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.

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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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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MostNorthern Christmas Book List (Or Books For Jólabókaflóð)

Iceland’s relationship with books is one that, as a writer and bibliophile, has me in tears. I could move to the the land of ice and fire quite happily based solely on how passionate everyone is about literature.

It’s estimated that 1 in 10 Icelanders will write a book in their lifetime and the small, Nordic country has more writers, more books published and more books read than anywhere else in the world.

It came as no surprise to  learn Iceland has a special celebration for books, one which practically the whole country participates in. It’s called jólabókaflóð which translates to the ‘Christmas Book Flood.’

The celebration actually begins in September, when the Icelandic Book Association posts a book catalogue to every home in Iceland. (The catalogue is called Bókatíðindi and you can browse this year’s edition here if you would like.)

So, from September onward there’s a book buying hysteria in Iceland, which culminates on Christmas Eve when people gift each other the books they’ve been frantically buying. The rest of the evening is then spent reading. I can’t think of anything more perfect than that.

I believe so strongly that we need to be more Icelandic when it comes to our relationship with books, that I’ve put together a list of northerly reads to inspire your own jólabókaflóð.

Icelanders give paperback books on Christmas Eve, but the ones I’ve listed here are all available on Amazon Kindle, so you can have them pretty much instantly to read. If you don’t have a Kindle, (I don’t) no stress, you can download the FREE Kindle app here for IOS, Android, Mac and PC.

Happy reading!

Ice Bear By Michael Engelhard

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I’ve been wanting to read Ice Bear ever since it popped up on Amazon as a recommended read a month or so ago.

While it’s the priciest book on this list, with the Kindle Edition coming in at a hefty £15.21 if you’re invested in deepening your knowledge of this most important and beautiful species, it’s entirely worth it.

“From Inuit shamans to Jean Harlow lounging on a bearskin rug, from the cubs trained to pull sleds toward the North Pole to “cuddly” superstar Knut, it all comes to life in these pages.

With meticulous research and more than 160 illustrations, the author brings into focus this powerful and elusive animal. Doing so, he delves into the stories we tell about Nature–and about ourselves–hoping for a future in which such tales still matter.” – Amazon.

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

Dark Matter is one of my all-time favourite books, and I featured it in my Top Ten Ten Books About The North list  back in February. It’s a gloriously creepy ghost story set in 51HeHhcACUL._SY346_the High Arctic and it leaves no nerve unturned.

For years I longed for a book like Dark Matter and when it came along, it was everything I wanted and more. There’s a really good reason this book has nearly 400 reviews on Amazon and almost a full 5 stars. If you choose Dark Matter, you’ll be up all night reading, I promise.

‘January 1937. Clouds of war are gathering over a fogbound London. Twenty-eight year old Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life. So when he’s offered the chance to join an Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway: five men and eight huskies, crossing the Barents Sea by the light of the midnight sun. At last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year. Gruhuken.

But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. He faces a stark choice. Stay or go. Soon he will see the last of the sun, as the polar night engulfs the camp in months of darkness. Soon he will reach the point of no return – when the sea will freeze, making escape impossible.

And Gruhuken is not uninhabited. Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

The Nordic Theory Of Everything By Anu Partanen

The Nordic Theory Of Everything is another book I’ve been longing to read, and now that it’s available on Kindle for 99p I’ll be delving into it this Christmas eve. Since living in Sweden, it’s come to my attention that, actually, not everything is as rosy as the majority of literature out there would lead you to believe…so it’ll be really interesting to read, reflect and no doubt debate the theories within its 432 pages, even if I’m outnumbered 10 to 1 this Christmas time.

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‘From childcare to healthcare provision for the elderly and tackling issues of homelessness, the Nordic countries are world leaders in organising society – no wonder Finland has been ranked among the happiest places in the world.

But when Finnish journalist Anu Partanen moved to America, she quickly realised that navigating the basics of everyday life was overly complicated compared to how society was organised in her homeland. From the complications of buying a mobile, to the arduous task of filing taxes, she knew there was a better way and as she got to know her new neighbours she discovered that they too shared her deep apprehensions.

