THE GEOGRAPHER: Greenland means something quite special in my life. I’ve already written about the place and the literature and its significance to me but I must include just a few more thoughts before I move on.
With only a month’s hindsight, the glorious scenery of Greenland and my ‘walking accomplishments’ are still present and accumulating the sheen reserved for Big Special Trips. If I were in a cartoon the two thinking-bubbles above my head would first read geography and second, moving-briskly-into-old-age as I trudged determinedly passed one more golden lamb up just one more rocky hill.
The geography of the world’s northern regions is of great interest to me. Odd, I think, since I always want to be warm. But, from growing up near the Minnesota-Manitoba border to more recent visits to all of the Scandinavia countries, Russia, Mongolia, Iceland and, now, Greenland, I’ve somehow been growing and nurturing a love for frequently bleak—but somehow magical—cold places, as well as a substantial wardrobe of warm clothing through an expensive familiarity with REI.
I’m sitting at my desk early in the morning (4am early) with a very large cup of coffee …experiencing minor jet lag while still feeling inspired, invigorated, and imagining being involved with ever more northern and far-southern adventures. Dreaming Scotland, the northern Scandinavian and British islands, Lapland, Siberia, more Greenland, Norwegian hikes, Mongolian treks—then on to Patagonia and Antarctica. Shall we say I’m deep into thoughts of Geography: the study of places and the relationships between people and their environments? Geographers explore both the physical properties of Earth’s surface and the human societies spread across it. Yes. This is what I want to be when I grow up—a Geographer.
The need to make my travels into a sum greater than their always interesting parts is strong. The question is how to make these forays into the northlands, both those completed and those merely contemplated, more memorable and meaningful and imbued—all of them—with the captivating qualities that only icebergs and ice flows and icy chills provide? For me, more study of course. So I just checked in with Coursera and, voila!—exactly the right geography course appeared. Introduction to the Arctic: Climate offered by the University of Alberta and the University of Tromso, the first in a series. I am very excited. There are also films and documentaries and more books, which when all added to travels and classes, must comprise at least a degree in Armchair Geography—so yes, I can be a Geographer.
GEOGRAPHY: For a moment now in this dark quiet early morning, I want to remember the awesomeness of Greenlandic geography as experienced in a small time in a small corner of a big place by me. Rocky roads, paths really, winding up and down and around the never-ending small and big hills and mountains of the user-friendly southern corner of this massive island. Mountains, so barren and stark and harsh and forbidding and mysteriously beautiful. Flower Valley, not flowery at all by the standards of Dutch tulip-land, or Minnesota’s acres of petunias, but such determined flowers these tiny blooms are to cling to thin soil in chilly valleys for the briefest of summers.
The fiords and the lakes and the rivers and ocean, blue icy water teeming with fantastic creatures like Sedna a fairy-tale girl with flippers instead of hands, leaving her unable to comb her hair which gets so dirty from the broken taboos of her people. This angers her greatly and when it becomes unbearable she rounds up all the sea creatures causing starvation among the people on land. Sedna can only be pacified when a shaman comes down to her watery lair and combs her hair clean, whereupon she releases the trapped sea creatures, food is available to the hunters and fishermen, and the Inuit people are saved once again.
Best of all however are the astonishing gems of the Arctic seas called icebergs. I‘ve seen glaciers a few times in Alaska and Iceland, and I respect what they represent in the grand environmental scheme of things. But their offspring, the icebergs—now they are a wonder unto themselves. They come in as many shapes and shades as clouds but with sharper edges, and they sparkle in the sun and grow moody in the storm. Icebergs make dangerous sounds and, with most of their underwater bulk cleverly concealed from unwary sailors, they are dangerous to approach. But they’re there in the bay at dawn and at dusk, like a herd of exceptionally beautiful supernatural beasts standing guard.
And may I add there is nothing quite as delicious as Baileys poured over iceberg slivers as you sit freezing in the big red Zodiac, gazing at a rock-strewn mountainside just across a silvery fiord occupied by a whole herd of gentle icy turquoise giants.
*Photo of Sedna from sedna-antony-galbraith from mrpsmythopedia.wikispaces.com