Quilt Gallery

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Faces of Svalbard

Feathered and furry, bewhiskered, bearded and bloody, Svalbard has all kinds of faces. No, I am not referring to my shipmates, though by the end of our ten days some of these descriptions were fitting. I am, of course, referring to wildlife, the focus of our trip.

Walruses were the strangest of all the creatures I saw. I had to keep reminding myself that they were real, not some long-extinct creature that we know only from the fossil record. Like seals, they are unwieldy on land, graceful in the water. This one was so curious about us that it popped up right next to our zodiac, water dripping from its whiskers. I wonder what it made of us. Did it take our bright, multi-colored rain jackets for plumage, our big camera lenses for eyes?

On another day we saw a group of walruses sunning and sleeping on the beach. This big male sat apart from the group, obligingly striking poses for our cameras.

Bearded seals' faces have amusingly human-like expressions and big round eyes that give them a childlike innocence. This one seemed to be thinking, "Oh, my! What is that?"

With youthful curiosity, this polar bear cub played in the water near where its mother was eating from a whale carcass (which you can just see in the upper right of the photo). 

Here is the pair of them, the mother showing just how bloody a job it is to eat raw whale meat.

And here is momma bear mid-meal.

This is another young female, making her way to the same carcass. We first spotted her swimming just offshore and watched as she swam first all the way around our ship, as though sizing us up, and then proceeded directly to the carcass, several kilometers distant.

One day we went ashore to take a close look at this polar bear carcass, desiccated, but largely intact, right down to the black tongue lolling out of the left side of the mouth. Impressive teeth!

On a cheerier note, we spent an afternoon watching a puffin colony. Puffins are adorable little birds, with round cheeks, eye markings that might be the envy of Lady Gaga, and large orange and black beaks. A turn of the head gives this one a quizzical look.

The way they swoop around the cliffs makes them devilishly difficult to photograph. Their antics and appealing nature make it worth the effort.

Fox kits are equally appealing. We watched this fuzzy little arctic fox sleep in the afternoon sun, then stretch and show its even fuzzier tummy, eliciting a flurry of shutter clicks and "awws."

On our last day, not far outside of Longyearbyen, we stopped to see reindeer up close. We perched ourselves on a rise several hundred feet from where a few were grazing and waited.  Eventually a couple approached, so close that I could almost reach out and touch them. Some of them looked at us with their eyes turned so that a bit of the white was visible. They looked terrified. Others had calm, dark brown eyes, and mouths that seemed to be smiling, giving them rather sweet expressions.

With a big rack and the right stance, they can look quite regal.

And finally, here is my face, as my shipmates came to know it while we were cruising in zodiacs.

My balaclava, a reproduction of the one Australian explorer Sir Douglas Mawson wore to Antarctica, kept me warm and comfortable through hours of being outdoors. It is a heavy item, weighing in at five and a half ounces (assuming my grandmother's circa 1925 kitchen scale is reasonably accurate), and no surprise, as I knit it with two strands of wool yarn held together.

The pattern, written by Kristin Phillips and Liane Gould for Artlab Australia, can be purchased from the South Australian Museum Shop and comes with detailed instructions for choosing yarn and yarn colors - the original was apparently made from scraps - and with a tag which you may sew into yours to show that you have a genuine reproduction!

1 comment:

  1. Ann Marie your pictures are amazing beautiful. What a trip are you making. I'm speechless