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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Toisinaan taas yltyi Pohjanpalo valtavaksi taivaanpaloksi ja silloin koko avaruus liekehti ja roihusi. Taivaan kirkkauden ovet ja ikkunat oli lennätetty selälleen. Siellä ylhäisissä esikartanoissa ja kaikkein korkeimmilla seitavuorilla roihuteltiin pyhiä uhrivalkeoita. Siitä koko taivas loimotti ja koko maailma loimotti. Pyhätunturit paistoivat kuin itse kirkkaus ja lumisilla aavoilla taajoivat oudot kuvahaiset. Peloittavat vaitavalkeat hulmahtelivat alas tuntureihin ja jänkiin ja metsiin, niin että lumiset oksat kärähtelivät. Vanhat velhot osasivat pohjantulia vielä ärsyttää. He käyristelivät sormiaan, vihelsivät ja muiskuttivat, naksuttivat tuluksia, narrasivat ja ylpeilivät: »Saatan se minäkin: ärrr…rärrr…rärrrr… Siitä taivaantulet vasta oikein kauhtuivat ja kiihtyivät. Ne puhaltuivat tohisten kohti taivaannapaa ja sitten taas kahahtaen tuiskahtelivat hankeen. Kihahteli vain. Mutta muu kansa katseli kauhuissaan taivaan suurta paloa, sekä ristimätön kansa että kristittykin. Outo palo se oli, väkevät haltijat olivat silloin liikkeellä, pelätä piti. Samuli Paulaharju – Sompio: Luiron korpien vanhaa elämää

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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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In the old days, they said that the greatest virtue of Iceland’s free-ranging horses was their ability to survive the winter. These days, the accommodations for horses turned out to pasture in the wild are entirely different than in days gone by—but their ability to survive the cold hasn’t changed. The winter coats the horses grow in the fall enable them to tolerate low temperatures and storms; research shows that they can metabolize sufficient nutrition from truly meager offerings. During my winter trips in Iceland, I always keep an eye out for these unusual creatures that nature has outfitted such that they’re the only animal you’ll see outdoors year-round. This was the case during a torrential snowstorm under a northerly gale on Snæfellsnes peninsula. The horse was hunkered down with its tail end to the wind. The majestic Snæfellsjökull glacier peeked through the onslaught of snow for an instant—and just as quickly it vanished. — From the 2nd edition of the book Faces of the North. —— #iceland #leica #blackandwhite #film #35mm #horses #icelandichorse

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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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In Tasiusaq, a small village in southwest Greenland, this old woman turned her tired eyes to the light. She was in her nineties, as was her husband. Other villagers also came to the party at the meeting house to celebrate the first day of school. This year there was one new student. From their little house, the old couple watched the village children, dressed in their best as they walked home with their parents. Fall was approaching, and the sun was always lower in the sky. Arctic winter would soon arrive, along with schoolbooks. The group of kids was having a blast. The little ones not yet school-aged looked on in wonder but carried on with their games unbothered. A little boy wedged down in a hole was feasting on an apple, entirely cool and collected. It was not yet his time for school. Two young girls came cackling down one of the village streets. Their life was simple; real life would come later. The old couple watched the smiling children. It may even have made them a little younger. — From the second edition of the book Faces of the North, published 2016.

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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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After a two-week stay on the ice, north of Qaanaaq, the dogs had grown as weary as the men. They simply ate their food without mishap, smacked their lips, and howled until their hunger subsided. The ice fog created an air of mystery. Large icebergs peeked out from the fog that drifted over the ice. Dogs bayed in the distance, assuring us that there was life in the vicinity—although it was hard to say from which direction it came. The dogs are a man’s best friend on the ice, even if you don’t pet them all. They have different personalities. Some are good, and others are rascals. The battle for pack leader is often brutal. Within the pack, there’s a clear pecking order, and if a dog upsets that order, it runs the risk of the others attacking or even killing it. Likewise, the dogs can band together to do away with their pack leader. The day was done. The soothing sound of the dogs baying swelled with the growing cold, but then died down once they’d been fed until all was perfectly quiet. — From the second edition of the book Faces of the North, published 2016. #leica #greenland #natgeo100contest

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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.

