7 tagged with #kungsled

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lessons from the arctic (6)

you'll learn that over the days and days of walking due north, the sun will always be at your back. when you shoulder your pack and start moving, your shadow lances from your feet and presses onwards. over the course of the day, you'll watch it swinging left, right, gently in front of you as the path meanders and the sun launches its low arc behind you. the insides of your arms will tan.

your body will tire before the sun falls back into the earth, leaving you generous afternoon-seeming light to pick a spot for your tent and wash your sweat into a frigid stream. 'how will you sleep if the sun doesn't set?' people have asked you when you were preparing for this trip. you didn't know then, but you will find out as you walk that exhaustion will require your sleep more than the light will require your wakefulness.

(but when you stir in the depth of the night and look to the sky, it will be a light steely pastel tone, like the sun never finished setting. you'll blink blearily at it, and then roll over and press your face deeper into your sleeping bag.)

most days, you'll feel the wind on your face. you stay sandwiched between this insistent wind and the piercing sun, a brittle stick trying to move further into the nightless land ahead. some days, the wind will die down, and recover its breath from your side, whipping you off balance. when you feel it start to align with the sun, as if radiant heat has transformed into thickening clouds and a darker set of gusts, prepare to get wet.

07 September 2018 20:51

lessons from the arctic (5)

you will see berries everywhere you go. some of them are wild blueberries, and some of them are a berry that looks just like wild blueberries, and some of them are cloudberries. you'll try to be careful about not grazing too much, out of concern for your gastro-intestinal system. inevitably, though, the most appealing-looking ones you will find when you wander off the trail to empty your bladder, because those are the places that haven't yet been picked over by other hikers.

the blueberries that grow close to birch forests will taste raw and flat, like cut grass; when you're on an exposed hillside, high above where the birch could no longer stand, you will find much smaller, drier specimens that at first give you little confidence in them. but, let the wind whip your face and chap your lips while you slowly scramble uphill along the shins of buttresses, and when you rest, you may lean down and pluck one out of curiosity. these are the best ones, where the environment harshened just enough to squash the competition for soil nutrients.

you will look uphill and see reindeer, and know that their scat feeds these berries.

in the marsh, you'll see reddish baubles pressing out of green fists. you'll meet a tall local man, walking with his small child and anxious dog. "i don't remember english word," he'll start.

"cloudberries," you fill in.

"yes! yes. cloudberries. very good."

when he passes you, you'll see that on his pack hangs a large plastic pail, full of a ripe golden yellow mush, trailing flies that are desperately trying to tunnel in through the edges. remember what a woman told you earlier: "like a color between orange and gold," she said, struggling with the right adjectives to describe it. "the red ones taste like nothing."

as the tall man leaves with his child and dog and bucket, you understand why you've only seen red cloudberries.

05 September 2018 19:56

lessons from the arctic (4)

the mosquitoes will feel heavy in your hands when you catch them. you'll note their long, ovoid bodies, a long, searching proboscis tracing curious patterns as they try to push through the netting to reach you. it is strange to you how legible their movements are; they seem almost sluggish, comically oversized, like clumsy giants, but when you try to swat them, they mysteriously vanish past your fingertips. the leading wave of air disturbance from your hands catch their massive wings, and as you watch them crawl over your pants, you may remember that they evolved to feed on reindeer, and that fabric just isn't thick enough.

your head net has a wider mesh so that it has a smaller impact on your visibility, so you'll sometimes sit and stare in horror as the smaller ones wriggle furiously at the gaps until they get inside. but they're easy to catch; just grab a handful of mesh around them and squeeze. soon, the bottom of your head net will fill with crumpled wings.

in order to sleep well, you institute tent-entering protocol that minimizes the amount of space and time they have to slip in. before opening the rain fly, you shake like a dog to get them off your clothes, then you remove your boots outside so you can dive in through the smallest possible gap in the tent door, zipping it shut behind you before you've even hit the ground. of course, some will always end up inside.

lie down, breathe slowly. they will be disoriented for a few minutes, and collect themselves near the ceiling of the tent, for some reason. there, they'll get trapped in the corners, and you can sweep your hand gently along the mesh until you trap them and roll them over. it might take you a few swipes to stop feeling grossed out by the sensation of rupturing bodies under your fingertips, watching blood squirt out from the turgid ones, but you know that you must do this in order to sleep well.

the nights you don't remember to empty your bladder before you enter the tent, you'll lie awake halfway between when you fall asleep and when you wanted to be awake, rolling around to find the position that puts the least amount of pressure on your abdomen. you won't win this fight. the longer you wait, the more work your kidneys will perform. eventually, you must leave the tent, and you'll pull on your rain shell, your bug net, your pants, just to protect your soft, bare skin. at this time of year, the sky is still a soft grey, tinged with pink; it looks strangely fleshy.

when you find a spot far enough from the tent, you'll loosen your pants, and defend what skin you expose as much as you can. but don't forget to look up and find the moon; on a night when it is full, wrapped in clouds, it is like a glowing gash in the sky, like a ripple made of light in a milky glacial lake, a noisy interruption of the otherwise glassy-smooth expanse covering the valley.

it is worth it for this.

02 September 2018 21:26

lessons from the arctic (3)

in time, you will learn to cherish the windy stretches, and the rainy stretches, and the chilly stretches. this is because you'll have to pull on your shell and raise the hood, cinching it firmly around your chin and your cheeks, to protect your soft body from the world. despite your best efforts, your lips will still be chapped, your nostrils gently cracking as they dry out while simultaneously dripping snot.

but you will cherish these moments because of how wonderfully isolating they are. ahead and behind you, other people; some of them you've been near continuously for days. in these moments, you cannot speak to each other, for the sounds of your voices are muffled by your scarves, and the rustling of tough fabric around your ears crushes their replies.

in some moments, you may notice something you have to tell your hiking partner, so you learn to pitch one or three or four syllables above the roar of the wind. 'blaze!' you might yell, hoping they turn to see you pointing off to the left, where they didn't yet look. slowly, though, you understand one of the many reasons people who spend most of their lives in this part of the world tend towards a concision of speech.

when you return to a more loquacious setting, you might find it hard to make small talk again. it's okay; just mimic what other people say.

31 August 2018 21:23

lessons from the arctic (2)

sometimes there are frogs the size of your thumbnail and frogs the size of your palm. sometimes a dragonfly will fearlessly land on the tip of your boot, hitching a ride for a stride before catching a boost and flicking itself back into the bog. sometimes a twisted root catches your eye, but it's not a reindeer antler. sometimes a dead branch will catch your eye, but it's not a reindeer antler.

sometimes, you take a break from watching your footing and look up to see a reindeer peering quizzically over the rocky ledge at you, its antlers forming a near complete circle as if it could telegraph its question to you: who are you?

in the middle distance, metal clangs hollow across the mist, and your new friend tosses his head and bounds back to join the herd.

29 August 2018 21:03

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