Living North : My Nordic ‘To Read’ List

I haven’t been able to read much recently. Depression made the thing I enjoy doing most in the world an agonizing challenge. But now my concentration is slowly returning to some sort of normality and I’ve been spending massive amounts of time on Amazon, hunting down literature about the Nordics that I haven’t read yet. I thought you might like to see what I’ve found!

The Path To Odin’s Lake By Jason Heppenstall

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“Ex-newspaper editor Jason Heppenstall, worn down by the constant drumbeat of dire news in the world, decides to set out on a journey in search of some answers. With not much more than some walking boots, a notebook and a wooden staff, he sets off from his old home in Copenhagen with a vague idea to “head north”. It isn’t long before a series of bizarre coincidences leads him to believe that his journey is being guided towards an ancient lake in Sweden where the Norse god Odin was once worshipped.

Along the way he falls foul of the authorities, endures the wettest weather in living memory and meets a peculiar man of the forest who gives him a special gift. He discovers a modern day Sweden caught between a desire to do good in the world and one struggling to come to terms with the refugees from war-torn Syria and beyond.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Blond Roots: A Cross-Cultural Journey of Identity By Marilyn E Fowler

“The Western world insists on following rational dictates, but there is freedom in allowing our deeper intuition to show the way forward. By surrendering to the heart, we can navigate the unknown world to come to a new understanding of ourselves.

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Author Marilyn E. Fowler, PhD, begins her journey with very little information about her cultural heritage. A family search uncovers an old picture of her great-grandmother Karoline, who was born somewhere in the northern reaches of Scandinavia among the indigenous Sámi people.

Fowler’s inner compass and a sequence of powerful, metaphysical events push her to venture alone to this distant territory. On this journey she has the honor of meeting Elina, a Sámi elder, who provides more clues to Fowler’s ancestral heritage.

Slowly, guided by intuition, she begins putting the pieces together, discovering the identity of her ancestors. She wants to understand them, and what she finds is a completely fresh perspective on life. As Fowler slowly learns about Sámi culture, she allows herself to let go of conventional reasoning and discover a new understanding of who she is and a new sense of connection with the earth. When she finally returns home, she finds that her perspectives on life have forever changed.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

On Time And Water By Andri Snær Magnason

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“Icelandic author and activist Andri Snær Magnason’s ‘Letter to the Future’, an extraordinary and moving eulogy for the lost Okjökull glacier, made global news and was shared by millions. Now he attempts to come to terms with the issues we all face in his new book On Time and Water. Magnason writes of the melting glaciers, the rising seas and acidity changes that haven’t been seen for 50 million years. These are changes that will affect all life on earth.

Taking a path to climate science through ancient myths about sacred cows, stories of ancestors and relatives and interviews with the Dalai Lama, Magnason allows himself to be both personal and scientific. The result is an absorbing mixture of travel, history, science and philosophy.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Wild Horses of the Summer Sun: A Memoir of Iceland By Tory Bilski

“Each June, Tory Bilski meets up with fellow women travelers in Reykjavik where they head to northern Iceland, near the Greenland Sea. They escape their ordinary lives to live an extraordinary one at a horse farm perched at the edge of the world. If only for a short while.51mCiBg78jL

When they first came to Thingeyrar, these women were strangers to one another.  The only thing they had in common was their passion for Icelandic horses. However, over the years, their relationships with each other deepens, growing older together and keeping each other young. Combining the self-discovery Eat, Pray, Love, the sense of place of Under the Tuscan Sun, and the danger of Wild, Wild Horses of the Summer Sun revels in Tory’s quest for the “wild” inside her.

These women leave behind the usual troubles at home: illnesses, aging parents, troubled teenagers, financial worries–and embrace their desire for adventure.

Buoyed by their friendships with each other and their growing attachments and bonds with the otherworldly horses they ride, the warmth of Thingeyrar’s midnight sun carries these women through the rest of the year’s trials and travails.” – Amazon.

Buy it here.

