"Ponderynge together yestardayes promise, and two-dayes doyng"
(Hall's Chronicle - 1548)


"Goronigl gwyr yr Ynys" (Lewis Glyn Cothi - 1450)

Monday, 16 March 2015

The North Star


In places where it gets very cold they have stories about it like this one:
When a person walks a corridor forms in the mist. It has the shape of the person and remains afterwards as the person’s shape in the mist. We can tell from the shapes in the mist which of our friends have already gone to school as they set out through their own corridors. If there are no corridors it means that classes have been cancelled because the cold is so great. Sometimes a corridor is very crooked and then suddenly stops. This means that some drunk was walking and tripped and has frozen to death. Then the corridor looks like a dead-end street.
(adapted from a story told by a schoolgirl in Siberia to Ryszard Kapuściński)

Survival must be a constant concern to those who inhabit the coldest places, the need to keep warm a constant preoccupation. But there is a depth and emotional intensity to extreme cold that doesn’t correspond to extreme heat. At least that how it seems to me. Cold, though unpleasant, has its own life which exerts a strong attractive force like magnetism, as if the pull of the North always points our inner compass in that direction. Cold places are the home of spectacular natural displays like the Northern Lights. There is an atmosphere about the far North too, even in Summer, which embodies a quiet stillness of spirit, or so it has seemed to me when I have travelled there.

Perhaps it is the same in respect of the South for those living in the southern hemisphere? Certainly the Antarctic has its own intense images recorded by those who have spent time there. In the 1930’s Richard Byrd was alone at a meteorological station on the Antarctic ice shelf and spoke of the magnification of the atmosphere causing him to see cliffs several thousand feet tall. Other effects included the sky appearing to shatter like broken glass as ice crystals fell across the face of the sun ; “and at once in the golden downpour a slender column of platinum leaped up from the horizon, clean through the sun’s core; a second luminous shadow formed horizontally through the sun, making a perfect cross. Presently two miniature suns, green and yellow in colour, flipped simultaneously to the ends of each arm. These are parhelia, the most dramatic of all refraction phenomena ; nothing is lovelier.”

Such images live in the imagination even for those who have not travelled to these places. Far or near the North Star calls to mariners across the seas of inner space and the cold contains the spirit of those who sail there. Icebound the frozen seas creak and the vastness of the silent and enduring night can move us even as we sit by our winter fires or look out at the slowly emerging Spring.

2 comments:

Lee said...

I think for me the thing about Cold is the stillness. When it cold (and particularly if it has been snowing) then the world feels tangibly different, as if the air itself and the land around it has a different quality. The stillness that comes from cold is a change from the norm so we can immerse ourselves in it and enjoy just being with ourselves.

the other aspect is that when it's cold we get to wrap up warm, wear comfy clothes, eat comforting foods, open fires...all thing which have forged a link between cold and comfort/cosiness.

Conversely, when its hot everything is more energetic, less stillness, no peace or sense of peace. it also gets to a point where you cant adapt to it and it gets stifling, uncomfortable.

I am very much cold person :)

Lorna Smithers said...

Woah... I was completely awe-struck by the images of people remaining in the mist and the crooked imprint of the fallen tramp... yes the North holds a fascination for me... there is something about the North Star, the Northing, the connection of the North to midnight and the midnight sun...

A while back I wrote a poem about a city in the imaginal north before the North Star / Polaris... https://sites.google.com/a/newmyths.com/nmwebsite/poems/city-of-stone I also like the rock song!

So this was what drew you to your Artic travels...