Grumant, Spitsbergen, Svalbard, the Sea

Tomorrow I fly to Oslo and the day after that to Longyearbyen, Svalbard. From there, along with my cohort of writers, artists and scientists, I will board the barkentine schooner Antigua for a 15-day-long sailing voyage up the west coast of Spitsbergen, the archipelago’s largest island, and perhaps even east along the island’s northern coast. In my mind I’ve been hearing the archipelago’s many names repeated like an echo: Grumant, used by the Russian Pomors; Spitsbergen, given by the Dutch navigator Willem Barents; and Svalbard, the late-period Viking name given by Norway once it won sovereignty in 1920. Grumant: Green Land. Spitsbergen: Sharp Peaks. Svalbard: Cold Edge. Green Land. Sharp Peaks. Cold Edge. Lichen, moss. Pinnacles, citadel ranges. Ice, ocean, and the senses sharpened by polar wind and joy.

Tomorrow I shed my usual rhythms of work and family and go north into perpetual daylight – the peculiar, transforming midnight sun – which will light the way into my next book, whose heart is already in Svalbard. This journey hasn’t yet even begun but I can feel its richness. I am leaning into it, hoping to open myself fully to whatever unfolds. Arctic fox, dryad, skua. Walrus. Ice bear. Moss campion. Bearded seal, beluga, guillemot. Lichen. Stones, ice. The sea illuminated by slanted light.

My aim is to stand at the rail with my eyes open for many hours per day. To walk the beaches and tundra ledges of Svalbard and invite the place to percolate into my being. To connect with others over meals and in the wild. To bask and explore, inquire and receive this place. My hope is that all of this feeds my soul in a way that provokes creative work and play and for me that means The Gyre. May it be so, and at the same time may my preconceptions fall away.

I will not have access to the Internet while I am journeying in Svalbard. After I return on July 2, I will post journal entries and photographs of the trip.