David Shephard
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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Żadna dotychczasowa moja podróż nie była bardziej wyczekana niż ten pierwszy wyjazd na północ. Czy naprawdę będą tam obrazy tak różne od tych dotychczas widzianych? Jak wygląda to wulkaniczne najmłodsze dziecko Ziemi? Czy skrywa swe piękno przed wścibskim okiem turysty? Pierwsze chwile po wyjściu z samolotu i już wszystko okazało się jasne. Nigdzie nie trzeba szukać tej prawdziwej Islandii. Ona po prostu jest. Nieprzyjazna w swej surowości i oniemiająco piękna. Przerażająca i wzbudzająca szacunek. Przedziwna. I z mieszkańcami o najpiękniejszych grzywach na świecie… #iceland #islandia #północ #podróż #north #konie #melancholia #wdrodze #jesień #throwback #foggy #somewheremagazine #polskieblogi #polskieblogipodroznicze #podroze #koń #tęsknota #roamtheearth #NatGeoTravel #beautifuldestinations #moodygram #visualscollective #theoutdoors #stayandwander #europe #artystycznapodroz #traveldeeper #flyforfreepl #exploretheworld #horses

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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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A Conversation With Anita Arora Of SIGIL

I am so, so thrilled to be bringing this interview to you today.  Anita Arora of the jewellery and leather accessories brand SIGIL has been a friend of mine for several years, and I’ve been watching in awe as she has built her business up. In the circles I move in, it’s rare to encounter someone who hasn’t heard of Anita and the northern magic she creates. So, without further ado, let’s jump in…

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Hello Anita! For MostNorthern’s readers, would you mind talking a little bit about yourself and your Nordic inspired jewellery and accessories line SIGIL?

Hi Katie! Thank you so much for having me on MostNorthern! I am a native Londoner, born and raised by Finnish and Indian-born parents. Our family immigrated to the United States during my childhood, but eventually returned to the UK. I opted to return in my late-twenties first to NYC, then westward to Seattle! I was lured by the mountains, ocean and lush rainforest, which I feel so fortunate to live close to.

The rugged nature is truly my muse, whether it’s in the Pacific Northwest USA or the Nordic regions and the Arctic, both of which have a strong calling and influence on my brand, SIGIL. The stark, rugged regions of the globe have always called to me, and it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I explored this siren song.

When I look back at my journey to now, I feel like all roads lead to SIGIL, in terms of what I’m creating, what my inspiration is, and how I work. For those new to my brand, through SIGIL I create unique leather bags, accessories, and raw mineral jewelry inspired by the windswept landscapes of Iceland and Greenland. My jewelry, even though it has become the primary focus in my product line, is a newer addition to the brand. In line with the journey of growing this brand by taking on new skills, the jewelry fits in very well and is a great accompaniment to my leatherwork.

What I think makes my jewelry style unique is how I focus it. Utilizing raw, natural crystals and minerals that are truly one-of-a-kind, I create one-off pendants that are intended to resemble the wild, rugged coastlines and terrain of many of the remote regions on the globe that have inspired me my entire life. When I decided to incorporate them into the brand, it was in response to the pure engineering I was sometimes experiencing sewing non-stop on my industrial sewing machine. I wanted something more fluid, less rigid than the square edges of bags. Through this need, I created a sculpting technique that I now use as my signature jewelry style.

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I’m enormously intrigued by your brand logo. What was the thought behind its design?

The SIGIL logo was as you may have guessed it, my new personal sigil that I developed at the time I launched my graduate collection and the brand name just stuck. As my final line was intended to reflect outwardly our inner spirit, and to capture our true essence, visually, I thought it would only be right to create the SIGIL brand logo by reflecting my own internal spirit.

