When the night has come, and the land is dark
and the moon is the only light we’ll see.
No, I won’t be afraid, oh I won’t be afraid,
Just as long, as you stand, by me…
The last time we closed our eyes and tried to walk in total darkness was in Sept 2018 on a 5-day hike on the historic Italian pilgrim trail “Via Francigena”. One of the guides was blind since birth. Her senses so keen, our curiosity peaked. How in the world could she walk on the narrow trails with no sight and not end up in the ditch? Challenge accepted. Our timed 2-minute walk with eyes closed yielded much insight as we listened for her footsteps and followed her step-in-step. We feel so vulnerable without vision. Rocks and leaves beneath our feet. The wind, its sound. The chatter of conversation behind us, in front of us. Our breath, thoughts, insecurities and our heartbeat.
Guilia was her name.
She had much to teach and we, much to learn.
We are in total darkness here at Bamsebu. Dark, save for the brilliant display of the night sky, fast moving satellites, shootings stars and those many magical auroral displays that feel like they shine just for us.
It is too dark to see any land features or even a step in front of us so we use our headlamp, the strongest one beams at 12,000 lumens. We also have night vision binoculars. We swipe the area full circle with our lights before we head out on our short walk in this Long Polar Night. We look for the glow of distant eyes.
One of the kids on our monthly satellite call asked “why it is so dark there right now?” With our location relative to the sun and the fact that the earth tilts at 23.5’ we are too far north at 78’ for the sun to reach us – it is currently more than 6’ below the horizon. Total darkness which is called “Polar Night” lasts from Nov 12th to Jan 30th (Longyearbyen) where you can expect no hint of the sun. What do most of us usually do when it’s dark? We sleep, we turn the lights on where ever we go. Few of us live in the dark 24/7 which is exactly what we are doing here – living in total darkness. It’s not easy. Especially here inside Bamsebu, the artificial light is not bright or strong like we are used to, it is a “soft yellow” light. Very cozy but it makes it so that we never feel fully awake. It makes you very sleepy, throws off your body rhythms, highlights all of the “otherwise” tempered voices in your head, and it plays with your emotions.
With this change into shorter days of winter we often cocoon into ourselves.
A time for renewal of the body, mind and your senses after the holidays.
A time to miss a gym workout or two or four. Hibernating can sound just right. We have permission to relax more when it’s dark so for those of you reading this on the couch with your favorite bag of potato chips – we see you and we are right there with you. We too have been taking more time to “fill our tanks” to read, write, to take care of the many daily chores here, to go outside at every opportunity to photograph the northern lights for NASA, fly the drone for BCIT when the winds are calm (read about the awesome drone project here!), observe the wildlife we see, measure the changing ice conditions and we train with our yoga mats and resistance bands. Routine is key for us. Without it we would slip into how we feel on any given day. We train even when we don’t feel like it, the best tonic for any foul mood. We need to stick with it.
Depression is real in the Polar Night. We know that in the Nordic countries many have taken their own lives as the internal emptiness mirrors the external darkness. Thankfully we are not depressed and have packed many “tools” to help us handle the small space we are in, the mental challenges we are going through and the fact that we are living on top of each other.
It has brought up so many hidden sides of our personalities – we have tools to manage them too. We are limited in how far away from Bamsebu we walk. We certainly never walk alone. This has everything to do with our safety and the fact that we cannot see the polar bears that are here. We are far away from any help if we needed it. At any second one could be beside us, in front of us, behind us. The terrain is rolling so we expect surprises at all times.
We have a stealth camera set up outside that gets triggered by motion – will be interesting to see what the images contain!
What is it like when you cannot see where you are going, you cannot see your destination? How much do you trust yourself? Are you equipped to handle the surprises along the way? Will fear take over when you are scared or confronted?
We find ourselves in a most natural state here a Bamsebu. We are in tune with the sounds of both silence and the sounds that make up this place we inhabit – both inside and outside of the 20 m2 space. It is as if we are so quiet and peaceful inside ourselves that we hear the subtle sounds of darkness. The crackle of the wood burning stove, Ettra’s sounds as she chases reindeer or fights off a polar bear in her dreams, while laying on the floor, the crunch of our footsteps on the hard packed snow, the rustle of our many layers of clothes, the hurricane wind whipping around. We can almost hear the sound of a falling shooting star and the colorful aurora as it brushes the sky with such intensity.
We have just past 4 months of being here and you can bet there is the expectation around what we will do when the light is here. It is coming!
In the darkness, we can see the light. We feel so very privileged to share this unique part of our world. That we can be here, experience all of nature’s daily miracles, minute for minute, day after day. The total darkness, a sky full of stars, the shifting ice, the aurora displays, the moon…and then an Arctic that is slowly waking up from a sleep. Little by little, and then with increased speed, soft light appears and then the magic pastel light that is Svalbard. And in April we will have the Midnight Sun.
To bear witness to this entire cycle is nothing short of “absolutely unbelievable”!
Mother Nature is her name.
She has much to teach, if we are willing to listen!
Big hugs from Bamsebu, Sunniva and Hilde
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