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  • Janette Kerr Land of Ice

Walking and thinking

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Thought that I’d show you where I am on the map: The route for walking or snow mobile from Illulissat to Oqaatsut is shown as the black broken line, so you can see where it crosses the sea ice in sections. I’m on a peninsular far from any roads (there are very few roads in Greenland).

Friday April 8th - 6°C

The landscape continues to disappear. I can see the world of Oqatsuut go by from this window. I watch people arriving to fill water cans, wandering in circles talking on mobile phones, sauntering past, walking from one house to another, maybe off to the shop. A small boy in a blue snowsuit is pushing a sledge back and forwards outside the window, pausing to crack his whip now and again. Despite the fact that it’s still snowing someone has their washing out on a line, blowing stiffly in the breeze; maybe it’s a smart way to clean it and saves going to the laundry.

I spend some time thinking about drawing and making paintings. It's tricky arriving in a place and not knowing it. I mean that in the sense of feeling not exactly comfortable, because edgy is some times a good place to be when making work, but I am just still not sure yet what to do here, what to do with all this ice. Maybe it’s enough for now just to walk in it, but that old work ethic keeps kicking in and I worry about wasting time.

I go for an evening wander. The light out to sea is ethereal. It’s still light at 9pm. A pink glow from the sky reflects on the sea and ice, a turquoise strip of ice in on the horizon, but of course my photographs can’t do this justice.

More house-keeping: just had to go and find Hans to fix the electricity in the sleeping house as it’s not working at all. Not good to have no heat at these temperature; it’s going to get very cold if we don’t fix it – it’s -8°C this evening. Fortuitously he lives next door. I’m relieved that it’s just a fuse, having had visions of the three of us dragging mattresses through the snow and sleeping in a row on the floor in the other house. It’s looking even whiter out there)

Saturday 9th -10°C morning

I was freezing last night; my room has no heat! While I’m not adverse to cold, I woke up in the middle of the night with aching legs and cramp. Not good. Found some blankets after rummaging around in the back of the room, and maybe I will just have to sleep with all my clothes on.

Still haven’t washed. Thought I’d just throw that out there. But in this cold no-one smells much.

The sun is here to day, it’s stopped snowing, and now (midday) it’s suddenly +1.3C and counting. The light is pretty amazing; blue sky, and the bay looks freer of ice, apart from the huge floating icebergs.

I walk up the hill behind the house, try to draw but lying on the granite rocks looking at blue icebergs I fall asleep in the warmth of the sun.

When I wake I start to climb to the furthest cairn (not sure what the Greenland equivalent word is). On route I pass the town ‘dump’ of old broken furniture, rusting machinery, broken glass, tin cans etc., lying half buried in the snow.

What happens to all this stuff? Does it just get left to rot or is it removed in the summer months, or just burned? These are the challenges of living in a place only accessible by snow mobile or dog sled or by boat and of course when weather and ice permits.

There are a mass of strange black objects sticking out of the snow; could they be black flowers? As I draw closer I realise that they are definitely not flora, but frozen black plastic bags, part buried in the snow and used for another purpose far from a decorative one. (Not sure that any of you are ready to know this. I will just say that I will certainly be leaving some of me behind in Greenland). I move on – in all ways.

The snow is pretty deep so there are a few ‘up to the thigh’ moments. From the top there’s a view across to the far hills/mountains.

Not sure if they are actually mountains, but they look pretty high from here. Geologists classify a mountain as a landform rising at least 1,000 feet (300 meters) or more above its surrounding area. Looking on the map, most of the hills surrounding Oqatsuut don’t qualify; the largest mountain over that way is 684 metres high, but maybe it can’t be seen from up here, and there’s a slightly nearer one that’s 425m. I look down at the narrow opening of blue water that’s now free of ice between Oqaatsut and the island Oequertaq; it’s where the supply boats arrive, and fishermen deliver their catch of halibut to the fish factory. I wander about and watch tiny people wandering about on the ice below me, before ploughing through the snow back to the house. There’s a moment that I suddenly feels a chill in the air arrive, and you know it’s time for a hot drink and warmth.

Thought I’d show you the water collecting facilities and method for the place.

Here’s the water tank and the containers ready to be fill, and the sled for dragging them back up to the house – fortunately it’s not too far to go. (I’ve been corrected by Andreas – the water we collect from here comes from the sea, hence the desalination plant. So sadly I’m not drinking ancient icebergs which are always fresh water; some people collect chunks of ice and melt to use to drink).

Sunday 10th -4°C morning

Another day of sun… and my room was warm last night for the first time since I’ve slept here!!! Roswitha helped me drag a oil filled heater up the stairs (for stairs read ladder), and it’s now so warm I’ve had to turn it down, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to the cold.

As I eat breakfast the Greenlandic flag being raised by the priest on the building next to ours, who then rings the bell summoning people to the Easter service, once to remind them that it’s Sunday and there’s going to be service, the second time I assume is to say the service is about to begin real soon, and the third time to say ‘get here now!’

I watch from the window as a few people slowly make their way to the building. It would be interesting to go but I don’t want to feel like a voyeur. The building is multi-functional and acts as a school, a social space for kick-box, and as a chapel. The priest has several jobs as well, not sure he does kick boxing though.

The temperature has risen to +10°C; positively balmy. I install two more solargraphic cameras on the other side of town before running out of cable ties. I hope Andreas is bringing more. One is pointing at the old missionary house that no-one want anything to do with, and the other one angled looking though the town to the sea.

The dog sled is off out going out again; I’m alerted by a lot of excitable barking before they set off. The left-behinds look sadly on as their companions disappear across the frozen bay.

I walk across the ice, following the mass of tracks left by the sleds and snow-mobiles – if it can hold them it can hold me.

As I walk I imagine the sea moving below me under the meter deep layer of ice and snow and wonder what’s swimming underneath me as I walk. It’s heavy going walking in thick churned-up slushy snow, that’s already beginning to melt in places so I can see the ice. I get about three quarters of the way across before I meet the dog sled coming back, then give up and return to land. I cheekily take a photo of them - they must get fed up of the tourists doing this, so I feel a bit guilty.

Later in the evening I walk over to the other bay with its floating icebergs and flocks of birds fringing the ice edges, and watch the evening light slowing changing, with flashes of turquoise ice on the horizon and bruised pink sky.

Looking out of my window tonight there are flashing lights in the dark on the hill and a fainter line of lights that seem to be on the track between Oqaatsut and Ilullisat; I’ve not noticed them before and they’re not getting any nearer; the dogs are barking like crazy, so wonder if something’s happening out there.

Addendum: the lights are from work at the new international airport that’s being constructed and to do so they have to flatten a large hill by blasting the granite rock. It’s taking some time to be accomplished. Will Ilulissat become to new 'go-to' destination?


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