Though science might take front and centre stage quite often in Svalbard, art certainly plays some interesting roles up here. There are long-standing artists residency programmes (for both Longyearbyen and Ny Alesund) and expedition trips (like The Arctic Circle or Cape Farewell) specifically for artists and art-science collaborations, which have attracted many to these shores, searching for meaning, inspiration, difference, peace, ways to communicate climate change...other things I'm sure. I've found inspiration and ideas from talking with some of them myself. Now art has been ramped up a step in Longyearbyen...
For once, I'm not talking about environmental regulations, though I very well could be, given the multitude of boundaries lurking on the map, but not visible in the landscape, but that's another story... No, today I stepped over a fear and re-arranged my own values in doing so. To most people it would look like an ordinary tourist trip out on a snow scooter though, and in some ways it was...
I might be in danger of sounding like a broken record, but last month I returned from another great conference and am struck again by the importance of getting out there and presenting my research, but for different reasons. This time, I headed to the very North of Norway for the Barent’s Institute’s "Mining the Arctic: sustainable communities, economies, and governance? Thorvald Stoltenberg Conference.
As well as acting as another motivating period of intense analysis and synthesis, I learned a great deal. Given my focus on Svalbard, it was really useful to get a picture of
I haven't said much about the landscape round town for some time. To be honest, for a while I got busy and less attentive after the excitement of the ever changing ice-snow situation in the melt a month or so ago. Also, I have felt more and more weird walking round with a camera given the increased number of tourists around, and my emerging identity as some sort of 'non-tourist'. Well, the wheel keeps turning and though it was a bit grey for a while, summer and plants have to act fast around here. Now, there are flowers everywhere. And grass, not just the straggly yellow stuff that was around before, actual green grass :) oh, and some moss. Seems I won't get complete 'landscape shock' when I get home afterall. So I went out especially for you this cloudy evening and tried to look as casual and local as possible with my camera (probably a fail on that count!)...
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 :)
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!
Another week of extremely interesting conversations, but photography-wise, I've been lacking in inspiration on what to share. It has been grey, cloudy and mizzly these last few days. The mountain tops have dissappeared from view under cloud and I remember now this is very much like how it was when I arrived almost a year ago. It wasn't until about day 4 that i knew there were mountains right in front of me at all!
I am continually fascinated by the ever-changing ice/snow/water scapes though. It struck me today that though town is not a completely silent place at all (quite a bit of road traffic, and previously scooter traffic), it was pretty quiet when it was colder and more icy. The snow seemed to muffle noises, but now the sound of running water is all around. Out exploring last week, if we sat still for a while we could hear soft cascades of mushy snow shifting about.
So, I thought I'd share a bit of the soundscape up here: a small meltwater stream between Haugen and Nybyen, featuring a passing van, snow-buntings and my footsteps in the gravel at the side of the road...
Out goes the snow, in come the birds! It seems more and more geese, ducks, gulls and other varieties arrive daily at the moment. I am not much of a bird watcher, but wildlife here seems especially interesting, partly because it is different from home, but also because although it is relatively sparse in comparison, there is a lot more of it than one might expect from an 'arctic desert' environment. I wake up to bird song from what I think is the 'snow bunting', the only song bird of Svalbard. It really is amazing how much has changed over the last two weeks: gone are the snow-packed scooter tracks and ice-laded paths in town, replaced in part by tundra and meltwater - ideal for ducks and geese it seems! So a great discovery today, it's not only a handful of researchers, students and tourists that make the journey from West Wales to Svalbard ...
Takes one to know one, so they say. In that spirit we booked ourselves on a guided walk up a glacier and into an ice cave as an exploration into tourist mode and a bit of a day off. Of course it wasn't, but it was heaps of fun in the sun! Along the way we talked history, politics, climate change, environmental protection and, erm, popular Swedish/ Norwegian TV shows... Though the concept of paying to go for a walk in the countryside is very odd in the UK, here it makes a lot more sense to follow someone who knows the good snow from the bad, the crevasses and avalanche sites and where the best bits are. This is not countryside as we know it! It's quite understandable why many are drawn to Svalbard to access this kind of stunning surroundings and winter sport activities, either as tourists or residents, especially on a really sunny day like today! Lots to think about value-wise along the way: silence vs adrenaline, legislation vs freedom, location and data (e.g. Svalsat satelitte company), landscape, local knowledge....
Today I have been comtemplating this question quite a lot and had some very interesting discussions around it. I can say with some certainty and without causing too much uproar, that it can mean very different things to different institutions and individuals. From a surface glance, the tensions (or not) between the three 'legs' of Svalbard: mining, tourism and research/ education look interesting enough. Beneath this there are many more issues, positions, agendas and concerns. At the heart of most of them are how we value and relate to 'nature'/ 'the wilderness', those age old troublesome words. Anyone in Svalbard feel like talking to me about this kind of thing, get in touch!
It was only a few days ago I posted about ice and snow melting, but I'm going to do it again! It's happening really quickly now, snow men there one day, gone the next. Channels of water appearing under, over and cutting through ice. The slabs of snow cleared at the side of the road which looked pretty huge a week ago are now looking dirty and diminished. Everyone is watching the ice conditions closely, monitoring whether to chance another snow scooter trip and there is a sort of mourning of the ice as those opportunities for adventures melt away with it. We are stepping gingerly towards the few weeks between times of spring and summer seasons...
Sunday, a good time for landscape loveliness. Glorious spring weather with stunning scenary that one usually only sees on TV/ postcards. It's hard to know what to 'do' with these kind of views, sometimes it seems like some one just flew in a huge film backdrop and plonked it on the horizon!