Curious North : 5 Narwhal Facts

Narwhals Are Descended From An Evil Woman

In Inuit folklore, there’s a tale about an evil woman who kept her daughter well fed but starved her blind son. The mother and daughter feasted in secret on the meat of a polar bear the son had shot with a bow and arrow. The son didn’t know he’d killed it, what with him being blind, and his mother insisted it had fled. (For the record, his sister helped him get the shot. In some versions of the tale, she’s sympathetic to his cause.)

Eventually, the son’s sight returned and he found the bear’s skin outside their hut. One day, there was a pod of white whales which the mother intended to harvest, but the son had other ideas. He lashed a rope attached to a harpoon around his mother’s middle and harpooned a whale. The whale dragged the boy’s mother from the ice floe she was standing on and out into the sea. Her transformation into a narwhal began when she twisted her long hair into what we know as the narwhal’s distinctive spiraling tusk.

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Paul Nicklen

There Are None In Captivity

The last narwhal in captivity was in 1969/1970. It was an orphaned calf that had been caught at Grise Fiord in Canada (one of the coldest inhabited places on earth) and was airlifted to the New York aquarium. A month later and it was dead. At around the same time, the Vancouver aquarium captured six narwhals. Unable to handle the stress of captivity, they all died within months.

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Paul Nicklen

They Change Colour With Age

Newborn narwhals are mottled -blue-grey, juveniles are blue-black, adults are spotted grey and old narwhals are almost completely white. James Mead, the curator of marine mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History says the speckles complexion of the narwhal is ‘weird’ as whales are usually a more uniform colour.

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Paul Nicklen

It’s Tusk Is Actually A Tooth

The narwhal’s tusk is actually an exaggerated front left tooth. (Its right tooth is smaller and remains inside its mouth.) While most teeth, humans included, have a hard exterior and a sort interior, it’s the opposite in the case of the narwhal. Covered in thousands of nerve endings, this tooth can grow up to ten feet long and is able to bend about a foot before breaking off.

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Paul Nicklen

Narwhal Tastes Nutty…To Some

Muktuk is the name for the Inuit staple of whale skin and blubber. Apparently, when it’s eaten raw, muktuk becomes quite chewy and tastes nutty.  However, ‘nutty’ isn’t how one writer describes it. When Abigail Tucker when to Greenland she sampled some muktuk and this is her experience: “With the tips of my fingers I seized a tiny, half-frozen piece of raw blubber, dunked it soy sauce and put it in my mouth. That first bite was exactly like chomping down on a thick vein of gristle in a great aunt’s holiday roast. It was tough as rubber, with a taste like congealed gravy.

Sources

Smithsonian Mag

Mental Floss

 

North Of Instagram : CVLT FVCK

Antti Kertsi Keränen is the Finnish photographer behind CVLT FVCK, one of the few Instagram accounts which I retreat to when everything just gets too much. You’ll understand why in just a moment…

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Among the Giants..

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Can you hear me, Major Tom? 📡

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Surnia ulula. #Northernhawkowl

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Oblivion. #CVLTFVCK

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Sleeping giants.

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What Is Skyr?

I spent three months in Iceland back in 2011 and I ate my body weight in Skyr. I tried every flavour I could and had Skyr withdrawal symptoms when I came home. I remember when Skyr first arrived in Tesco a few years later. I squealed and stashed a couple of tubs in my basket, ignoring the hefty Icelandic-esque price tag attached to them.

Once home, I promptly posted a photo of my Skyr to Facebook. My family, meanwhile, thought it bizarre me getting so excited about some dairy.

Pronounced skeer (with a slight trill on the r if you’re really going in for authenticity) Skyr is a cultured dairy product that’s been sustaining Icelanders since it was brought over from Norway in the 9th Century. Today, Skyr is probably Iceland’s most valuable contribution to the world’s culinary culture.

Uber, uber thick (yes, those two ubers are necessary) creamy and stacked with protein, Skyr has a tart taste to it. Icelanders traditionally eat it whipped with cream and topped with sugar. Though the most popular flavours among locals today are vanilla and blueberries. (I can vouch for vanilla. It’s awesome.) 

While most people think of Skyr are being a yogurt, its technically a soft cheese. After the whey has been removed, it goes through a process of ultra-filtration, and that’s how it gets to be so thick you can stand your spoon up in it.

