I have been thinking about ‘waste’ and its value quite a lot while in Svalbard. Pyramiden one might think is an extreme example. However, though teaming with things that are no longer in use for their original purpose, there is a significant amount that is not in fact discarded or unwanted, either being valued as cultural history (for some) and embedded with memories and stories. Or, in the case of metal structures and machinery, being harvested for scrap metal to be sold when shipped out. Which is to say nothing of the relationship or potential conflict between the two…
I have just learnt of the sad, sad passing away of an amazing environmental campaigner and perma-culture teacher, advocate and practioner, Paulo Mellet, whom I met and studied with at CAT. It seems more than a happy co-incidence that today I visited the Polar Permaculture project and met an energetic and enthusiastic project leader just at the start of his permaculture journey and already pushing possibilities up here.
After some experimenting the project is running on mainly locally sourced inputs through composting waste materials and concentrating on hardy varieties to limit the energy input needed. This isn't an easy thing to do up here where almost everything is imported, but it is possible! It was great to meet with such positivity and determination, I'm pretty sure Paulo would have loved it.
This time I was ready! Last year I arrived the day before midsummer. Surprised and happy I was not finding it THAT cold in Svalbard, I headed down to the midsummer bonfire party on the beach in a normal set of layers. I retreated at 9pm. I have now learnt never to underestimate the chilling power of standing fairly still in cold wind! This time I made it through to midnight, thanks to wearing all the jumpers (literally). ...
It's started. The big cruise ships have arrived in Longyearbyen, bringing more visitors than the normal population here in one go, for a few hours. Yesterday there were over 3000 plus hundreds of crew, today over 2000 plus 800 crew. Everyone seems to know when they will arrive and how many people are coming. This is an entirely different type of tourism and tourist to those choosing to stay overnight here and engage in some daytrips and activities (which is still ongoing). It's quite exciting to see how a whole new set of logistics are set into action. Now I see why there are so many buses around town, usually not in use. It is interesting to observe the flows of people, what is being photographed and observed, how the local businesses react (one or two more stuffed polar bears have appeared on the streets, a few ad hoc stalls popped up...), what temporary services and labour markets evolve to cope with these numbers of people.... in other words, how value is constructed and flows differently.
'Pyramiden has captured a part of my heart - so many secrets, stories, such beauty... Diolch yn fawr!' Samantha Saville, Aberystwyth, Wales, UK.
The guest book at The Tulip Hotel, Pyramiden, in which I attempted to sum up the impossible, has entries from 1987 up to 2000 (I guess some tourists found it after the settlement closed in 1998) and then resumes again in 2014.
Last year I visited the town as part of the fieldtrip visit to Petunia bay and discussed a key text on Pyramiden. For this trip, spending a couple of nights at the hotel and wandering the streets, hills and through the buildings of this Soviet-time settlement,sometimes alone, has been another quite magical experience. Perhaps that its history is so recent, yet seems so distant and another world away from the one I was growing up in is what makes it so very intriguing. That you can glimpse the different layers of development, inhabitants and activities in the peeling layers of the disintegrating structures and their contents at every turn had my imagination firing on overdrive.
I think Svalbard might be a place where people talk about the weather as much as in the UK, perhaps even more. Up here it really makes a huge difference and changes incredibly fast. Today started off as a lovely sunny spring-feeling morning. By lunch time it was feeling a bit damp and rainy, let's call that autumn. Up until literally a minute ago it was snowing sideways and the cloud was so low I couldn't see all of the fjord from my window, let alone the mountains, winter was back! Right now though, the clouds are starting to part, the mist is rising and the sun is trying to come back, crazy stuff!
This post is also advanced warning - there will be a break in blogging services until Monday, if all goes to plan (the weather will be a factor here) I will be in Pyramiden (no internet) for a few days and normal posting will return Tuesday :)
We log in via the visitors book, pass the security guy, don hard hats with the Statsbygg logo (the state construction arm of the Norwegian government) and file into the dank corridor (which must be the bit outside the mountain) and through the second metal door that has been unlocked for us. We descend as we walk down the rounded tunnel, which feels like a pedestrianised version of road tunnels which go through mountains. Melt water steadily runs down the sides of the corrugations....
Messiness is something that most of us are brought up to avoid, and certainly as a quality not particularly revered. At some point I realised that, for the most part, I am a 'messy' kind of person: messy room/office/desk; messy thoughts/ideas/approaches; messy hair.... Whilst I enjoy a good clean up of all these things occasionally, at some point I've come to accept that fighting it constantly will be exhausting and counter-productive.
