Readers on Reading

In this post I invite an inspirational guest reader to share a little about their life and a recent favourite book. 

Rachael Mead (1) copy

Rachael Mead

I first met Rachael Mead in 2011 during a writing residency at Varuna the Writers House, a sanctuary set on the edge of Australia’s Blue Mountains. I spent my time there with an inspiring group of women writers, sharing dinners, ideas, snatches of our own writing. During a casual conversation Rachael told me of her husband, a paramedic who, on Rachael’s birthdays, would paint her a replica of a favourite famous painting. The image of that gift as an expression of love grabbed me. Rachael gave me permission to explore the idea in short fiction which slowly, glacially, led to ‘The Forgeries’, most definitely NOT a story about Rachael or her husband, but about the fragile nature of creativity.

TFITP coverThis small window into Rachael’s life introduces a talented poet and short story writer, arts reviewer and bookseller, who lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Rachael’s had an eclectic life, working as an archaeologist, environmental campaigner and seller of books both old and new. She has an Honours degree in Classical Archaeology, a Masters in Environmental Studies and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Adelaide. Rachael is the author of four collections of poetry, and I recommend all of them: The Flaw in the Pattern (UWA Publishing 2018), The Sixth Creek (Picaro Press 2013) and the chapbooks Sliding Down the Belly of the World (Wakefield Press 2012) and The Quiet Blue World (Garron Publishing 2015).

I invited Rachael to share something she treasures about her life.

Rachael: Being able to travel. My husband and I met on an archaeological excavation and since then we have leapt at every chance to experience the wild and lonely places of the world, whether it’s throwing the swags in the back of the car or heading off on overseas adventures. I’ve been extremely privileged to have visited Antarctica twice, camping on the Ross Ice shelf in East Antarctica and crossing the Drake Passage by ship to the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula. The only continent I’ve yet to visit is North America but, with an Iranian stamp in my passport and a history of environmental activism, ticking this continent off the list may prove a little challenging under the current administration. In the meantime I’d love to do a little more long distance hiking, so early in the New Year we hope to lug our backpacks around the western end of Kangaroo Island, which lies off the coast of South Australia.

Clockwise: Kayaking in South Georgia, 2013; Rachael with orphaned Lowland Mountain Gorilla while volunteering in Limbe Wildlife Rescue Centre, Cameroon 1996;  Imax Crevasse, Ross Ice Shelf, East Antarctica 2005. Photos ©Rachael Mead

On Instagram I’ve been following Rachael’s recent wind-whipped adventures around Iceland and Scotland. Was there a favourite book along the way?

Living MountainRachael: I love researching the ecological and cultural histories of the places we visit, so while driving through the Scottish Highlands I read a title that had been on my ‘must read’ list for a while. The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd is a gorgeous piece of nature writing and deservedly a classic. The book is a loving, lyrical and ecologically precise account of the Cairngorm Mountains by a woman who spent much of her life exploring this harsh and beautiful landscape by foot. Shepherd wrote this book in the mid-1940s but it remained in her desk drawer until 1977, finally finding a publisher at the same time that other classics of the genre by male writers such as Matthiessen, Chatwin and McPhee were being published to great acclaim. As a lover of nature writing, reading this book was an absolute delight, not only as a poetic and intimate account of a wild landscape but as a landmark piece of nature writing by an extraordinary woman. Every time I used a Scottish five-pound note (which bears her portrait) it felt like I was paying tribute to a newly discovered literary heroine.

Another ‘must read’ piece of nature writing is this poem by Rachael Mead from The Flaw in the Pattern, the first in a sequence of seven poems chronicling each day of a trek though the Tasmanian wilderness.

These clouds that cap the world

Walking the Overland Track, Tasmania – Day 1

We set out, climbing towards the tight lid of clouds,

our whole week hanging from our collarbones.

This land casts timelessness at our feet,

unfurling like an old rug, ragged and enormous.

We are superimposed here, stepping into an epic.

Trees glow in wet light, the sky flat as an ironed sheet.

Everything is so magnificent it feels ridiculous, like words

in the mouth of Dorothy Parker. This is beauty beyond

necessity, the way it usually is, but on its own terms,

the golden mean redundant and symmetry just a neat idea.

