I traveled to the Arctic to research the skies, atmosphere - to see first hand and how it’s changing with climate change. At passport control in Oslo on the way through the airport, the agent asked me if I was going there to watch the ice melt. Foolishly, I said yes and parroted something about climate change. Doesn’t everyone know that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet? I think he actually rolled his eyes at my response.
The truth is, over the last few weeks, what I saw was a breathtaking pristine landscape. Snow came earlier than normal this year, so when I arrived it was blanketed in perfect white. While on the ship we saw dozens of glaciers - larger-than-life scenes of ultramarine, teal, cobalt, and indigo. Daytime skies appeared rarely brighter than dusk, so pinks, peaches, apricots, periwinkles, and violets ruled the sky. The first week was dotted with days of more fresh snow, allowing us to see recent tracks made by polar bears, arctic foxes, reindeer, and ptarmigans.
When we headed back south again towards Longyearbyen, the weather had gotten warmer and the snow started to melt. Only then could we see traces of human carelessness. On one hike, we saw the skull of a reindeer that had gotten entangled with a large fishing net. The nets get caught in reindeer antlers, then the reindeer struggle to get free. Only making this worse, this reindeer eventually tired out and starved to death. On another hike, we saw a rocky beach peppered with garbage. Rusty paint can, five-gallon bucket, rope, plastic pieces, bags, and glass.
What I learned is a lesson in the pace of time. It may be impossible to actually visualize most of the effects of climate change within a window of a couple of weeks. How arrogant of me to think I’d see it otherwise. The agent was right: I couldn’t really SEE the ice melting. But what I did see is the opportunity to see a place in all of its beauty and wonder. I still feel panicked by the damage that humans may ultimately cause in the Arctic, even more so now than before I visited. But this trip showed me the value of falling in love with a place. To me, it’s real and tangible. I can envision the changes over time. I will remember the smells, the light, the cold.
Anything I can do to help keep this vast place as it is, I will.
Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to write about my experience and post photos here. Stay tuned to learn more about my trip with The Arctic Circle residency from October 1-15, 2018.
This activity is made possible, in part, by funds provided by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC) through a grant from The McKnight Foundation.