Arctic

Some of my fondest memories of summer

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

This “midsommar,” or midsummer as Americans might call it, marks the 20th year since I first flew to Greenland to explore, pursue some old passions of Viking exploration and colonization of the arctic, and do some serious backcountry travel.

I succeeded on all fronts. I ended up visiting Greenland three summers in a row, in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

I made some amazing treks (Sisimiut to Kangerlussuaq, Igaliku to Qaqortoq, Brattalid/Qassiarsuk, to Narsaq) during each trip.

I made friends with local Greenlanders, who invited me into their homes and took me seal hunting and fishing.

I befriended several Danes, including two doctors, who made sure to extend hospitality to me when I visited their country.

I also participated in a celebration of the 1,000th anniversary of Leif Ericson’s arrival in southwest Greenland.

I thought about Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic) this week as we entered that magical time of 24 hours of daylight in the arctic. In 1998, I hiked all night on June 21, 1998, north of the Arctic Circle, where the sun never set and the mosquitos never slept!

Here are a few photos highlighting the magic of that place, its people, its culture, and beauty. I hope they bring you some joy as in the northern hemisphere celebrates the arrival of summer.

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Welcome to Alaska

This is an oldie, and a goodie. I converted this to black and white. Every May I grow very nostalgic about Alaska and the amazing memories that it seared into my soul. Thanks, Alaska. Still loving and missing you very much.

For those who have not driven to Alaska, this is the entrance sign to Tok. I took this photo 11 years ago, and I do not know if it is still hanging. Things can take a beating in the winter there. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Drift ice swirl, north Atlantic

The swirl is one of the shapes one sees consistently in nature, from the shape of the galaxies to the form of a nautilus shell to the patterns of whirlpools and tornadoes. I found the pattern mesmerizing as I flew over the north Atlantic in between Iceland and Greenland. I snapped the photo, since I had never seen anything like this before. It was a very propitious trip, as it inspired my later travels to the Arctic, in Greenland and Iceland, starting exactly 10 months later. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Grandpa’s role building an air base at the top of the world

In the early 1950s, a sheet metal worker from Detroit providing for his wife and two kids saw an advertisement for his trade to work in Greenland. He flew there, via Newfoundland, and helped to build a new U.S. air base called Thule. It was built where Inuit had traveled and traded for thousands of years, and still lived. Thule played a key rule during the Cold War as an intercontinental ballistic missile station and air station. This also was the time when the U.S. Air Force continually had nuclear-armed B-52 bombers airborne at all times. During the height of the cold war, these nuclear-armed bombers landed and one even crashed there, to the dismay of Denmark, which includes the vast island in its kingdom as a home rule territory. (I read about this story on my flight to Greenland on a Greenland Air inflight magazine.)

This is how Thule looked when my grandfather took this photo. He described being able to bowl at a bowling alley there and leaving before his contract was completed, as he missed his wife, my grandmother. He never met the locals because the U.S. military had strict prohibitions to prevent the contractors from meeting with the resident Greenlanders. At the time, they wore traditional dress, he recalled. Decades later, he gave me the slides he took.

I still would like to visit Thule one day. I never got that far north, as one still needed special permission to visit the U.S. run airbase when I visited Greenland for the first time more than 15 years ago.

Click on the photography to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.

Traditional Greenland kayak and kayak methods

 

In Greenland. the current generation of Greenlanders have rediscovered the historic kayak building, paddling, and handling techniques. The kayak, or qajaq, enabled Greenlanders to populate the entire western coastline and southeast coastline and survive, mainly by giving the hunters the ability to hunt sea mammals. These boats were all built by hand by people with no modern tools, and all from materials available from animals, bones, and driftwood. Greenlanders, like this man, practice their techniques, including flips with and without their traditional paddles. I took this in Qassaiarsuk in 2000, when there were more than a dozen paddlers showing off their finely honed skins on traditionally built kayaks. See more of my pictures of Greenland on my Greenland gallery. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Greenlandic Elder, Qassiarsuk

 

I photographed the 1,000-year anniversary of Leif Ericsson’s exploration to the New World in Greenland in 2000. The attendees included the Queen of Denmark and the President of Iceland, along with all of the prominent Greenlandic leaders, artists, and respected elders. I shot this picture of a Greenlandic elder at the celebration ceremonies that took place in the old Greenland VIking settlement of Brattahlid, today known as Qassiarsuk. That was a very memorable experience. I loved it. You can see more of my Greenland portraits on my Greenlanders gallery. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Cemetery, Vik, Iceland

I stayed in Vik for a night way back in 1998, and I enjoyed the location on the windswept North Atlantic, facing the sea. Lots of great opportunities for photographic moments in such a small place. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

You never forget the first time you step foot in Greenland

 

Yesterday I discovered some nice photos taken of east Greenland, in fjords near the air hub of Kulusuk. This is the sparsely inhabited region of Greenland, a home rule territory still within the Kingdom of Denmark. I landed in Kulusuk in June 1998. I will never forget this flight, from Reykjavik, Iceland. I flew on the very tough Bombardier Dash-8 prop plane, and my captain was a wonderful Greenlander who I then hired to charter a boat trip up a fjord near Nuuk, the capital, to find Viking archaeological ruins. The air when I stepped off for the refueling stop was crisp. Those arctic low hanging fog clouds shrouded the mountains. My fellow passengers were all delighted to be back home. I was in heaven. This trip changed my life.

You can see more of my photos shot in 1998, 1999, and 2000 on my Greenland picture gallery. (Click on photograph to open a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Danish colonial legacy in Greenland

 

A statue of Hans Egede stands over the harbor in Nuuk, capital of Greenland. Greenland was long a colony of the Kingdom of Denmark, and among the most prominent and I would say beneficent colonial settlers was  Egede, a Lutheran missionary who in the early 1700s established the then colonial town of Godthåb, which was later renamed Nuuk. This photo dates from 1998, and I wonder how much has changed on this hillside since. I imagine a fair bit. I ended up visiting Nuuk several times over three years. It was among the most interesting northern cities that I have explored.

Inuit identity in the circumpolar north

In 2007, I attended the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Barrow, which brought together the different Inuit groups, spanning the circumpolar north from Russia, to Alaska, to Canada, to Nunavut, to Greenland. The Inuit are distinct culturally, linguistically, and historically. Having traveled widely in Greenland and Alaska, this was abundantly clear in many of the ways these cultures express their identity and relation to the sea. Here are two perspectives on how closely linked Inuit culture is to its traditional hunting lifestyle, in this case hunting, killing, eating, and utilizing whales. You can also find other photos I have taken of Greenland and Alaska on my web site (www.rudyowens.com).