For seven days we will walk, each carrying our own burden

of what we think we need, our sweat and aching joints.

We tread the silvered vertebrae of the track

one foot after the other, learning the bleakness

of repetition. The sky drops on our heads,

fog enfolding us in silence and cold.  Ahead,

I watch my partner’s shape dissolve then reappear

fiercer than ever, like love over time. I draw endurance

from my aquifer and keep pushing through this weather

that has nowhere better to be, striding among

these clouds that cap the world, my hair netting sky.

Read more of Rachael’s poetry and see her photographic images at: http://rachaelmead.com/

Advertisements

Arctic jewels

20180822-RM-Røde Ø-IMG_3648 cropped

Home again on the tail of three magical Arctic voyages aboard Polar Pioneer, exploring Svalbard and East Greenland. While every voyage sees a keen focus on wildlife—that dream of seeing the mighty polar bear, King of the Arctic—Svalbard and East Greenland are crowns crammed with all kinds of precious gems, from the large to the tiny. Here below are some of the wonders I love about the high north. I hope you’ll enjoy them too. — Robyn Mundy

ROCK

20180813-RM-Gateau Point-IMG_2901

Gateau Point, Scoresbysund, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

20180816-RM-Bjorneoer-IMG_3332

Bjørneøer (Bear Islands), Ø Fjord, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

20180812-RM-Blomsterbugten-IMG_2668

Lake Noa, Blomsterbugten, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

ICE

20180807-RM-Kongsbreen IMG_2237Kongsbreen, Svalbard ©Robyn Mundy
20180814-RM-Kap Stewart-IMG_2957

Kapp Stewart, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

20180815-RM-Røde Ø-IMG_3017

Røde Fjord, East Greenland ©Robyn Mundy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TUNDRA

20180822-RM-Røde Ø-Broad-leaved Willowherb-IMG_3602

Broad-leaved willow herb  ©Robyn Mundy

20180826-RM-Sofia Sund-Mouse Ear Chickweed-IMG_4161

Mouse-ear chickweed  ©Robyn Mundy

20180821-RM-Kap Stewart-snow buttercup-IMG_3581

Snow buttercups  ©Robyn Mundy

20180825-RM-Antarctic Havn-purple saxifrage-IMG_4120

Purple Mountain Saxifrage  ©Robyn Mundy

20180812-RM-Nanortalik-IMG_2843

Arctic cotton grass  ©Robyn Mundy

20180816-RM-Bjorneoer-IMG_3468

Tundra reflections ©Robyn Mundy

WILDLIFE

20180808-RM-Hamiltonbukta IMG_2320 cropped

Arctic fox in summer coat, Ytre Norskøya, Svalbard   ©Robyn Mundy

20180815-RM-Harefjord-IMG_3261

Muskox, Harefjord, East Greenland  ©Robyn Mundy

20180803-RM-Kap Lee-IMG_1839 cropped

Svalbard reindeer, Kap Lee, Svalbard  ©Robyn Mundy

20180801-RM-Kvitoya-Kraemerpynten-IMG_1705 cropped

Polar bear, Kvitøya, Svalbard ©Robyn Mundy

ALONG WITH A TRIBUTE

…to MV Polar Pioneer, our ice-strengthened Russian workhorse that makes it all happen year after year. For those of us who have been working with her since her maiden voyage in 2000, it is bound to be a sad farewell this time next year, the Arctic 2019 season being her final with Aurora Expeditions before she steams away toward shiny new adventures.

20180811-RM-Myggebugten-IMG_2382

MV Polar Pioneer ©Robyn Mundy

Antarctica

 

20171208-RM-Gold Harbour-IMG_2877

King penguins at Gold Harbour, South Georgia, in the early part of the Antarctic summer. ©Robyn Mundy

What a crazy and unexpected year 2018 has become, thanks largely to a new part time work role that I happily agreed to, having exploded into a juggernaut. The consolation I hold onto (and it’s a big one) is that my efforts might make a positive difference. But with many hours consumed, I have turned into an absent friend and non-communicator. My work desk, once stacked with writing research and photos and scribbled notes of dialogue, has been taken over by To Do lists and a utilitarian work diary, Week To A Spread. Christmas cards relegated to the side table are gathering dust, remnants of glitter glinting from their envelopes, the senders, still waiting to be acknowledged, unaware of how precious their greetings are to me. (I’m sorry. I’m sorry). A stack of novels waiting to be read occasionally glares at me from my bedside table; they’ve all but given up. I’ve abandoned testy Twitter and gone for Instagram — a voyeur rather than a contributor — because there’s something lovely, and effortless, in ‘liking’ a world of beauty, travel and glee beyond my own.