 

5.3oz_Vanilla_IcelandicSkyr-400x400Although Skyr was hardly known about beyond the shores of Iceland for a thousand years, the word of this ‘superfood’ has spread worldwide, and it’s made some folks their fortune, including Siggi Hilmarsson. A native Icelander living in the US, Siggi found himself homesick for what had been a part of his staple diet back home – Skyr.

Using a recipe that his mother found (I think in some magazine from the 1960’s), Siggi started to make Skyr in his little New York kitchen. And it tasted like home. Within a few months, Siggi quit his day job, bought a bunch of dairy making equipment and boom, his Skyr making empire – Siggi’s Dairy – was born.

If, like me, you find yourself becoming just that bit obsessed with Skyr, get yourself to Iceland and visit the National Museum where you’ll find three Viking-era jars that contain Skyr residue. Now if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

Living North : Thrifting An Inuit Art Calendar From 2015

I haven’t had a calendar in years. Well, not a calendar for the right year. Old calender’s though, plenty of those have made their way into my life, namely for the purpose of cutting out the pictures and framing them.

The other day I was in Hebden Bridge, a gorgeous little town in West Yorkshire, famed for being quirky and devoid of chain shops and, as I do whenever I’m in a new place, I made a beeline for the charity shops, in this case, Oxfam. My purpose is always the same when I’m thrifting – look for northerly stuff.

After about forty minutes of rooting, I was all about ready to give up, when my eye caught the words INUIT ART. I scrambled to a box packed with photo frames and peeking from between the frames was a Cape Dorset 2015 Calendar for 99p. As I maneuvered my way to the counter, I held onto my calendar like someone was going to come into the shop and challenge me to a duel for it.

In the Canadian Arctic community of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Inuit artists have been making limited-edition prints for half a century.

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Through this little – but dynamic – collection of art, I’ve been introduced to several celebrated Inuit artists including Ningeokuluk Teevee, Tim Pitsiulak and Papiara Tukiki. It was a real thrill to find the Qalupalik in there. (September.) This creature which dwells in the waters of the Arctic and snatches children who venture to close to the water’s edge has been a source of fascination for ages. (I’ve written more about her here.)

I’ll cut out these pictures, and, as is tradition, frame them and find a special place on the wall to hang them. I’ll show you when I have!

North Of Instagram : Ragnar Axelsson

My life changed when I first encountered the work of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson, through his profound and powerful first book Faces Of The North over ten years ago.

When I was studying Axelsson’s black and white photography, documenting the vanishing ways of life of the hunters, farmers, and fishermen in Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands I noticed my heart had started beating to a different rhythm.

As much as the north has always been a part of my existence, Axelsson’s imagery made me crave it. Crave it in such a way that learning and writing about these far northerly places – and visiting some whenever I could – became as much a part of my life as breathing, as eating, as sleeping.

As I sit here at my little desk, in a little room, in little England looking at an Axelsson postcard I sent to my parents from Iceland several years ago, I find myself feeling distressed that I’m not as far north as I need to be. However, while I can’t magic myself to Greenland or Iceland or the Faroe Islands right now, I do have Axelsson’s photography to take me there.

If this is the first time you’ve seen Axelsson’s work, I believe, I really believe you’ll come away changed and the north will have a new and deeper significance for you.

 

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Guðjón Þorsteinsson was walking along the shore at Dyrhólaey, hunting down a mink that had been wreaking havoc on his nesting eider ducks. His frequent companion on such outings was his dog, Gái, an accomplished mink-killer. The air was misty, and the surf was roaring. Heavy waves crashed over the boulders lining the coast below a nesting eider. Guðjón crouched beside the bird and spoke, “This duck must be psychic or at least very good at predicting the weather,” Guðjón said. “There might be a nasty storm where the waves reach way up the shore.” Guðjón lived at Garðakot with his brother, Óskar. Together the brothers took over the farm from their parents in 1970. The brothers were a lot of fun—like volcanos when the moment struck—but quick to rally. They liked to kid around, exaggerate a bit, alternate between seriousness and jest—though the line between the two was often unclear. It was all in good fun, although outsiders didn’t always get the joke. Though Guðjón showed his age, he was agile and had a youthful way about him: he scaled the cliffs at Dyrhólaey and collected eggs from Lundadrangur rock arch as if it were a walk in the park. On one such egg-collecting trip, he let a visitor come along who peppered him with questions. Guðjón had enough of the interrogation when in the middle of the climb the man asked, “What’s the name of the area just south of the rock arch?” In exasperation, Guðjón peered down at the man who hung by one hand from a fine cord 20 meters over the sea and answered curtly: “That’s what we call the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been there for quite some time.” The questions stopped abruptly after that. Guðjón and I walked home from the shore along a winding road. Gái, the dog, had managed to kill two minks. Guðjón peered up to the mountains with a knowing look in his eye, as if he had seen someone he recognized: a spirit that followed us along. When I took his picture, it was as though time stood still: he seemed immortal as if part of the landscape and the mountains, a creature of nature who descended only briefly to the human world to lift our spirits. — From the 2nd edition of the book Faces of the North. #iceland #natgeo100contest

