I first visited Svalbard in 2013, after forming the sudden conviction that I must see go to the Arctic and see the ice. I certainly didn’t have a story in mind, but something was tugging at me to go and have a look. Rubbernecking, maybe: see the ice while it’s still there. Polar bears are all very well, but that wasn’t my focus. I didn’t actually have one, which was relaxing. I was supposed to be on holiday.
The epiphany came when I was temporarily alone on deck – staring out at the peculiar beauty of a slow, semi-frozen satiny black sea full of huge white mosaic pieces of ice. I heard singing. Or rather, the sound of the ice bumping and creaking, I knew that was what it was – but I could also literally hear a strange a-tonal but very beautiful sound coming out of the water itself, as if the ice had a voice and was speaking to me in a tongue I had never heard. I was enchanted as if in a wild fairytale, and very sad to have to turn back when the captain said we might risk being stuck if it moved in and locked around the ship. It had a life, non-human and non-animal, but powerfully present. And I felt it.