Saturday May 2nd we rode our Lynx snowmobiles for 6 hours from Bamsebu to the town of Longyearbyen for a quick resupply of food, equipment, several interviews and a few meetings. Ettra running free with her head held high inhaling the fresh air, her bushy tail bouncing left to right – pure joy! It made her short time in the crate, which was fastened to the sled behind the snowmobile, a welcomed rest.
This was not the same bustling town we left back in Sept 2019. We noticed the lack of cars and people on the road – no one walking the streets. May is typically the start of the tourist season and there were none.
The shops were open and only a few restaurants. No one wearing a mask, just signs to keep 1-metre distance. All events cancelled and a 10-day quarantine in effect until June 1st for any resident of Norway coming to Svalbard. The community and its people are hurting – tourism being their primary driver economically.
We have been cracked open by the experience here – the stillness and solitude with the daily invitation to just BE. While it has been busy for us every single day – it’s the sort of work that has felt so rich and meaningful. For the first time in our lives we have been able to feel and observe the minute shifts in the seasons that occur inside of us and outside in the natural spaces around us. What a gift and not one we take for granted.
It’s hard to describe what it felt like to go from our world of openness – both in feeling, thought and visually – with daily wildlife surprises and incessant snow-capped mountain ranges to Zoom-meetings, interviews, Facetime calls and lists of what needed to be done in a short few days. We hosted a call with family and friends that were to join us on our pickup trip with special guests and an amazing performance from Joss Stone and Celine dos Santos called “Newborn”. You can see it here!
It was the first time we had seen our familiar loved faces – so emotional and powerful for us.
We watched the news on TV for the first time in over 8 months – story after story depicting hardship, despair and the healthcare heroines and heroes through all of this.
We are a resilient species and a deeply kind, caring one.
And then life’s small pleasures greeted us. A steamy cup of cappuccino, fresh fruits and vegetables, a hot shower, blue jeans!
Now we are back home at Bamsebu. It has taken us longer to land back here than imagined.
We hear all of your voices and we can feel you. Your concerns for the world, for each other, for your livelihoods, communities, the children and how to make sense of the senseless.
We harken back to that quote from Viktor Frankl “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
We have learned many things here and one that shows up every day whether we are ready or not is the importance of living that very day you have been given. The importance of living with intention, care, thoughtfulness, curiosity, wonder and passion. We must show up. We must move with the storm, not fight it but understand its limitations and then move with responsibility, love and regard.
Our entire world is interconnected – everything in the ocean, sky, on land, all people are connected to the web in one small way or another. With this global pandemic we have seen images of unimaginable amounts of single use plastic being tossed in our precious ocean. Really? There must be a way for us to manage our consumption and use with greater regard for this planet we inhabit. If you have found solutions please consider yourself a resource and share with those that need understanding. Respecting our differences is critical to moving together towards an outcome that can include us all. World Oceans Day is around the corner- June 8th. The choices we make are key right now. There is a way forward one step and one breath at a time. Change never happens overnight.
Change is literally in the air up here in the Svalbard Arctic.
Sounds and evidence are everywhere as the pink footed geese have shown up in large numbers to feed after the spring migration. There are about 100 in our backyard. We walk carefully around the hut so as to not disturb them. They breed in Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard where they tend to show up around this time mid-May. In early June they’ll lay 2-5 eggs and sit for close to 4 weeks. We have seen the return of Eider Ducks and Glaucous Gulls and of course the Ptarmigan that have been here all year.
Winter is hard on living things in the Arctic. We have seen this first hand for the reindeer, fox and the polar bear.
Just behind Bamsebu, a fox was found dead of starvation. It was beyond sad to see this beautiful white polar fox lying in the snow gutted. The foxes look thin and hungry. With the increase in sea ice they have no access to food sources normally found at the shoreline. This winter there have not been periods of melting and rain so the reindeer have been able to fatten up, much to the dismay of the foxes as they tend to feast on the reindeer cadavers which there have been few of this year. The foxes give birth late May – early June and we know of 2 dens in the nearby rocky cliffs so we look forward to observing the baby cubs emerging in the weeks to come. The circle of life continues.
Reindeer have been seen incessantly grazing around Van Keulenfjorden as they chew through the snow and ice to get any vegetation they can find. After about 10 years their teeth wear down and they die of starvation so they try hard to fatten up through the summer to handle the slim winter months. They revel in the buds exposed from the melting snow.
Then there are the seals that are all spread out over the ice. They are like little brown dots. The bearded seals are the biggest and weigh about 400kg . They tend to give birth right around this time so we are on the lookout for the pups – we have seen one so far. The ringed seals weigh approx. 100kg. We’ve seen both species and apparently so has the young polar bear we saw last Saturday night that showed up again yesterday – this time to hunt. It was captivating to watch through the binoculars as it stood nose deep over the seal hole, waiting, waiting! We stayed up until 3:30 am to follow it in hopes of catching its hunt but then it wandered off behind the ice to get some rest. We have heard that polar bears need to eat about 1 seal /week. It was easy to see that this young polar bear, hungry and thin was not getting his weekly ration. We are reminded of the polar bear we saw hunt and kill the reindeer, not its usual food source but likely a form of adaptation.
Having a choice to self-isolate means that we could prepare extensively and thoughtfully for our life in this remote location. We had time to fill our “tool box” with coping skills and routines that helped us thrive. Living in isolation without preparation without any real sense of length of time, must feel so unsettling, full of angst and difficult.
Despite the circumstances around choice, Covid-19 has affected us all, albeit differently.
We are all having to be creative in how we manage our time, resources, mindset and how we manage our own personal expectations. Our self-imposed isolation though longer than expected, living as one with our natural world and its elements, being part of a dialogue around the way forward, share our findings with experts and communicating that out to the world- this gives us purpose and meaning.
We are part of the change we wish to see. And so are you! We have seen the power of one (and in this case two) with our network of people around the world.
It is our hope that every single person can find some purpose through this crisis. Protecting our natural world even in a small way, caring for another in a time of need, these are real ways to be of service with purpose. It is time for change and time to redirect our compass to chart a new course. If not now, when?
Big hugs from Bamsebu, Sunniva and Hilde
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