When I look back on the pictures of Svalbard, I feel something - I feel fear, I feel loss, I feel endless beauty, I feel being the closest to mother earth I have ever been.
The Russian Cabin
Back in the little Russian cabin in the middle of nowhere, yet somewhere in the outskirts of Barentsburg, I was sitting alone by the fireplace. My friend Ossi was already sleeping, tucked in his bulky sleeping bag. I kept the fire on, I knew my sleeping bag wasn’t meant for these temperatures and the poor insulation of the cabin. The old wooden planks which formed the walls of the cabin left out most of the heat we tried to maintain with burning coal and firewood. Erlend, our Norwegian friend and leader of this trip was out alone, ice fishing, in the middle of the night, which was none. It was April, the dark time was over and the sun just scratched below the horizon for a few hours before it rose again.
I looked out the windows, which were none, they were taped up with plastic wrap to prevent the ice cold wind to sneak in. The other window was hazed, but still didn’t reveal any sight outdoors. I looked at this bright white rectangle for a couple of hours. It felt like limbo. I felt alone, scared, isolated. I was worried about Erlend, although I didn’t have to. I was worried about my friend asleep, although I didn’t have to. Endless landscapes, unforgiving temperatures and possibly polar bears were waiting outside there somewhere. All I saw was a white rectangle and the insides of this old Russian cabin.
A few hours passed, it was meditative. No phone, no computer, no nothing. It was me and the stove and the occasional just so slight movements of my friend in his sleeping bag. I needed to go outside, I was afraid. Sitting all these hours inside looking at this white canvas of a window, left my imagination with open doors to all directions. I dressed up, layer after layer, just to go for a piss. It was maybe -20°C, but the wind made it worse. Carefully I opened the first door, then the second to go outside. I stuck my nose out and peaked with one eye through the door slit, my hand grabbing the cold door handle tightly - I didn’t know what I was trying to prepare for to be honest.
Carefully I opened the door more and more and inspected every corner of my field of view, still holding on to the door handle. Nothing, there was n… There was something. My heartbeat paced up like the engine of a Formula 1 car. I felt my senses go sharp, the adrenaline pumping through, I heard my heart beat drumming out of my chest. My vision cleared and I could finally focus on the moving thing in the distance. An arctic fox, scouting the shore for food. My fear turned into awe. I was still aware and cautious, I tried to listen to my surroundings. I knew I wouldn’t have enough time and the right equipment to get a good photo of the fox, so I decided to just witness the moment and watch the fox in all its unbelievable beauty, among endless white mountains of snow and ice.
After a short while, the fox disappeared into the distance, the white fur blending into the white hills. I closed my eyes, focussing all my senses to hear. I cannot remember for how long I stood there, but I remember I started to feel the harsh cold taking hold of me, loosing my sense of touch in my fingers and feet. I wanted to hear Erlend’s snow-scooter returning, I felt alone and… scared. I couldn’t even think of sleeping, mostly because I feared if Erlend for whatever reason wouldn’t come back in the next hour or so, a chapter of this trip would have begun I wasn't ready to write.
I went back inside, moved the chair even closer to the stove and took care of the fire. I looked back again at the white canvas and closed my eyes, to hear every sound around me. The sparks of the fire, the soft breathing of my sleeping friend, the wind sneaking through the planks of the cabin, the silence of our surroundings. I believe I was half asleep at times, although sitting up right and occasionally putting more coal into the stove. Finally I heard the sound of a snow-scooter approaching, the door unlocking and Erlend stepping into the cabin. With him, a cold thrust of wind entered the cabin, but I finally felt relieved. At that point the night was almost over and I was still convinced that I couldn’t be able to sleep, but as soon as I pulled the pile of old woollen blankets above me, I passed out.