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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

Mist descending - act 1

Updated: May 27, 2022

Friday: the children and I walk from house to house and pick up their solargraphic cameras. I then try to process them, but the school’s scanner isn't up to the job and we can’t change the resolution. I show the kids what I’m doing, but after a couple of times, most are actually keener to go and play football in the hall, and I can’t blame them – I don’t have any finished solargraphs to show them. The images as negatives look very promising, but I will now have to take them back to the UK and scan them again at a higher resolution before I can make some decent images out of them. Sorry Oqaatsut, you will have to wait for the results.

In the evening I walk out over the mass of flat slabs of dark rock that are now exposed – there are a mass of plants showing; mosses, low growing shrubs with even flower buds appearing (they don’t hang about), and there’s more willow.

I can get right down to the edge of the water now - I’d been looking at the sea from my window and thinking that it seems nearer. Clearly it is.

The ice shelf has gone – or is going - and the sea is breaking against the edge, washing bits of eroded snow and ice back and forth.

The icebergs in the bay have become amazing sculptures, strategically placed – it’s as though someone has gone out and curated a show; I start to draw as they move about and get confused as to which one I was drawing a minute ago. One does a complete revolution as if to say – hey, look at me now from this side… and now, how about my other side?

There’s even one that looks like a snub-nosed dragon.

It’s getting late, but I work on for a while longer, trying to capture those bergs. Further out there’s a strange effect - the icebergs on the horizon look like they’re hovering in the air. I don’t think I can photograph this. You’ll just have to take my word and imagine.

The sky on the horizon is hazy pale blue and pink, the sun reflecting on the ice; everything is pale orange and yellow and pink.


I'm just packing up from my iceberg drawing session and as I walk away there’s a rumble behind me. I twist back to the sea, just in time to catch a big iceberg near the shore rolling over. I can’t believe I’ve actually caught this happening! Dropping everything, my eyes fixed on the sea, I fumble for my phone - but I can't get it out of my pocket fast enough to catch the actual turn. The sea churns as I film the berg rocking back and forth as it settles, shedding bits of ice.

Later I try to make a painting of this event.

Well, you get the picture... there’s a lot of ice and water flying about!

Sunday: I wake up in the middle of the night and I can hear the wind. Am I in Shetland? I go back to sleep. In the morning I can still hear the wind; I open the curtains and look out – I am still in Oqaatsut and it’s raining. This is my last Sunday in Greenland; on Thursday I fly from Ilulisaat to Kangerlussuaq and then on to Copenhagen; on Friday I fly to Bristol. I wonder how I will respond to the changes in temperature and the greenness that will greet me... and the choice of vegetables - I am so missing spinach.

Outside the snow is looking very sad; rivers of water are streaming down the hill, pools of yellow brown liquid accumulating. The birds are happy; where there was a marshy frozen area, now there’s a pool. Harbourside there are large blocks of ice pressing upwards, large cracks appearing.

How long will the frozen bay harbour side remain frozen? It’s looking fluid; that will put an end to the dog sleds trips, and will the snowmobiles continue to drive around the settlement? Now is the time for the boats, and there are already more day tourists arriving. I walk across to the main house –it’s extremely wet and soggy underfoot. The pastor is ringing the bell for the Sunday service for the third time this morning; the Greenlandic flag has been hoisted and is fluttering in a south-westerly breeze. I slip, slide, wade across to the building and go in – my last chance to be holy – I swell the congregation by a quarter - there are now four of us, plus the pastor, and two of us don’t speak Greenlandic.

An hour later the wind drops, the flag hangs limply, and it’s snowing; that wet snow that doesn’t settle. Visibility – hmm, well not very far. Not a very conducive day to going out and about in. In the evening I watch from the window as the mist and snow drift in and out.

I start imagining I’m watching a film or maybe I’m making it …. small wooden buildings are laid out below me, a thick mist is enveloping the sea, the settlement is cut off from anywhere else. A solitary figure appears from stage left, walking across between the houses. He walks up to one, climbs the steps, pauses, the door opens and a brief conversation ensues - I can’t hear what is said. The man enters, door closes, silhouetted figures inside pass from window to window. The mist lifts slightly, and a boat appears with a man standing. It nudges along the shoreline of ice. He seems to be peering down into the water, the boat moves back and forwards for a while and then disappears The mist descends again, a dog howls, then silence. Nothing moves.

I think maybe I have been here too long…

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