Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Day 184: Coast Guard, the Norwegian Version

I'm leaving in about four hours on a Norwegian Coast Guard ship to head for the high north (read back a few posts for the map of Ripfjorden). I'll be getting up to around 80 degrees north. Apologies but this means I'll be out of commission for the next five days. In compensation, I promise to bring home some choice bacon. And by bacon I mean photographs of areas of Svalbard that are not seen by many.

Meanwhile, read this.

And this, while you're at it.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day 182: A Day of Note

I have officially been away for exactly half a year.

For curious parties, I'll be back in California the last week of July.

The first few weeks here my dorm building had a few transients who only stayed for a couple of weeks. We've seemed to have settled into the group that will be staying here for awhile: 6 people. It makes for a cozy group, since the building is meant for 24. In theory, this is the short-term dorm, but no one here is actually short term.

Today the Norwegian - we'll call her Tuna, because that's what she said I could call her, because I can't pronounce her real name very well and don't know how to spell it regardless - made waffles for everyone! This was the first time we were all together at the table.

Lot of photos of people you don't know comin' attcha:

The Icelandic couple. I won't embarrass myself by trying to spell their names either:

Tuna - Norwegian:

Mea and Pierre, Swedish and French, respectively:

And just another photo for good measure:

Here's some interesting news: our water pipes have been freezing periodically over the last week, probably because it got done to -55 (C or F, its basically the same down that low). The undrinkable water drama is over, though, so with usually at least our bathroom pipes working we get by. The shower drains freeze pretty much...always.

Oh yes. I went out without my cast for the first time this weekend. First, I noticed that my foot is not the same shape that it used to be (I tried to put on my hiking boot). It's definitely not the same shape. Curious. Secondly, I noticed my ankle basically doesn't work. I thought I was staying in shape from walking to UNIS everyday, but my cast kept me from moving my ankle. It's all...floppy now. We'll get 'er back soon.

In other, cultural news, the market had a big sale on fruit recently, for no reason whatsoever. It was amazing. I went to find some dinner things and there was a big fake palm tree display with oranges and kiwis and pinapples and figs on sale. No seriously, this was wild. I got a pack of kiwis for 9 kroner. That's about $1.50. I assume there was some recent shipment of fruit, but from what I hear places sometimes have random things like this around town in the winter, to keep spirits up. It works.

That's it.

Happy 6-months of adventure, me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Day 180: Breaking News

My room feels less warm today.

Maybe because its -29C (-20F) outside. -43C (-45F) with windchill.

It's officially cold, kids.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Day 178: In Which I Remember Why I'm Here

Something about photos...or something...

It's easy for me to get disgruntled about how my photos turn out, so basically you can assume that if I'm not posting much, it's because I think things are going poorly. Today, we finally got some good stuff. The above photo is the view of Longyearbyen from UNIS.

Here's part of the front of UNIS:

I like that grating thing in front of the "SVA". It keeps snow from killing you when it falls off the roof. AMUSINGLY, it's also too short for me to walk under standing up straight. In other snow-news, just a few days after the avalanche seminar in our safety course, there was an avalanche on the hillside near NyByen (the student-end of town). No one was hurt, and it was away from the houses, but it was like...whoa.

Snow-scooter parking lot:

We got a whole bunch of snow today, which makes mobility an even bigger issue than normal for me:

It's ok, I've got some high-tech protection for the toes under that cast. I call it "Plastic Grocery Sack". It keeps the foot dry, at least, and as long as I don't stop moving and keep warm the toes don't freeze. That, and the three pairs of socks I have on.

Oh here's something interesting. I noticed that the cars in the UNIS parking lot were plugged in - like with an electrical cord. I thought, oh Norway! Riding the wave of the future with your electric cars! Actually, plugging a normal car in helps keep the innards warm enough so that it will start again. The alternative, which I find equally amusing, is to leave the car running. About half the cars in the market parking lot are left running, with no one in the car. Who's going to steal a car and get away with it around here? There's no where to go.

Anyway...cars, plugged in:

Travel agency's car in front of the shopping center:

View across the river of the edge of town:

If you look close, you can see the line of old coal cable-car support piers against the middle of the mountian. While there's not so much mining in the area anymore, Longyearbyen used to be supported by coal mining.

The long walk home:


The Longyearbyen sports hall ("gym"). They pretty much do every sport here that you do in normal places - football (as in soccer), swimming, running, underwater rugby, all that stuff:

And THIS is the special little hallway from the school (elementary, high school, etc) to the sports hall:

I have to walk an hour through the snow with one good leg to get to work, and they get a indoor sidewalk for 20 feet. Weak.

