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Published: September 16th 2019
The Post-Apocalyptic Concrete Chicken - An Arctic Fairytale
This blog could have been titled, ‘The Saga of the Horrible Bathroom’.
In fact, that was my first thought after arriving in Severnaya Zemlya.
The Arctic is a world largely hidden.
It’s a harsh and magnificent romance.
A magnified, intense romance in an unspoiled, magical land.
This could be a romantic fairytale.
The narrative is a tale too bizarre to believe.
Tales of the otherworld, glimpses of shores seldom seen in a land of cultivated avoidance…
The vast isolation of the fog shrouded shores of Severnaya Zemlya has captivated me.
The region is compellingly attractive.
This is one of the least visited regions on the planet.
It was an incredible journey in so many ways…
An Arctic fairytale? Perhaps?
Have I fallen in love?
Is this a love story? Concrete Indifference
Once upon a time, by a grim, abandoned fire department, next to a collapsing school in the vanishing, arctic community of Dikson, I first set my eyes on the
concrete chicken. He sat there in the dusty, crumbling air, spewing selected stars upon renewed cities of fair-folk.
I loved this chicken, he made me very happy. I was amazed at how simple he was, yet how full of life and colour he was. He didn’t dislike children, he just sat there with total indifference to their wellbeing. He will outlive the great Saharan monuments - an eternal chicken in a post apocalyptic scene.
He will live happily ever after… Horizons of Imagination
“I have seen God-forsaken Chukotka Peninsula, the blizzard-ridden Wrangel Island. I’ve twice visited fog-enshrouded Novaya Zemlya, and I’ve seen Franz Josef Land, with its enamel skies and proud cliffs, garbed in blue, hardened glacial streams, but nowhere did I witness such grimness or such depressing, lifeless relief than in Severnaya Zemlya.” Georgy Ushakov 1931.
I’m somewhat charmed by grimness. I find ‘grim’ an endearing term.
Our first glimpse of the archipelago was of a foggy shore. The mysterious island group remained mostly hidden under her precipitous veil… But as the fog danced about, the enigmatic, crimson shores slowly began to reveal themselves.
The staggering emptiness.
The utter remoteness.
The raw beauty.
Unearthly, fantastical scenes unfolded in these make-believe, nonsensical surroundings.
The opaque sky was our celestial parent
Somewhere between dawn and dusk was a lonely midnight,
A weeping flower in a motionless night that
lived but a moment in a nuclear day.
Deep, glaciated fjords slashed the coast,
Massive tide-water glaciers spilled into the vast sea.
Waterfalls cascaded down narrow gorges - mosaic canyons of black and yellow.
Meadows of saturated moss sat at the foothills of a frantic ridge
In a wild, sculptured city.
Ice-domes reached to the skies.
Colossal, rounded and perfect,
These domes smothered the islands.
Their gleaming white ice blended into a painted sky of abstract, pastel clouds.
Turquoise icebergs hovered in a sea of brown.
A polar bear drifted through the ghostly, fluttering fog.
A walrus evaporated into imagination.
A beluga remained an untouchable beauty.
Hoards of ivory gulls circled in a silver atmosphere,
Like amorphous, androgynous silhouettes in a whispering desolation.
Giant ice-walls towered above and vanished into the fog
Torrents of mud-red water raged from the ground beneath.
An embryonic red river from a red land.
Eerie mist danced in the silence among the last of the poppies.
In a swamp of saddened ochre tapestries, with sinking
Academy of Sciences Glacier.
The strange scene on Komsomolets Island
We were injured.
We were limping on this violent earth - this Utopia.
All lifeforms were torn mercilessly from the bog of destruction.
Leaving only fiery gardens - crinkled and worn.
We were gem searchers, screaming in a divided wind.
Our jewelled tears were embedded in the secretive soil forever
As the world choked on the masterpiece.
Subtle colours reigned supreme as the sky cried at the laughing sea…
The sea - ancient, and with its merciless current - was alone in its thoughts.
The tranquility consumed my pathetic fallacies…
My consciousness sang a melody - so delicate, so strong.
I was trampled by whirlpool of speechless conversations. Kara Sea
Where was Sedna? That mythical lady of the northern seas.
Where was our fairy godmother?
We set sail into strong winds.
These winds were forecasted, however, the actual winds and seas were more than three times what the forecast predicted - and the duration of the storm was much longer!
This was a force
9 storm in a small yacht.
The Kara Sea was not happy with us.
In the midst of the storm, I was lifted off my mattress and slammed into the bottom of the upper bunk, I tried to brace myself in all possible ways - I’m sure I looked like a Swiss Army Knife as my weakened limbs sprawled about the compartment. My head was pounded on the pillow, I was being attacked by an invisible force, an external power much greater than me. Water poured through the hatch as the yacht got pummelled and engulfed by giant swells. It sounded like canon fire inside the cabin. Hour after hour of being beaten!
A day goes by and still no change.
A second day comes and goes and the conditions deteriorate more…
I was near the end of all my endurance after being bashed around for 60 hours with no sleep. My physical, mental and emotional limits had been pushed to the extremes.
Just before midnight, we entered the sheltered water of Snezhnaya Bay…
All was well…
If I were made of fine porcelain, I’d have
been smashed into a million pieces.
