The stuff of dreams


iceberg 1I have done some unforgettable kayaking and canoeing trips in my time, skimming across blue green prisms of water, trailing stunning coastlines and river banks, spying on nature in its quiet solitude.

I remember one December sea-kayaking alongside Freycinet National Park in Tasmania; one moment we battled fierce headwinds as we tried to round a rocky headland;  the next, a millpond in front of us where large stingrays appeared suspended below. One Easter, holidaying on Steward Island (New Zealand), we kayaked up Patterson Inlet. There, I encountered my first ever elephant seal. It was in a shallow bay, sighing and huffing so heavily I thought it must be a she, and in labour. Another time, we rafted down the fast-flowing snow-swollen Sunkosi River in Nepal. And, during one magical northern summer, in a Canadian canoe, we paddled the Bowron Lakes in British Columbia, a natural, 116 km quadrangle of rivers and lakes at 2,000 metres altitude on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. It’s deservedly one of the top 10 classic canoe circuits in the world. We drifted beside long-legged moose munching on sweet bulrushes; we saw the telltale signs of beaver homes. That trip made its way in to Books 2 and 3 of The Iceberg Trilogy.

But quite possibly, this all pales in comparison to the recent experience Jennifer Byrne had sea kayaking along the South-east coast of Greenland, near the 80th parallel.  She writes about in her article, Out in the Cold, in the March issue of Qantas’ in-flight magazine.

Reading her account, I felt awe and envy. How do you capture the expanse and grace and otherworldliness of such a place? I think she comes close.

These kayak trips become the stuff of dreams. It is the silence, most of all. The blissful hush as we paddle through the still water, broken only by the splash of seals breaking the surface. The flapping wings of birds. The groan of glaciers and the warning crack of an iceberg about to overturn. We see everything more closely, away from the crowd and constant hum of the ship’s motors. … We paddle, then drift, then paddle again, turning circles around icebergs. … We learn how it feels to be in a world other than the one we know. My sharpest memory is of the silence shattered by gunfire, shot after echoing shot, in reality the sound of ice as the mighty Greenland ice sheet shifts, flows, settles – a living thing, 3 km deep at its centre – the sound of the Earth going about its business.

What about yourself? Have you had some amazing adventures out on the water? And what do you think about the pic above? It really is amazing how deep that ice sheet is.

A little unknown fact about icebergs


Antarctic iceberg


Ever since I heard the story of the Titanic when I was a little girl I have been fascinated with icebergs.

And in 1993 – three years before my first visit to Canada – I went on a trip to the Himalalyas, to Makalu, the fifth highest mountain in the world. And there, no matter how hard you tried, you could never capture in a single photograph, the scale or grandeur of those formidable peaks. Imagine, I thought, just imagine that, as an iceberg, as a floating glacial giant, submerged in icy blue green waters. It is quite astounding to think that when you look at an iceberg, when you look at its mountains and plateaus and valleys, you are looking at something that is largely hidden from sight.

In writing Seldom Come By, I did quite a lot of research on icebergs; quite a lot that I never ended up using, such was my thrall. However all my research did not reveal to me this startling, obvious fact:

that icebergs emanate cold, like fires emanate heat

It was my good friend Leah, a native Newfoundlander, who apprised me of this point. She grew up in St Johns, the capital of Newfoundland, where many a time her world was so fogged in she couldn’t read a street sign just a few metres in front of her. But even on the foggiest of days, even if you couldn’t see a thing through your clouded surrounds, if you were close enough to the coast, you could tell the approach of an iceberg simply because of its halo of cold air.

And from that pivotal conversation, came my opening to Seldom Come By. Thank you, Leah!

Some days she knew they were there, just by a drop in the temperature, if they were close enough, but not today. Today she saw them first, not one but two towering spectacles. In the space of one hour they had come drifting casually into sight, carried along on unseen currents, their presence more than anything marking the shift in seasons. And had she had her head down or her back to the ocean she would have missed them. These floating, breakaway giants calved from the glacial north. Frozen formations that enthralled her with their crystal palaces, soaring peaks and mythical creatures revealed in icy magnitude. How they made the seascape come alive.