And another thing...look at this:

Ok, I might be able to understand why you need a car if you've got kids, even though anyone can walk across the entire town in under 30 minutes (I live outside of town, and its not like students here can usually afford cars, so us wanting cars doesn't count). I might also understand that you want a nice reliable car. BUT WHY, I ask, does anyone up here need an AUDI? "Oh, we're living in the Arctic, let's import, at ridiculous expense, a car that has absolutely no chance at staying in good condition to one of the most abusive locations on earth." Smooth.

When I got home today, I found this on the door:

"Til Beboere", I thought. "Super. No idea what that means." Luckily, a Norwegian living in my building was there as well, and it turns out its a warning for us not to drink the water, because some dangerous pipe broke.

I realize I'm in Norway, and I'm usually very laid back about not expecting to understand the languages around me. But the official language of the university is English - its an international institution, all the classes and business are conducted in English, including the management of the dorms. Only 50% of the student population is actually Norwegain. In this case, I found it extremely frustrating that such an important message (I drink the water here all the time) was put up in Norwegain, especially since only ONE person in my building is Norwegian.

Eh, I'm just feeling bitter because food here is insanely expensive. Convoluted reasoning, I realize. I shake my fist at you, Norway!

Finally, a look at the mountainside behind Nybyen:

That's an old coal-mining center up there. It's a bit out of focus, but you can see part of the avalanche on the left side of the photo as well. It's not much to look at, actually...also, the light in this photo is totally wrong. It's dark out, and the mountain doesn't glow orange. An extremely high ISO (light sensitivity meter in a digital camera) lets me take a tolerable, if unrealistic, photo of a very dark mountainside.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Day 176: Betcha Didn't Know You Can Freeze Your Eyeballs

That's not strictly true. Unless you're dead, I guess. But let's discuss what happened today.

I was walking to the university this morning and I noticed my eyes were feeling sort of weird. It was a bit colder than normal out, around -22C, -30C with wind, but not totally ridiculous. Well, as it turns out, my eyelids were beginning to freeze shut.

Here's a really bad photo of me realizing I have icicles on my eyelashes:

I guess what happens is my steamy breath comes out of the top of my scarf, condenses on the eyelashes, and seals those puppies shut.

When I got tired of my eyes freezing closed every time I blinked, we switched to all-terrain mode.

By the way, I'm here to eat your brains.

Anndd here's a totally normal photo of me being ridiculous.

The plaid curtains scream lumberjack chic. Or coalminer chic. No lumberjacks without trees. Which, for anyone who hasn't caught on yet, there are none this far north.

This post is dedicated to everyone who asks me for photos of myself. Enjoy.

Oh wait, we're not done yet. Exciting news on the communication front. I've got one of these mobile-telephones now. So if you've been frustrated by the fact that I'm not good at making phone calls, you can be frustrated by the exorbitant fees it will cost you to call my phone.

I actually have no idea how much it would cost you. But I diverge.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Day 175: These Days

For not updating recently, I apologize to everyone who uses this website to make sure I am still alive. As my host father in Greenland recently wrote,

"Therecie says I have to tell you she is afraid some polar bear have done something with you, like we do with chewinggum."

I suppose the problem stems from a variety of factors: significant issues with photography, dealing with the logistics of my position here, and a multitude of social stresses. Photography in this dark period is simply disheartening. Indoor photos are not my forte, and outdoor photos just turn out just ugly. I'm working on it...temperatures here recently have been a bit colder, mainly due to the wind. Taking out my camera means the camera freezes, and while I'm willing to push it to some limit, it feels like "how cold is too cold for a baby?" Not a line you want to dance.

But to appease us all, here's a few.

My dorm:

Part of an old coal transport system:

The town school:

We are indeed getting some light these days, a blue twilight on the horizon from about 11-1. Back in Ittoqqortoormiit, the school recently celebrated the return of the sun...they're a bit more south that I am now. If you're interested, go here and click on the photo under "Solen er tilbage" to see some of my kids in the celebration.

These photos bring back a lot of memories of being in Greenland. A month ago seems forever but so short, and in all the craziness of the holidays, the injuries and airline adventures, seeing these faces again suddenly reminds me of that impossible place. My host father keeps me updated on the family and sends me photos - Duka had puppies!