I achieved this through channelling the masculine/feminine divine; my deep respect and passion for the great outdoors; both my Nordic and Indian roots; and my love for discovery, growth, and travel. What resulted must have been a direct reflection of my subconscious at work! I have been told the SIGIL logo resembles to many a “compass” which makes me so happy. I’d like to think, that through focusing on the things that we value the most, we “come home” to ourselves and discover our true essence.

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We’ve actually been in contact for several years, and in that time I’ve watched in constant awe as your one-woman-business has grown from strength to strength. Can you please take us back to SIGIL’s humble beginnings and talk us through how you arrived at where you are today – running a business that enables you to explore your deepest passions on a full-time basis?

SIGIL was started back in 2014 when I returned to college to study Apparel Design, here in Seattle. I was designing my final line graduate collection, and really wanted to create something true to my roots and passion – the Arctic and time-honoured, natural fabrics/hides. SIGIL was born as an outward representation of ones’ inner intent though this collection of womens’ outerwear clothing consisting of leather, wool and silk.

Having grown up visiting family in Finland all my life, I infused a dose of Nordic minimalism along with the very avant-garde “hunter” look. After graduation, I worked in the apparel industry for 3 years, while slowly growing and evolving SIGIL in its more familiar and recognizable leather bag & accessories brand.

During college, I had the amazing opportunity to study old world leatherworking techniques with designer Aykut Ozen, who I’m eternally grateful to. This valuable experience allowed me to infuse leatherwork into my bag designs and find my feet, and brand voice. After losing my job quite suddenly in 2017, I decided that was the time to launch SIGIL full-time. During this time, I had toyed with the idea of incorporating jewelry into the brand, and learned a technique that stayed true to the raw, Nordic feel of the entire product line.

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Iceland is one Nordic country that has assisted you enormously in flourishing as a creative, a businesswoman and a human being. It’s been such a joy to observe you reap so much personal happiness and artistic stimulation from the land of fire and ice. Can you tell us about your impressions of Iceland and why it has had such an enormous impact on you and your work?

Iceland, simply put, is a breathtakingly dark, mystical, inspiring land that will change how you see the world, life, and yourself. I say this with the stark awareness that I may only speak for myself, yet the personal impact of nature on this scale is hard to ignore for most. Rarely do we witness such raw beauty to this physical scale in our daily lives. I was unprepared for how deep an impression it would have on me, and how profound a connection I would ultimately forge with its landscape.

After returning from 10 days encircling the island, and witnessing its natural diversity, I knew its impact would stay with me personally, yet also professionally. There was something in the dark, mysterious landscape that spoke to me as a designer. The impression of elemental grandeur immediately left its mark on my imagination, which was – and still is – my largest sourcebook for SIGIL design work. This is where Iceland and SIGIL were instantly connected.

To expand on this a little more, try to imagine this: You’re standing beside a pristine lagoon on the Southeast corner of the island. Past you lazily floats a glowing blue glacier, the size of a building, that has “calved” from Vatnajökull, the island’s largest glacier by volume. That night, after soaking in a natural geothermal pool, you witness the Northern Lights for the first time. You have never seen light play like this, on the blue ice, and in the night sky, and you can only imagine what early settlers would attribute this to.

After I began producing SIGIL jewelry is when I truly found a place for Iceland in my work on a piece-by-piece basis that grew into the brand as a whole. I gravitate toward out-of-the-ordinary minerals, like kyanite and fluorite, and uniquely shaped crystals, as a rule. This, to me, mimics Iceland’s rugged landscape and physical attractions, such as those I’d visited on my now yearly trips. This is really where the lightning struck and the Iceland influence was forged.

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You’re easily one of the most prolific creatives and business owners that I know of, and I’m eager to learn about your working routine! Would you mind talking us through a working day and revealing what aids your productivity when you’re working?

