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The Arctic: Wonders Great and Small

Jennifer Kingsley is a journalist and storyteller who specializes in personal stories from around the world. She is the Field Correspondent for Lindblad Expeditions, a National Geographic Explorer, and an award-winning author who also contributes to the New York Times and National Geographic. She is Canadian.

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I first went north to witness some of the earth’s grand gestures: the midnight sun, rolling tundra, and sea ice. The Arctic attracted me with its rugged terrain. I was enthralled by its extremes and privileged to watch polar bears, walrus, muskox, and narwhal. My love for the Arctic began 20 years ago, which is no time at all for a landscape that tells its stories in millennia; yet in 20 years a lot has changed. It’s not possible to visit the north without confronting those changes—ecological, cultural, and political. But also personal.

The Arctic has changed me. It has trained me, year by year, to be more observant of the world and to find delight in its tiniest details.

Photo: Eric Guth

This past summer, while leading a group in the
Canadian Arctic, I was stopped in my tracks by two inches of grey fuzz roaming between patches of flowers. It was a Ross’s tussock caterpillar, a marvellous creature that lives in harsh conditions for years before its metamorphosis. We stopped to watch the ripple of its tiny hairs as it clambered over a patch of lichen. We discussed its steady progress and sensed the wonder of its tiny life.

To love something—anything—means getting up close. While picking berries, talking with community members, waiting for whales to surface, and seeing the sun skim along the horizon, the Arctic has given me that opportunity over and over again.

Walrus in the Arctic.jpg

I will always be thrilled by the grandeur that beckoned me there in the first place, but over time I have discovered the blessing of searching for the small and of remembering how the world unfolds in its own sweet time.

The Arctic resists summary. It cannot be abridged. There is no single definition of it and no definitive boundary to contain it. Also, it is full of surprises, and we may be surprised by how it affects us.

Jennifer Kingsley

We might go north for the polar bears and fall in love with how the light shimmers over the icebergs. Or maybe it’s the precious ice that lures us, only to find ourselves enamoured with a fox, or a skein of eiders, or a walrus. Some of us have been brought to our knees by the flowers; we’ve crouched low, waiting for a bee to land. Or we’ve stood on deck at night, freezing in our slippers, to catch one more whiff of the wind before we go to sleep.

The details are out there. It’s our job to take them in.

Main image of feather: Ralph Lee Hopkins