22 & 23 October 2010 – back in Longyearbyen
Off the boat in the morning, 9am. The dock is unfamiliar; my last step outside is in near-darkness, and at the adjoining wharf a huge truck appears to be tipping refuse out into a small bulk carrier, shipping out Longyearbyen’s garbage. As daylight arrives, there are hugs all round, goodbyes to the crew, and lots of schlepping of gear along the slippery gangways and across to the bus. It seems sudden, and final.
Back at Mary-Ann’s Polarrigg, it’s a day for getting back to the email, getting my head round what’s got to happen next. All around me people are making their plans, talking with their partners on Skype; it’s all about connection.
The mountains are familiar now: tall and white-washed, their shape delineated by the black tips of rock, the black ledges, the black pebble beaches. The snow is a foot deep at the side of the road and on either side of the path to the bridge.
Janet talks to me about that sense of lost-and-foundness that we all carry, whether it is as artists, or as artists with this particular Fernweh – the longing for what’s far – and the longing to create a place where we belong. Outside, at only 4pm, the twilight is turning into pale, greaseproof paper against the outlines of everything caked in snow; snow which has become thick and compressed and creamy, and which is blinding, not because it is bright, but because it completely erases detail. It reflects so perfectly that there is no shadow at all to suggest line or form, not even a hint of change in tone from one spot to another. The mountains dissolve upwards into the snow’s full, possessive sky.
I have not photographed the iced-over, snowed-over creek or the giant, prickly folds of the hills behind us – I am ready to fly away and digest everything. And at the same time a voice says ‘go out and do it, before it is too late’. Each moment is another moment that I do not grasp any more of this place, a moment in which it is already ended.
I remember sounds: the thrunch of thick snow compacted by my boots, over and over and over, resounding in the shell of my goretex hood, so loud it’s as though my ears are on my heel. The thin, dolphin whistle of ice talking to ice, in a tiny bay so calm that Laurie comes back with video footage that looks like a single still frame. She wonders whether the camera has frozen.
I have not been frozen here: it has been a place of tumultuous change, strongly perceptible, day by day. No slow, glacial grind towards change and decay, no gradual wind-shearing erosion, but instead something like climbing a staircase: each day I felt the shift from yesterday, the relationship of myself to this place shifting. When I go from here, I wonder what will be left inside me: whether it will be black, ice-blue or searing white, or a dirty mix of everything, loose or conglomerate, like the rocks at Erikbreen.