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The worst piteraq storms are utterly relentless. The snowstorm had pummeled Ittoqqortoormiit for several days. During the worst spells, you could hardly see between the houses. Still, it was a pleasure to arrive at the village after a long hunting trip out on the ice—because the cold was even worse out there. You could see the odd person darting between houses, but almost no one was outside, as the weather was so unbearable. In the dark on the sea ice, the dogsleds could be seen through the haze as they plodded towards the village. Stepping off his sled, Little Bent, a hunter from Kap Hope, was covered in snow. It took a while to chip away the crust of ice that had formed around him in the storm. Little Bent got his nickname from his small stature, but as a hunter he was a veritable giant—as he had hunted all kinds of Arctic animals to survive. He tethered his dogs on the ice below town and walked back on land where the snowstorm raged on. The village could barely be seen, if at all. It wasn’t exactly ideal weather for traveling, but Little Bent had run out of provisions and it didn’t look as if the weather was going to let up anytime soon. Bent was the sole inhabitant of Kap Hope, a small village 14 kilometers from Ittoqqortoormiit. In good weather the trip between villages by sled took only an hour, but at that time the snow was heavy and the visibility was poor. The ride went slowly, taking two and a half hours. The huskies in the village lay chained under snow. A few of them stirred as he passed. A large, powerful dog reared up on his hind legs and howled into the storm before disappearing again into the snow. The village landscape changed in the winter: the snow collected in drifts, hiding entire boats that didn’t emerge until spring. Little Bent strolled around the village, looking in on a few friends before he headed home. Darkness descended. The villagers and huskies watched Little Bent disappear into the storm to follow the faint tracks of the dogsled back to Kap Hope. They’d find their way home together, man and dogs. — From the second edition of the book Faces of the North. #leica #greenland #natgeo100contest

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Arctic woman in Yamal Peninsula, Northwest Siberia.

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From Faces of the North THULE 1987 Masauna—or the King of Thule as the hunters often call him—was one of a kind. There was no doubt who was boss on the ice. The remarkable composure he displayed and his uncanny way with the natural world made him almost supernatural. It was as though he shared a primordial connection with the sea goddess Sedna, who, according to lore, provides the Greenlanders with all the creatures they hunt for food. Masauna was the oldest and most seasoned hunter whom I accompanied out on the sea ice. He was as light-footed as a mountain goat; ballerinas couldn’t step lighter. Masauna didn’t seem to sleep much, napping with one eye open if something unexpected should happen. He sometimes leaped up from his sled—dead serious—and looked out at sea, but he was not disagreeable and never somber for too long. His mood was quick to lighten. He would grin when watching the young hunters bound between ice floes in pursuit of a seal they’d chased out on the ice. “Polar bear!” he’d yell, then raise his arms and laugh when he saw the hunters jump in terror from his imaginary bear. He had a spark in his eye when he watched the younger generation. Maybe he relived his youth through them. He would lose himself in the young hunters’ hunt, flail his arms and legs, cheer them on like a devoted sports fan. After a few good roars, he would sit down on his sled, smile, and laugh his infectious laugh. When Masauna was around, it didn’t matter if it was overcast: his face was like the weather—at its best, it shone like the sun.

