Yogini has gone Bear, quite literally. I am currently spending six months on Bear Island in the Arctic.
Combined with shift work at the meteorological station, dark days lead to a circadian rythm that would put any free jazz ensemble to shame. Waking up at three in the morning and staring at the ceiling for hours. Pancake parties at five. Bodies draped across furniture for impromptu naps at all hours. The presumably mythical state of “Arctic Hysteria” or “Piblokto” in inuit language does somehow not seem too unreasonable.
The darker side of life in the Arctic is the increased rates of depression all across the region during the winter months. It is no wonder, really. We are people of the sun. The sun gives us life. Spending too long in the dark is a bit like having it sucked out, slowly, slowly. Sleep deprivation is a strange side-effect of the polar night. Somehow the lack of light doesn’t always make us sleep more, rather the opposite. At least this is the tendency among those of us who work shifts. Rampant insomnia can mess with the soundest of minds, and I am no exception. After a sleepless or interrupted night my body is out of whack. And unless I make up for the lack of sleep my heart feels fragile too. We tend to live in a bit of a bubble up here, for good reason. During the winter months dealing with what goes on in the world can simply be a bit too much. Even thinking about the state of the planet can make my eyes start leaking. According to a recent estimate there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. That would get to me on the best of days. On a sleep deprived, cold and dark winter morning it feels like my heart has taken a beating.
But it aint all bad. Feeling the hurts can be a good thing. This is the season to embrace vulnerability and to shed any layers of cynicism. Literally spending some time in the dark can be a great way of tapping into what really matters, of taking the time to feel the feelings. There is nothing wrong with that. The only danger is of succumbing completely to waxing and waning emotions, without the ability to step outside and just observe with non-judgemental compassion. Are you feeling the winter blues too? I believe practicing self-care and especially mindfulness can be a way of turning the tender ache of winter into something fruitful. My first recommendation – always – is to just sit your butt down and observe the breath and the passing thoughts and sensations with an attitude of compassionate, spacious awareness. Feel whatever is there to be felt. It is already here. Let it be. Also, try some of these winter survival tips.
Truly feeling the hurts of the world instead of turning numb is also the first step towards dealing with it. If we tuned out, became numb and closed our eyes and hearts to the not-so-ideal situations, would we care enough to actually do anything about them? I am spending a lot of time pondering alternatives to plastic these days. Because there has to be something we can do. There always is. Simple acts go a long way, and they start with awareness. If we are just aware of it, reducing the amount of plastic we bring into our lives becomes easy. If we tune in and really see and hear the people around us, lending a helping hand to someone who needs it comes naturally. I understand the paralysis often felt when facing seemingly impossible challenges, like the current refugee crisis. I guess one place to start is by not voting for people who deport asylum seekers to Russia in -30°C without the right to a hearing or an appeal. Just an idea … The sooner we realise that we are not seperate from one another, but parts of the whole, the sooner we can create a sustainable world.
Spending time in the dark makes me appreciate the return of the sun all the more. And it will return, inevitably. On February 4th, to be quite precise. Spending time in the dark also makes me feel the shadows more intimately, and thus get to know where to direct the light.
A reminder, for dark and sunny days alike:
“We must accept our pain, change what we can and laugh at the rest.”
The ghost of Christmas past did not revisit Bjørnøya this year.
Last time I spent the holidays up here it was stormy. Right now the breeze is gentle and light strato- and altocumulus clouds allow the full moon to shine a light on our existence. The powdery snow is shimmering in the moonlight and the sea sighs gently as it meets the shore. On Christmas Eve it was so quiet that three of us (“us” being a crew of nine, and the only inhabitants on the island) decided to make our Yuletime bath a salty one. Following tradition, the whole crew ate rice pudding in Hammerfesthuset, the oldest building in the Svalbard Archipelago. Afterwards we stoked the fire in our sauna and went tiptoeing down to the beach, clad only in swimsuits, woolen socks and a light fog. Risk of frostbite was low, because the sea temperature was a whopping two centigrade. The only casualties were a couple of the previously mentioned woolen socks, who made a narrow escape towards the horizon. We have notified the crew on Hopen Island, the next meteorological station (about 150nm away) to keep a lookout. In all honesty we were too full to swim in pursuit.
And the fullness continued.
I believe our chef Bjørn Ove must have studied at Hogwarts. According to the pork connaisseurs around the table he managed to create a perfect Christmas Rib out of salted meat not really intended for the purpose. It’s what we had in the stores, and there are obviously no shops around to get more supplies. So what he did was quite a feat. Everything that landed on my plate was pure magic too, especially the cloudberries he brought with him from Leksvik. Yum. Today the crew have been resting their bellies and skiing around the area, making space for more. This measure was highly necessary, as the “lutefisk” took on epic proportions this evening. There is a lot of poetry in a good meal. The poet of the night (Kristine the cook) also put a lot of care and imagination into our Christmas stockings. She hid them around the station, giving us riddles and hints in order to find them.