Well, enough of that. Time to post a few images with a reminder that just back there, just beyond the corner of my sights, lies another world. Antarctica. I hope you enjoy this photo selection from four voyages, November through January, to the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia. It’s not all blue skies and sunshine. You’ll see a dolloping of wild weather and snowfall which, for those of us onboard, often makes for some of the most memorable moments of all.

IMG_0411

You think getting ready for work takes a long time? For this chinstrap penguin at Hydrurga Rocks, preening is a major undertaking to coat every individual feather and hard-to-get-at spot with waterproofing oil before heading back out to sea. ©Robyn Mundy

20180103-RM-Point Wild-IMG_7411

What makes this glacial berg so blue? The bluest ice is often very old ice from far down in the glacier, compressed under tremendous weight. Air bubbles have been squeezed out of the ice, allowing light to penetrate deep into the ice and reflect blue light waves. The penguins don’t mind a bit of blue ice either. ©Robyn Mundy

20180107-RM-Godthul-IMG_8269

About one in every 300 Antarctic fur seals are born blonde. No one but we onlookers seems to take much notice. ©Robyn Mundy

20171215-RM-Beagle Channel-IMG_4143

No getting chubby on one of our Antarctic expeditions. Our boys take healthy eating to heart… 😉

20171215-RM-Beagle Channel-IMG_4169

But our wonderful stewardesses and Hotel Manger sneak a few extra tidbits onto the plates 🙂

20171201-RM-Enterprise Island-IMG_2435

Early season at Enterprise Island, where pancakes of ice form with cold overnight temperatures. Nearing winter, these pans coalesce to form a sheet of sea ice that covers the ocean until the following spring. ©Robyn Mundy

20171222-RM-Paradise Bay-IMG_4931

Skontorp Cove, and who can resist a glacier on a perfectly still morning? ©Robyn Mundy

20180121-RM-Scotia Sea storm-IMG_9792

Kayaks and Zodiacs lashed down as we cross a wild Scotia Sea. ©Robyn Mundy

 

 

20171201-RM-Enterprise Island-IMG_2413

It’s not only the remarkable place but the people we travel with that makes working in Antarctica so special. ©Robyn Mundy

Image of the Week

Cavorting Arctic fox kits, Hornsund. ©️Karen Povey, 2017

This northern summer I voyaged to Svalbard Archipelago with a host of adventure travellers, including Karen Povey, a passionate nature enthusiast, wildlife conservationist and all round good sort to have aboard an Arctic voyage.

Karen is a talented photographer, so when I saw this gobsmacking* photo feature on the cover of the trip’s voyage log, I invited her to share her image and the story behind it. Over to you, Karen:

My July trip to Svalbard was truly one of my life’s highlights. One favorite experience was our landing in Hornsund on the archipelago’s main island of Spitsbergen. We scrambled, often on hands and knees, high up a nearly vertical slope of dense moss to the base of a kittiwake nesting cliff. As we clung to our precarious perch an arctic fox appeared, effortlessly trotting by, nose to the earth. Astonished, we watched the fox briskly snatch up chicks that had fallen from the rocks above. Soon its mate appeared and they alternated foraging forays, mouths stuffed with downy prey. Upon descent, it became apparent why they worked so hard in this brief season of plenty – they had a den occupied by at least eight active youngsters! Watching the kits tumbling in play while we stood yards away was beyond thrilling. I don’t know how long we stayed transfixed, immersed in the awe of nature (and the dedication of parents!) in this amazing place.

A second image from Karen to complete the story: Many mouths to feed. ©️Karen Povey, 2017

©️Karen Povey

My thanks to Karen for sharing her fabulous Arctic fox images, along with this self portrait taken in the Cascades: an outdoor girl just enjoying the back yard of her home state of Washington, USA.

