Never have I ever consumed so much Pilsner and Riesling. Not in copious amounts, it’s the only type of beer and wine Andreas likes to buy here.
Never have I ever had this much time to focus on my artwork. I’ve had a few months here and there in my life when I’ve attended workshops or been between jobs, but never a whole year to slow down and focus.
Never have I ever exhibited my paintings abroad! Wow, that was cool.
Never have I ever eaten gooseberry (Stachelbeere) or rhubarb (Rhabarber) pancakes.
Never have I ever traveled by train so much or been without a car for so long.
Never have I ever had a “destination wedding” back to my house.
Never have I ever spent hours in an immigration visa office. Thank God Andreas can speak German. I feel really bad for all of the others there who didn’t have a native speaker with them.
All in all, a wonderful experience. I accomplished most of the goals I set for myself and I think Andreas did too. We’re looking forward to visiting again soon.
A photo essay about the color variants I perceived on the Arctic Sea and from within the Scoresby Sound, Greenland.
My job for five weeks between August 10, 2018 and September 12, 2018 aboard the research vessel FS Maria S. Merian was to document the scientists at work and the landscape through photography, blogs and paintings. During the cruise I was drawn daily to the color of the sea in different locations and through various weather events. The color varied from gray to deep blue on the open sea to almost a turquoise farther in the Scoresby Sound.
My scientist husband, whom I sailed with, chose to collaborate on this post by creating a wonderful map representing the locations of the photos.
For more about this research trip please read my earlier posts.
How do you know how many clothes you’ll need for a year in a different country? If you only want to move with a suitcase and a backpack which pieces are most important? These are hard questions to answer. Andreas and I wanted to bring the minimal amount that we might need with us to Germany. We had to plan for three seasons, a month in the Arctic and other travel. (The institute Andreas is doing research with provided us with cold weather gear in the Arctic. We didn’t expect that)
Today I took a photo of everything we brought to wear and then a second photo of what we’ve actually needed from summer through winter.
Andreas, being a guy and having a job that doesn’t require a lot of dressing up, was better prepared to pack with less choices. He only owns two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants to begin with.
I on the other hand had more options to choose from. Even though I try to have only the essentials in my closet, my life required a few “costume” changes during the day. I used to begin my day as a teacher in a business casual costume, then come home and change into jeans and a t-shirt to go shopping or for a walk. If my private art students were painting or if I was going out with friends I would change again in the evening.
In Germany I can work from home (sweatpants and a t-shirt) and when I leave the apartment, I trade the sweatpants for jeans. Still a costume change but an easy choice. I tried to only pack the minimal amount of clothing I would want physically and psychologically. I figured that if I really needed anything, I could go shopping. I was mostly afraid of boredom from wearing the same clothes every week. This is why I brought fourteen t-shirts and eight scarves, so I would have variety. Honestly, I’m so happy to be able to wear comfortable clothes everyday that I’m not bored at all by limited choices. My husband isn’t bored looking at me in the same clothes everyday because he’s not paying attention to those things.
So, what did we bring and what did we need? Andreas brought: shoes 2, sweaters 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 8, pants 2, shorts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarf 1, hats 3. What he actually needed or has worn: shoes 2, jackets 3, t-shirts 9, dress shirts 4, pants 2, biking rain gear 1, gloves 0, scarf 0 and hats 2. So, he was pretty right on. The only things he over packed were dress shirts, sweaters and jackets. He doesn’t feel the cold so much.
I brought: shoes 3, jackets 4, t-shirts 14, pants 3 (1 jeans, 1 sweatpants, 1 leggings) shorts 2, skirts 4, biking rain gear 1, gloves 3, scarves 8, hats 4, bathing suit 1. What I’ve used: shoes 3, jackets 3, t-shirts 10, pants 3, shorts 1, skirts 1, biking rain gear 0, gloves 1, scarves 8, hats 2 and bathing suit 0. Pretty close, but I could have packed less and been happy. We also packed seven pairs of underwear and socks each. The socks are wearing out fast because we walk and bicycle instead of drive.
So, how much do you need and which pieces are important? I’d say enough for a week and of course, everyone has different needs. When we travel around Europe, we bring a t-shirt, underwear and socks for each day, a pair of pants and a jacket. We’ve never wished that we had brought more.