The huskies are playing and cuddling and seem very happy these days. They certainly appreciated it when we girls dug out a cave in one of the snowdrifts. We are currently adding touches to the interior in a tasteful, Arctic style to make it more inviting for the polar bears. There is no ice, and thus no bears around for miles and miles and miles. At the moment it seems evident that our little cavern will be used by glühwein enthusiasts with bear hats rather than real bears for quite some time. When we’re not eating we will spend the remaining days of the year composing music for the crew at Hopen Meteo. Following tradition, the crews on both stations will perform a song for (and about) each other over MW radio on New Year’s Eve, most likely on 1757kHz. You are free to listen in. Myself and Ragnhild (a bona fide meteorologist) will also train for our big performance. We are putting on a show of tandem kickbike acrobatics down the longest corridor of the station, lovingly called “isbjørngangen” (it’s basically a 76m long hallway connecting two buildings so we won’t get eaten by polar bears on our way to send sounding balloons). Stay tuned for viral youtube videos or pictures of bruises.
A Merry Yule to all of you, and I wish you a sparkling year to come!
Setting goals and reaching them. Having ambitions. Going for the finish line. That’s how it is supposed to be done, right? It is so ingrained in most of us that we take it for granted. But does it make us happy?
As a recovering perfectionist I would like to provide a defence for “it depends”. I’m not saying that dreams, ambitions and goals are a no-no. I wouldn’t have moved onto a sailboat if I didn’t first dream about it. I wouldn’t have created this blog if I had no ambition to reach people. Creating anything at all would be exceedingly difficult without the ability to dream it up first. Flow psychology provides a clear correlation between goals, challenges, feedback and the enjoyable state of being in flow or “in the zone”. But there are times when the scale tips way over on the other side, and ambition becomes toxic.
When you feel guilty or pressured, when ambitions become more important than compassion or when reaching the goal makes you lose sight of what goes on right here and now – that’s when I’d suggest picking up the scissors and cutting it the f… out. That’s when I’d challenge you to take up the noble art of being idle, really savouring the moments when you do nothing at all. It’s easier said than done, dealing with the “but I really should…”-situations. When do we need to keep going and when do we need to stop and smell the flowers? Perseverance is crucial when we’re going through the bumpy parts of a ride that will take us somewhere we really want to go. But sometimes it’s just plain nonsense to suffer or struggle needlessly. Life happens here and now, in the process, while we are on the way. If we forget to enjoy the ride, we miss life itself. And all those goals and ambitions are really just tiny hilltops where we might get a better view of where we are, anyway.
Think big to think small. Space is vast, and we humans are really not all that significant by ourselves. There is a grace in insignificance. We are like the grains of sand that make up a beach. Whether or not we, as individuals, have reached every goal by the time we get washed back out to sea, is of no matter. None whatsoever. I don’t find that demoralising, I find it liberating.
I hope this attitude can provide an antidote to the yoke of perfection a lot of us carry. I used to be very driven myself. And I still am, just with a tiny, yet monumental difference to my approach. I have tons of ideas and projects and things I want to do! The way to balance it out, for me, is by tapping into what’s really important – a.k.a. the ride – and not getting too hung up on the outcome. If I had decided that the most important goal with my sailing adventure this summer was to get all the way to Lofoten (and especially if I had assigned a specific time frame), I would have missed out on so much! I would have sailed past places I wanted to explore and potentially gone out in weather conditions that could have been fatal. I would have run the engine a lot more, instead of learning how to sail properly. And I wouldn’t have ended up finding a wonderful winter home for SY Pyxie by pure serendipity.
I did have many, small goals on the way, giving me many small victories. Getting out of the Oslo Fjord was a victory in and of itself … And I had a longing for north. I longed to really feel north. So it was with joy and elation I crossed an invisible line, only seen on maps and somewhere inside, as I sailed into the county of Nordland on a clear, crisp September afternoon. I could smell autumn in the air. I could smell north.
With autumn in the north come storms. I felt a tingle down my spine as the air grew colder and I could see low pressure areas homing in on my weather map. I could feel a change coming. Brønnøysund was a necessary stop for bureaucratic reasons; I had to renew my passport in time for the Nepal trip. And while I was moored at the guest harbour, an old salt stopped by to have a look at Pyxie and we got chatting. We talked about boats and engines and he showed a keen interest in my electrical inboard. He told me about someone in the process of installing one, a boat builder called Sigurd Siem. The name had a familiar ring, and I recalled that I had just read about him in a guide book for sailing spots along the coast. His boatyard was on the list of recommended places to leave a boat over winter.