So, when I read John Law's 'After Method: Mess in social science research' , it was not revolutionary, to me research has never really been about 'non-mess'/ strict, linear, objective methods, and I can thank some forward thinking lecturers, teachers and colleagues for their patience/ encouragement for that, but it was an important reminder which also nudged me towards being open to a broader range of research encounters. I readily adopted his notion of 'gathering' bundles of relations: coherent and incoherent in a 'methods assemblage'. Though perhaps this was becoming a convenient excuse for messy thinking, I was perplexed that all the complicated thoughts and 'head mess', when straightened out and tidied up, boiled down to a simple list of the normal: interviews, focus groups, field diary. Of course, such 'simple' sounding methods hide far more complicated processes, logistics, subjectivities, values, decisions; but I have also been trying to cultivate a more observant and open attitude to the other, less formal, research encounters and my own role in all of this 'data collection' I am doing.
Where am I going with this? Well, today I feel like some form of synchroncity stepped into the research arena and resurrected an element of the project I had almost put to bed. On the flip side there have been times when shear bad timing or luck has prevented research encounters. This led me to wonder whether others had written about luck, chance, spontineity and research before (I didn't turn much up there, but I am sure something is out there). I did come across this excellent paper from Billo and Hiemstra  on, guess what, messiness and PhD fieldwork! For any PhD students out there (or researchers in general), I urge you to read it. Very useful advice and is a really positive example of how far things have come since Law's call, in terms of being more open, honest and reflexive about the processes of research: from planning, through fieldwork and afterwards. Both Billo and Hiemstra were faced with difficult challenges in 'the field' which meant a reassessment of carefully made plans. They expand on the notion of flexibility, embodiment and reflexivity in research based on those experiences. Music to my ears!
Realistically, I may be comfortable with mess, flexibility, reflexivity, subjectivity etc etc, but it doesn't stop me worrying about whether the choices I am making, all the time, are the 'right' ones, for the PhD, for the research participants, for Svalbard, for the world, for my 'career'.... but rest assured I am at least thinking about it!
 Law, J. (2004) After Method: mess in social science research, London: Routledge.
 Billo, E. & Hiemstra, N. (2013) 'Mediating messiness: expanding ideas of flexibility, reflexivity, and embodiment in fieldwork', Gender, Place & and Culture, 20(3), pp.313–328. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0966369X.2012.674929#.U5ioW3b4Lwo
Happy Birthday Longyearbyen, 108 today! Today is Longyearbyen Day, which has been celebrated since it's centenary in 2006. To mark the day there were a few historical things going on, which I attempted to join in with. Longyearbyen has certainly seen a lot of changes in it's relatively short lifetime (a quick version from the Cruise Handbook is here!). The Museum had a free entry day, so that was a good opportunity to re-visit: I definitely spotted different things in there today than I did on my last (very long) trip there a year ago. I also joined a history tour of some of old Longyear City, conducted in nippy weather and completely in Norwegian. I managed to piece my own version of the story together by recognising dates and keywords, but I definitely missed all the jokes! We ended with more history at the church, but in warmth, with waffles, and some nice singing (ahhhh) - Svalbard has its very own hymn!
Mondays seem to be email and organise days for me, but on a foray into the fresh air, I thought I would try and get some more interesting noises to share. It always seems to surprise me that different places can sound so different, I'm not sure why it is surprising, but unfamiliar animal noises are particularly noticeable and a bit comedic somehow. I don't think I'll forget first hearing a kookaburra in Australia, it sounded just like friends making daft monkey noises!
Last year when I visited the eider ducks there were just females nesting, and they do quack a little bit. Earlier in the season male ducks are around, which look rather different and also sound very different. I think they are softly cooing to gain a mate, but I have no idea really. Have a listen for yourself! The eider ducks like hanging out between two dog enclosures, safety from foxes, so there might be an occasional howl as well.
I heard a less peaceful noise for the first time last night too, the angry shrieks of the arctic tern. I'll try and capture that when they are more prolific. I can't say I'm looking forward to their dive-bombing antics, hopefully they won't decide to nest too near my door!
Watch out for the ending (loud wind/ shuffling noise!)
Bit of an extended post today since I have skipped a couple....
Staying here in Longyearbyen for any length of time, people start to become concerned that you manage to find your way out of town and experience some of 'the nature' here. Though Longyearbyen has just about everything one needs, after a few weeks, a kind of 'cabin fever' can take over, knowing what a small urban area you are confined to compared to the vast expanse 'out there'. Getting out into the wilds is now made more difficult by the lack of snow and ice around to get about by snow-scooter and skis (that's key value of ice and snow number 1 of this blog post!) One way around this is ingenius use of quad bikes that dog teams can pull, giving them essential exercise and fun during the summer and being pretty fun to tag along with (lucky me got a lift from an acquaintence who needed another pair of hands to deal with some extra dogs!). There is still snow on the glaciers though, and it was that snow and the process of it melting that I set out to help investigate yesterday with a fellow PhD student, Krystyna Koziol. Not only was it a great day out of town in some glorious weather, but I also got some more first hand experience of what field science in Svalbard can be like, which has sparked some interesting reflections.