The Nordic Theory of Everything details Partanen’s mission to understand why America (and much of the Western world) suffers from so much inequality and struggling social services. Filled with fascinating insights, advice and practical solutions, she makes a convincing argument that we can rebuild society, rekindle optimism and become more autonomous people by following in the footsteps of our neighbours to the North.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Reindeer An Arctic Life By Tilly Smith

I saw the cover of this book and thought to myself, ‘if I don’t enjoy this, I’m going to be really disappointed.’ I needn’t have worried though, as I took advantage of the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, had a read of a few pages and knew it was going to be a beautiful, captivating and enlightenment little read, from which I’d come away from a more learned and inspired reindeer obsessive.

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‘In this enchanting book, Tilly Smith leads the reader through the cold and extraordinary natural history of the reindeer.

A creature that is often used to adorn the winter season, the reindeer has been domesticated in Eurasia for longer than the horse while in North America it exists side by side with the humans, never tamed yet vital to the native settlements.

Despite the popularity of the image of the reindeer, they are rarely seen in real life.

This beautiful, comforting little book, peppered with anecdotes about the author’s own herd, is sure to kindle affection for one of nature’s most adaptable mammals, from fur-covered hooves to downy antlers.’ – The History Press

Buy it here.

 

Tales Of Iceland Or Running With The Huldefolk In The Permanent Daylight By Stephen Markley

While I’ve read (very) mixed reviews about this ‘fast, fun, educational and true story’ written by a journalist from Chicago who went to Iceland with his two friends, one of whom, Matthew Trinetti, is the main character in the book, it intrigued the hell out of me. And, seen as though I can get it free on Kindle Unlimited (if you don’t have Kindle Unlimited, get it. Seriously. It’s brilliant.) I thought why not.

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‘When American author Stephen Markley was a fresh-faced, impressionable university student in Ohio, he saw Quentin Tarantino describe a trip he’d taken to Iceland.

“Supermodels working at McDonald’s,” said Tarantino of the Icelandic. Markley never forgot those words.

Seven years later, Markley set out with two friends for Iceland, and adventure would ensue. The three young men found a country straddling Europe and North America, recovering from its 2008 economic crisis, struggling to regain its national identity, influenced by the entire globe yet trafficking in its singular Icelandic sagas and legends.

With Tales of Iceland, Markley delivers the fastest, funniest memoir and travelogue of an American experience in Iceland.

Beware: You will NOT learn how to say “Which way to the potato farm” in the Icelandic language. Nor will you learn how to locate the finest dining options in Reykjavik, or the best opera house. This is not that kind of travel book. Markley and his two irrepressible twenty-something American pals do not like opera, had no money to eat much besides eggs and skyr, and learned only how to say “Skál!” “Takk,” and “Skyr.” – Amazon

Buy it here.

Icebreaker By Horatio Clare

I only found out about this book and it’s author Horatio Clare today, but this book is on my ‘must read before the end of 2018 list.’

‘We are celebrating a hundred years since independence this year: how would you like to travel on a government icebreaker?’

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A message from the Finnish embassy launches Horatio Clare on a voyage around an extraordinary country and an unearthly place, the frozen Bay of Bothnia, just short of the Arctic circle. Travelling with the crew of Icebreaker Otso, Horatio, whose last adventure saw him embedded on Maersk container vessels for the bestseller Down to the Sea in Ships, discovers stories of Finland, of her mariners and of ice.

Finland is an enigmatic place, famous for its educational miracle, healthcare and gender equality – as well as Nokia, Angry Birds, saunas, questionable cuisine and deep taciturnity. Aboard Otso Horatio gets to know the men who make up her crew, and explores Finland’s history and character. Surrounded by the extraordinary colours and conditions of a frozen sea, he also comes to understand something of the complexity and fragile beauty of ice, a near-miraculous substance which cools the planet, gives the stars their twinkle and which may hold all our futures in its crystals.’ – Amazon

Buy it here.

Other Titles To Check Out

ScandiKitchen: Fika & Hygge By Bronte Aurell

Wild Guide: Scandinavia By Ben Love

Scandinavian Christmas By Trine Hahnemann

Finding Sisu: In Search Of Courage, Strength And Happiness The Finnish Way By Katja Pantzar

Folklore: The Northlore Series Edited By MJ Kobernus

 

 

 

You’ll Want To See These Icelandic Wild Horses

Oh Iceland, such a spectacular, fantastical, mesmerizing country.  Everyone that travels to its shores is always left profoundly affected by its magnificence. And magnificence isn’t a word that I use lightly. Iceland is a world away from the world most of us know.