I phoned him as the rain was starting to drum on deck, and he promptly came to pick me up so I wouldn’t have to get soaked. Karma points right there. He showed me around the boatyard, where the sailboats were positioned in accordance to dominant wind directions and secured to 700kg cement blocks. No sailboats blowing in the wind if Sigurd could help it, I could tell. In the main building was a wooden schooner under construction, and there were various workshops where I could use the space and tools for repairs and upgrades come spring. Heaven! Oh, not to forget a shower, a washer and dryer, a kitchen, a sleeping loft and plenty of storage space. Way more facilities than me and Pyxie have had or even dared to dream of so far. So, yes, after a quick chat with sailing kitty First Mate Poesi I decided to make it Pyxie’s winter haven. Two days later she was on dry land, and the first real storm of the autumn hit. I was endlessly grateful for my decision to stop and go no further. And right there, as I had closed a chapter, I made the most amazing discovery. My “boat neighbour” was an 85 year old (or, rather, young) salty dog aptly nicknamed SjøBjørn. He had wanted to buy Pyxie back in the eighties, and even had the original advertisement for the Centurion 32. We spent several nights sharing sailing stories and cups of tea. I did most of the listening, mind, being short of a few decades at sea. He had visited over 150 harbours in just the northern part of Norway, where I had barely entered.
The best is yet to come. Obviously. Helgeland and the coastline north to Lofoten is considered the best cruising grounds in Norway by aficionados. Why miss all that by hurrying past in a gale? If I had a rigid finish line, I would have had to. But for me the end of the blue road is nowhere near. Right now I’m having an intermezzo enjoying other adventures in Nepal and on Bear Island. Then it’s me, Poesi and Pyxie again – and the horizon. Where we’ll sail next is an open question. Choosing to be a vagabond is to voyage with no set destination in sight.
Because the road goes ever on and on, and always leads us home.
Sometimes I let the wind and the boat decide where we’re going.
My sailing plans are not set in stone. That’s not to say I’ll just go anywhere the wind blows – I managed some self control and skipped my urge to sail south across the North Sea – but if I can, I’ll keep a few options open when I head out. So far it seems like Pyxie enjoys taking me to places with names starting on UT. That’s Norwegian for «out» and as the name suggests, it’s usually remote islands far out in the sea. We went to Utvår when I was en route to Mandal, because the wind started turning and Pyxie seemed drawn towards the island like a magnet. I don’t regret going with that decision for a second. The windswept beauty, the tiny houses and the generous Danish couple that met me represent all that is wonderful about coastal exploration by sailboat.
The other day, when heading out from Skudeneshavn (gorgeous town, by the way), the wind and boat made it clear that Utsira was going to be the deal of the day. I had first thought of going there, but then reasoned it was a bit out of the way, and that I might just go up to Røvær instead. But no, Pyxie wanted Utsira. As I approached the island from the south it became evident that sailing into the northern port would be the way to go. The seabeds on the coast of Norway can throw up some strange, breaking seas. The wind was actually a bit more timid than what I would have preferred, and we were ghosting along, never on a perfect track towards the southern port, my sails getting a good flapping in the messy waves. So I listened to the boat, changed course and went around the island to the north. It’s astonishing how quickly seas can change! I rounded the bend and soon I was flying along on a calm sea in the sunset. Bliss!
Utsira is quite a little something. It’s known as the smallest municipality in Norway, with a population of around 200 souls. It’s also known for it’s matriarchal rule in the twenties, with 11 out of 12 representatives being women and of having the first female mayor in Norway, Aasa Helgesen. She was a midwife, a farmer and a mother of eight. Times have changed, but rather than dying out, the community in Utsira has managed to thrive. There’s still a fishing fleet and farms dotted around. But tourism also plays it’s part, for sure. There are holiday rentals, marked hiking trails, stencil grafitti on the houses, a gastro pub, a wind power station (for good reason, as I will soon elaborate on) and the old lighthouse has been transformed into an art venue, part of the international Pharos project. I was allured by the idea of a sound installation
in the form of a bench where you could listen to music by Geir Jenssen (a.k.a. Biosphere
), a favourite of mine. But, alas, the bench was nowhere to be found. Or maybe I wasn’t looking properly because I got distracted. There were other interesting installations to explore. Two heads on giant pedestals, by artist Christian Sunde
, staring out to sea. Weather observations on concrete (top photo). A new take on the national coat of arms. I had a grand time exploring the island by foot. Unfortunately I hiked back to the local shop too late to get my portion of take-away komle. Komle is a dish of potato and barley dumplings, served up with salted, boiled lamb or pork, mashed rutabaga and some places a sauce of brunost, the brown, fudgy whey «cheese» we Norwegians love more than life itself. There couldn’t be more appropriate take-away in a place like this. And the fact that it sold out way ahead of time speaks to it’s popularity. I haven’t eaten meat in a long time, and the dumplings aren’t that
interesting without the fixings. So I’m ok with missing out. But I still like the idea.
