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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

To reach nowhere in particular

with wind chill factor it’s like -20C

It’s a white white world out there. Have just got back into bed to write as it’s cold in my room this morning – despite the oil heater downstairs now being fixed. Didn’t put the heater on up here last night as the fuse blew again and I had to repair it in the dark wearing a headlight. Have now put the mobile radiator on, so hope no-one wants to boil the kettle as the whole electrical system will blow again. I think it’s time that the wiring system in this house was overhauled.

Don’t think I’m going to be going very far today – more snow fell overnight and it’s really cold outside. Two days ago the bay was clear; even yesterday morning there were only a few small icebergs. Then came the snowstorm, and the world around Oqaatsut pretty much disappeared. In the evening, after the snow stopped falling, and the sky cleared a little we all go down to the bay. It looks amazing and we stand looking at the craziness of the scene. Thick chunks of ice have pushed together and are piled up like a barrier between land and sea.

Two days ago, just before all the snow started, Roswitha’s friend Tinor, arrived by fishing boat. A few hours later and the boat wouldn’t have been able to get here.

There is a Greenlandic word 'imaqa' which phonetically you say 'imaqac' although you swallow the last sound. It means 'maybe' and I think it's the most often used word when talking about travel.

We entertained the two fishermen with coffee and talked about whether Joel will remain a fisherman or change to tourism – taking visitors out in his boat and with his dog sled. It’s probably an easier life than standing on a freezing cold boat throwing nets and lines into the sea, but then you also have to deal with a whole lot of other issues and be good at coping with demanding visitors.

I’ve been out and about making more drawings in the snow, and also working here at my table in my room overlooking the bay.

Two days ago I am sitting on rocks overlooking the frozen bay when it begins snowing, thwarting my attempts as everything becomes covered in snow. I retreat from my rock while I can still see my way back, ploughing through the snow fast covering my tracks.

It’s difficult to assess if I’m getting anywhere with the drawings and small paintings I’m making; they litter the floor and table around me.

Frozen bay

A dog is howling somewhere but right now the dogs are quiet, curled up in tight balls; two stare at me from their wooden kennel house as I pass.

It’s becoming even more and more like an episode of the Finnish series ‘Trapped’. Maybe we won’t find the bodies until the snow melts and all is revealed. However there are no police here to investigate, although the ex head of the Greenland police force, Ole, owns and runs the ‘hotel’ here, so maybe he can be reinstated. I await the questioning to commence.

I’ve been thinking about nature writing and the ‘call of the wild’ or more precisely for me, the call of cold northern places. The idea of nature is at times used to express the wilderness. Wilderness lives at the edge of civilization, of any cultural processes. In the strictest reading of the term, humans can now only encounter wilderness in very few selected places on earth, where the influence of human societies is negligible; if you include the environmental impact produced by humans on the whole ecosystem, it might be argued that there are no wild place left on our planet. If the idea of wilderness is used in a broader sense, then a walk in a forest or a trip on the ocean, or to a remote(ish) snow-bound environment could be associated with experiences of the wild, i.e. natural.

My thoughts are interrupted by the priest ringing the bell so we donned outdoor wear as fast as we can to join the congregation.A female priest, who has arrived from Ilulisaat by snow mobile, with her organ player, gives the service. I’m not sure the organ playing adds much; the row in front of me get the giggles when she starts the wrong hymn. Proceedings are interrupted by a screaming child who has been running about and finding the table football machine at the back of the room more interesting than the sermon. He is eventually removed from the building, his screams slowly fading as his father carries him away on his shoulders. There is sacrament giving, which we the Europeans (do I count as a European still?) watch from our seats as they kneel before the altar. What am I an atheist doing there observing this ritual? Later when I return from the shop I pass one of the older women who was at the service and she nods and smiles at me.

The landscape and light continues to change. I pack my sketchbook and paints and head down to the ice filled bay, dragging a wooden pallet behind a house so at least I’m not sitting on ice and stone. Despite adding vodka to the water my paint rapidly freezes and becomes slush on the page.

Slush painting in progress (I've worked on this since I took the picture and the ice melted and dried).

I too am freezing. I stop trying to paint and just watch the confusion of blue and white ice piled up in the bay. When I get back to writing and thinking, I find this quote from Nan Shepherd talking about walking amongst the rocks in the Cairngorms:

“….How can I number the worlds to which the eye gives me entry? - the world of light, of colour, of shape, of shadow: of mathematical precision in the snowflake, the ice formation, the quartz crystal, the patterns of stamen and petal: of rhythm in the fluid curve and plunging line of the mountain faces. Why some blocks of stone, hacked into violent and tortured shapes, should so profoundly tranquillise the mind I do not know. Perhaps the eye imposes its own rhythm on what is only a confusion: one has to look creatively to see this mass of rock as more than jag and pinnacle - as beauty’.

On walking in the mountains Shepherd remarks ‘… often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him…

I go out most days with not much of an idea where I am going; there is always some moment when there is a particular light and shape that stops me, or something that makes me change my course and head somewhere else. When I start a drawing I am never sure where it’s going to take me, or how it’s going to turn out, but the intention is to try to absorb something from the landscape in the drawing.

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