I stepped out of the Huey and onto the Uummannaq helipad in August 2006. A newly-baked teacher, fresh out of a Danish Teaching College, and desperate to begin my new life, together with my wife, in the Arctic. At last, after so many years of dreaming of snow, ice, dogs, and whales, I had arrived. I was on “the frontier”, at the very edge of my known world, and ready to tip off and into the unknown. I had lived, dreamed and fed on years of romantic claptrap, and it had brought me to that very moment. Sure, I had dipped my toes in the Arctic as a kennel helper at a sled dog kennel in Alta, Norway. Jane and I had paddled our canoe for a week or so above the Arctic Circle in Sweden. But this was it. The real Arctic.
It was also the first time I had ever really listened to Johnny Cash.
I discovered that the so-called frontier was a real place, with real people going about their lives, not in a time bubble, but in a connected world that was, at times, speeding them too damned fast towards the future, when one foot was lingering in the past.
My pupils were avid music enthusiasts with a greater and more varied vocabulary than my own. In fact, during my time in Greenland, I began to wonder if there were any Greenlanders that couldn’t play the guitar, or aspire to it at the very least. The time-bubble idea burst right along with the idea that we were living on the frontier. Sure, I heard whales swimming beneath the Northern Lights as I fed my sledge dogs on the rocks outside our house, but that was the norm. That and Johnny Cash, Roger Waters and every pop idol you can shake a stick at.
I remember seeing the first cruise ship passengers arrive in Uummannaq. Grey-haired adventurers, many of whom were rich enough to make the journey of a lifetime, but often too frail to wander more than a few hundred metres away from the boat. I watched as a particular group gave out crayons and balloons to the local, younger, kids. One of the kids sent a text on his mobile to tell his friends to hurry up, the tourists had arrived.
Scenes like that woke me up to the reality that was Greenland. The tour companies need the small towns and villages to remain museum pieces, but the kids, their parents, and grandparents, need to keep up with the times, get better and faster Internet services and rates, while still preserving the traditions and passing on the knowledge of their culture.
Which brings me back to Johnny Cash, and to the film Logan. The blend of Cash’s voice (a cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails) and a real human interest story wrapped up in a superhero movie, well, I was sold. In a way, there are comparisons to be made. Life is tough in Greenland, the environment, the distances, the challenges in providing services to remote communities, all contribute to a life that requires grit and determination. Not everyone has it. For some, the challenge is far greater than for others, but that determination, across the generations, in spite of everything and because of everything, well, you can see it in the eyes of the kids, their parents, and their grandparents.
Sometimes it hurts.
But when did a little hurt stop anybody?
My character of Konstabel Fenna Brongaard hurts in The Ice Star. So do other characters around her, and some more than others. But wrapped up inside the character of Maratse, the policeman, you’ll find the spirit of Greenland, and I look forward to letting him show just how strong that spirit is in future books.
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