*I couldn’t resist an excuse to slip in ‘gobsmacking’, a new Australian word that featured during our voyage 😉

Top Shelf: Vi Wilson

Polar Bear Reflection2

Like to meet an exceptional photographer whose first camera was a Box Brownie, who has never had formal training, who neither markets her photos nor runs a website, but whose images of landscape and nature have won more national and international awards than many photographers dare dream?

14 July Glacier Icebergs

Meet VI WILSON, landscape photographer, fellow adventurer and friend. I have sailed with Vi several times to the high latitudes, most recently aboard Polar Pioneer on voyages to Svalbard and East Greenland. I invited Vi to speak about her photographic journey, and to share this selection of gobsmacking images, all taken during our September Arctic adventure.

If you listen quietly enough life will whisper its secrets to you.
—Rasheed Oghunlaru

Greenland Splendour

Markers of a Journey

‘Ever since I was a small child I have been drawn to the ever-changing beauty of land, sea and sky. It is inevitable that the focus of my image-making portrays this. But growing up in a working class family in Albany, Western Australia, money was always in short supply and at 15 I had to leave school to find a job. There was no encouragement to pursue a career. Out of my three pounds, five shillings and seven pence wages, I was required to give my mother one pound board.’

Bjorneoer

With hard-earned savings, Vi bought her first Box Brownie and the path to photography opened. ‘The world was there as I saw it. I never questioned or analysed why it was important to record it, although on many occasions I have been spellbound by the sheer magic and emotion of the moment. I was once told that I was an instinctive photographer, and to some extent I think that is true. Often you just know but the challenge then is how.’

Landscape Suspended

We see things not as they are, but as we are.
—H. M. Tomlinson

I decided it was time to learn about photography and it was on a 2005 trip to Antarctica that I heard the first whispers about why I make photographs. More recently at a photography workshop I was given an assignment to ‘identify images which are markers for your own journey.’ As I sorted through images something surprising happened. Similarities were emerging. I began to see things that really did say something about me. The images were serene but ordered. There were patterns and shapes; there was light and shadow, strength and vulnerability, emotion and rhythms—like music. My music. Music in landscapes. My need to capture the beauty around me had been ever present but the reason remained elusive. I feel enormously blessed and grateful to have discovered it.

Lillehookbreen

Arctic Light

‘It was such a privilege this year to travel to the Arctic with Aurora. The wildlife and scenery of Spitsbergen, the pack ice, and the absolute grandeur of Greenland have the ability to leave one speechless and filled with awe. I suffered from an acute case of sensory overload.’

Quiet Morning

‘Trying to capture and convey my emotional responses to this kind of splendour is not always easy, but when a viewer responds positively to an image, there is the satisfaction of knowing that perhaps I did – just a little bit!’

Landscape photography: pointers from Vi Wilson

Romer Fjord

The landscape is about light, and that can be capricious and elusive. Absolutely the best times are the golden hours in the mornings and evenings. This can be a challenge where there is 24 hours of daylight, so sometimes it is a good idea to change the camera settings to record monochrome, as it gives an immediate idea of whether a scene might work as mono. This can work rather well in the middle of the day, but the camera needs to be set to capture RAW data. The image can always be restored to colour in post processing.

Gateau Point

Sometimes trying to capture the whole scene can work, but at other times, it is good to explore shooting vertical, or zooming in to focus on details. There is the far landscape and the near landscape, and both have their place.

Sand and Foam

 

Arctic Garden

Tripods are a blessing and a curse! In some situations the circumstances just don’t lend themselves to using one, so it is important to keep an eye on the speed and ISO, especially when using a long lens on the camera and shooting from a bobbing zodiac, or a rolling ship. If you are able to use a tripod, also use a cable release, delayed shutter release, or mirror lockup.

Frozen World

Increasing the ISO can increase noise but there are some good noise reduction programs on the market. However, they should be used with care or they can make an image look over-smooth and plastic.

——————————

Vi, in closing, a question I always like to ask my guests: will you tell us something you cherish about your life?20170707-RM-photographer Vi Wilson at Hamiltonbukta-IMG_6670 cropped
I cherish my good health and my family, and the privilege of being able to witness the wonders of the natural world.

 

My thanks to Vi Wilson for sharing her creative journey and these beautiful images of Svalbard and East Greenland. Photos ©Violet Wilson, 2017

Quotations from Rasheed Oghunlaru and H. M. Tomlinson provided by Vi Wilson.

