Wildlife photographer Paul Goldstein continues to blog from the MV Vavilov on the high seas around Spitsbergen
“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in the water…its substance reaches everywhere; it touches the past and prepares the future.” – Lorne Eisley
"Quiet moments of introspection, reflections and temperate perspective", what was I on last night, for that sort of supine, shandy nonsense has no place on a grown-up ship like this. Today that metero-sexual mumbo jumbo was firmly placed in its box. What Woody’s morning call lacked in decibels it made up for in purpose, it was early, rudely so, but the pre-breakfast sortie formed the initial third of a frankly astonishing polar triumvirate.
The ice cliffs and ice bergs had shapes to defeat Gaudi and colour to destroy any pantone chart. This is a decent commencement to any day but the walrus with its callow offspring put on an early show almost beggaring belief. Nine Zodiacs engines idled, then died, the ice crackled like a bowl of Rice Krispies and a mother led her precious charge barely aware of her adoring gallery.
If that blubbery one parent family was Caesar, then Pompey was a bear and no normal bear. We don’t stop for one, but two is different medicine altogether. For years we have trawled and scoped every patch of sea ice, every turquoise lump, crenulation and castellation hoping for that priceless moment, but surely we had exhausted our quota of fortune, NOT SO, but this was just silly. A perfect, young, unalloyed bear, perched on a delicate glacial gujon. The Captain finessed his craft like a Parisienne taxi driver cutting across eight lanes of the peripherique while changing gear, smoking a Gauloise and chatting up his client. He gives the impression the Vavilov has the turning circle of a Mini Cooper. A thousand gigs later the bear departed to clamber onto some glacial low rise to a clatter of shutters.
Memory cards are burgeoning but the real memory is a spiritual one that will never be diminished.
For the final part of the triumvirate, Crassus, it is a return to all things walrine. A considerable haul out was sensitively managed by Ian, and his cohorts responded accordingly. A couple of his sub-adult males performed arrogant swims past the shore, bisecting an olive surface already dappled by terns.
Changing analogies from Roman to Russian, this was a remarkable troika. Remember though bears need ice, fast ice, not fractured fields or dazzling building blocks which are nothing more than icy motel rooms for this maritime nomad. They are intoxicating animals, continuing to defy the executioner’s blade.
Expressions are still dazed, mouths still fixed in helpless grins, and that is just the staff, this is a gift that keeps on giving and the huge, heady, halcyon, heavenly largesse bestowed on us shows no sign of letting up. To quote the aged diva, ‘simply the best.’
"Never doubt the ability of a few committed people to change the world, in fact it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
The principle word of yesterday was reflections, there were very few on the water today but plenty on board. Sometimes, only sometimes, a few quiet introspective moments are critical for perspective. I am convinced there were no slack-jawed lightweights who actually had a nap today in between visits to the boutique. No? Good.
I mentioned early on that this expedition was about moments, not a pedestrian accumulation of species, but someone has told me we were approaching 20 bears. The clinical figure interests me not a jot – the fact that they were all on ice does.
But enough of the past, we are midway now. Mother Nature righted her meteorological scales today with venom; a sniping, searing, spiteful wind cut across the decks and swirls of snow dusted already treacherous walkways. This all made a mockery of the chart although to rely on such a fickle, erratic and capricious mistress is folly indeed. In reality the ice was in an equally inhospitable mood, divesting a few forlorn fulmars – beautiful all the same though Nigel.
We don’t have an itinerary, the Vavilov scorns such sterile pragmatic schedules, if gin palaces and 400 berth pleasure cruisers are the dull, predictable, negative English and Italian footballers, who play as I speak in a different world, the Vavilov personifies the élan of Spain – sparkling, unpredictable, entertaining, the maverick of the seas. She has only played 45 minutes, and not at 4-4-2 either, she always performs better in the second half – no substitutions, no yellow cards, plenty of yellow bears and a few more golden goals to be scored. I hope you enjoyed your rest today, you Jessies – think you might need it.
“If you don’t look, you can’t see” – Ian Stirling
The term stir crazy could be legitimately employed describing the stoic inhabitants of the James Caird – for those polar pilgrims on the Vavilov it would be stretching it. However, Woody had swallowed the pioneering pill early this morning and a one hour Zodiac perambulation turned into an intrepid circumnavigation of Half Moon island, a nautical feat never before completed... in June... 2012.
Ursus Maritimus may have been missing but Nigel is still in convalescence after hitting an avian climax with his pretty, precious, primping, precocious phalaropes – his expedition has finally rolled into gear! Someone remarked that this afternoon was the most beautiful afternoon of their life. It is hard to disagree for Mother Nature bestowed her most bounteous smile on us to date. The sumptuous canvas would have defeated any painter’s palette and comes close to defeating mine, but, here goes: the sun sent joyous Jacob’s ladders feathering onto a coruscating hexagonal mosaics, temporarily grouted to the glassy membrane. The bow’s squadrons of graphite isosceles were redundant as people took time to come to terms with the bewildering majesty dominating stage right, left and centre.
Reflections: the pivotal epithet of the afternoon, profound and pertinent. It was surely impossible to improve on, yet with absurd timing only accessible to the very few, as one lecture finished yet again Woody’s quiet but excited announcement indicated yet another bear, in perfect conditions as it bisected the midnight blue surface, effortlessly moving into the fast lane of its own ultra endurance marathon. We didn’t stop... of course we didn’t, there was only one, you know the drill. This was the final after dinner mint from an extended afternoon meal taken from the very highest polar table.
Lastly, please spare a thought for that lone young walrus. Man’s atonement is paid for his past trespasses, be thankful John Lennon’s drugs addled lyrics were not an epitaph for this innocent mammal.