Saturday, March 27, 2010

Longyearbjen, Spitsbergen

March 27, 2010
Clear, -20°C
I feel like this trip brings together so many things I’ve learned or encountered throughout my life. So frequently I feel like I have a greater understanding of the connectivity of the world because of my last three month’s experiences. This morning was no different, when at breakfast I encountered some of my favorite cheese. I first tasted this delicious block of dairy goodness last semester, when the Whole Foods cheese guy recommended it to me. It was a caramel brown, in a red package, and tasted like a sweet cheddar. I bought quite a bit of it and nibbled for weeks, pairing it with apples. And this morning, I saw some of that tawny cheese peeking out over the red label, but in a much much larger quantity. I highly recommend you search out some of this caramelized Norwegian cheese. It’s worth it. Then this evening, David brought out a chocolate pudding with two ice creams – one Neapolitan, the other a vanilla with caramel bits in it. I remembered my childhood, reading Roald Dahl’s Boy, which contained a description of this very same crunchy caramel ice cream that Dahl stated is a Norwegian favorite. As soon as I thought of Roald Dahl, I remembered that the museum we visited today featured a photographer with the last name Dahl, almost certainly a relative of the author of some of my favorite children’s stories. And while this is sort of shallow, it is still a very good example of so many happenstance occasions where I have felt the world makes just a little more sense.
At the same time, I feel like this trip has confused me beyond restoration. So many things I’ve seen have yet to even begin to make sense to me. Even things that shouldn’t be very confusing leave me wondering how the world is the way it is. After class this morning, we went to a museum and I read several exhibits detailing the benefit of conservation, about the value of the Arctic, and how it is horrible that so many human activities threaten the integrity of the region. I turned a corner and saw a reading area covered with seal pelts, with baby seal pillows. A library of books had been provided, so you could lounge on the dead animals and read the about environmentalism. I snuggled up, and looked across the room to a wall full of quotes – one which called the Arctic the “thermometer of the world” because it most drastically responds to environmental damage. It seemed so oxymoronic.

Afterwards, I bundled up in my layers – two sweaters, four pants, my winter coat, three scarves, and my trusty “toaster” mittens and hat and walked with the group out onto the sea ice. The image was stunning; it the most quintessential arctic landscape you could image. Across the water were huge dune-like mountains, covered in snow. The wind had blown of the icebergs into the U-shaped bay, and behind us and to our right were glaciers. All we needed was a polar bear eating a seal and we’d have the true arctic experience.

I think that will probably come tomorrow when we go dog-sledding across the ice fields. We decided not to go snowmobiling, because we felt that such a disruptive activity would probably be counterproductive given the subject of courses. We’re going to be suited up in all-weather snow outfits, and spend three and a half hours driving our own sleds with our own pack of dogs. It’s going to be quite an experience. And I cannot wait. After all these things I’ve done, I can’t imagine going home and going back to the mundane, the routine. I was walking back to the hotel today and every hair on my few inches of exposed face froze and icicles formed on my hat and I couldn’t believe how lucky I am.

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