To aim for the highest point is not the only way to climb a mountain
Tuesday May 17th. Bit of a gloomy start to the day here in Oqaatsut after the last few days of sun sun sun. So I’m using it to catch up on emails and writing. I realise that I haven’t put up a Blog post for a while.
I’m here on my own now – the other two artists Sonia and Roswitha have left, which is sad as it was lovely having them here and we got on so well. It’s also strange being in a remote place where I can’t communicate with most people who live in Oqaatsut and I’m reliant on others to get me out of here – which make me feel a bit vulnerable. Despite Ilullissat only being 20km away, there is a lot of ice and snow and hills between here and there, and no road, just a track.
In between the last post and this one there have been a couple of snow storms so snow has piled up again.
I look out of the windows and watch the snow swirling around the houses. At some points during these storms I can't see very far from the house, at others between snow arriving the sky looks dramatic against the hills. I watch a couple of ravens swooping between the houses - maybe looking for scraps of food or maybe the odd snow bunting (do they eat snow buntings?).
I've been out drawing the broken up ice in the harbour side bay - watching fishing boats skilfully manoeuvring around and through and even over the maze of slabs. There's still a lot of ice out there.
I've been out a few evenings to catch the midnight sun (sorry corny sunset picture coming up). Rushing as much as I can through slippery ice to catch the sun set and bask in a world of orange, then back before the snow which is in the air starts falling.
Monday night I go out again with my flask of hot chocolate, sit on the bench facing the ocean and watch the icebergs slowly turning. In the last few days a couple of Canada Geese have arrived and they make a lot of indignant squawking at my approach and disappear across the water.
The light, as usual, is glorious, and apart from a few intermittent crashings and disturbances on the water, it's so quiet that I can hear the flap of wings as birds pass overhead. A small boat approaching disturbs the silence; it comes close to the shore and a figure clambers on the ice and disappears amongst the houses. The boat speeds off weaving its way between the icebergs heading Ilulisaat way. Silence again, a few distant bird calls; there is no-one else around.
Sunday May 15th I look at the hill opposite the house and decide it is time to tackle it. I've been eying it up for a while. Pack a rucksack with sketchbook and drawing materials, grab a tracker bar, and head off.
The snow is quite deep after a couple of recent snowstorms, but there is enough rock still exposed to help avoid most of the deep bits. I trudge past the small graveyard and then climb upwards, following the footsteps of others (or are they mine?) There’s a small section of rope to grab that helps with the more vertical incline (and descent). I follow the faint tracks from a sledge that has passed this way, then veer off and make for a pile of stones above me. Reaching it I can see other stone markers indicating a kind of route or at least something to aim for, so I negotiate my way round the snow trying to keep to the rocks and where I cross the white expanses check the depth of snow with my pole – I don’t want any nasty surprises when I’m up there on my own. I pause; Oqatsuut is looking smaller below me. The sounds of dogs drifts up and I can see a few people wandering around. I make it up to a large stone cairn and sit down.
The summit is just above me – but is it worth going higher? I think about what Nan Shepherd says about climbing in her Cairn Gorm mountains, and I am sure I have quoted her before – “To aim for the highest point is not the only way to climb a mountain”. There is no need to go higher; from here I can see both up and down.
I gaze around me. There is a stillness; it’s warm, I could go to sleep. I let my eyes travel across the landscape, moving my eyes from my rocky perch, slowly out across the rock and snow I have climbed across and out further. A pure white gull flies level with me – I think that it might be an Ivory Gull, a gleaming white bird of the frozen north. To my right black and white hills stand out against a blue sky, to my left there is sea and icebergs to the horizon.
Ahead I can see the shape and smallness of the peninsula on which Oqatsuut sits, nestled between the bays - I’m not sure ‘nestled’ is the right word as it suggests a cosiness that I don’t feel there is here, maybe ‘huddled’ is better - dwarfed by a landscape of snow-covered hills and mountains and blue sea with its floating flotilla of assorted shaped and sized icebergs. Their colours bright in this monochrome world, the random scattering of the small wooden houses is even more evident from up here – maybe there is a plan but I can’t work it out. A trail from dog sleds and snow-mobiles trace a path back and forth across white ice covering the bay from the foot of the hills to the edge of the settlement, there’s a couple of tiny figures walking on it. The broken jumble of ice around the harbour, a few boats moored on the ice shelf. More small boats arrive and depart. A child’s high voice calling. I watch a dog sled returning from the hills to the houses. The excited barking of the ‘left behind’ dogs, who can see them coming, heralds their arrival. Can anyone see me up here? I imagine the village peering up through field glasses thinking – what is she up to now? Well I’m not trying to film myself being a dog as Sonia was, or a seal as I helped Roswitha to be. All valid things to do of course! I’m just sitting about drawing, which might be thought of as equally weird.
I try to draw the shape of the hills and valleys but I get lost in the maze of crevasses.
After while I feel the chill factor creeping in and realise that despite the misleading daylight it’s getting late. When the paint on the paper starts to freeze you know it's time to leave.
At a time of global ecological crisis, when greed and short-sightedness of humans threatens an increasingly fragile environment, there is a desperate need to try to understand the landscape and the rhythms of nature while it’s still here to be amongst.