Finally back from more than a month in the high arctic. And while I have sampled seal meat in the past (it tastes a bit like seaweed), it was not on the menu on this trip. Instead, the above title is in reference to one of my favorite quotes, this one from Knud Rasmussen, the famed anthropologist and explorer who said, “Unless you eat the seal meat, you can’t fully experience the orange.”
Rasmussen’s point was that you can’t truly appreciate the beauty in life without enduring some measure of toil and drudgery. I thought of Rasmussen’s words frequently over the last month because on our expedition we ended up eating a whole lot of “seal meat.”
What was planned as a 300 mile kayak trip to create a film about climate change was curtailed by weather and an unexpected breakup of the sea ice. (More about that in my next post.) As a result, we traveled only 60 miles using harnesses to pull our fully loaded kayaks over jumbles of ice and through meltwater pools. Thankfully, we were wearing dry suits as I fell into the icy arctic waters several times each day. On some days we achieved less than two miles in distance; on others we could not move at all because of the inclement weather.
For six of the days we were grounded as the result of continuous winds of hurricane velocity. At one point, the winds were so forceful that we couldn’t raise a tent. Instead, we huddled in our sleeping bags in a depression in the dirt praying for them to subside.
It was the most arduous undertaking of my life and also the most isolated. For more than a month we saw no planes, no boats, no cars, no roads, no telephone lines, no trash, no trails, and no footprints – other than our own. The only evidence of other humans were tent rings left by Paleo-Eskimos who lived in the area thousands of years ago.
Down to three days of remaining food and with worsening weather conditions, we used a paddle and cooking pot to repair an area for a Twin Otter to land and bring us home. The pilot made a landing worthy of Chuck Yeager as we broke into tears and applause.
I’ve always believed that every person has a special place, that location that resonates with your soul. For some, it is the beaches of Bora Bora; for others it is the streets of Barcelona and for some it is a nearby park or open space. For me it is the high arctic. It is an area of desolate beauty, almost achingly so. One where the distracting externalities of daily life – the sounds of traffic, artificial lights, connectivity – are absent. All that surrounds you is the land, sea and sky.
On this trip, I didn’t get many slices of that orange, but they were enough to whet my appetite for more.