As the pandemic lingers on and the possibilities for doing fieldwork, particularly in the social sciences, remain remote, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my photographs from all of my travels to the Arctic.
Some time ago, a group of geologists took it upon themselves to start Fieldwork Friday. The initiative involves sharing photos on a Friday, of course with a hashtag, from a past geology fieldwork experience.
As the pandemic lingers on and the possibilities for doing fieldwork, particularly in the social sciences, remain remote, I thought it might be a good time to revisit my photographs from my nearly a decade of travel to the Arctic.
Today’s photo comes from the first time I visited the Arctic in January 2013. I had been reading and blogging about the region for four years but still hadn’t had the chance to visit anywhere north of the Arctic Circle. Now, in the middle of winter, I had the opportunity to experience the High North on a student budget.
I had funding from my university to fly from London to Tromsø for the Arctic Frontiers conference, but after that, I was on my own. I wanted to see the legendary Lofoten Islands, those parcels of granite rising out of verdant seas into shimmering, snowy skies. The best way to get there was by boarding the Hurtigruten ferry, the mail-and-milk steamer turned cruise ship that hugs Norway’s coastline.
Around midnight, the ship finally rolled in. I walked down to the docks in Tromsø and plodded up the ramp. Nobody else was boarding. I suppose most passengers had either gotten on at the very start of the voyage in Bergen, in Norway’s south, or in Kirkenes, where the ferry turns around to make its way back down. Once onboard, I also found the vessel to be very quiet, for everyone was already asleep.
Being on a student budget, I had purchased a ticket without a cabin. At the time, Hurtigruten allowed people sailing for fewer than 24 hours to sleep in the ship lobby. A crew member gave me a blanket and I laid out on some cushioned seats. There were two other backpackers who had already done the same. They just cautioned us that we’d have to get up early so as to make the lobby tidy for the better-heeled passengers slumbering away in their cabins before they stumbled down to breakfast in the morning.
Before I went to sleep, I looked out the window as the ship was preparing to depart. Snow was falling quietly onto the Tromsøysundet (strait). I felt like I was inside a snow globe.
As I look at this photo now, I feel a similar sense of distance from the Arctic. I talk to people in the region through a computer screen. I read about it through a computer screen. I look at satellite imagery of glaciers, sea ice, and open seas, and feel something like a satellite myself orbiting over the polar regions, absorbing copious amounts of information but missing the textures and granularity that come with being on the ground.
One day, hopefully someday soon, I will feel the crunch of snow under my feet again as I walk to have a hot cup of coffee with a local resident, and shake the calloused hand of someone who has fished and hunted and gathered in northern seas and streams. For now, research at a distance will have to do.