Let’s return to the wind. It does blow quite a lot in this place. A gale warning kept our departure is on hold for a few days. Poesi the cat had a bit of digestive distress going on, preventing our leaving when the wind was good. We had a staring contest over the food bowl the other night. I naturally lost, and gave her whatever she wanted to eat. Bad call. She was experiencing what an Indian doctor might describe as «loose motions» and was in no fit state to sail. The next morning she was fit as a fiddle, but the wind was relentless. Pyxie stayed firmly moored. What to do when holed up? Bake bread, read a good book and go surfing! I got on the ferry to Haugesund and went surfing with my friend and old boat neighbour Espen (remember, he popped up in the first blog post from the journey), who is an elite climber and stationed here to build the walls in the upcoming climbing hall, Haugalandshallen. He fixed me a board and we drove out one of the beaches south on Karmøy. Windy, intense and delightful. Heavy seas have their upside! I guess I’m really, truly Norwegian in that sense – I don’t believe in bad weather, only intense weather. Or significant weather, as a meteorologist would probably say. The sea is tremendously powerful. It is a very humbling experience to sail a small boat. But the weather is not bad, not as such. It just is. I’ve screamed at the sea more than once, to no avail. All I can do is adjust the sails, pay my respects and wait it out when needed. Like now. With a cup of tea. Tomorrow morning it just might be calm.
The coast of Jæren is open to the vast Atlantic ocean. This means waves, big waves – for better and for worse.
For a sailor it provides the challenge of a long stretch of unprotected waters where there’s not a lot of places to hide if the wind or swell picks up. You pretty much have to sail on or turn around and go back if things get nasty. But it also means that Jæren is one of the best places to surf along the coast. In fact, it was where surfing first took hold in Norway. There are long beaches and a lot of different spots to choose from, depending on the direction of the swell. For a kook like me, it held the promise of lots of fun and water up the nose.
But, hey, didn’t I just sell my board before embarking on this trip? Yup. I just wasn’t good enough for that board. Yet. And, more importantly, I had found a shaper on Jæren who would not only construct a board for me, but teach me how to shape it myself! Jan-Ivar Tjøstheim (@snekkerjani on insta!) is an excellent craftsman and an avid surfer. And he’s the quintessential outdoorsy Norwegian. Anything from fly fishing to paragliding – he’s into it and he’s good at it! He’s built some stunning canoes, a trade he learned in Canada. His two daughters are growing up partly under the open sky, partly building viking chairs in his workshop. Just like his outdoors interests, his craft is not limited to one thing. He’s the guy who can build you a kitchen, a shop front, a lounge chair … or a surfboard. He builds the kind of surfboards that makes you lose your breath, simply because of the sheer beauty. Cedar wood, handpicked, shaped to perfection. He’s had people climbing his van and pretty much drooling all over his boards. And he laughingly admitted that it’s a bit harder to hide in the lineup or to just check out a spot without paddling out nowadays. Oops, I’m doomed. Everyone is going to think I’m an amazing surfer now. Oh well, I can live with having a gorgeous board, I guess.
I spent a few days in Jani’s workshop, learning the basics of shaping, and he happens to be an excellent teacher. After all, it’s been his profession, so he has the patience and the pedagogical mindset necessary. I felt like I could really do this! And now that the board is with me on the boat, with work still to be done, he’s made me feel confident that I’m capable of finishing it on my own. I actually think Jani’s future lies in giving shaping workshops. There’s only so many boards you can shape at any given time when you are just one man. Teaching the trade, on the other hand … So many surfers want to shape their own boards. I couldn’t imagine a better place to learn it. And I honestly think learning a craft from Jani would be great for non-surfers, yogis and anyone who needs to get a bit un-stuck in their lives or minds. I talk a lot about challenges and creativity in yoga, because I believe that growing, playing and learning is not something that should stop once we’ve reached adulthood. If we let it, we can grow and play and learn and develop throughout our entire lives. Isn’t that what living is?
Building something, shaping something with your own hands – to me that is truly living. And so is playing in the waves, of course. I can’t believe my luck, but I probably got to be on Boresanden Beach the best day of this summer. Sure, the waves were pretty small. Which is fine by me. It was sunny and warm, and I nearly had a heat stroke inside of my 6mm wetsuit. Me, Jani and Rune, a surfing buddy of his, took out some boards and had a day that matches anything I’ve experienced in Portugal or Morocco. White sand, great people, waves and lunch.
Life doesn’t get much better than that.