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Curious North : 10 Polar Bear Facts

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Annie Spratt

The Inuit Have Many Different Names For The Polar Bear

The Inuit have many, many names for Nanuq. In this instance, I’ll take examples from The Netsilik Inuit of Canada. (Interestingly, they were among the last of the northern indigenous peoples to be preyed upon by Southern missionaries.) The adult male is anguraq, the adult female without cubs is tattaq, the pregnant female is arnaluk, the newborn is hagliaqtuq and the teenage polar bear who’s almost the same size as his mother is namiaq.

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‘Havets Moder’ by Christian Rosing

In Inuit Mythology, The Polar Bear Is Said To Have Been One Of Sedna’s Finger Joints

In Inuit culture, the origin of the polar bear is somewhat blurred. However, in some stories, the polar bear started life at the same time as all other Arctic marine creatures – when Sedna had her hands hacked off with an axe wielded by her own father. It’s said that the sea goddess’s fingers became seals and fish, whereas the rest of her hands became the whales and polar bears.

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David Shepherd

Nanuq Was Always Honoured By The Inuit After The Hunt

When hunting, the Inuit always maintained the highest level of respect for the great wanderer. And this continued after death. In northwestern Alaska for example, a ritual would be observed called the Polar Bear Dance. It would celebrate both the hunter and the hunted.

It was believed the bear’s spirit would attend the ceremony, so great care was taken to honour the spirit so it would move on its way. The bear’s skull would be placed on a bench so it was able to ‘watch’ the dancing and feasting. This would go on for four or five days, after which the hunter who had killed the bear would then take the skull out onto the sea ice. When the hunter would hear the sea ice make a noise, he would know the spirit had left.

Adam Binder
Adam Binder

The Mother Of All Polar Bears Was Found In Ireland

When I think of all the places the polar bear could have originated from, Ireland isn’t the first destination on the list. However, it appears the mother of all polar bears descended from a brown bear which lived 20,000 – 50,000 years ago in the present-day Emerald Isle. DNA taken from polar bears from Russia, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Alaska showed that each individual bear’s ancestry could be traced back to the Emerald Isle dweller.

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Le Petit Journal

Suicide by Polar Bear Has Happened More Than Once

Remember that tragic event in 2009 when Mandy K, a school teacher from Berlin attempted to commit suicide by entering the polar bear enclosure at Berlin Zoo? Well, I’ve recently discovered that she’s not the only person to have entered a polar bear enclosure with the intention of killing themselves.

Back in 1891, a woman by the name of Karoline Wolfe climbed down a rope into the Frankfurt Zoo’s bear pit with the aim of ‘being eaten alive by a white bear.’ Unlike Mandy K, Karoline didn’t leave the pit alive. In 1903 when the bear who had ‘shredded her flesh’ passed away, a number of Frankfurt businessmen has some postcards printed on which was the bear’s obituary. In the obituary, the bear was described as Wolf’s ‘ravenous lover,’ who was ‘so infatuated with her that he ‘gobbled her up.’

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Photographer unknown

Roald Amundsen Considered Using Polar Bears To Pull His Sledges

Poor Captain Scott has been mocked relentlessly for his idea to use ponies to pull his sleds in Antarctica. But Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen also had a bizarre plan for his North Pole expedition – to use polar bears instead of dogs. Apparently, the thought first crossed his mind when he first saw trained polar bears in a zoological garden in Hamburg.

In an interview, Amundsen said: “These bears, when properly trained, are as tractable as oxen. They are at home in the cold of the Arctic and can be easily cared for and fed with seal meat.” But taming a bear isn’t an easy feat. The idea didn’t take off in the end – Amundsen wasn’t prepared to try and handle his fury convoy on his own – though over a decade after proposing the idea, he was still up for it, despite having been mauled by a bear in the meantime.

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Annie Spratt

Polar Bears Get Hot Extremely Fast

You would think that, on occasion, a polar bear might get a bit cold. But they actually have the opposite problem – they overheat extremely easily. It’s much more likely for a polar bear to die from the heat than it is for them to die from the cold. With their two layers of fur and a solid layer of fat (which can measure up to 4.5 inches thick), their metabolic rate is steady, even in the most frigid of temperatures. While they can sprint up to 30 miles an hour if they need to, they can’t spend much time running as their temperature can rise to dangerous levels if they move too fast.