And apparently Benjamin has grown exponentially. That puppy's name is "Nuunu", or "cute little one" in Greenlandic.

Another, because I know you want to see it:

I also got a very nice email from one of my 8th grade students. I now have some proof that they didn't completely dislike me.

Soooo...what exactly am I doing here. I'm going to get all biological here, so hang on. I'm working in the lab of one of the marine biology professors at UNIS, a Norwegian named Jorgen Berge. Along with his PhD, Masters, and bachelors students (all fine people), we're currently working on a project studying amphipods in the nearby Adventfjorden, and further north in Riipfjorden. Observe:

For your convenience, I've also circled Longyearbyen and Hornsund Fjord in red. (Longyearbyen is where I live now, Hornsund Fjord is where I worked with the little auks in 2005 at the Polish Polar Station.) Essentially, my work involves measuring the amphipods and identifying their gender (remarkably difficult), to compile data that will give us insight into the ecology of three species of Arctic amphipods.

Exciting news! In about a week we're taking a Norwegian coast guard ship up to Ripfjorden to do more sampling, and I get to go! We'll be gone for about 5 days, and I'll get to hit probably my most northern point on this year - around 80 degrees north.

This is also a conveniently firm date by which my foot WILL be better, because I say so. I'm no longer using the cane, so things are certainly...bonding, or whatever bones do.

What's an amphipod? Technically, a weird alien shrimpy thing:

That's the biggest of the three species, in front of millimeter paper. Most of the ones we look at are about a centimeter long.

However, I am also working for a visiting Polish professor, Piotr Kuklinski. For him, I'm doing the sampling work for a project looking at bryozoan colonization in Adventfjorden. Essentially, I stand on a freezing icy dock lowering panels into the water, pick them up a week later, and identify everything I see growing on the panels. Somewhat associated to this project, if you want more reading.

I suspect a number of you don't know what bryozoans are either. Think barnacles, wormy things, and...other weird stuff.

OR, you could say, "Bryozoans, sometimes referred to as moss animals or ectoprocts are tiny, colonial organisms. Their development does not follow either a true protostome or true deuterostome pattern. They, along with the Phoronids (worm-like animals) and the Brachiopods (bivalve-like animals sometimes referred to as lampshells) are thus classified based on the presence of a specialized feeding structure called a lophophore, an extension of the body wall into a tentacled structure that surrounds the mouth and is either horseshoe-shaped or circular. Bryozoan colonies can be encrusting, arborescent (branching, and tree-like), or even free living. Individuals within colonies may be referred to as either zooids, or polypides. The term polypide refers to the contents of each zooid (gut, lophophore, muscles, etc.) within the body wall." Thank you, Smithsonian Marine Station.

Finally, plans are go for me to...start to plan to think about living in Cherskii this May. I'll be working with the Northeast Science Station in Cherskii, Siberia. Have a look. Turns out its in a boundary region, so in addition to a visa I need other special permits. Wish me luck.

And because I have nothing better to do at the moment, a full-Arctic look at the major stops on this year trip. Please understand that the lines have nothing whatsoever to do with flight patterns, and don't include about 90% of my actual landings, but merely shows my major points above the Arctic Circle.

Russia's kind of ridiculously huge, if you think about it.

Mmyess, and if you want to know how cold it is here, go to the UNIS website, click on Weather, then click on the Gruvefjellet station. It's the closest one to Longyearbyen, and updates every hour. Americans, remember 32F = 0C, 0F = -18C, approximately, and so on.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Day 168: Building Character

The view from the front door of my new home!

At high noon. Charming.

(Debates are currently running whether the light on the horizon is the beginning of sun, the moon, or diffuse light.)

Another view of Barrack #3, home of PhD's, short-termers, and other misfits:

Annnnd the one and only long straight road from Nybyen (what they call the area of town where they hide the students. They used to hide the miners out here) to Longyearbyen, about a 3km walk.

I'll take this opportunity to point you to a new link in the Links section, titled "UNIS", for the website of the university where I will be working. It has interesting secrets. And when I say secrets, I mean science.

Well I was all motivated with witty things to say in this post, and now most of them have slipped my mind. But "update blog" is on my to-do list, and if there's one thing I'm good at it's postponing things as long as possible, getting stressed out, and not being able to sleep. I'd like to sleep tonight.

Let's take a quick look back at Christmas in Moncton, New Brunswick.

