farewell letter to the arctic

Images & Words Alexander Kopatz-

I am leaving. I thought this day would be much further in the future, but I am leaving the Arctic. After seven years of living and working at almost 70 degrees North it is time to say goodbye to the Arctic. I feel sadness at the thought of leaving and I wonder how I will cope with not being in the environment that has impressed me and resonated in my soul and heart more than anything else before. The Arctic is so special to me because it helped me discover something I thought I did not have, my visual creativity. After finishing high school in Germany I struggled to find out what I really wanted to do in life. I was torn back and forth by the choices of doing what most people thought would be best: finding “a good job”, which meant to go into business or law, or pursue my interest in science and study biology or chase my passion for design and architecture. In the end, as I believed I was not talented enough to get into art school, I went and got a degree in biology.

During my studies and later in my job as a researcher studying brown bears I moved from one place to another, never being too long at one place. With every move to another place I had to leave a part of my life and, sadly, also friends behind. But I also made new friends at the new places, keeping busy with getting to know everything, going to parties, having what is commonly referred to as a “social life”. And then I moved to Northern Norway and my life changed drastically: all of a sudden I was at a very remote place with little possibilities of “going out”. And the remoteness was not the only thing that was extreme, there were also the extreme conditions in nature. The sun does not rise above the horizon for two months in winter and in summer, it does not set for two months. Temperatures may vary hourly, depending on season, and cover a scale of minus 30 degrees Celsius in late winter and less to plus 30 degrees on a few occasions in summer.

First, I was a bit afraid of settling that far North. But when I arrived in the Arctic, with the Barents Sea in the North and Russia right at the doorstep in the East, with only about 70,000 people inhabiting the county of Finnmark, Norway’s largest county, larger than the Netherlands, I discovered that it is one of the most beautiful parts of the world. The light and the landscapes of Arctic Norway immediately blew me away, cheered me up and rewarded me with beautiful views when I was working in the field to study brown bears. The distinctive landscape was probably the first thing I noticed when I started to explore the surroundings. On the one hand, there are the refuge areas of forests with their short growing pines and birches, on the other there are the coastlines and alpine areas dominated by rocks. And although I struggled during my first winter up here, I found the polar night strangely attractive. For two months there is no sunrise. Light and darkness are out of balance. But the remaining light often creates fantastic ambient light with colors of pink, orange or blue dominating.

© All pictures Alexander Kopatz

All these impressions stimulated my senses and mind. After I shot the Northern lights for the first time with my camera, I was hooked trying to capture the wild beauty of the North. Getting outside into the Arctic constitutes a stark contrast to the office nature of analyzing data I have to do in my job. In the solitude of the forests and the tundra, I discovered my creativity, something I thought I did not have. I still would not consider myself an artist, but being in the field with my camera has become an important part of me. To me, it is like meditation.

More of this essay in our NL1 magazine!