I wrote this blog as a reminder to us that we don’t need to pack so much and that we are just as happy with less. I hope that when we return home, we (we mostly meaning me) will continue to live with a smaller wardrobe and cut down on shopping. Also, a reminder to our traveling friends to relax about packing, and that it’s easier to travel with smaller lighter bags.
Our home for almost five weeks docked in Adventfjorden, Svalbard. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Our ship arrived in Svalbard; it was wonderful to see land again, especially the mountains, glaciers and Fjords of Spitsbergen. I awoke early Tuesday, September eleven to take photos of the sunrise in Adventfjorden, a bay of Isfjorden. Gulls and the occasional fishing vessel greeted us as we sailed towards Longyearbyen. There was no room for us in port so we dropped anchor in the harbor and traveled by zodiac and rescue boat from the ship to shore to see the small, stark town.
Sunrise in Isfjorden. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Longyearbyen as seen from the R/V Maria S. Merian. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Longyearbyen is the northern most town in the world at 78º North with coal mines, a small university, and polar bears. The polar bears are an actual concern. Recently a guide from a cruise ship tour was killed as was an English Boy Scout camping close to town. There are posted road signs everywhere with warnings of polar bears. Exploring mountains and glaciers beyond tight town limits, you need a gun and a guide. I was happy to read that they use scare tactics and don’t shoot first. (The guides, not the bears) We spent an afternoon on the small main street drinking coffee and picking up a few souvenirs. I’m not a souvenir buyer by nature but this was a special circumstance. I am pretty sure that I will never have the opportunity to return, although never say never, I did not expect to show up here in the first place. Hell, I had never even heard about this town until last spring. Two mates from the ship Andreas and Andreas had fun geocaching in town which left me with time to take photos as I walked with them. Being in Longyearbyen at the end of summer it is hard to imagine the place in the winter. I was already wearing a winter coat, hat and gloves. The parking lots are filled with snowmobiles instead of cars because, like in the movie Pleasantville, all roads end at the edge of town.
Andreas W. and Andreas M. document their geocache find at the oldest building in Longyearbyen. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
The main shopping street in Longyearbyen. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
The glacier at the edge of town. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Returning to the ship late afternoon, we packed and cleaned our cabins and laboratories prior to our departure the next day. The wind was strong and icy and the sea choppy, so we had to put on survival suits to protect us in the small rescue boat that ferried us back to shore where a bus was waiting to bring us to the airport. The airport was super tiny and the runway super short. The pilot apologized in a few different languages for the bumpiness of the runway and explained that the pavement breaks up every summer. No big deal. The views at take-off were amazing.
A view of the Merian in the harbor from Longyearbyen. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Shipmate Uli waits for his flight in the Longyearbyen International Airport terminal. This room is the only terminal/ gate. There is a room next to this of the same size with a few ticket counters and security. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Instead of heading straight back to Bremerhaven with our housemate (there is no “straight” back from Svalbard), Andreas and I decided to spend a few days in a small town south of Copenhagen in Denmark. We stayed in a quaint, dusty Airbnb in Nykøbing with a garden full of apple trees and a bicycle for Andreas to escape on to find more geocaches in a forest along the Baltic Sea. It was a beautiful Danish town founded around a 12th century medieval castle. After the Reformation the castle was the residence of widowed queens from Denmark and Germany. Many streets were permanently closed to vehicles and turned into a maze of pedestrian areas with bookstores, shops, and cafés where we spent our time. Seeing the green of the trees and grass was a bit of a shock to the eye after looking at the ocean for so long. Andreas told me that this happens to him every time he returns from long sea voyages. It was interesting to witness it for myself. On our second night the town had a DJ concert in the main square and the bass rocked the place for blocks. We found a little restaurant below street level where the occasional bass sound from the concert penetrated the thick stone walls. The bass reminded us of the engine rumble of the ship. The “land sickness” I was experiencing since leaving the ship made it feel even more so. Luckily, I only felt dizzy when sitting at a table and was fine walking and biking.
It’s good to be back in Germany and each of us is trying to remember and re-establish our former routines. Our housemate, Andreas’ graduate student, is looking for an apartment. Andreas joined a competitive table tennis club and goes to practice three nights a week while I am catching up on blog writing, organizing the few thousand photos I took last month, and drawing and painting. I’m also reading a great book we found in Denmark written by Mark Twain called “The Innocents Abroad.” It describes his European travels by ship 150 years ago. It is hilarious, especially after my own European adventures.
