Friday, 26 February 2010
A friend asked if I was enjoying wide horizons here. I can only echo Thoreau: 'my horizon is never quite at my elbows'. The mutability of the light and the weather in the Arctic tease gullible disciples of space and time mercilessly.
Yesterday evening I was at a party (the hunters had just caught a whale) where a boy was playing with an extending tape measure as if it was a yo-yo. The dizzying swiftness with which the centimetres drew back into their roll reminded me of how the horizon comes and goes. Yesterday morning it was unsafe to leave the house because of a blinding blizzard, but by sunset I could see to the farthest reaches of the sea - and further, to an illusory space where fata morgana and rainbows were dancing.
Sunset over the children's playground
Last week, work turned into a perverse game played with the weather. I was writing about ice. One night a storm blew away all the pack ice that I'd been observing the day before. When I woke to the sound of lapping water I began to write about the ice's poignant absence. The next morning I found that a blistering frost had covered the sea again ...
And then there's the icebergs, which each day drift slightly further south and crumble a little more into the water. Usually these changes are scarcely perceptible, just enough to suggest, disquietingly, that icebergs might be living things with minds of their own. This magic lantern show of mountains continually delights and distracts me. I developed a affection for one majestic specimen, which looked like the Taj Mahal, but one night it drifted right away and never came back.
Amongst such unpredictability there are moments of sudden intoxication, when I realise that the ice I'm standing on could very easily plummet into the sea. Snow is equally specious: an apparently even drift may cover a chasm, and for me, not having seen the land beneath in summer, one footstep can lead a long way – as I found to my cost when exploring the cemetery.
Recent arrivals in the cemetery
The one dependable quality of the snow in Upernavik is its continuous presence. I've always regarded snow with advance nostalgia for its imminent departure. But here it remains, crusted and stubborn. Snowdrifts realign the roads. Old men pay their dues by shovelling the wooden steps that run up and down the steep hillside, which incongrously remind me of sunny Pennsylvanian boardwalks. Of course, summer will come even to Upernavik eventually.