Entries in Longyearbyen (2)


Kayaking the Arctic

On my last day in Longyearbyen, in the Arctic, I wanted to kayak. In a kayak you sit close to the water, and I hoped to feel more inside of this landscape that we had been floating through on a sailboat for the past two weeks.  But also, at home in the Hudson Valley I kayak every day, so to be in a little boat on the water for me is to feel home.

In 1896 Nansen with his traveling companion Johansen end their three year expedition in the Arctic crossing open water in kayaks made of skins stretched over a wooden frame. The kayaks were boxy and stable and could carry a large load. At one point, walrus surround their boats, and a walrus “shot up beside [Nansen], threw itself onto the edge of the kayak, took hold farther over the deck with one fore-flipper and, as it tried to upset [him], aimed a blow at the kayak with its tusks.” At another point, a walrus punches a hole through his boat.


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Therese, Arctic GuideWe all find safety where we can. During this trip to the Arctic, when we went on shore, three guides and one husky dog preceded us.  Together, they marked out a triangle-shaped piece of land where we were allowed to walk. Two stood with WWII era wooden rifles and binoculars scanning to the horizon. In this way, as we doddled about the beach or hiked a hill in the snow, we would be safe from an unexpected arrival from a polar bear.


Of course, we all want to see that polar bear, but not one walking toward us. So we were all grateful for the protection even if it seemed a bit restrictive. Even if all I wanted to do was walk into the horizon, bear or not.


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