04 February 2009


so, say you were in greenland and were supposed to meet up with a group of danish archeologists that you had met once on their day off in qaqortoq via the evolutionary biologist that you had met through a planetary biologist that happened to be on the team that discovered the siberian actinobacteria whom you were introduced to at your friend the painter's new years eve party in brooklyn a couple years back. and say those archeologists left a message for you at heidi's hostel via their satellite phone (and say heidi didn't give you the most accurate message nor get their number) , and said that they were probably not coming to pick you up after all because their boat was sort of broken, and perhaps you could find your way up the fjord to sodre igaliku on your own.

lost yet? here's how it went down...

no, wait a second. did i mention martin was leaving for singapore and wasn't coming with? as i walked him over to the helipad he assured me i had the right name for the place, gave me the directive to "look for the yellow house" and laughed when i asked if i should be worried that it might not be so easy to find them and should i bring some food. a local with a power boat had agreed to sail me over. so, it was down to the harbor and all aboard ("all" comprised of myself, the boat's owner and his small son.) about an hour up the fjord we hung a right, entered an inlet that looked much like any other we had passed, and the captain proclaimed us arrived.

there are names for everything in greenland; you turn a corner and you're somewhere else. if there's any sort of structure or identifiable landmark, the place has a name. it reminded me of namibia in that way; if there was an uninhabited shack, it was a town, properly named and marked on the national map. that's how things are done in lands of few and far betweens. a lot of somethings are formed out of all that nothing. or rather, once you know how to look, you start to see what's been there all along.

and this was sodre igaliku. (actually, the first half of that is danish and the second half the greenlandic. i guess that makes it the equivalent of spanglish. danelandic? anyway.) there was absolutely no one to be found. after climbing across the rocks and through unbelievably sticky glacial mud, i spotted one of the safety orange arctic water safety suits [sic], tell-tale in that they are used only by non-natives. (DIGRESSION: there needs to be a new literary device that functions like "sic" only indicating that yes, i know that i misused/overused whatever it was, that i am not quoting someone else's mistake, but rather am aware of and intentionally employing the misuse. wait, got it! "yik" for "yes, i know." wow, problem solved. [yik].) ahem. so, sure enough, up the dirt road (the only option aside from back into the mud) was the yellow house. i was given a few parting words of advice in halting english -- there might be a sheep farm or two if i needed help...should i find myself alone in the middle of nowhere.

my water taxi now long gone, i strapped my camping backpack onto my back, my camera bag onto my front, and slowly made my way up the hill to the house. the door stuck, but was unlocked. people had been here, but i could see that they weren't staying there now. it was probably 5 or 6 pm. a tatered and very scary doll stared at me from the corner. i was in fact alone in the middle of nowhere. no way to call anyone. not sure of where to look for anyone. unsure if they knew i was coming or arrived.

i decided that i would do a little investigating. i ditched all but the cameras and started walking up the road. i had never been so alone with my thoughts. there were a few other structures around the yellow house, but all seemed to be in the throes of varying degrees of abandonment. but there was a sheep farm. a dog barked as i ascended a steep set of stairs. i knocked on the door and waited. i knocked again. a rather expressionless man opened the door, not in the least bit phased at a lone woman on his doorstep in middle of nowhere. he spoke no english, and i no greenlandic. i mimed looking. i mimed digging (you know, archeologists. digging.) i suddenly remembered that i had snapped a couple of photos of them from when we were back in qoqartoq, pulled out my digital camera, and showed him the people i was looking for. his expression did not change, but he gave an undecipherable nod, pointed down the road and said something about kilometers. and that was that.

the long twilight of the arctic in august had begun, and while i wasn't in any imminent danger of it getting dark, i wasn't exactly prepared to treck out further into the unknown without a tent. i decided to walk over the next ridge to get the lay of the land, counseling myself to sleep in the yellow house that night and start looking for my people the next day. as i started walking up the ridge i heard the sound of a small motor. (you can hear *everything* out there.) i smiled when a child on an all-terrain vehicle came into view. he jumped off and ran down to the river where a couple other children were fishing. children are fishing here. i am not going to die wandering the arctic steppes. i said hello, and they said hello back and smiled. i made the same digging motions and pulled out the digital camera again. they laughed and looked puzzled and tried out the few other english words they knew. i was getting no where, but at least i knew i must not be that far from somewhere. i pointed back towards the yellow house. maybe they would tell someone where to find me.

i walked back and made some food on the gas stove. there was no running water, but there was a jug in the kitchen, probably from the river. i lit candles and put them in the windows. i felt restless and aprehensive, but was trying to coax/coach myself into settling in for the night, and starting a proper search in the morning. a few hours later i heard a truck. a palpable weight lifted as a woman and her husband walked up to the door. the kids were theirs, this was their cabin, and they knew the archeologists. apparently they had split up into two groups since they hadn't found what they were looking for at the nearby dig site. one group was on the other side of the inlet, but the other was in fact down the road. i quickly stuffed my things back into my pack and off we went.

the group on this side was staying indoors in the area schoolhouse. it was dark when we drove up, but as we knocked and entered i realized a TV was on. this half of the team was made up of three CUNY students (yep: city university of new york.) they were watching pirates of the caribbean. they offered me a drink and said they were glad, if not surprised, that i found them.

it was probably the strangest day of my life.