14 October 2010 – Moffen Island

Moffen Island – wild and white and flat, nothing but a lagoon surrounded by pebbles and snow. There is sky in all directions, no hill, no feature except the criss-cross of driftwood from one end to the other.

There are walrus: rolling, hulking, tusked monsters dangerous in water and slow on land. They raise their heads and peer. They are a rolling huddle just back from the shore and we approach slowly and quietly. Easily spooked though, they blubber their way down the beach to get away from us.

I sit on an old tree; its bark is all gone but it seems to be hairy. The ‘hair’ is splinters, almost soft as bark, or what’s left of bark, and perfectly uniform. I look out into the flat expanse of Moffen, and it is not a place of thinking, it is only a place to be aware – aware of the snow splintering against the back of my jacket, of my breath constantly clouding my glasses, of my nose running.

The snow flies either side of me, I am free to think and I think very little. This is me then, sitting on a piece of driftwood from Siberia in the high Arctic. I have come all this way and all there is to do is sit here and look. Because I have never seen this and I never will again. It is just being, a being built on longing and satisfaction, and a few minutes of solitude when I see the snow pass by my back and know what it is to be here.

The walruses come swimming to the shore later, and we are allowed to slowly walk down there. They bob their heads up out of cold sea, curious, tilt them back as though their tusks are in the way of their proper view. They come right up to the shallows, just a few feet from us. A big fat one or two stand up on their flippers and show us their barnacly chests, pink and brown and black. The stink of the herd drifts down from further along the beach.

This place is beautiful for its lack of competition – the land lies so flat it must be inundated by the tides. There are mountains in the distance scraping at the sky, but Moffen lies quiet and calm, like water on top of water. It is almost not-land, almost part of the floating world. It is a different colour from the sea and sky, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Moffen is simply a blanket thrown down, with rocks to pin it.