 

Conversations

Robyn at Hornsun-IMG_5214

Robyn Mundy, 2017, at an old trapper’s hut, Hornsund, Spitsbergen.

 

For those who live in Australia, ABC Radio presenter Richard Fidler is a household name. His regular 50-minute programs Conversations with Richard Fidler have been an Aussie institution since 2006. As the blurb goes, Conversations with Richard Fidler draws you deeper into the life story of someone you may, or may not, have heard about – someone who has seen and done amazing things.

Last week I was Richard’s guest, which just goes to show that his selection of life stories really does include those someones you’ve never heard of. What impressed me—apart from Richard, who is as warm and vivacious in person as he sounds on radio—was the research and preparation that went into the interview. Leading up to the program I spent a couple of hefty phone sessions—two and a half hours—with Richard’s production assistant who eked out countless details of my life: highlights, difficult times, memories I rarely speak of. I nattered on while Nicola, with the occasional oh, wow, or grimace or, what year was this? tapped my history onto her computer.

IMG_9325 late July-female emperor group

Auster Emperor Penguin Rookery, 2008

20170825-RM-KFJ cruise-IMG_9008

MV Polar Pioneer in Keyser Franz Joseph Fjord, East Greenland, 2017

Thankfully, all that was winnowed down to a manageable interview. I think, at least I hope, those in my life know me as actively willing to let other people shine (one great reservation I have about the nature of social media is the relentless ME focus), so it felt decidedly weird and initially unnerving to have the focus redirected. Conversations aired live. We talked about Antarctica, about a year spent working with emperor penguins on the sea ice. We never got to speak about the guiding I do for Aurora Expeditions aboard the ice-strengthened ship Polar Pioneer, which takes me to the top and bottom of the world for several months of each year; or my ongoing pride in Aurora, the innovation of  two dynamic Australian adventurers Greg and Margaret Mortimer. I wish I could have shared a few gobsmacking, high-latitude moments, some of them life-shaping, that our shipboard adventurers take away with them.

IMG_6380 windy day

Maatsuyker Island off the south-west corner of Tasmania, 2017.

We spoke about living remotely on wild Maatsuyker Island but never delved into my recent novel set on Maatsuyker, and probably not by accident. I suspect Richard steers away from well-worn angles of conversation. But what has been so heartening in the days following Conversations, is the positive, heartfelt feedback I’ve received from those who regularly listen to the program, or caught our Conversation while in the car or sitting at an airport, who say they learned things they never imagined about my life—hard moments as well as shiny ones—that they found fascinating. Perhaps all down to the magic Richard Fidler consistently wields on his show. If you’re inclined to tune in to the podcast, or others in Conversations, click here.

Stoked on Stoat

A return from two months in the Arctic—Svalbard and East Greenland—ought to be brimming with epic tales of polar bear, muskox, blue whales, icebergs the size of apartment blocks. I can report shining moments with each of these wonders, but for now I’m here to introduce a creature, the first I’ve seen in my years of travelling to Greenland, best placed at the diminutive end of the scale. In North America these minuscule mammals, weighing in at ~200 grams, are called short-tailed weasels, while in North-East Greenland, where we spotted this little guy, they are named stoats (Mustela erminea).

IMG_9178-RMundy-Stoat at Blomsterbugten 2017-08-26

To track a stoat darting across a hillside is a bit like keeping pace with a fast-forward animation. When stoats stand still they are so well camouflaged in their summer coat that you could miss them altogether. In NE Greenland, stoats share their habitat with lemmings, an even tinier Arctic creature who, unluckily for the lemming, provides the stoat its main diet. If I could portal myself back to Blomsterbugten (Flower Bay), where I snapped this photo just weeks ago, you would see this stoat decked out in winter white, its summer coat moulted, only the tip of its tail black.

Greenland is a land of contrasts, where the mightiest of landscapes, seemingly barren from a distance, harbour lush tundra forests, their plants sized for a doll’s house, their branches of Arctic Willow and Dwarf Birch rarely high enough to meet your knees. Here, growing in a meltwater stream bed and bathed in Greenland sunshine, is Broad-Leaved Willowherb, the country’s beautiful national flower.

IMG_7003