One such person who was stirred up by Iceland – and its wild horses – is New York City based photographer Drew Doggett, who travelled to the country with the intention of capturing ‘the unique relationship between this land and the horses.’

“Throughout all of my work, I find that I am consistently drawn towards places on Earth that are near-impossible. Iceland is a surreal place, and the horses are the perfect companions to this unusual yet breathtaking land; the combination of the two is truly unforgettable.” – Bored Panda

Drew usually creates his work in black and white, but said that this series – which he called In The Realm of Legends, ‘demanded colour.’ Drew said he wants to leave viewers with ‘feelings of ‘collective nostalgia, inspiration, and fantasy.’

Make sure to stay around for the short film, which is scored by Christopher Ward, a multi-platinum Oscar and Grammy-winning composer.

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Your Daily 5 Nordic Facts : Iceland

  1. At about 39,000 square miles, Iceland is the same size as Cuba.
  2. There’s a volcanic eruption approximately every 4 years.
  3. Icelandic horses have two additional gaits as compared to all other breeds.
  4. Iceland was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans.
  5. Raw puffin heart is an Icelandic delicacy.

Sources that helped me find this stuff: FactRepublic.comLandLopers.com, Quora

 

 

Your Daily 5 Nordic Facts : Iceland

  1. In Iceland’s capital city Reykjavik, sidewalks are heated by geothermal heat during winter.
  2. In 2012 a woman changed clothes while on a tour of Iceland. People thought she went missing because they didn’t recognize her. The woman then joined a search party looking for herself.
  3. Iceland is the only country in the world where 100% of the population has the internet.
  4. Iceland is the only country that’s mosquito free.
  5. Iceland’s population is so tiny that there’s an anti-incest app so you don’t end up getting it on with a family member on a night out.

 

Sources that helped me find out this stuff: FactRepublic.com, Quora

Pulse Of The Arctic : Increase Your Arctic Awareness

Increasing awareness about the Arctic and what’s going on at the top of the world has never been more important.

So once a week I will be sharing pivotal research material – from news stories to Ted Talks – for anyone interested in developing their knowledge about climate change and the effects it has on the north.

Watch :  Time-Lapse Proof Of Extreme Ice Loss

National Geographic photographer, scientist and adventurer James Balog has been photographing human modification of our planet’s natural systems for 35 years, and is one of the most important climate change activists we have breathing today.

This stirring, intelligent, powerful TED talk discusses the power science and art can have when they come together, and the visible changes Balog has documented of the ice we are so rapidly losing – 95% of the glaciers in the world are melting as I write.

If you feel you need more after the talk, Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice is available on Netflix. The time lapse photography of retreating glaciers will open your mind to new planes of thought about climate change.

Read : Arctic Birds, Seals And Reindeer Killed By Marine Plastics

A new report illustrates the scale of contamination in the Norwegian and Barents Seas north of Scandinavia, and shows that no corner of the Earth is immune from the scourge of plastic pollution.

Virtually everywhere researchers look they find plastic, according to the report by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Even in remote areas with relatively low human impact, it says the concentration of plastic waste in the European Arctic is now comparable or even higher than in more urban and populated areas.

And there are signs the amount of plastic is increasing, with global plastic production reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015 and predicted to grow by around 4 per cent a year.

If you’re interested in getting daily news about the Arctic and climate change, I recommend you visit Google Alerts . The site monitors the internet for the content you have specified that you’d like to receive, and emails it directly to you.

Listen : Arctic Fever, A Spoken Word/Dark Ambient Album

Arctic Fever is a spoken word/dark ambient album featuring my poetry intertwined with the music of Crown of Asteria.

Centered around the thawing of the Arctic, Arctic Fever portrays how the catastrophic changes are impacting the peoples, flora and fauna of the far north.

While the listener will have an insight into what is happening now in the north, they will also have the opportunity to envisage what life was like at the top of the world, before the Arctic was cursed with whisky, organised religion, diseases and heat.

Arctic Fever is a homage to the Arctic, and all who dwell there, who are experiencing, in real time, the sea ice lessen, the permafrost weaken and the north they have forever know disappear.

