Monday, April 17, 2017

Do Not Come Here To Die*

Whenever I travel, I try to remember to be grateful.  Grateful that I got from Point A to Point B safe and sound; grateful for the opportunities of and to travel; grateful for the destinations as much as the journeys.

It's important to me, the gratitude, the memory of privilege, because I get to go places and experience this world in ways that few people can.  I get to live, to borrow a phrase, deliberately.

This Easter weekend I traveled with my husband and best friend (and her husband) to Svalbard.  It's a place I've long wanted to visit, ever since I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series and discovered that Svalbard was real: "and all around was the bitter Arctic cold and the immense silence of the North."

 It's a privilege to experience that cold and silence.  It is invigorating to see and know, without doubt, that at least for now, the high north is real- a place of frigid mysticism and icy, natural resolution.  It's a practical, wild place.

And here, you have to maintain gratitude in the face of such profound barrenness.  It's a humbling place, this archipelago that dances on the edge of the North Pole.  It's all snow and stone and permafrost.  The bones of this place are all made of ice.  It's provocative to be so far north and see so little human presence.  We're there, for sure, but we're not in charge, not by a long shot: there are more polar bears than people and you can't bury your dead.

This is not a place for the faint of heart of the meek of mind.  It's a place where you have to match the outer wilderness with your own.


*Right,  so this is actually a little less awesome than it sounds.  The thing is, you can't actually expect to be buried or treated well at all upon your imminent demise in Longyearbyen, Svalbard- or anywhere there, really.  There's permafrost year round and simply no way to accommodate the dead.

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