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 😉

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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Image of the Week

Cold coast, pointy mountains, polar bear

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Spitsbergen, main island of the Svalbard archipelago. ©Robyn Mundy

Procrastinating about writing, I was seized yesterday with the urge to back up my computer, RIGHT NOW, THIS VERY MINUTE. In the process of tidying-up I lingered over images, including these, photographed last season on a flight from Tromsø in northern Norway, to Spitsbergen, the main island of the Svalbard Archipelago.

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Looking across to Hornsund on the south-west coast of Spitsbergen. ©Robyn Mundy

I’ve been flying to Spitsbergen since Polar Pioneer, the small ice-strengthened ship I work on, set off on its maiden voyage in the year 2000. It’s a rare reward to look down upon this wild place and gaze across its breadth. And you know it must be good when the pilot manoeuvres the plane so that both sides can gain a clear view.

This icy part of the world earns its title: Svalbard translates to cold coast, Spitsbergen, to pointy mountains. Svalbard is also territory to a large population of polar bear. To encounter this mighty animal roaming across its foraging ground is a heart-pattering thrill of any voyage.

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A female polar bear foraging on pack ice in north-east Spitsbergen. ©Robyn Mundy

Readers on Reading

In this segment I invite an inspirational reader to share a little of their life and a favourite recent read.

It is a complete accident that we have been born here and now, as we could just as easily have been Neolithic farmers or part of an Inuit hunter’s family. — Carol Knott

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Grounded icebergs off Rode Ø (Red Island) in North-East Greenland. Photo: Robyn Mundy, 2016

RM: One of the nicest side benefits of shipboard life is working closely with a small expedition team from around the globe who feel as inspired by the remote places we visit as do our adventurous passengers. Our final voyage for the northern season came to a close a few days ago, our stout little Polar Pioneer having ventured to wild Scotland back in June, then most recently to Svalbard and North-East Greenland in the High Arctic. Our days across the Greenland Sea gave me time to entice onboard archaeologist and historian CAROL KNOTT into sharing a story or two, albeit reluctantly, of her own remarkable life.

Time travel

CK: I have always been fascinated by the idea of exploring time. Our lives are part of a continuum of past, present and future, bound together, for me, by a great sense of common humanity. It is a complete accident that we have been born here and now, as we could just as easily have been Neolithic farmers or part of an Inuit hunter’s family.

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At Mousa Broch in the Shetland Isles, Carol recounts stories of feuds and forbidden love that played out within the walls of this formidable iron-age fortress. ©Robyn Mundy

RM: Scotland’s beautiful Isle of Lewis is Carol’s home turf, though she has worked far and wide as a field archaeologist, exploring life as it was lived in previous ages, and sharing her discoveries with 21st century travellers. ‘I remember once holding in my hand a piece of pottery impressed with the potter’s thumbprint, and feeling a sudden shock of direct connection crossing almost 1,000 years.’ Carol is treasured for her ability to infuse the past with life, prompting us—even challenging our assumptions about past and present cultures—to think about new ways of understanding the things we encounter.

One special site has inspired her to explore, first hand, the experience of women from the past; however, like all good character-driven stories, in embarking on one quest, Carol has found herself bounding along an entirely unanticipated trajectory:

 Pilgrimage on horseback

P1000720 Santiago de Compostella

© Carol Knott

CK: Sometimes a voyage takes me to Santiago de Compostella in Galicia, Spain, where we witness the arrival of dusty modern-day pilgrims, at the completion of their long Camino to this ancient shrine. It was a remarkable cultural phenomenon in the Middle Ages, and it is even more so today. Inspired by this, four of us, all women, resolved one day to do the Camino ourselves, but to try to do it on horseback, and from Lisbon — the Portuguese Way. We want to examine the experience of women travellers and pilgrims centuries ago, and compare it with our experience as modern women travelling today. I soon realised that my horse-riding skills were rusty in the extreme, so I started to do training rides wherever the opportunity arose.

DSC_0039 Carol at Keflavik

Carol takes to the reins in Iceland. Icelandic horses, unique in having five natural gaits, are known for their sweet temperament, sure-footedness and ability to cross rough terrain — all fine qualities to aspire to! ©Elena Wimberger, 2016

RM: Before voyages, after voyages, even in the few hours between voyages, Carol has ridden. She has ridden an Icelandic horse in Iceland. She has galloped, gaucho style, across the Patagonian pampas on a horse named Denis. She has taken up the reins in Svalbard, the world’s most northerly place possible to horse ride, with a rifle as protection from polar bears. And she’s ridden at the most southerly: Tierra del Fuego. ‘This quest to ‘ride around the world’, Carol says, ‘has taken on a life of its own, regardless of whether we manage to pull off our horseback pilgrimage.’

With the months and miles of travelling Carol does each year for work, she spoke about her sense of home being vital to her life:

CK: I live on an island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, and I treasure the meaning that adds to my life—a place where the traditional Gaelic culture is strong and informs every aspect of modern life, where people over millennia have come to terms with the realities of living close to nature in what seems like a wild place. Wherever I go in the world, this strong bond to my family home provides me with an anchor that sets me free. This balance between freedom to wander and a deep sense of belonging is something I treasure greatly.

Carol’s favourite recent read:

The AnchoressThe Anchoress, by Robyn Cadwallader

CK: I picked up this book as something to read on my way home from Antarctica, and chose it because it touched on my current interest in women’s freedom versus confinement, and also because the paperback was small and portable, ideal for a traveller like myself. But I loved the fact that this thoughtful book, set in thirteenth-century England, portrayed ideas that are so remote from our modern preoccupations. The central character, Sarah, at seventeen, enters a closed cell attached to a church, where she intends to spend the rest of her life as a holy woman in fasting and prayer. Here is a girl whose spiritual journey, and indeed almost all of the action of the book, takes place, not over miles of dusty roads, but within the silence of a cold, dark room only a few paces long. Robyn Cadwallader’s writing makes this appalling prospect sparkle with colour and drama, and takes us, body and soul, deep into the medieval world. It is another great example of how historical fiction can communicate difficult ideas vividly and effectively to a wide readership.

Image of the Week

Easter Bunny

1001 Arctic hare at Eskimobugt-Brendan Downer

Arctic hare at Eskimobugt, Nordvestfjord, East Greenland. ©Brendan Downer

Brendan Downer, New Zealand chef and trusty shipmate with whom I’ve shared many a polar voyage, shot this photo of an Arctic Hare, Lepus arcticus, at Eskimobugt in East Greenland. Isn’t it a beauty! The white coat makes a brilliant splash against the Arctic landscape, and with the help of those big ears, an adult stands at an impressive 60cms tall, weighing in at up to 7kgs. Arctic hares don’t stand still for long. The farther north into the Arctic, the larger the herds: while I’ve only seen a handful at a time, they are known to bound across the tundra in herds of over two hundred, reaching speeds of 60 kilometres per hour. Imagine! May a herd of Easter bunnies come bounding your way.