Look : Art By Takeshi Kawano

Takeshi Kawano

Katie – Your Eyes In The North

My Top 10 Books About The North

The other day I was (sadly) complaining about a book I’d bought and read recently called Scandinavians by Robert Ferguson.

I rarely buy myself to a brand new book, but I was so absolutely sure that Ferguson was going to offer me 455 pages of potentially award winning literature, that I shelled out the £12 it cost on Amazon – it’s very newly published – believing it would be one of the best investments of 2018. (I’d previously really enjoyed his book The Hammer & The Cross : A New History Of The Vikings.)

One of the best investments it was not, and I was so disappointed I almost cried when I was done reading it.

Let it be known that I really hate it when I have to complain about a book, and if I don’t enjoy something, it’s not often that anyone else knows about it. There’s enough negative energy surging through the internet as it is without me ranting about every book I haven’t enjoyed.

However, something GOOD actually came from my bad experience with Scandinavians. My dissatisfaction led me make a post about it on Facebook, which led to a friend suggesting I make a blog post about my 10 favourite books about the far north, which then led to this post.

Every book listed here has deeply enhanced my knowledge, understanding and love of the north…and if any of them have touched you in a profound way, please comment and let me know!

I’m also interested in any suggested reading you have for me. Oh, and a final thing, if Viking history is your passion, do check out The Hammer & The Cross. Ferguson got it very right with this one.

Arctic Dreams By Barry Lopez

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My copy of Arctic Dreams, the award winning study of the Arctic by Barry Lopez (also the author of the outstanding book Of Wolves & Men) has been re-read so many times the pages have shed their whiteness, and have taken on that comforting softness that loved books adopt.

Practically each page has at least two of three paragraphs underlined or highlighted, and it still holds Post-It-Notes from several years ago.

Using just the most sublime prose, Lopez honours the Arctic, its history and landscape, its people, flora and fauna. He examines our deep fascination with the Arctic and why we find such a hostile environment so inviting.

One of my favourite of the nine chapters, though it is SO hard to choose, is Tornarssuk, a wedge  dedicated to history, present and future of Ursus maritiumus aka the wandering king of the polar north.

Buy it here.

This Cold Heaven By Gretal Ehrlich

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One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life was to invest in the writing of the goddess of the cold, Gretel Ehrlich.

Dedicated to ‘those who travel the path of ice,’ This Cold Heaven has everything you could hope to find in a book about the landscape, history and peoples of Greenland. I don’t actually have the strength to count how many Post-It-Notes I’ve crammed into it over the years.

In this spectacular work, Ehrlich provides an intensive, addictive narrative of her personal experiences travelling across Greenland (the largest island on earth, with all but 5% covered by a vast ice sheet) and her personal encounters with the Greenlandic Inuit.

It’s a book so wonderfully dense with wisdom that it’s virtually impossible to take in everything on the first read. You must return to it time and again to fully experience the ‘realm of the great dark, of ice pavilions, polar bears and Eskimo nomads.’

Buy it here.

Dark Matter By Michelle Paver

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It was a happy accident that I encountered the novel Dark Matter by Michelle Paver in the library a few years ago.

Unlike her previous books for children, which I wasn’t too fond of, Dark Matter is unputdownable. I think I finished it in a night and was left gagging for more. It’s one of the best ghost stories I have ever read and I’m not exaggerating.

The story takes place in 1937. 28 year old Jack lost, lonely and poor, so when offered the opportunity to join an Arctic expedition, he leaps at the chance.

However once him and his team arrive at the uninhabited bay where they’re supposed to spend the next year, Jack begins to feel uneasy, and one by one, his companions start to leave…

Buy it here.

The Magnetic North By Sara Wheeler

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It was on one of my expeditions to Amazon that I found The Magnetic North by Sara Wheeler.

While her prose isn’t, I don’t think, as intense as Lopez or Ehrlich (and I favor intense) this volume about Wheeler’s travels through the Arctic is powerful, thought-provoking and, at times, immensely  poetic.

The variety covered in The Magnetic North is one of the things that’s makes it so readable, and by the end I was hugely envious of everything Wheeler had the opportunity to experience. I was particularly jealous of her time spent herding reindeer across the tundra with Lapps.

