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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

The changes they are a-coming

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

May 5th

Sitting quietly drawing dogs in the afternoon sun there’s a sudden deep roar; the dogs and I all turn our heads and stare at the sea. Just off the shore one of the icebergs has just flipped over. The sea around it is agitated, small waves hit the ice shelf, other icebergs jostle for space, and then slowly everything settles. So what caused that to happen? And why only that one? I think it’s got something to do with gravity and mass - if they melt in a way that changes their weight, this can cause it to tip over. Still, it’s quite rare to see it happen; me and the dogs are impressed, then we, the dogs and me, go back to what we were doing – in both cases, not much.

I don’t know why I am drawing dogs.. I suppose because they’re omnipresent and an essential part of life here - if you are a hunter you have a pack of dogs to pull the sled.

I walk up above the village and hang about there –I’m definitely having a slow day – there’s an old house painted blue that has seen better days and is in need of a make-over. The window frames are rotten and need replacing, one is hanging off. On the back is a painting of a hill. There are several dilapidated houses in the settlement where no-one is living at the moment – some are summer houses, others probably need pulling down and starting again


Walking over to the other still iced-up side I watch a small ship cutting it’s way through the ice. A large tanker came a few days ago and attempted to break through the ice and reach the harbour. Having spent some time ploughing into the ice, then reversing to gather speed and then pushing forward again, it gave up and went back from wherever it had come. This smaller ship is more tenacious. The bay round the harbour is now a chaotic mass of broken flat chunks of ice, which move about and keeps the small fishing boats guessing as to which way to escape.

But great excitement – the supply boat brings the long desired provisions to the shop - we will all be there in the morning. The crew and helpers spends most of the evening and night attaching large crates to the crane and swinging them on to land.

I go down in the morning along with others, and buy bananas, carrots, potatoes, and a sort of Chinese cabbage (well it’s green!).

Friday 6th May

First Friday of the month and it’s the ‘walking the land’ group’s day for walking – either in a group or in solitude. For them this walk is about walking in woods, but they are in the UK, so I decide that for my equivalent walk I’m going out to find trees in Greenland. I’ve made a short i-movie piece (can’t really call it a film) with sound and have posted it on Vimeo. I've called it 'The Quest'. Here is a link: (hope it works).

If you want to find out if I discover any trees you’ll have to watch it. It needs more work as there are some gliches, and I need to re-record my voice, but it will do for now.

I also make some drawings of plants I find under the snow and ice.

It’s the weekend and it’s all go here in Oqaatsut; Andreas and his family arrive, the tanker returns and makes it into the harbour to fill the oil tanks, a helicopter lands just above the house where I sleep (I don't mean that green house in my photo - although it looks quite cute - mine is the blue one). All the kids rush out and have a tour round it, before it takes off and soars away into the blue.

Small fishing boats wrestle their way through the maze of ice in the harbour, pushing the chunks out of the way, riding in and over them to get out of the harbour. I walk across the ice to where Andreas has his boat and watch while they try to leave, but it’s no go; there’s just too much ice on this side, so they abandon it and hitch a ride with another boat.

There's been several days of sun, the snow is definitely on the way out; I’ve even sat outside a read a few times. But the melting has a downside, it’s slushy underfoot and at night the slush freezes and then it’s slippery. Coming back from a solo ramble to see the midnight sun – it’s light all the time now – I put my foot on what is usually a sensible option – a firm rock - and skid in an unseemly fashion and crash down. The rock is covered in ice. Don’t think any one saw (but now you all know!) and I now have a large bruise on my right thigh. However it was worth it - midnight is just fantastic – the world is pink and gold and turquoise, and then it becomes pale blues and dusky pink above. The light is just wonderful, when the sun is shining and the bay is still, reflecting the icebergs and blue sky.

Having said it was sun sun sun over the weekend, there’s just been a storm, which starts Monday and continues all day and into the night.There is so much snow falling I can’t see across to the other houses, so I don’t venture out much. It’s left a really thick layer of snow over everything.

But I do take some great moody photos and maybe I will work some drawings from these.

So now it’s Tuesday and the sun is back and the thawing starts again, although the sun is deceptive – after an hour or so of sitting out drawing it’s bloody cold and I’m not sure I can feel my nose. I have less than 2 weeks left here and a lot of ends to tie up before I pack up and leave. I’ve decided to make lots of small drawings – in fact the quicker ones seem to turn out best - each day it’s going to be down to the bay to see what arrangements the icebergs are forming and draw! Here are todays selection:

Not sure what is happening to my eating habits here – for lunch I have cheese sauce made with potato flour on bread with last night’s left over roast veg – potato carrot onion cabbage. I put it down to the limited selection of material to work with here, rather than my slovenly cooking.

Thought that you might like some facts about Oqaatsut:

Oqaatsut (Rodebay), built 15 - 20 km north of Ilulissat in West Greenland in Qaasuitsup Kommunia with views of icebergs in Disko Bay.

ETYMOLOGY: The place name is Greenlandic, meaning 'the cormorants' or 'the tongueless'. The original name was Rodebay, meaning ‘red bay’, given to it by Dutch whalers – the buildings still exist here, now turned into a sometimes summer restaurant.

Oqaatsut has been inhabited since the 1700s, and received the status as an official settlement in 1877. In 2016 there were 27 inhabitants, and there’s not that many more now. There is one small grocery store and a church that doubles as a schoolhouse and meeting place. There are approximately 6-8 pupils in the school.

I'm off to bed - it's nearly 1am here and outside a snow bunting is singing and a couple of dogs are howling and it's really light. Gotta put all my outdoor gear on and go out and across to the other house through the snow..

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11. maj 2022

Thanks for sharing your experiences Janette - your images and evocative word pictures. I now have snow and ice envy

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