Despite all the preparations necessary for the fieldwork to happen in the first place, there are still a lot of factors that can leave data collection hanging in the balance: weather conditions, equipment failure, snow not behaving itself, field assistant availability...We had some interesting moments on Foxfonna glacier yesterday, with some quick thinking solutions from Krystyna saving the day of sampling. I hadn't thought too much about what the actual data collection might involve, but I was probably thinking more high-tech than plastic sledges and rope equipment transport, digging snow pits, good old-fashioned note taking and the all-important plastic food/ sample bags to transport them back to base. What was clear though that the most essential ingredients to collect the best quality data are persistance, motivation and committment to the project. Perhaps these are not so dissimilar to characteristics needed on this 'side' of the discipline, just with very different ramifications! It seemed a lot more obvious out on this kind of fieldwork, that you only get one shot to collect this particular thing - another day the conditions might be different, and more broadly, the trip itself has so much planning and resources involved to make it happen that the whole thing is not going to happen again. This leads me to reflect that though there might not always be such finality with a more human geography based approach, each story I listen to is told in a very specific context, one that is not repeatable and with all kinds of 'external' factors in the background, which perhaps I need to hold in mind...
I also learnt quite a bit about different types of snow and ice and how to observe them, and what snow can tell us about (value number 2) interesting stuff. Thanks Krystyna for a thought-provoking and fun day's hard work in the snow!
I have a proper update in process, but in the meantime, I thought I would share some of the sounds of yesterday up on Foxfonna glacier....but my trusty phone that has been a very reliable tool so far in all my audio recordings didn't pick it up. It was too much to ask perhaps, given we had to stand absolutely still to hear it ourselves. So I'm stuck with words again! It was a little un-nerving from my perspective as a glacier-newbie to hear running water coming from a significant body of snow/ice/rock not far away and hearing the odd small tumble of snow and general gentle 'puffs' of it shifting about. The shapes and sounds the wind and snow make are mesmerising sometimes and certainly awe-inspiring! [Fear not we were being careful in all the right ways, avalanche beacons strapped on and keeping our distance...]
It's been all go this week with interviews, so much so, there wasn't even time for a blog post yesterday. I think that's a good excuse for a double photographic bill today. This week art, photography and relationship to the landscape and species of Svalbard has featured quite strongly in discussions so far. Today the weather really played up to it as well, such beautiful sunshine and light, birds everywhere...on my run earlier (always the fair-weather runner!) there were some particularly photogenic-looking reindeer in the mud shores of the fjord. One of the few things I have learnt about Svalbard reindeer so far though is despite their little legs, they move on and out of sight pretty quickly!
Today the internet and mobile network was out for a few hours. It doesn't sound drastic, and it wasn't. Not really. It did stop me in my tracks for a while though. This phenomenon is becoming more and more rare and it's amazing how much we rely on staying connected. I was going to check that email before I did this, I needed to call some people to arrange interviews, no and nope. I'll research this... oh yeah, no. I wonder if this is everywhere? I'll just check on... oh yeah, no. I could of course rely on old-fashioned calling round someone's office/ house and that's what I did. Reading a book, another good option. It was a momentary glimpse into what life must have been like in Longyearbyen when there was no outside communication at all and how those living out in the remote huts around Svalbard today isolate themselves. It must be a peaceful life, but I don't think I would be up for those levels of loneliness for prolonged periods!
Today I met someone who just picked up an email I sent months ago when I was looking for somewhere to stay in Svalbard. We are, hopefully, going to help each other out on our respective research projects, and it's going to be great :) These are the kind of things that often get left out of our research proposals, methodologies, write-ups, articles. Unless everyone else out there doing research are some kinds of research-bots following a strict plan, and I don't think that's the case, then there are a lot of these kind of chance encounters that happen along the way. It's certainly not the first time in this project that one of my pleas to the ether have led to good things. So, when I spent another day sending out many more of them, it was an excellent reminder not to stop doing it! I read an really inspiring article yesterday about stories which get left untold from research  and I hope I can bring some of these kinds of encounters into my writing in some way when it comes to it....
 Smith, A.-M. (2014) 'Old Fieldwork, New Ethnography Taking the Stories Out of the Bag', Qualitative Inquiry, 20(5), pp.699–708. http://qix.sagepub.com/content/20/5/699
In other news, the sun has come out again at last - hooray mountains are back in sight!