Magnetic North is a book which will make you think and think hard about the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of the Arctic. One of the ugly aspects that shook me the worst was reading about the bioaccumulated toxins in polar bears.

Buy it here.

5The Arctic : An Anthology Edited By Elizabeth Kolbert

In England, our best known bookstore is called Waterstones. It’s also the most expensive, and I could very rarely buy anything from there, unless I was in possession of a holy gift card.

At £8.99 The Arctic : An Anthology was one of the only things I could splurge on. But how it was worth it! It’s a close to perfect blend of writing about the science, nature, history, peoples and stories of the Arctic.

Published by Granta (one of my favourite publishers) The Arctic is an extraordinarily insightful read – though it’s FAR too short – featuring essential writings on our most precious polar region and its future.

Naturally Lopez and Ehrlich are in there, but there’s also works from the likes of Jack London, Rockwell Kent, Fridtjof Nansen and Knud Rasmussen.

Buy it here.

The Almost Nearly Perfect People By Michael Booth

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While finding really good books written about the Arctic isn’t that difficult, finding really good books written about Scandinavian culture is, I think, a challenge.

There just aren’t enough books getting published that are really sold reads. (Though I hope to change this in the near future.)

The Almost Nearly Perfect People however, is EXCELLENT. Instead of relying on the accounts of others, Michael Booth explores the cultures of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland using his own eyes and experiences.

He’s a funny, insightful and intelligent writer who, while highlighting the great things about living in the north, brings it to our attention that, actually, shit happens in Scandinavia too, and it isn’t all as dreamy as so many of us have been led to believe.

Buy it here.

Wild By Jay Griffiths

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Wild is one of those books that changed my life. And I don’t say that lightly. I found it at random in the library back in 2008 and after reading the first page, clung to it like it was my life raft.

I ranted and raved to anyone who would listen, about Jay Griffiths enlightening work in which she endeavoured to explore the wildernesses of earth, ice, water and fire.

While it isn’t all about the north – there’s one chapter called Ice which is northerly focused – I thought it essential I mention it here because her experiences and thoughts of the north are so profound, so moving, so aware that she can alter your way of thinking in a heartbeat.

Griffiths is one of the most important nature writers we have. Her ear is forever pressed to the ground.

Buy it here.

The Fellowship Of Ghosts By Paul Watkins

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I can’t remember if my Dad bought my this or if I did…either way, it was found in Pound Land. Yes. One of my favourite books about the north cost a quid in a bargain shop. Why it was there exactly isn’t something I like to dwell on because this author deserves ALL the readers.

When it first arrived in my hands, I knew it was going to be a winner not only because of  it’s spectacular front cover, but because it was published by National Geographic, and National Geographic do not piss about. Everything they publish is of THE highest quality.

The Fellowship Of Ghosts is a compelling narrative about Paul Watkin’s solo trek through the wilds of Norway’s Rondane and Jutunheimen mountains.

His descriptions of the challenging terrain he encounters on his journey is nothing less than spellbinding, and his natural ability to to weave together the connections between the Norwegian landscape and the myths and people found there makes for an exhilarating read.

Buy it here.

True North By Gavin Francis

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I was fortunate that back in England, my local library had quite the collection of Arctic literature, and among that collection was True North by Gavin Francis.

Although it’s been a few years since I read it, I can remember that I always had a pen and notebook so I could scribble down his impressions of journeying through the Shetland Isles, the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland, Svalbard and on to Lapland. (Envious am I? Naturally.)

True North is an engrossing insight into how the region of the Arctic has adapted to the 21st Century. I learned plenty from this book, and intend on returning to it asap to refresh my knowledge.

Buy it here.

Faces Of The North By Ragnar Axelsson

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I was first introduced to the work of Icelandic photographer Ragnar Axelsson in 2008 when I was at University and working on a novel about Iceland.

A teacher lent me his copy of Faces Of The North (not without a lecture on how valuable it was first off though, to ensure it was well looked after.)

From the moment I saw the cover (can you taste the salt of the sea on your lips too?) I was happily stolen away from my life in England. Naturally, I didn’t want to give it back to my teacher. The impression it had left was soul deep.

This art book is as perfect as art books come, and through around 100 heart-stirring photographs of Greenland, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands, documents the vanishing lifestyle of the north.

Buy it here.

Katie – Your Eyes In The North