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Guest Post by Paul Nicklen | Nature’s Hymn and the Silence of Winter

October 23, 2022

This is a guest post by WWSG exclusive speaker, Paul Nicklen.

It has always fascinated me the way some of the warmest people I have met are so often at home in the coldest climates on the planet.

“Frozen Highway”View details about this Art Print HERE

The Inuit have a culture of community and love, and it has been an honor to have been welcomed into their homes and invited to share their customs and way of life since I was a young child. Even as a kid growing up in Kimmirut, Baffin Island, it was considered rude to knock on a door and wait for someone to answer it. Every door in the community was open to every person, 24-hours a day. Some nights would be spent playing under the aurora borealis until 3am. Rather than returning home, I could stop in any house on the way home and grab some bannock or warm stew that would be sitting on the kerosene stove.

The most noticeable difference between Qaanaaq, Greenland, and the community I grew up in was the conspicuous absence of snowmobiles. I was four years old when my family moved to Baffin Island in Canada’s vast Nunavut territory. And while there are striking similarities — the low winter sun, the long dark nights in January and February, and the midnight sun in June and July — it is the contrasts that strike the senses.The noise of engines — truck engines, power generators, snowmobile engines — make so much noise that, after a while, we no longer notice it.  In fact, that was my dad’s expertise, to keep all of the diesel engines purring year round in the small northern outpost. Engine noise can startle and displace the wildlife Inuit hunters depend on to survive, though, so they opt for quieter, more traditional means of transportation, such as qamutiiks (Inuktitut for sleds) and qajaqs (Inuktitut for kayaks). Silence is golden. The silence of winter allows polar bears, caribou, Arctic foxes, and other alert animals to roam comfortably just beyond the outskirts of town. With sleds come sled dogs — huskies, in large numbers. The population of Qaanaaq is just 650 people, and yet it is home to more than a thousand dogs.

“Dog Days of Winter”View details about this Art Print HERE

In the image below, an Inuit hunter, Naimangitsoq Kristiansen, controls his team of huskies during a run to the ice edge, where he will hunt to feed his community. These hard-working dogs live to pull, so much so that mushers struggle to keep them from excitedly running off with half-loaded sleds in tow. The relationship between humans and working dogs is critical to survival in the Arctic. It is an often misunderstood partnership that, when witnessed in person, inspires a profound reverence in me.

“Arctic Journey”View details about this Art Print HERE

I felt the power, energy, and rawness of life while living with the Greenlandic Inuit hunters and their huskies in a land beyond time and space. I’ll never forget the intensity of the sled team, the texture of the thin sea ice, and the sheer scale of the mountains that scraped the sky as we approached the floe edge where I captured this image, just 800 miles (1280 km) from the North Pole. It is a brief glimpse of the wilderness we came from — the wilderness we have somehow forgotten.

In the image above, sunlight fades behind distant mountains as Naimangitsoq Kristiansen leads his sled team on an expedition across the sea ice toward the edge, where floes form and open water beckons. Cristina “Mitty” Mittermeier and I had traveled to this snow-covered realm to capture stories of climate change in one of the coldest places on Earth, on assignment for National Geographic and National Geographic Pristine Seas. We would return home with many life-long friendships and countless images revealing the ancient relationship between Inuit culture and the unforgiving ice that shaped it. Of the 70 percent of the Earth’s surface that is water, only 2.5 percent is freshwater — and most of this is frozen in the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, in the moisture of frozen soil and deep aquifers not easily accessible for human use. This is why the effects of climate change on the far north are so critical to climate science and why Mitty and I were there to record it as it’s happening.

Naimangitsoq Kristiansen

The ice is the Inuits’ highway. It is the ecosystem in which many marine mammals and terrestrial animals like polar bears live. In the image below, we waited out a blizzard with our guidesIt wasn’t until hours later that we were able to resume travel across the sea ice with the huskies. Photography has exposed me to many extreme conditions and remarkable people worldwide and yet again I was able to witness the mastery of an extreme and supposedly uninhabitable world.

“Lost in Tradition”View details about this Art Print HERE.

I first fell in love with sled dogs while growing up in Nunavut. I love all dogs, but if I had to pick a favorite breed, I would likely have to choose the powerhouses of the North.

They are not fast compared to their racing counterparts, but they are tough and resilient, like little polar bears. I once saw a single, massive male husky pull eleven fully-grown adults on a sled — a furry engine of the far north.

“Husky Huddle”View details about this Art Print HERE.
“Wise Pack”View details about this Art Print HERE.


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