Svalbard

Polar Bears Don’t Hibernate

Unlike grizzlies and black bears that spend each winter in hibernation, polar bears don’t need to, and instead spend all winter being active. The reason being that there’s plenty of food available to hunt. The exception though is when a female bear is pregnant. Then, she digs herself a den and is sealed inside, surviving off her fat stores, until her cubs are large enough to brave the outdoors.

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Florian Ledoux

Doors Are Kept Unlocked In Churchill On Halloween

On the shores of the Hudson Bay in Manitoba, Canada, lies the town of Churchill. During Autumn, hundreds of bears pass through on their way to the hunting grounds. During this time, many of the locals don’t lock their doors so that if someone is running from a polar bear, they can duck inside. Halloween happens smack bang in the middle of polar bear season and, unsurprisingly, kids aren’t allowed to wear anything white for the festivities.

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‘ Man Proposes, God Disposes’ by Edwin Henry Landseer

Superstition Surrounds Man Proposes, God Disposes

The painting Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864) by Edwin Henry Landseer, was inspired by the search for Franklin’s Lost Expedition and features two polar bears among the grizzly remains of the expedition wreckage. The painting, which hangs in the study hall of Royal Holloway, University London was, for a long time, covered up with a Union Jack during exams, for it was said students who sat in front of it were doomed to fail. One urban legend claims that in the 1920s a student looked at the painting and stabbed themselves in the eye with a pencil, after writing on their exam paper ‘the bears made me do it.’

Sources

Ice Bear by Michael Engelhard

 

North Of Instagram

Instagram and I have had quite the unstable relationship over the years, so I thought I’d change that around and make it into something special.

The best way I could think to do that was to embrace all the striking northerly content I could find and share it here through a new series called North Of Instagram.

I hope that with this sharing, I’ll be able to introduce you to creative individuals who’ll stoke the northerly obsession that burns in your heart!

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#nordvis #home #lapland

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🌲 Austefjorden 🌲

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Eyes On The Arctic : Need To Read Things

I’m back with Eyes On The Arctic, a weekly post where I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflakeRussian Scientists Find ‘Most Powerful’ Ever Methane Seep In Arctic Ocean

12526-snowflakeResearchers Freeze Ship Into Arctic Ice For Year-Long Study On Climate Change

12526-snowflakeProtecting Life In The Arctic Seas

12526-snowflakeI Am A Diver Who Documents Climate Change In The Arctic. And I Am Running Out Of Time

12526-snowflakeCanada’s Arctic, Boreal Birds Will Be Big Climate Change Losers

12526-snowflakeThe Woolly Mammoth Made Its Last Stand Marooned on an Isolated Arctic Island

12526-snowflakeIce With That? Critical Need For Sustainable Arctic Travel

Fox Fires – A Short Animated Film

“Well…whoever said you could only become a star?”

– The Moon

I think about the aurora borealis on a daily basis. You only need to say the word ‘aurora…’ and my ears prick up like those of the fox in the beautiful short animation Fox Fires by Keilidh Bradley, a Scottish animator and visual development artist. She created the film as her graduation project from Scotland’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design.

Inspired by the Finnish tale of how the aurora borealis came into being, Fox Fires is an exquisite combination of 3D and 2D animation. It’s accompanied by a gorgeous score that I could easily have on repeat for weeks. In Bradley’s film, the moon comes down from the sky and asks for the help of Earth’s animals to light up the darkness of night-time…

In Finnish, the aurora borealis (or northern lights) are known as Revontulet which translates to Fox Fires. In Finnish culture, it’s believed the mystical lights are created by a fox racing across the land, sweeping the earth’s snow with his tail as he goes and igniting the night sky as his fur scratches the trees. Legend says that if anyone were to catch the fire fox (tulikettu) they would be rich beyond their wildest imaginings.

This little animation enchanted me almost to the point of tears, and it’s enchanted many more folk besides, as it’s now had over one million views on YouTube. It’s also been shared by the Embassy of Finland in the US and the official Twitter account of Sweden. I have to share with you some of the comments from You Tube…they’re too good not to. I wholeheartedly agree with Faniaqua on the ‘too many chills to handle.’

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