Thank you so much! After I turned SIGIL into my full-time business in 2017, it easily took me an entire year to figure out what routine best worked for me. You have to keep trying new methods, and see what fits best for you and be flexible as your business grows. These days, I wake up around 9:30 a.m. and brew some coffee. My studio is in my home, so it took some time sticking to a schedule! I can’t stress how important this is for productivity.

Once I’m up and caffeinated, I immediately slip into production mode, taking advantage of my best energy levels, despite not being a morning person. Before noon, I generally create new SIGIL jewelry pieces, as the morning light in my studio is perfect at this time. I try to do all my work in natural daylight, and my administrative or computer work in the evenings.

When I’m working with leather hides, I switch to the westernmost part of the studio around 1 p.m., where the stronger afternoon light allows me to best examine the hides, and look for any natural imperfections to work around. Natural light really is my best tool when working on any SIGIL pieces, and knowing when to call it a night. As a business owner, especially working at home, it can be really tough to walk away from work to do anything fun. You can be your own harshest boss! Part of being successful is allowing yourself to have a little fun now and again, and also rest. I try to read a book, and feed my imagination a little every night. It’s so easy to burn out if you don’t, so finding balance is another crucial tool for success.

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I have something of an obsession with the workspaces of creatives and would love to know about yours! Can you describe your working environment and how it has changed since SIGIL began?

It has gone from orderly to chaotic, to ordered chaos. I say this with a grin, as I seem to know exactly where everything is. In an ideal world, I’d have a white room with shelving and storage drawers labelled alphabetically for all of my necessary components. But reality rarely fits our ideal, at least in the SIGIL world. I focus too hard on the final product following my vision, so rarely do I spent time changing my set up, if it works.

The SIGIL studio consists of 4 rooms: storage and sewing/manipulation of leather, the cutting and patternmaking room, the space I reserve for creation of jewelry, and the overflow of crystals and minerals room. This last space is a bit of a grey area, as I sometimes hear gentle reminders from my partner that he lives there too. Fortunately, he too is a creative, and is understanding of my orderly chaotic environment.

Pale Lilac Amethyst PendantMedium Single Point Tessin Habit Quartz Crystal Pendant with Hematite InclusionsSkeletal Amethyst Quartz

Every time you upload a new jewellery piece, I find myself saying, ‘Now this is the most beautiful piece Anita has made…’ You’re forever surprising and wowing me. I’ve always wanted to ask from where you source your crystals, and is there a special process you go through before choosing your materials? For example, are the properties of the crystal important?

Thank you for your kind words! I’ll give you first a little background on my love for crystals and minerals. I have always been fascinated with the natural world, whether it’s geology, mountains, ocean, or on a smaller scale, as with natural specimens. There seems to me a small world that is very personal to everyone in each and every mineral. I have always been able to, in my mind’s eye, see immense structures in small specimens, whether it’s a basalt rock monolith in Reynisfjara, Iceland while peering at black kyanite, or Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Southeast Iceland while working with fluorite minerals.

So, first and foremost, my interest in crystals and minerals is physical, although I have found myself really getting into the metaphysical aspects of the pieces, too. There is a lot to learn in this regard, and it really adds to the decision of which minerals to use, when.

As far as sourcing goes, I try to obtain as many as possible at local gem shows, here in the Pacific Northwest. Oftentimes, the vendors are the miners or work directly with the miners, so I have an understanding of where they originate and I learn a little more about the specimens this way. Lately, SIGIL jewelry has dominated my product line, but I still have an endless passion for leather goods and designing SIGIL leather bags and accessories. I will be creating new pieces at the end of the 2019 (more on that later). When sourcing my NZ and American deer hides, I have two shops I exclusively shop from. Both are mom-and-pop type small businesses and I feel good about supporting the local economies in their respective locations.

