I pressed my face against the airplane window in complete awe of what was below me. And I thought, "Can't we just stop here for a bit?"
It was the summer of 1985 and I was fresh out of high school and on a plane from Seattle to Amsterdam with a group of 40 headed for a 6-week tour of eastern Europe and what is now the former Soviet Union.
We were probably 30,000+ feet above northern Canada or Greenland, for the polar flight route saves a little time (but it's still a 9-hour flight or so). And the view below of ice, snow and pristine waters just hypnotized me. I've always had a passion for maps, geography and looking at pictures of places around the world, but here it was RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! OK, well, from high up in a plane but still it wasn't a photo this time! Real life!
Was anyone living down there? What's it like?
Fast forward 24 years or so and I stumbled upon an article on cnn.com about Shishmaref, Alaska...a small town on a barrier island in remote Alaska - kind of near Nome - that is slowly washing away into the sea due to climate change. The permanent sea ice is now starting to melt, so the strong storms they are used to having are now tearing away at their land. The town is at risk of losing their unique way of life, culture and language dialect should they eventually have to leave and completely relocate elsewhere. Can you imagine? And the sheer expense of relocating a town...yikes.
So whether you believe that global climate change is something of a natural cycle in the universe (the Ice Ages are thought to be a phenomenon of our solar system passing in and out of an arm of our galaxy every 40,000 years or so - no joke), or something caused by humans - or perhaps both? Well, SOMETHING is happening in Shishmaref. Something severe enough to threaten hundreds of years of generations and history to just wash away into the sea. And that Something is happening in several other parts of the world.
I'm not one to get into the politics or debate over climate change. Let's deal with the facts and DO something - if we can. I guess stumbling upon that article last fall reawakened some interest I'd likely shelved since that flight to Amsterdam over Greenland so many years ago.
Guess I'm a budding Arctic scholar here!
I've dived (dove?) in head first, doing a ton of reading and research online and with books, learning all I can about the Arctic and the uniqueness of it. There are so many things to learn about...the geography, the issues with climate change, issues with the indigenous peoples, languages, flora and fauna, the courage and drama to find and sail the Northwest Passage, the long-elusive sea trading route...simply endless! Even a land dispute or two [look up "Hans Island" and you'll see what I mean]! Simply fascinating! Who knew an uninhabited rock in a far-northern strait would be the cause of such controversy between Canada and Greenland (Denmark).
This is one of those things where I don't question WHY I have this interest. I don't have any northern/Nordic family ancestry to my knowledge. But this interest burns strong enough in me to where I just GO and DO.
So my latest wild-hair trip I'm dreaming of is a trip to...Spitsbergen! Or Svaalbard, rather. I hear the sea kayaking is incredible. Now, now...I've learned a thing or two in all this reading I've been doing. First of all, you need to find this place on a map. Hint: it's the archipelago north of Norway, Sweden and Finland.
The Arctic is not just snow, ice, igloos and polar bears. Surprisingly, as far north as Spitsbergen is, there is enough Gulf Stream activity in the ocean nearby so it is somewhat "warm" in the summer...meaning in the low 40s F (6-7c) for high temperatures. Remember, we're talking 78 degrees north latitude, so those temps in the summer are downright balmy by comparison. See the picture in this post? That's the town of Longyearbyen, with a population of over 2000!
I don't know what in hell has possessed me to think about a trip like this, but at the earliest it would be in summer 2011. Lord knows it would be an expensive, 5-figure and once in a lifetime, unforgettable trip. My house will likely need a new roof next year and of all things my refrigerator and freezer have decided to stop working in the past couple of days. Hmmm, how ironic, for here I'm dreaming about a COLD adventure and yet right here at home my chief source of COLD has apparently crapped out.
I'll likely have more to blog about in this quest/dream for a high Arctic excursion one of these summers. Until then, I was supposed to go to a big party tonight but have some mild stomach problems so I'm going to take a pass.
Instead I will crack open a new book I just ordered about how to speak Norwegian. If I'm going to do this trip some day, might as well be prepared.