It is December 27th and a headache pounds through my skull, dull pain spreading down my neck and throughout my body. Hearing, moving, as if underwater, trudging through something slow and invisible and painful. Sick. I lie awake at night and sleep through the days. Outside the afternoon is glowing softly, at least the horizon. A faint pale orange.
The days are growing again. The elders say that it’s brighter now than it used to be. That the sun has shifted. It’s the universe, says Clare. Of course it’s always changing, but not at our level. Yet still the elders say that. Everybody says that.
A new year is coming, I feel it in the air, the excitement, the anticipation of it. You could say that there is no difference, that it is only time continuing its unstoppable and indifferent course, but to me it is magic, a new beginning, full of promise and mystery. Outside my window as I write, someone sets off a single firework, pink and green, that explodes joyously above the dark ground. Nothing more.
I have begun reflecting upon the year that has newly passed – almost, at this point, completely. It is almost unfathomable how much has transpired, how profoundly my entire life has changed in the course of only 365 days.
I remember the New Year, when oddly enough, I was also sick. In a cabin in Alaska with family and friends and Tor Edvin and champagne and jambalaya and I had long long hair that froze white in cold weather and frayed at the ends and together we all stood at the base of a mountain in a huge gregarious crowd and watched a parade of skiers wind their way down from the summit carrying luminous blood-red torches. I felt my elation tinge with fear as they loomed behind trees, growing ominously closer, as if the apocalypse itself neared our snowy village, descending from the sky. Yet there was only celebration, and my illness, not so dissimilar from today. I wondered if anyone else felt the fear, too. We took pictures. The entire town was glare ice.
I remember January and February as fairly solitary, full of a fierce determination to make something incredible out of the bleak Alaskan winter that rained, rained, rained. Conditions were terrible but I have perhaps never been more focused. That is what I remember. Everything about the photographs. Taking one last portrait of Tor Edvin in the setting sun and driving him to the airport. No tears this time. See you soon. Then my sketches of photographs, my dreams of them. Reading. Running. Wondering if the bears would give up their hibernation. Trying to ski with not-enough snow. Adventures with my grandfather; returning to the military base where he was first stationed before Alaska was even a state. Walking with him on the frozen lake, shiny and reflecting the pink sky. My first car crash, how it felt to be home alone after that, for so many days. How driving became the most terrifying thing in the world, until it wasn’t anymore.
Always that determination, that building sense of something monumental, approaching unseen. A vibrant, electric energy you feel with every fiber of your being. I returned to school and it burst, and I was scanning negatives and writing letters and applying for jobs, and there was falling snow and miraculous sunshine and the feeling of everything in its place, moving fast, a swift river, a whirlwind of light. I went for walks in the mornings before anyone else was awake and trees began to blossom with heavy pink flowers that dropped their petals into the streets. The photographs, it turned out, were good.
I remember springtime, when everything changed. I felt aligned with every cosmic force in the universe. My thesis exhibition became a reality and I slept desperately at every opportunity – on the ferry, on the floor, on the bench, in a chair. I cut off most of my hair. And then the day before my final critique – was it the morning of? – the email. I burst into tears of joy. I couldn’t believe it.
I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected for a 2014-2015 Fulbright U.S. Student Award to Canada. Everything was going to change.
I remember May, when things fell into place. I bought a plane ticket to Norway and was hired for my dream job, aboard a ship. I finished college. I turned twenty-four. I moved out of my apartment. I graduated from an extraordinarily difficult university and went to Maine and slept madly and plunged into lakes.
Then there was the summer, early June, returning. I remember wild road trips with Nic through Alaska, planting flags on his land and hauling salmon out of rivers with nets. Sleeping desperately in parked cars and cooking quesadillas in the open trunk. Reid getting married, the intermingling of Spanish and English and laughter and happiness, and all the old acquaintances saying, you’re doing what, now? As if they did not believe it possible. Taking photographs. Visiting Reid in a house on a a mountaintop with dogs running around at our feet. Leaving for Norway and flying over the pole, a pole that would become more familiar than I dared dream possible.
June and July. Summer, golden summer, summer on fire – after a frigid midsummer dancing with Tor Edvin, with Eva, with everyone else, on a fog-enshrouded mountain. Northern Norway hot beyond measure under its relentless sun, and how we moved dreamlike through its dayless haze. Weeks of stressful, meticulous fundraising work intermingled with total utopia. The ocean. The mountains. Lofoten, Vesterålen. Fishing, swimming, running, driving, laughing and drinking in the magic of it all. Snorkeling at midnight, barefoot in the streets. Sun like you’ve never even dreamed it. Bathing in the sea.
I left Norway on the first day that night even returned as a memory. Copenhagen, Greenland. A steep learning curve: Arctic everything. Drive boats, learn birds, animals, history, culture, language, teach photography, meet people, learn, learn, learn. How sleep felt during that time: a miracle, desperate. Cold rain and cold wind and rough seas; the first time hooking a zodiac to a hook as rollers threw the boat, threw me, everything up and down and dangerous. Someone pulling me into their boat – I have faith in you. That moment sticking in my mind; a thousand other moments, the closest encounters you could dream with white whales, with hundreds of thousands of birds moving around you in whirling sheets. Seeing polar bears. Speaking Danish, seeing Baffin Island for the first time. All these things and a thousand, thousand more. Perhaps it is still too fresh, all of it. My mother appearing in Resolute. Sea ice. Bears. Arctic Bay. A place to live.
September and October, living in a new place, enjoying city life. My parents visiting. Tor Edvin visiting. Wild dances barefoot on beaches and disappearing into the waves. Scanning, meeting, riding bicycles and piecing things together, drinking coffee, eating kale. Feeling departure imminent. Beginning to write.
And now this. Baffin Island. Arctic Bay. Deep cold and time moving slower; learning and photographing and existing within something different than what I have known, before. Feeling where it overlaps and where it doesn’t. Listening to Inuktitut, playing with small children, traveling by skidoo and dogsled and purchasing the most expensive groceries in the world. Learning to sew. Accompanying men who build igloos and harvest the most nourishing food in all the world from this frozen land and sea. Playing the most inventive games imaginable with the entire town. Stars wheeling above. Making photographs, photographs that could never ever capture it, but that try. Photographs that try as hard as anyone has tried before.
Waking up this morning, and through sickness, thinking: I believe in photography.
And so a new year draws closer. I will turn twenty-five: a quarter century. I am in disbelief at how far I have traveled, what I have seen, all that has happened, within the tiny framework of one individual year. What lies beyond this time, this Arctic world, is impossible to say. There are ideas, sure, but if there is anything I know to be true, it is that it is futile work to plan too far in advance. Things change so rapidly, we can never know. We can only plunge forward with our optimism, our ideals and ideas and dreams, and all the confidence we can muster. Into something unprecedented, something unknown. What you’re looking for is looking for you.