31 August 2008


[NOTE: a vital part of the experience of being in greenland is a true disconnection from civilization...which is increasingly harder to come by anywhere on the planet. i did my best to embrace that distance while there, including writing the old fashioned way...and so i am transmitting out to the blogosphere now from the comfort and safety of my own digs in brooklyn.]


when i last sent word out from greenland, i was stationed at the only computer terminal in the qaqortoq public library, having just bade farewell to martin hebsgaard, the evolutionary biologist whom you might remember from my work with the siberian actinobacteria last summer. this was martin's second trip to greenland, and having learned quite a bit about ancient lichens out in the field last year, this time he was lending his expertise to group of archeologists studying norse ruins. the idea was to use data collected from the growth of slow-growing lichens to help date the archeological structures. lucky for me the dig sites weren't too far from where some of the oldest lichens live (rumored to be up to 5,000 years old), so martin suggested we meet up and go lichen hunting.

lichens, moss and liverwart

more on the lichens later, i promise.

when i arrived at siniffik/vandrehjem qaqortoq hostel (mercifully known as heidi's - greenlandic is practically impenetrable if you weren't born into it), martin was already there. a few of the archeologists had joined him from out at the dig site in order to come in for a hot shower and buy groceries for the week. they were roughing it out there, and if you ran out of food, well, you could always go fishing. qoqartoq, home to around 3,200 people, is the largest town in southern greenland and is a veritable booming metropolis compared even to its nearest runner up.

house, qoqartoq

though a little delirious from all that travel, i was happy to be there and take in the town. the brightly colored buildings hinted at the need to break up a monotone landscape most other months of the year. but it was august and wild daisies and poppies were in their last fits of bloom. short if steep hikes out of town yielded blankets of mosses and lichens, edible flowers and dwarf berry bearing shrubs, punctuated by the occasional succulent, orchid, and carnivorous plant. the surrounding waters looked as inviting as the caribbean, but the occasional iceberg making its way down the jagged fjords told a different story.


Raphael Alexander said...

I had no idea lichen could be 5,000 years old. Until now I had always assumed they were like any other plant and could be scrubbed from the face of rocks and would grow back quickly.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your work - I feel absolutely humbled after viewing these old, long-living, lichens. Really impacts on my sense of time and pace.

Nina said...

This is a wonderful subject for a blog. I am looking forward to following your travels and seeing what you uncover! (And I love this shot of the lichen.)