Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Clarity Of Distant Mountains

The clarity of distant mountains is unbelievable. You could wrap your fingers around them. They are too clear. They look too close, I understand how early Arctic explorers made the fatal mistake of sailing for a distant landscape, thinking it was only a few miles away.

Svalbard: "I heard nobody dies here, nobody is born here."

We sail into snow, the light gets bluer, dimmer, bluer. Snow falls thicker, it cracks in the air, chrysalises. Breaks as you walk through it. Look outside the boat, and you see only blackness. At the same time, the snow makes you feel cocooned. One pushes you away, the other pulls you in. Land approaches, but as soon as the outline of the landscape appears, thick fog falls.  

"Have you ever been on a boat out of sight of land?"

I think of fishing with my father, killing the fish that he didn't have the stomach to kill. He doesn't like the sight of blood. I think of my mother almost drowning as a child - she never liked water after that point, but still she sat on the fishing boat with a wide sun hat. I think of falling in the water - no one would find you, you would have only four minutes to live.

Philip walks out of the wheelhouse and kicks a lever at the ship's bow. The anchor plunges to the ocean floor. Bram sweeps snow from the deck, silhouetted against the lights of the wheel house. He is smoking a cigarette and the smoke mixes with the condensation of his breath.

Layers keep me warm, but my fingers burn with numbness. My circulation ends here. We are floating into oblivion. Fog so thick and close we can't see more than ten metres from the boat. Victorian explorers look out into fog like this and pray to god they don't hit an iceberg. They congratulate themselves on proving a new island, they name it. It is theirs. They wish they could see a vista and admire it but the fog is too thick.

Everything is edgeless, corners are no longer sharp. The deck is no longer as hard. The snow renders everything indeterminate. The chair on deck is from a summer patio - but the tourists are missing. They were here in the summer, but now the plastic summer tables and chairs are covered in snow. 

Dan records a conversation with the water. I can only hear him mumbling into his microphone, an intimate dialogue.

Position at 0800: 78°40' N 14°42' E
Temperature: 1 °C – overcast – no wind