After the storm I wrote in my journal - all my fears, loves and fantasies combined into one emotional catastrophe. A grim scene unfolded as my pen visited the darker side of the human mind. There are monsters back there, creatures that only occasionally emerge from the depths. There is horror and terror, darkness and death - things that you only see when you’re tired, beaten, hungry, cold, wet, dirty, frustrated, angry, thirsty, upset, seasick, weak, and frightened…
I was all of these! I was the monster…
I struggled to revisit those journal pages for quite some time - and for the record, I’ve since destroyed them…
I’ll spare all the details of course, especially the dark stuff, as it was pretty powerful and emotionally charged. But buried within the literary debris, I found this little snippet labelled, ‘Not Funny Then, Now or Ever.’
Come to think of it though, there is humour somewhere - I just haven’t quite found it yet…
I crawled about on a multi-dimensional floor. Water and sludge was slopping around among carnage. The vessel pitched like I’ve
never experienced, and it rolled to near impossible angles. I tried to get to the bathroom, but I couldn’t get to the door, I kept sliding back and forth. I tried several times, each time a failure… I just did what I had to do while on all fours, sliding from side to side. I remember staying in the kneeling position for some time afterwards, knees in the sludge. I then tried desperately to get back into my bed. I had to throw myself at the bunk when the yacht pitched in the right direction. I smashed both elbows on the corner of the metal frame that secures the bunk to the wall, and squirmed in pain as my useless arms let go, I fell right-side down into the sludge, lay there for a minute, then managed to scrambled back into my sleeping bag all wet and dirty… I didn’t care much at this point. I just wanted to get back into my little space.
Another thirty or so hours would pass…
An unshadowed man clustered my prowling days of tomorrow.
He crunched my bones and powdered them as I ate three-course-meal capsules.
was a disturbed strangling of a mutilated friend.
I never thought scenes like this were possible…
Talking with my colleagues - they’d experienced more or less the same…
Back to the Chicken
“Herewith, goodnight to all the world; and my soul into the hands of God.” Jens Munck, on his tragic expedition to the frozen Hudson Bay in 1620.
My thoughts brought me back to the concrete chicken.
It’s still a chicken and always will be a chicken, regardless of weather and time.
Its concrete beauty proudly stands, in full colour, forever romantic in a post-apocalyptic fantasy, on the edge of a fairytale…
A wild, romantic, passionate fantasy.
A fairytale of arctic dreams.
Beneath my feet is a landscape and a memory.
Out of the storm came clarity.
An explanation of cause, and an acceptance of results.
I was part of an enchanted encounter.
I lived in that fairytale.
A life changing fairytale.
A fairytale called ‘Severnaya Zemlya’…
Upon returning to Dikson after three weeks on the Apostol Andrey - I ran…
I ran through the derelict, abandoned streets, past crumbling housing-blocks and dilapidated factories to reunite with my friend.
My eternal companion, my muse,
my humble saviour, my fantasy, my dream, my fairytale, my good buddy - the one thing that kept me sane during the storm.
The post-apocalyptic concrete chicken.
He sat there, unperturbed by the madness, sadness and gladness that had been strewn across the sea by a savage beast that had relentlessly violated our last remnants of dignity.
He sat there with his friend.
The post-apocalyptic concrete horse…
A pink horse with purple spots nonetheless…
I believe in angels…
In this Arctic Fairytale…
I was so happy to see you my friend.
During the voyage, a man was watching over us…
To the man in the roll of film, we don’t know who you are, but your presence was appreciated. We freed you from the rusted case of your sepia jail, we held you to the sky for you to see the vibrant world of today. You’re part of this fairytale.
We hope you’re happy.
A little bit about Severnaya Zemlya
Severnaya Zemlya (Северная Земля) is situated between latitudes 78 and 81 in the far northern part of the massive Krasnoyarsk Territory in the Russian Arctic. The archipelago is made up of three main islands; Bolshevik Island (Остров бoльшeвйк), October Revolution Island (Остров Октябрьской Революции), and Komsomolets Island (Остров Комсомолец). They are mainly glaciated, the most notable glacier being The Academy of Sciences Glacier (ледник Академии наук). Many smaller islands make up the archipelago. The Islands were discovered and claimed in 1913 by a Russian expedition, making them the last of the large islands on the planet to be discovered.
Bird list… For all you birders out there
Herring gull, Glaucous gull, Ivory gull, Northern fulmar, Kittiwake, Long-tailed jaeger, Parasitic jaeger, Arctic tern, Black guillemot, Little auk, Yellow-billed loon, Red-throated loon, Common eider, Red-necked phalarope, Red phalarope, Purple sandpiper, Lapland longspur, Snow bunting, Brant, Snow goose. Thank you
A big thank you to Quark Expeditions
for sponsoring this expedition.
A voyage to research the endless possibilities for future expeditions in Severnaya Zemlya
and the Kara Sea
the crew of yacht, Apostol Andrey (Апoctoл Aндpєй)
Captain Nikolai, Chief Mate Pavel, and Chef Vladimir.
Thanks to my colleagues Dave, Solan, Sasha, and Ruslan.
‘Expedition Innovation Team 2019’ Also
About the experience on the small 16m (53ft) yacht, the Apostol Andrey… I’ll keep it brief. The sea time was awful beyond anything I’d ever considered. The destination was magical beyond any expectation…
There are trade offs! There are pros and cons…
There are reasons why rollercoasters last five minutes!
At the end of the voyage, after my run through the streets, derelict and trashed, I went back to the little store in Dikson and bought a post-apocalyptic arctic apple…
It was a one-biter!
Its rotting remains now lie among ruins.
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