Rabbit Fur Trimmed Soft Leather Wrap Cuff with Metal Button Stud Closure

Slender Choker - NZ Deer Hide and Rabbit Fur Trim

SIGIL Medicine Bag with Quartz Crystal

You work a lot with fur, leather, and antler to craft your unique and minimalistic medicine bags, clutches, baby booties (the list goes on!) Can you talk about the experience of working with animal materials and the importance of using ethically sourced supplies?

As mentioned above, I am proud to be using the rare brick-and-mortar domestic businesses to source my leather hides, which extends to rabbit pelts. With big companies taking over so many small family-owned stores in the US, it feels really good to know I’m supporting these smaller companies. I also really like being able to telephone them and speak with knowledgeable staff who care about the products and will call you back if they need to find out answers to your questions, which includes where the animals originate from. One of the stores is right here in Seattle, and this allows me to walk in and physically select the hides/pelts and discuss any concerns with the owners. This makes me feel good passing on what I believe is a high-quality product that is sourced mindfully and with care.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Blue KyaniteSnowflake PendantVatnajökull Clear Quartz Crystal Pendant

As someone who is very much aware of the effects of climate change in the north, upcycling makes up an important part of the SIGIL ethos. Can you talk about your experience with upcycling and the importance it has for you and the rest of us in 2019? Do you have any upcycling tips you would like to share?

Climate change is something near to my heart, and we are really seeing the effects with smoke-filled skies here on the west coast USA for several months each summer. I’ve also witnessed it in the ice cap over Greenland when flying from Iceland back to Seattle. I am always looking for ways to reduce my footprint, and upcycling is one way. Particularly with leather, I aim to use all of the hide to eliminate wastage. I literally have strips of leather set aside waiting for an art project, so I don’t need to throw them away! So much energy has gone into each hide, that wasting any of it feels like a disservice to the earth, and the animal it came from. Leather is so versatile, and the raw edges inspired me to create raw edge pouches (they also remind me of the southern coastline and black sand beaches in Iceland) and the baby booties!

Whenever I use wool, such as in my wool/leather pouches, I also save my clippings and have created pieces that are smaller versions of original pieces, just by considering how to use what would otherwise be disposed of. I recommend to anyone starting out on a creative endeavour to consider less wastage and have a little fun conceptualizing how to utilize your “scraps”.

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I’m madly curious about your life as a creative in Seattle! Would you mind telling us what it’s like to live and work there as a creative woman and business owner?

Seattle has always been friendly to creatives, even as the economy has recently changed with the expansion of the tech industry squeezing out so many affordable spaces in the city. The spirit of creativity is not easily extinguished when you live in such a beautiful region of the world. I am fortunate enough to share a personal space with my life partner, and our space doubles as a creative studio for us both. From my west-facing window, I can see the Olympic Mountains and beautiful sunsets over the Puget Sound, which ushers in ferries coming and going to the nearby islands and Alaska.

If you take some time to gaze out during the busy day, it’s easy to re-center your mind and find inspiration in the nature that is visible from countless places around Seattle. Taking a drive to a hiking trail is often only 30 mins away if you need to find solitude in nature. As far as being a business owner in Seattle, I have found some great resources for small business owners and also teamed up with fellow artists at many vending events. I do a lot of networking and bring SIGIL to new audiences at the many vending events that draw in large crowds. Having a solitary work life, it feels good to get out there and experience these fun events.

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One of the reasons I love to follow you on social media is because it enables me to ‘come along’ on your adventures into the wilderness. I especially enjoy it when you post about the hikes you embark on! Can you talk about one of your all-time favourite hikes and what made it so special?

Chain Lakes Loop trail, in the Olympic Peninsula. If you stop by the ranger station, you can pick up a map and I recommend getting there early. The reason I love this trail is that there isn’t a lot of elevation gain but the visual rewards are high. Expect pristine alpine lakes and epic mountain views, particularly of Mt. Skuksan, which is one of WA state’s most photographed peaks. Don’t forget to fully charge your smartphone or camera, as you’ll be taking more pictures than you can imagine.

