Friday, 24 February 2017

Arctic Blog Sunday 9th October, Blomstrandhalvøya: flying frustrations

Sunday 9/10/2016 0°C, 5m/s. Blomstrandhalvøya 78°59,6 ́N 012°04.6 ́E.  Sunrise 09:37 – Sunset 17:49 
satellite image of our location
The light across the far mountains is beautiful when I go up on deck before breakfast, pale pink early morning sun glinting off the blue glacier that stretches to the horizon, a dusting of snow on the black mountains. Fresh cold clear air to breathe. The quietness is palpable. I love it first thing when there are few people about and I can have the deck pretty much to myself.

Breakfast over we take to the zodiacs and land on an island close to Glacier Blomstrandbreen. 10 years ago, this glacier was still connected to Blomstrandhalvøya, and 7 years ago the small island on which we now stand was still covered by glacier. Maps still show it as being part of the peninsula and glacier. I know that no continents are static –seismic/tectonic activity see to that, but such movements mostly take eons. Yet the far north seems to shift around all the time, visibly, every time the ice grows and melts – you can see it moving.
We are at the beginning of the Polar Night season; officially it’s winter, so there should be snow. Yet while there’s been a few snowfalls – the most so far being on the day we left Longyearbyen – but since then its mostly been rain, washing snow from all but the tops of the mountains, creating fog and mist that flows over the glaciers and across the mountains. For me this is what I can draw – it’s atmospheric and dramatic – but it really shouldn’t be like this in the high Arctic at this time of year. 
Walking up the rock-strewn ground I sit close to the glacier and unpack my drawing materials, time to work.

Sun breaks through cloud, gleaming pale on distant peaks. Blueness of glacial ice is pretty difficult to capture; I look at dark brown/black rocks flecked with snow, pale green sea, red/brown stones, white and blue ice lying heaped on the shore, pale marble-like lines tracing through smoothed flat black rocks. Then back up at the mountains surrounding me, their hard jagged peaks soften by the mist. There’s too much to take in, how can I put all of that on one small white piece of paper? I start drawing, screwing my eyes up and trying to fix the images as my hand moves across the page, I am drawing the mountains surrounding the glacier with black ink, bits of charcoal, and water-colour mixed with the sea, lines rubbed and smudged and drawn again; then I see something else, draw again, am always dissatisfied.

Then I notice there’s wind; not much but maybe a chance to launch my kite. Unpacking it I carefully spread out and straighten the four lines across the rock and ice, which takes some time, then I attach the camera and turn it on.
I manage to get the kite up into the air for a few seconds and then it’s down again.
Again I sort out the lines and lay them ready. Arms out-stretched I stand waiting; Sarah offers to help; a nod from me and she throws the kite up and I pull hard and walk backwards.

The kite rises, teeters and moves through the air for what seems like a moment - maybe two or three -  lines taut then slack then it falls. I try again but it’s not to be, there's just not enough wind to lift both kite and camera. Probably the kite alone might fly but then I need film of the event - of the ground viewed from high above me, of lines drawn across he landscape.
Disheartened, defeated, I give up and return to the constancy of my drawing.

 A white Arctic fox is running on the beach. 

After lunch, anchor up, and we are passing slowly through more uncharted waters, the zodiac is out measuring depth in front of Antigua as it moves cautiously into the bay to finally moor in front of Blomstrandbreen, 79°00,2´N, 012°13.1´E. 
The sight of these glaciers still takes my breath away; that turquoise colour, the ruggedness of the surface, the sheer vastness of it all. 

Finally we can go on shore. Always a struggle to remember to grab everything I need, remember to sign out and then load everything into the boat.

We cruise in the Zodiacs around icebergs floating serenely in the sea, fantastical shapes, shiny translucence, pale turquoise, rippling surfaces.

 Hugh chunks of ice balance on the edge of the glacier wait ready to join the others in the sea. the sea looks green-blue, a thin film of ice forming on its surface.

On shore I wander across to the edge of the glacier; it folds onto the ground like vast rolls of material.  Pale smooth marble-like surface streaked with sediments.

Then I’m back to trying to draw that same piece of mountain, jagged edges rising into sky softened now by mist hovering and drifting, its dark face speckled with snow. Below a flat black rock face runs down on the beach towards me.  I still just can’t get the surface of my drawing to work. It’s tricky squatting on frozen ground; I stand and bang freezing dirty hands together. 
Tama Baldwin appears in front of me and starts to photograph me as I'm drawing (looking at the images now I notice that I seem to have forgotten to remove my life jacket - but then you can never be too careful).(To see more of Tama's Arctic photos:
Photo courtesy of Tama Baldwin
Photo courtesy of Tama Baldwin
Photo courtesy of Tama Baldwin
She goes on her way and I continue. I'm quite pleased with one of the drawings - manage not to overwork it. 

The sky is changing, dark streaks merge with apricot and pale blues. A wind – distraction – maybe… is it enough? I stop trying to draw, grab my kite in its bag and make my way up to a higher and flatter area. Check the direction of the wind and once again slowly and carefully unroll the kite, weighting the bottom edge with small stones prised from frozen ground, then walking backwards lay out the strings checking for twists. This all takes some time. Returning to the kite I turn on the camera, then back to grasp the line handles, stand and wait, turning my face to try to feel the wind. I tug sharply, the kite rises then falls. The wind is inconstant; still not strong enough to hold kite and camera up in the air. I give up, wind up the strings, and return to the shore feeling totally frustrated.

Staring back up at that mountain again I attempt two more paintings. Across the bay, across the sea, the light becomes translucent - blues, greys, apricot, pinks – snow, mountains, mist flowing. Ice seems to be forming on the water as I watch. I simply can’t put all this down on paper.