Three months after my trip to Greenland in June 2016, I sometimes find myself thinking back to the unique sort of peace I felt there. In particular, I think of the walks I went on.
It’s a strange sort of experience, the midnight sun. It throws off your body clock and leaves you with a sense of disorientation that you can’t fix by being rational. Telling your body, “it’s always daylight” doesn’t quite cut it. Your body just shouts back, “When do I rest?”
The idea is to trick yourself into thinking it’s bedtime – closing the blinds tightly, having a warm shower, then reading under the covers. You have to forget about time, lose your commitment to it, and stop thinking it will play by your rules. But I think deep down you still know. The sun’s up out there.
I recently found out that Greenland has an extremely high suicide rate, and it’s not always because of the dark winter months. The lack of darkness in summer might even be more to blame. I wonder what I would’ve thought of this if I found out about it before my trip, or during it.
Now, when I think about Greenland, I think back to the deliriousness of going out walking when it should’ve been pitch black. Some nights I was out after 2 am – having been kayaking or on a boat trip and deciding to stay out. One night I wandered down to the Zion church and stopped to look at the reddish tint of the sky working its magic on the ice, Arctic ocean, and colourful wooden huts.
Another day I woke up at 4:00 am and headed out to hike, looking back at the scattered buildings as the trail led further into Arctic nothingness. It feels much more dreamlike now. That and very far from the normality back here, many miles south of the Arctic circle.
But as well as Greenland’s otherworldliness, there’s the profound sense of peace you experience. Of being the only one out on the hiking trail when it should be starry and black. Of seeing the light in a way you wouldn’t anywhere else. Of the icebergs cracking – a sudden gunshot noise – on the horizon. You can see how insomnia creeps in there and understand how feeble any attempts to remedy it may be.
It’s you, the light, and very little else. And that’s very peaceful, but more than a bit haunting.