Christmas with the Delaney's! This is Lisa. She doesn't like the sound of happy people on Christmas:

This is the most massive Christmas tree I've ever seen in a house, despite Mrs. Delaney's insistance that it was "scrawny" (they have 15 ft ceilings):

This is Lisa's lovely dog Morriganne (pronouced "Morgan". Lisa's crazy.)

This is Morriganne sleeping on my bed back in Halifax:

Ehh...that all happened, which was fantastic, then I went to Scotland. First day in Scotland I break my foot. A few days later I tried to go to the Edinburgh castle with my friend Sarah (long lost from China). When we got there - essentially a block behind her apartment (this is her apartment building):

we found out it cost about $20 to get in and would involve about a million steps. Crutches-girl voted no. So we took some photos and walked around the city for a few hours trying to find souvenirs.

Sarah doesn't really know how to behave in public:

Soo, that happened too...then I tried to move to Norway. SAS charged me a gazillion dollars to move my luggage a few hundred miles, since apparently they only allow 20 kg of luggage. Period. (Most airlines I've been on allow 32 kg per bag.) I have 75 kg. They also neglected to mention that my final flight - which to all appearances was scheduled to take me straight from Oslo to Longyearbyen - also stopped in Tromso. By this point I was feeling pretty ill, from living off of minimal sleep and bad food and enormous traveling-stress for the past 48 hours. Stopping in Tromso was not amusing.

If you think the life of a Watson is glorious and wonderful, here's a beautiful photo of me sleeping on a bench in an utterly deserted Norwegian airport at 3am (Stavanger):

Eventually I got to Longyearbyen.

That's enough for now. My creative energies are spent. Things happened in the last week, namely a safety course, illness, and social awkwardness. I've had it officially confirmed by two reputable scientists that I am "scary tall". If you're curious what Norway looks like, well, right now, it looks a lot like this:

Dark and icy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Day 166: You have an assignment

Particularly if you read French or have any access to French-Canadian television.

Go here:

Click this

The left-hand panel with the ship sailing under the graphic of the globe? That's my photo. As are images 4, 5, and 6 in the link called "Cliquer ici pour voir l'album-photo".

If you can get your hands on a recent (I assume January) copy of the ARTE TV magazine, you will also find two of my photos published within. Someone is mailing me a copy, I'm sure I'll be giddy with excitement when it comes, take photos of it, and post those.

If you're in Canada, or have some magical connection to Canadian television, check out the French-Canadian channel "RDI" on January 25th to see the documentary involving the Amundsen's trip.

I am ridiculously excited about these things.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Norway! I'm here, been here for about a week now. I'm also sick. I also live over a mile (3km) from my place of work. Introducing a phenomenal way to lose weight: break your foot. Be forced to buy and cook your own food in a country that charges extraordinary fees for everything. Get a head cold so you can't really swallow. Walk at least 2 miles, through the snow, everyday, using only one leg. Awesome.

Seriously though? It's warm here. What is up with that. When I say "warm" I mean "not as cold as Greenland". Also, it's remained a constant midnight black outside since I arrived here on the 5th. I actually wasn't entirely prepared for having to constantly check my watch to make sure what day it is.

Ehhh things are busy now with various arrangements and a Arctic safety class. I'm merely here to say 1) eternal apologies for not posting recently and 2) I have an address. You want it, I give it to you.

Oh, and Scandinavian Airlines? SAS? We're no longer on speaking terms. I'm swimming to Russia.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Day 158: Hey everybody

Sooo...from my crazy website-stalking program, it looks like I have had a lot of new visitors recently. I assume this is because I'm famous.

Let's talk about me.

Me again.

A photo by me.

A brief, vague mention. Of me.

A Swiss website that I cannot read whatsoever, but who apparently found me, and put me in their links.

(A testament to the fact that I couldn't read it. I had to be informed that that wasn't German, but Swiss. Awk-ward.)

I'm sitting in the London Heathrow airport waiting to fly to Norway. Another one of those multi-day, multi-flight trips to get somewhere in the high north. This time we're going Edinburgh to London to Stavanger to Oslo to Longyearbyen. I'll be there sometime tomorrow afternoon.

Ok. Here's some advice for everyone. Let's say you're in an airport, and you see this girl with a cast, and she's sort of got it streched out, because hey, her leg's in a cast. KICKING HER LEG is probably the worst idea, ever.

The next person to do so, I'm having words with. Honestly, I'm not even in a walkway and its happened about 6 times.

Sorry for the lack of photos - I've got a few from Canada, a few from Scotland, coming soon. I've been occupied. Being in Norway for four months will help get things regular again.