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On Wonder (Arctic blog)

I like hotel rooms filled with kit. They speak of independence.

I spread out in a spacious room on the fifth floor of the Southway Inn in Ottawa. Strip malls and apartment blocks spread through scrubby woods, five minutes drive from the airport. Tanning salons, hardware stores, petrol pumps and fast food. Tucsons, the local bar across the street offers drinks and dancing with live music on Saturdays and Wednesdays. It was Thursday.

Somewhere between the anonymity and dullness of the ringroad hotel, there is a freedom. I look down at the three kit bags lying on the patterned carpet. Down jackets, rugged weather proof computers, adaptors, tape, kit, thermals, bandages, medicine, back-ups, independence. This is the thrill: knowing that I have everything I need and nothing more.

The hotel promises nothing in its transience. I shall never stay at the Southway Inn, unless I am on the way to somewhere else.

The flight to Resolute Bay from Ottawa is full. We start in a small Boeing 737 and set out for Iqaluit. The ‘we’ is myself and two scientists, Ceri and Oliver, joining the Ice Base team as part of the Catlin Arctic Survey. Iqaluit is the capital of Nunavut, an area of Canada owned by the Inuit and covering over 2 million square kilometers, one fifth the total land of Canada.

The landscape slipped by, detail lost in the late spring snow. The flight is warm and the cabin air desiccating. I feel cosseted against the cold, enjoying my warm First Air cookie. We are further north now and the view has taken on an alien quality. The terrain is now longer ‘normal but whiter’, but different in texture altogether. Marshmallow mounds, heaped cumulus, a weightless land, pillowed and mesmerizing and endless, but it doesn’t seem endless. It seems like another world.

The flight path leaves land and crosses the straits between the islands of the Canadian Arctic. The fabled North West Passage would pass beneath us. The ice is melting already and headlines may promise commerce through these waters soon. My first glimpse of the sea ice reminds me of the crinkled patterns of cellophane or the heavily lined palms of a sage. I wonder if you can tell the future from these lines. Pancake patterns appear. Great lily pads of ice, bumping through blue, grey, oil black water. I dream a giant playground with a mythic hunter skipping and jumping from one disc to the next after his mythic prey.

Human outposts. Airports reduced to small buildings, fuel bowsers and compacted snow. Igloolik, Arctic Bay and then Resolute Bay and the camaraderie of fellow misfits and a base for the next days.

The Arctic is not empty and bleak but full of wonder.

To learn more about the Catlin Arctic Survey visit: www.catlinarcticsurvey.com.

3 Responses to “On Wonder (Arctic blog)”

  1. Nicola says:

    Great to hear that you are almost there. Sounds rather poetic for the time being. I hope the cold doesn’t freeze the muse and the misfits are fun too!

  2. Justin says:

    Sounds incredible Jamie. Would love to help up with the arctic surveys.you have our full support and best of luck in the northern freezer…as opposed to our southern one in Bellingshausen.

  3. Digital Explorer says:

    Thanks Justin. Hope all well with you. Still waiting for a flight. A bit like Punta, but no Brazilian ‘air police’, no Lomit’s and -40C today.

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