I've arrived in the Northland. I'm in Longyearbyen, which is in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. That puts me at 78 degrees North in latitude, inside the Arctic Circle. The summer tourist season is winding down in this small town, temps have been in the mid 40's this week, no snow on the ground, but the glacier at the end of the valley gleams in the sun and I can see other icy lands across the water.
This is polar bear country, serious business. No wandering around outside of town limits without a firearm. Fortunately there's plenty to engage with right here. From every window in this house, from every angle outside, mountains dominate the landscape. Across the bay they look soft as if draped in buff and golden velvet. Down the valley the crags and edges appear hard and delineated against the sky.
I am struck by a sense of movement that appears frozen in time. Mountains are in process, but they move on a scale of time that is not immediately perceptible. (Dramatic and terrifying events like rockfalls, avalanches, jokulhlaups are the exception of course.) But the traces of this process of disintegration are all around me - rocks, gravel and sand pour out from the mountain side, fan out like deltas and pool in the valley. A frozen river of rocks extends from the glacier front to the water’s edge. The rock forms are fantastic and varied. Some open like books, each sedimentary layer a page. Occasionally fossilized leaves and grasses tell of the past in a forgotten language. More often than not the pages transmit only silence.
Mountains heave skyward and then crumble, glaciers advance and retreat in a measure of time that is alien to us. We, humankind, make our entrance onto the stage, speak a few lines, and then bow out. It's good to think about the scales of time that extend before and beyond the self. It's humbling. It puts things in perspective. It's oddly comforting.
In the meantime, during this brief moment of animate existence, I’m hard at work, immersed in this landscape, doing what I can to make sense of this experience, to transmit something of it to you. I am grateful to be here. Thank you for being here.