Entries in Norway (4)


Little Auk

PuffinI left the narrow, gravel beach and walked across the layer of snow, uphill, toward the side of the half green mountain towering above us. From time to time the grainy snow collapsed under my weight and I punched through to thigh level. At one point, my foot came up without the Muck boot; I dug down to liberate my boot.

At the top of the short hill stood Sara Blue with her husky dog Nemo. I wondered if, standing there scanning into the distance for bears, she was bored or content. Did she want conversation or to be left with the silence of the Arctic landscape?

That silence was punctuated by the calls of the Little Auks (known in the States as Dovekies) on the mountainside above us. I could see the flurry of activity of the auks, skimming left and right in small flocks. Their busyness was dizzying, dots disappearing against a craggy mountainside, or landing on a flank of the mountain, like pepper sprinkled to season to the snow. They seemed to know what they wanted, where they were going.  Self preservation and propagation—that is the whole story.


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Arctic Garbage

Bogdan photographing Arctic beach junkThe pleasure of picking up garbage (if I can call it a pleasure) is that you can do it anywhere, even in the Arctic. On our second day on the Barkentine ship Antigua we woke in a ice-skate smooth bay named Safe Harbor. We loaded into the zodiacs and were transported across to land. There, the guides had marked out a safe zone, Sarah standing tall at the top of the hill, rifle at hand, binoculars scanning into the distance for polar bear.

The beach where we landed was small gray pebbles, leading into a long bank of soft, grainy snow. The 26 artists with whom I was travelling (with The Arctic Circle) then all went about experiencing the Arctic: taking photographs, recording sounds, digging in the snow, lying in the snow, drawing, and writing.  There was Bogdan Luca, gathering the few pieces of plastic that littered the shore.  He placed them together, took photographs. I pocketed the two pieces I found—a green plastic cap and a hefty piece of white plastic. Both fit neatly in my pocket. I thought of the bags and bags of garbage I haul out of the Tivoli Bay on the Hudson River, and this seemed nothing. But it also felt too much: should this landscape not be pristine?


Red PhalaropeA few days later we came onto land in a beautiful harbor off of the Van Kevlenfjorden. There, a few of us launched into a hike along the water. Red Phalarope spun in circles in the water near us and reindeer trotted on the green land, which had just been  liberated from snow. And wedded to the pebbles of the beach were plastic twine and bottle caps, chunks of plastic and nets. These nets tangle the reindeer, the birds.  “Can we slow down and pick up all this crap?” I asked the guide. And so we did, gathering a good bag full of ocean junk.

And I thought of the ways that picking up garbage is like birding. The more you look for birds, the more you see. It’s like playing Russian dolls with the natural world. And, once you start spotting garbage, you see it everywhere. At the next landing, all I could see was the plastic left behind or dumped overboard, and washed ashore.


ReindeerAs I traveled through the Arctic, I was thinking about the early explorers, and what they experienced: what they saw and where they found their comfort in this cold, big landscape. My heroes are Amundsen and Nansen, both traveling at the end of the 19th and into the early 20th century. Neither saw a plastic bottle on shore (plastic was invented in 1907). But they must have seen debris from ships: logs, nets, ropes. But nothing on the scale I hauled off the beach.

The plastics I gathered will be taken back to Longyearbyen and there, I am told, an artist will create something with these bags of stuff brought back from travelers around the island of Spitsbergen. I look forward to what is created from what is not wanted. 



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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Hooded Crow in Oslo

Black-headed GullThe black-headed gull I passed on the way to my hotel in Oslo looked spooked by its own shadow. So too was I as it was 9:30 at night—not a time when shadows lurk. But here in the north, the sun doesn’t look like it’s going to set anytime soon.

I arrived in Oslo this morning from the States. The first bird I saw (besides a pigeon—they don’t count) was a Hooded Crow. A few years ago a Hooded Crow—a decidedly European bird—appeared near a dumpster on Staten Island. There was enough excitement that I picked up and drove down to pay it a visit. Like many twitching events this one was a bit of a disappointment. The bird was mobbed by big lenses and crowds. The setting was potentially beautiful—the beach was right there—but overlooked in favor of focusing on the dumpster that the crow hoped might provide a meal. After I saw that one lone bird I wondered a lot about it. How had it arrived on our shores? Seems doubtful it flew. So perhaps it was trapped in a container ship and spent a week at sea. No wonder it had attached itself to the dumpster.

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