Living in the Arctic: 8 months

It is somehow difficult to sum up more than half a year of living in such place. The more time passes, the more the reality of the Arctic becomes something ordinary. During a blizzard you wear thicker clothes, goggles and zip pockets, so the snow doesn’t fill them up. A headlamp was a regular part of clothing during the polar night. When leaving the station you take your gun and ammunition in case of a close encounter with a polar bear. So obvious and natural. I store my ammunition nicely ordered on the shelf next to the honey and books.

Ice, glaciers and research, Spitsbergen, Svalbard

We do a lot of things on a daily basis that in other reality might seem a little bit exotic: splitting blocks of ice to get fresh water, insulating building with snow to better keep the heat. Moving the ice at the shore to be able to use amphibia and bring cargo from a ship that visits us three times a year. Refueling with the same amphibia sticked with its broadside to a Russian tanker, best in a way the fuel doesn’t get spilled all over your body. Deterring bears with signal flares. Sleeping under the open sky on the glacier. Or under the stars with your feet on the wheel of a snowmobile and enjoying auroras. Sounds like an adventure? No, these can last for a week or two. Here it is just the way of life.

Dinner on a table made of snow, Hornsund, Svalbard

I learned how to make pizza and bake bread and to use tools, the names of which I had never heard of before. I began to distinguish hardness of the snow by looking at the reflection of the light. I disassemble and clean a pump-action shotgun with my eyes closed. However, how could these skills be useful in life in general? Not really. Only recently I realized that this is not the place where I’m supposed to learn useful things. It’s the place where I have the possibility to work on my own weaknesses. Or to rediscover the pleasure of small things. I would have never thought before that people could cry tears of joy at the sight of the sun after couple months of darkness. Or talk to the sun the way you talk to a pet you haven’t seen for ages. To someone from the outside world all that could seem, well, insane. Or perhaps we have become a little insane. Difficult to tell.

A camp on a glacier, Arctic, Svalbar

I hoped, before coming here, that living in a remote area, far from civilization, will make me appreciate more the modernity and luxuries I have back home. But nothing like that happened. I don’t miss cities, cars, concrete or steel. I can’t remember already the ambient sound of the streets. It is so quiet here. I look out the window and watch reindeers walking relaxed. This is as dynamic as the typical view can get here.

Growing food, Polish Polar Station Hornsund

Instead of a cafe we gather in the “pigsty” room (part of the kitchen where we have coffee machine, fridge, tea etc.). A cinema is replaced with a big TV in the main living room. Month after month, we get to know each other better and we work hard to live peacefully in this small community. And I think we are doing a really great job. If only I could have the chance to visit my family from time to time, I think it would be a great place to live. Of course, if I were bored discovering new places, and I’m quite far from that.

Is wintering-over at a polar station worth doing? Depends. Not everyone makes it to the end. There are those who wanted to go back the same day they landed. People easily get shocked by this vast, unpopulated area and its harsh environment. There are those who keep going several months and eventually give up due to depression. Others can be hugely affected by health issues, not the lack of motivation. But this is a kind of life lesson, after which one has the impression that everything is possible. It is also a very important lesson in humility. But this is not the right place for the impatient ones looking for extreme adventures.