Long day’s night
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