I was thinking the other day about what my favourite place *to* be would be, as compared to places that I *have* been. The two are obviously conflated, but though I have seem many magical things with wildlife, most often by change, when thinking of places when I’d just like to be there and see what happens I can only think of being on the bow of a ship in the Arctic at sunrise or sunset. This is sunset, made abstract, blurring parts of the cloud layer and sea by panning the camera horizontally on a tripod with a slow exposure (0.6s).
It may be abstract but to me it signifies travel, change, movement. From A to B, dissolution, fade. On a boat these are times of controlled peace. In the morning, perhaps 4 or 5am, you rise and gradually piece your polar layers around your body, velcro sticking together, thermal underwear straps wrapping around itself, gloves mysteriously missing, and bring your camera gear together – a far harder task. (“should I take a 10 stop ND filter out when there is no sun?”)
To deck, and collect a hot coffee en route, and then haul open the heavy sea doors, a biting cold and the fresh salty air, a single breath invigorating your entire being.
Hopefully, there are a few of you around. This is one of the times of day when I welcome fellow passengers – if they have been through the above, they understand why it’s worth it and the peace that descends. Conversations are sparse, a nod of the head, and we space out around the desk, almost ensuring your field of view is without human influence, perhaps hanging over the edge a little to soak it in.
At night on a ship, dinner is convivial and excitable and all about the evening – the sun has ‘gone’, so it’s time to look inward. Yet we know that you miss so much if you put the shutters down. You don’t feel the last wisps of heat from our star as they bounce around the earth, tingeing the clouds and stroking the sea. These are rare, rare moments, dramatic only when you are there, watching, seeing, and feeling. Dinner can wait.
Two Arctic hares on the rocky hillside overlooking Blomsterbukten, eastern Greenland. This shot is important to me because of what happened before, and illustrates why wildlife photographers need to understand nature perhaps more than they need to understand photography.
Arriving on the coast via Zodiac, we split into rough groups and walked up a shallow valley to reach the lake over the hill. One small group caught a glimpse of something white on the valley slope – it was September, so the Greenland coast was free of snow. A hare! In glorious white, quietly watching the scene.
Most people know hares and rabbits are very skittish and will disappear in a flash, so we slowly got prepared to set up a photograph, no sudden movements, taking time to be quiet and unobtrusive. Except for one fellow traveller. Zoom lens up, he walked directly toward the hare, perhaps unaware of his pace as he tried to grab the shot. People who are familiar working with animals may empathise when I say I could ‘feel’ the danger zone around the hare, the circumference line where it would bolt if anything crossed into its territory. I winced as I saw the photographer cross over my invisible line, and bang – the hare was up and over the crest of the hill, out of sight.
The group shrugged and walked on while I bristled at the lack of respect for the residents of this region, a place where we were visitors, guests. This, though, became my mission. I splintered off from the group and circled round to the other side of the hill, ascending slowly and always keeping eyes peeled. When you do this you become aware of the time elapsed, and start to feel downtrodden as the slow travel just adds minutes and metres to the hare’s escape.
As I peeped over the hill, I froze. Barely 10 metres in front me, TWO HARES! A blessing, a reward. I unfolded my tripod very slowly (for video stabilisation rather than stills) and settled down. The three of us sat quietly on the hillside overlooking the majestic Greenland scenery for a good 25 minutes – they played, cleaned, chewed, and as here, gazed into each other’s eyes, before bouncing off around the corner. I didn’t follow them – this is their place.
I descended back the way I’d came and walked round to join the group – no animal sightings for them, and it turns out Marie was having a wild time taking landscape shots while unconsciously sinking slowly into a sticky, muddy bog. I was pleased – I think I took the right path, but it was a mental path, not just a physical one. Approaching your wildlife photography with respect, caution, and patience is rewarding in the images you can create, and in the lift it gives your soul. Those 25 minutes are very special to me not because of the photos, but because the hares allowed me into their home.
Welcome to Kolaybyn Eco Lodge in Sweden.
Granted this place is not for everyone…
• You sleep on wooden bed in a wooden hut
• You have to walk to the composting toilets in the dark
• You have birds flying into your cabin through the cracks above the door to wake you up
• Room service is nonexistent – you have to first make a fire and then make your own breakfast…oh and did I mention you need to get water from the well first, taking care not to disturb or displease the fairies who watch over the well?
• You have no showers, baths or running water of any variety. If you need to wash, you do so in the stream or throw yourself into the lake
• Oh – and visit in winter and it is cold…so, so cold. So to warm yourselves up you light a fire… But did I mention you first need to chop the wood yourself?
All the above are reasons why this place is so, so, so incredible. Given that it is a living nightmare for so many people – you’re guaranteed to only stay with like-minded people who love the outdoors and relish every moment with no mobile signal and no electricity. It’s one of my most favourite places to stay of all time…and I did so whilst suffering from raging flu! I dream about this place night and day and I am frantically plotting when I can return.
It’d be wrong of me to write a review and not mention how fantastic the camp managers and guides are who operate out of Kolarbyn. They are so friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable – they’ll advise you on the tastiest mushrooms to pick from the forest, identify the best places to see wildlife and will share their lovely warm coffee with you when you wake from a very late lie in. Bliss!
I love that animals are getting into the mood of Movember and are supporting their very own incredible facial hair
Nothing/something hides in the undergrowth in woods in Sweden.