Finally I am in the air and taking leave of Longyearbyen. A lot of us are leaving on the same flight so there's been a lot of hugging and kissing and some tears. I don't really do the big goodbye stuff.
So onto the plane... Passing through mist and cloud and up, I see the sun for the first time. It has been so low on the horizon for the past couple of weeks that only a glow from below the horizon reminds us of its presence. Now here it is, shining gold in a blue sky above a thick bank of pink-blue-white clouds that stretch to the horizon. Small whisps sail by. I can see cloud roads and canyons and rivers snaking through their mass. The Longyearbyen I leave behind is a grey rain-filled landscape. It feels even more like a frontier town. Sad patches of dirty snow lie abandoned; the roads wet, no longer shining with slippery ice that had me skittering to the sides, arms flailing. Snow is fast disappearing from the mountains. I look up at the one I climbed yesterday; now stark, dark rock, not the snow-covered peak I encountered. Is this normal?
I am filming out of the window of the plane, a Boeing 737-800. It’s my last -ditch attempt at getting aerial footage, and I have no idea what will emerge. If I get anything you’ll be the first to know. My kite has been carried up mountains and down, ridden in Zodiacs, sat on shores in front of glaciers. Occasionally it’s been unpacked and laid out across stone strewn ground ready for flights that haven’t happened, but mostly it been left rolled up in its bag. I have spent time walking around holding my arms out as though embracing the landscape, feeling for winds that weren’t there to be felt. When there was wind there were Walrus, or rain, or not enough wind, or too much wind, or wind that came in gusts and then disappeared, leaving me standing poised with strings held out, waiting and waiting, until they stuck to the frozen permafrost ground and snagged on rocks. Yes it’s been frustrating.
Back to the plane…… Below me are brown mountains, peaks poking out of the clouds stretching out beneath me. I can see down to the ground where shining lakes sit.
The in-flight magazine in the pocket of the seat in front of me tells me that this month’s questions are can spoon carving be good for your health, and should babies sleep in cardboard boxes? The answer is that apparently you can whittle your way to inner peace, and that yes, the Finnish baby box come with everything you need for the first years of life, and has been used successfully in Finland since 1938. I also learn that the plane I’m in is 39.8m long, 12.5m high, has a wingspan of 35.8m, two engines CFM 56-7B26 which give a thrust of 26,400lbs per engine with a cruise speed of 858kph. It tells me that the plane I’m in is one of the most environmentally friendly and greenest planes in the world; I feel smug. On following pages I am introduced to ‘smart tools’ for the ‘smart man’ in the way of personal grooming…. I wonder if I should takes some notes and pass them on. But then I find Gidsken Jakobsen – Norway’s aviation pioneer, who, from the look of her, would have no truck with sharp-looking men with or without tidy moustaches and big beard kits (do these actually give you big beards I wonder?).
Racing a Chevrolet, and then taking up flying, Gidsken Jakobsen became the first person to fly her Finnish Säa ski II sea plane, Måsen, from Narvik in northern Norway to Oslo – a treacherous 35 day journey in the winter of 1929. Taking off on another epic journey from Balestrand in June 1934, her engine fell out of her plane midflight, 900m above Sognefjord. Somehow she managed to land in the bay and survive. What a woman!
Our pilot comes over the radio – apparently it’s 4 degrees in Oslo and we will be landing in 20 minutes. Outside we are back to masses of white cloud lying below us. The plane banks and starts its descent; white-out, and then the landscape flashes towards us and with a jolt we are back on terra-firma.
It’s dark when I finally leave Oslo four hours later; time spent hanging about in an airport is not my idea of fun. The plane is crowded and I’m sure I’m not in the right seat; I don’t do isle seats, but don’t want to argue with the person occupying the seat – my seat - beside me… I crane my neck to look out the window as the plane taxis. I glimpse a sign saying ‘technical services’ and red green blue lights flashing past. The plane pauses, lurches forward with a roar and up into the air. Lights recede and we’re in dark sky.
I have left the Arctic far behind… but not in my head… it will be resurrected in work I’ll be making in the studio over the coming year.