2870A return flight from Reykjavik is over $1300, day trips average around $250 per person and accommodations are in that same range.IMAG2887Even the hostels are expensive ($60-75 per night) as are food and drink. The fallout is that the silence and beauty is only for those who can afford it, most of whom are white, old and rich, or WORs. IMAG2951While many of these people come across as adventurous and young at heart, there is a disheartening proprietorial sense, the 1% surveying the stunning ice-scapes as their exclusive right. IMG_3362All of which acts as a reminder for exactly why this planet is going to hell. IMG_3389

Paul-Emile Victor’s Arctic Garbage

Although today’s tourists are well schooled on not leaving their trash behind, it certainly wasn’t the pattern of the past. IMAG2895Paul-Emile Victor led a number of scientific expeditions from the Eqi Glacier Polar Camp in 1947-51, during which he determined that Greenland was in fact composed of three separate islands, all hidden under the ice.IMAG2888Over the years, he and his colleagues left behind many reminders of their presence, including oil drums… IMAG2918sled tracks… IMAG2917other detritus…IMAG2919and of course the shed…IMAG2893now filled with graffiti of who has been there since. IMAG2889


Icebergs & Glaciers in Greenland

80% of Greenland is covered by snow and ice. IMG_3127It is a mass so big that, if it were to melt, the oceans worldwide would rise seven meters, drowning many coastlines, while Greenland would actually rise. IMG_3129Ilulissat is on the west coast where many glaciers and ice flows meet the ocean, including the Ilulissat Ice Fjord and Eqi Glacier, both of which are major tourist attractions due to the melting ice.IMG_3291 The Ilulissat Ice Fjord is densely packed with icebergs, moving gradually out to sea at a rate of 19 meters per day, producing 35 cubic kilometers of ice every year. IMG_3213It takes almost three hours to pass through the maze of ice by boat – a distance of 5 kilometers. IMG_3301The Eqi Glacier, which is retreating a rate of 15 meters per year, meets the ocean directly, with massive sheets and chunks of ice dramatically calving into the ocean several times every hour. IMG_3387 IMG_3389 IMG_3391 IMG_3392It is a remarkable and sobering event to witness, the sound of which is reminiscent of approaching thunder or a massive door being slammed shut in an empty room.

Ilulissat, Greenland

Ilulissat, a town of 4500 people, is the hub for tourism in Greenland; it sits at 69 degrees north, 120 miles above the Arctic Circle.IMAG2847The tourists come to see the icebergs which surround Ilusissat in the summer months. IMG_3177IMG_3185English isn’t commonly understood, although the youth appear to know a word or two.  IMAG2799IMAG2841IMAG2800 There is a stark aspect to the town – water piping strapped to exposed bedrock, sled dogs tied up everywhere and a dusty sports field at the center. IMAG2794However it’s the surrounding ice and the light that draw all of the attention.IMG_3190

Unplugged in Greenland

I was in the cold and bright of the far north over the past two weeks; instead of computer and ipod, I was consumed by constant daylight and the sound of ice collapsing into the sea.

Ilulissat, Greenland

Afternoon in Ilulissat, Greenland

It took time to accept that my electronic feed was gone and there was nothing else but the cold world all around.

Midnight at Ilulissat, Greenland

Night in Ilulissat, Greenland

The Fantasy of Reality

Luis Bunuel wrote in his autobiography My Last Sigh, “Our imagination, and our dreams, are forever invading our memories; and since we are all apt to believe in the reality of our fantasies, we end up transforming our lies into truths.” The Fantasy of RealityGreenlandic explorer Knud Rasmussen reflected in his journals from the Fifth Thule Expedition, “Here on this lonely spit of land, weary men had toiled along the last stage of their mortal journey. Their tracks are not effaced, as long as others live to follow and carry them farther; their work lives as long as any region of the globe remains for men to find and conquer.” The Fantasy of Reality Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in The Little Prince, “A geographer is too important to go wandering about. He never leaves his study. But he receives the explorers there. He questions them, and he writes down what they remember. And if the memories of one of the explorers seems interesting to him, then the geographer conducts an inquiry into that explorer’s moral character.”  The Fantasy of RealityAnd finally Italo Svevo offered these musings from Zeno’s Conscience: “Simply, I believed I had made an important scientific discovery. I thought I had been called upon to complete the whole theory of psychological colors. My predecessors, Goethe and Schopenhauer, had never imagined what could have been achieved by deftly handling complementary colors.” The Fantasy of Reality“I should say that I spent my time sprawled on the sofa opposite my study window, from which I had a view of a stretch of sea and horizon.”