Long day’s night

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LAUREN TRO­PEANO

SOMER­TON PLACE, SA I AMat 78 de­grees north on the ar­chi­pel­ago of Sval­bard, Nor­way, way above the Arc­tic Cir­cle. There are no tall trees to sift the light; the sun strikes noth­ing else be­fore hit­ting me.

At 2am in the bright light of this arc­tic night, the black­ened shape of a lonely camp­site cabin casts a bulky shadow on the grav­elled road.

I splash bot­tled wa­ter on to my cheeks and reach into a Zi­plock bag for cook­ies that were baked just be­fore I boarded the north­bound plane. The food breaks as I bite and the de­li­cious crum­bles will be gifts for the soon­wak­ing white birds of Longyear­byen (‘‘long year city’’) on the is­land of Spits­ber­gen.

I won­der why, in Au­gust, I have both­ered to bring a torch. Seated on a wooden bench be­fore the cold wa­ter, my breaths min­gle and fade in white wisps. I have pitched a tent in the wet ground, but sleep seems like some­thing meant for later, some­thing only rel­e­vant in a place where dark­ness ac­tu­ally comes.

I’m sure that later in the day, when my heavy eye­lids stum­ble, I’ll wish I’d at least tried to get some shut-eye. But, for now, just sit­ting seems right.

The longer I look at the land­scape, the more beau­ti­ful ev­ery­thing be­comes. Blink­ing, too, like sleep­ing, be­comes a ne­ces­sity I wish I could mo­men­tar­ily sus­pend. It’s a bit like fall­ing in love. Fall­ing in love with ev­ery­thing, and with the ab­sence of things.

There is an empti­ness in this place I fear I can­not ad­e­quately de­scribe. True si­lence reigns be­tween the two great blues of sea and sky. Moun­tains, like snowcrowned kings, re­treat into noth­ing­ness.

Wa­ter is all around, re­flect­ing the grey sky and the clouds, in­ter­lock­ing like jig­saw pieces. Here, the sun re­veals all of it­self. It is this real pos­si­bil­ity, to sit be­fore na­ture in­fi­nite, that makes me feel warm de­spite a dis­tinct and alarm­ing lack of ap­pro­pri­ate ther­mal cloth­ing.

Six-hun­dred mil­lion years ago, Longyear­byen was cov­ered by glaciers of the Ven­dian ice age, some­where near the South Pole.

To­day, it lies as close to the North Pole as I have yet dared to ven­ture. I feel pleased to have come this far. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a Kathmandu Travel Se­cu­rity ID kit of a brightly coloured lug­gage strap, tough ABS lug­gage tag, se­ty­our-own com­bi­na­tion lock, money neck pouch and car­ry­bag ($79.98). More: 1800 333 484; kathmandu.com.au

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