The evening was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. All of the beaches around the fiords (nearly) empty of detritus. Just us seven humans, sailboat in the distance, bleached bones and rocks scattered about, and the walruses. Grunts and snorts seem to surround us, midnight sun gilds a watery path out to our three-masted schooner…it could have been a couple of centuries ago.

Back in Longyearbyen now. Perfect week…perfect…you’ll see what I mean as the posts continue. Now I’m back on dry land in my room here at Basecamp, a room even cozier than the last, all rustic and hand-hewn wood (although there is not a tree in Svalbard?), fluffy white duvets and woolly blankets. I’ve been to the grocery store for yogurt and cinnamon rolls and French-herbed cream cheese and a can of pears so I don’t get scurvy while sheltered from the big bad freezing rainstorm predicted for tomorrow. May the weather gods smile on each of us individually—meaning all other visitors to Svalbard will be out kayaking and hiking and polar bear seeking on a brisk sunny day—but I will be wrapped round by a dark stormy raincloud. After the morning dog-wagonning of course. Tuesday, August 14 was the first adventure day; a walrus day. Here’s the thing with all animal-seeking explorations whether in the African bush or on Norwegian glaciers. One is never guaranteed of actually seeing the sought-after creatures—places for that level of certainty are called zoos.

The Linden was chilly for the first evening and my dreams (of me)—warm and snug on the gently rolling seas—were threatened for a minute. By the morning my sweet bug-in-a-rug hopes were reality. Fresh brown bread, Norwegian butter, ham, cheese, thick berry jams, and some of Mette’s homemade Kombucha for sustenance. Low-key friendliness of the twelve people for companionship. The grandeur of the uninhabited Arctic, all coolly offered up in the bright blue, unrelenting gray-green-brown, and turquoise-brightened white of sky, sea, mountain and glacier. I just googled synonyms for ‘wow.’ Unsatisfactory results: holy cow, holy mackerel, holy moly, whoa: cool, amazing, awesome, far out, hot damn; (dated: golly, gosh, ye gods, gadzooks…)  So just Wow.

We made our first foray of the day out on the zodiac with the intent of hiking up a low hill and getting the lay of the land generally. We had just made shore and started up the hill when a small coast guard boat pulled up and warned us of a polar bear sighting nearby. Nearly every adult carries a rifle everywhere, the exception being on main street, but there are severe consequences should you ever use it to kill an animal. The circumstances had better have made the killing unavoidable or the shooter will be in serious trouble. Fair enough. While I’m not anxious to be eaten by a polar bear, let’s face it, there are way more useless little old ladies in the world than there are big beautiful white bears left. We followed the coast closely for a few kilometers of shoreline on the off chance of a bear spotting before heading back to the ship.

Back to the ship for lunch and a short nap.  Lunches are simple but always just right, bit of nice meat or fish, not too many veggies, juice, coffee. The captain/owner and small crew, being Danish, appear to believe in the concept of hygge (“a type of lifestyle practiced in Denmark where the focus is on simple pleasures, comfort and cosiness, and spending time with friends and family…”)

Now, time for adventure. Walruses have been spotted not too far from the Linden. We suit up for the zodiac…which turns out to be the hard part. Big heavy black waterproof lined suits. Heavy…did I mention heavy? Then high boots, even heavier. After which one must climb down a ladder to the zodiac, the bouncing zodiac. Okay, did that. We head for shore.

Yes, there they are. Walruses. Huge. Did I know walrus were that big? I mean I’ve seen them haven’t I? Fisherman’s Wharf? This herd of roly-poly funny-ugly creatures  are at least baby elephant big. What ungainly beings they are, at least out of water. The herd is lolling about in a sort of friendly bundle just up a small slope from the water. All pushy in an-annoying-your-sibling-kind-of-way and snuggly. Really? Snuggly? That does seem to describe how they relate to each other, but who would have thought a walrus snuggly? Mette is our walrus expert. Basic facts: they like to be close to each other in their beach huddle but continually break away for a swim and snack, living on mollusks except when they happen upon a slow-moving seal and can suck its brains out through its eye sockets. (Thanks for that image, Mette) They’re not particular fearful of humans although they don’t like sudden movements or a lot of noise.

Even though you see our guide and captain with hunting rifles, walruses are strictly protected and can never be killed in Svalbard. The rifles are, as always, polar bear protection in a worst case scenario.

Home each night to our sanctuary.

Home to the Linden to some fine oniony meat patties, potatoes and carrots, brown gravy and lingonberries. Late evening with small chat, red wine and stinky cheese provided by Elodie, our French plankton expert, a quick hot shower and long night, sleepily rocking with the waves. My jet lag is over and I’m a sailor now.

The sun never sets…never…


“The sun was shining on the sea,
      Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
      The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
      The middle of the night.
The moon was shining sulkily,
      Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
      After the day was done —
“It’s very rude of him,” she said,
      “To come and spoil the fun.”
The sea was wet as wet could be,
      The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
      No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
      There were no birds to fly.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
      Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
      Such quantities of sand:
If this were only cleared away,’
      They said, it would be grand!’
If seven maids with seven mops
      Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said,
      That they could get it clear?’
I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter,
      And shed a bitter tear.
O Oysters, come and walk with us!’
      The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
      Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
      To give a hand to each.’
The eldest Oyster looked at him,
      But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
      And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
      To leave the oyster-bed.
But four young Oysters hurried up,
      All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
      Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
      They hadn’t any feet.
Four other Oysters followed them,
      And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
      And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
      And scrambling to the shore.
The Walrus and the Carpenter
      Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
      Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
      And waited in a row.
The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
      To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
      Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
      And whether pigs have wings.’
But wait a bit,’ the Oysters cried,
      Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
      And all of us are fat!’
No hurry!’ said the Carpenter.
      They thanked him much for that.
A loaf of bread,’ the Walrus said,
      Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
      Are very good indeed —
Now if you’re ready, Oysters dear,
      We can begin to feed.’
But not on us!’ the Oysters cried,
      Turning a little blue.
After such kindness, that would be
      A dismal thing to do!’
The night is fine,’ the Walrus said.
      Do you admire the view?
It was so kind of you to come!
      And you are very nice!’
The Carpenter said nothing but
      Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
      I’ve had to ask you twice!’
It seems a shame,’ the Walrus said,
      To play them such a trick,
After we’ve brought them out so far,
      And made them trot so quick!’
The Carpenter said nothing but
      The butter’s spread too thick!’
I weep for you,’ the Walrus said:
      I deeply sympathize.’
With sobs and tears he sorted out
      Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
      Before his streaming eyes.
O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
      You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
      But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
      They’d eaten every one.”

2 Comments on “WALRUSES

  1. Thanks Marj for this great description of the walruses’ encounter all the way North in Norway: what a great idea for a trip in the midst of the Summer heat, whether in Europe or in New York City! Also a reminder and lots of similarities of a trip Vernon and I took in June 2017 to Southern Alaska, during which we went glacier sightseeing during 10 hours, sometimes encountering a few seals amidst an immaculate transparent blue and white background of hard snow and ice, without pollution and with a dead silence broken only by the boat engine or sometimes falling parts of a glacier: a most memorable trip indeed and glad to read yours is equally memorable so far, Bernard + Vernon!

  2. What an incredible experience and so richly described, thank you. It is just stinking hot and humid in Delaware, Summer at its peak, can Fall be far away? It sounds to me that this is one of your best trips so far. Your enthusiasm is infectious….but I am afraid that I would be complaining about the cold…but perhaps not, the experience is so warm.

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