Nigredo into Albedo Tibetan Black QuartzStraightAlbedo into Rubedo # 1 Phantom Red Clear Quartz

As an experienced hiker, what practical advice would you give to someone heading out into the wilds to ensure they have a safe and unforgettably amazing experience?

Always pack the 10 essentials and plan on bringing more water than you think you’ll need. Stop by or call ahead to the nearest ranger station to learn about current conditions and don’t take risks for that amazing photo. Too many hikers have perished trying to take an amazing Instagram photo, so keep your wits about you. Always heed weather warnings, and let someone know where you are going. Never approach wildlife, and be aware of daylight limitations in the mountains. Where possible, read reviews online as rangers may not be aware of damage that hikers discover on the trail. And finally, always use sound judgement in sticky situations

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For anyone making plans to travel to Iceland, what recommendations would you like to pass on?

Thanks to the popularity of Iceland as a travel destination in recent years, there are a lot of resources online for learning about where to go, what to do, and what to know before you go. I recommend booking your flight and accommodation 4-6 months in advance. Icelandair is the primary carrier, and with the demise of WOW air, their second airline company, seats are in higher demand, so book early when possible.

I recommend getting out of Reykjavik if you can rent a car, and driving east along the “Ring Road” (the main highway) and adding 1 or 2 hours extra each day for stopping to take photos. Always follow road signs and rules, not only to be a safe driver to others, but because Iceland driving is likely going to be like nowhere you have driven before. The country is the third windiest place on earth, and you learn this very quickly, especially in the Winter, Spring, and Autumn months.

If you don’t plan on driving, take the FlyBus from Keflavik airport and plan to explore the city on foot, but do allow yourself at least one tour bus trip to the Golden Circle. This is very doable even if you only do a quick stopover trip and have 24-48 hours in the country.

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With your roots being in Finland, I’m ever so curious to learn about what aspects of Finnish culture you hold dearest to your heart, and how important is it for you to return home.

Finland is so much a part of who I am, that I am not sure where to start. It really is the one place I can call home, and I am close to my family over there. I was born in London, UK to a Finnish mom and Indian father, yet I grew up immersed in largely Finnish culture for much of the time, while visiting my grandparents for 2 months every year (1 month in summer and in winter).

Like Icelanders, Finns are a hardy people, who have had to work hard to gain their independence (only 101 years ago!) The aspects of Finnish culture that truly mean the most to me include how much the Finns value their connection to nature. Wherever they are, even in the capital city of Helsinki, nature is everywhere, and city planning respects this. Secondly, Finland’s education system is rated the highest in the world. Finns are flexible and believe in placing value in their people, and future generations.

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Do you have any favourite influencers also inspired by the north that you would like to tell us about?

Yes! One of my fellow Pacific Northwest-based artists, Ravnvolk. Justin makes amazing wall sconces and one-of-a-kind candle holders inspired by the north. It’s immediately clear how much work he puts into each and every piece, embodying the spirit of old-world craftsmanship. Check out his work at: etsy.com/shop/Ravnvolk

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What does the rest of 2019 have in store SIGIL?

This is a very exciting year for SIGIL! I am currently in the planning stages for my first ever Iceland-based photoshoot in Fall 2019! I will be creating more elaborate jewelry pieces in a much larger, statement size and more that are currently in the works – please keep tuned over the next few months!

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In your opinion, what do you believe draws people to the north?

There has always seemed to be an intrinsic mystique that draws people to the north, whether it’s remote regions of the globe, such as Greenland, the Canadian Arctic, or any of the 5 Nordic countries. There is a yearning for “getting away” and seeing natural beauty that is largely untouched and breathing clean, glacial air and experience the solitude of a dark, Scandinavian forest. There is a closeness to nature that people of the north innately have, that I think draws many of us, too.

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Finally, in three words, what does ‘North’ mean for you?

Formidable, dark, mystical.

 

All images courtesy of Anita Arora.

 

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