Svolvaer, Lofoten, II

The seagulls here are enormous. One across from me stares with expectant eyes, as if this open-faced shrimp sandwich before me were meant for him and him alone– if only I understood.

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Lofoten is a chain of islands comprised of seven or eight “main” ones (depends upon the website) surrounded by thousands of others erupting from the Norwegian Sea, most of them unoccupied but all carefully staked out, and mapped: some the size of a neighborhood playground, others long sinewy strings of beachside or rocky settlements with small, tidy homes, their vertical siding painted in deeply saturated umber or a dark, grayish red. Abutting many of these homes are grass-covered huts– for drying the cod? Storing the car?

Svolvaer view - Copy - CopyEvidence of human settlement stretches back 11,000 years. Since 800 CE men (that’s right, men; I know because of a photograph of Sunday worship in Lofoten Cathedral, ca. 1895) have migrated here in the winter and early spring, following the cod, who come to the area to spawn. One of the early Norse sagas tells of one Viking who sailed to England after a fishing expedition, and traded reams of dried fish for other essential goods. Whole, split dried fish hangs everywhere, even in the local equivalent of a 7/11.

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DSC00447_DxODawn follows sunset within the space of half an hour: one moment, daylight is a golden red; the next, a cool morning blue. Astonishing. As if the world is birthing itself anew before your eyes; the diurnal cycle of hours unending, a joyful noise unto the interstices of time. And yet my mind rushes to imagine its biannual opposite: here, Nordspeople living in unremitting darkness for many winter months.

DSC00460_DxOLast night, as we drove back to our Svolvaer flat at 1:30 am following a midnight hike in Henningsvaer in failed chase of a full view of the storied midnight sun (failed because, at the critical moment, we lacked the necessary northern sightlines), I noted that home after home in this town left a light illuminated indoors. They couldn’t get enough of it, even during the summer, I thought, perhaps a bit morbidly.

In the Lofoten Islands, where precipitous crags of mountainsides drop into green, lichen-covered gray and white sandy strips of habitable earth, all life here bows before the drama of landscape. Nature accompanies one’s every movement and moment. DSC00337_DxOLooking out a window: rays of sun shine between the mountaintop ridge and the fluffy cumulus. Walking the street from home to café beneath a looming cliff. Crisp air everywhere: it’s mid-July, and hovering around 50 degrees.

Good night.

— Sarah, 18 July 2017

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