R/V Maria S. Merian headed from Greenland’s ice to Iceland’s green hills to Greenland’s ice again during our third week at sea.
South of Iceland Surtsey Island is visible in the distance. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
We sailed from west to east along southern Iceland to recover ocean moorings from a submarine ridge that separates eastern Iceland from the Faroe Islands. There were a lot of Icelandic fishing vessels in the area most of which left for port as the weather turned bad. Time passed strangely for me when breaking waves at 13 ft and gale force winds of 63 mph hit us. My cabin window is four or five stories above the sea and this sea was splashing up against my window as the ship crashed through the waves. Windshield wipers cleared the windows of salt water on the bridge one level above my cabin. It was intense.
I spent the day sleeping, drowsy from the seasick medicine. My cabin mate was awesome, he left his lab and checked on me throughout the day bringing little pieces of bread and reminding me to drink water. At one point I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom and I noticed that the water was flowing sideways from the tap. I almost called out to my cabin mate before I realized that the ship, the bathroom and myself were all in fact sideways. The seasick medicine makes me dopey too.
The spray from the storm waves at the bow of the ship. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
Eventually the calm eye of the storm found us and even though the seas were still rough the sky brightened. When the fog lifted we saw the mountains of southern Iceland and the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. Cabin mate was excited that Surtsey, created by a violent volcanic eruption in 1963, and the biggest Island we could see, was two years younger than him. Puffins live there, but I saw none through my telephoto lens.
Icelandic mountains and a glacier on the horizon. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
The rough seas soon returned as we headed back to Greenland now to the north of Iceland. I walked around the ship holding on to railings and stumbling from one side of the gangway to the other. To travel anywhere on the ship stairs are involved and depending on whether the ship is pitching, rolling or both gravity shifts a bit. You can time your steps to save energy, that is, climbing up the stairs is easier when the ship is moving down and gravity “feels” less strong. In the cabin I used elbows, shoulders and hips to hold open cabinets and doors while trying to get dressed. I also found myself sitting longer than usual at the dinner table, because the thought of trying to walk across the moving floor with a tray full of glasses and dishes seemed like a bad idea. It reminded me of the first time I was a waiter on a train. Knitting, sleeping and complaining were about all I got up to.
By Friday we were closer to the east coast of Greenland, a little further north this time. We encountered calmer seas, with a few icebergs. Scientists and crew were competing in Foosball (kicker) and ping pong tournaments below deck when they were not processing data from CTD stations, recovering moorings from the ocean, or running the engines of the ship. Foosball in high seas is pretty unpredictable.
Another storm was on the horizon with high winds. I packed away all loose things laying around the cabin, showered while I still could without being thrown around, and ate a bit more in case the storm made me seasick. I also spent my time on deck taking pictures.
Saturday arrived, but the storm did not. The waves picked up, but the winds did not. Traveling north across Denmark Strait to Greenland, I noticed the temperatures were dropping. Ice formed on deck and we were forbidden to go outside. The mountains of Greenland seemed close and became clear, sea ice appeared, and more icebergs drifted south as we moved north. The week and August ended with an unusual, beautiful sunset behind layers of fog and mountains.
Sunset behind fog and mountains on Greenland’s eastern coast. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
The R/V Maria S. Merian creates gentle waves on calm, sunny day in Scoresby Sound. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
Land ho. Greenland. We glimpse mountains that peek through low-lying fog with clouds above as the ship slowly approaches the coast. Scoresby Sound is one of the largest and longest fjord systems in the world. My telephoto lens is working overtime to focus closer on the snow and glacier covered peaks. Before entering the Sound, we took measurements at the mouth by way of moorings and CTD stations. Only then our journey into Scoresby Sound began. We determined how much warm water enters the Sound and how it travels to reach the melting glaciers that produce the many icebergs we saw.
Greenland barely visible through the fog as we approach the mouth of the sound from the Demark Strait. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
My favorite iceberg of the many I saw. I really like the bright blue ice intersecting the white. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
At first, we could see a few icebergs in the distance. I took photos of every one that passed. I would try to go back to my cabin to process photos and another even more interesting iceberg would appear just outside the porthole of my cabin. The mountains along the Sound appeared wild and unspoiled. Some peaks were covered by snow, some were not, some had waterfalls, others were dry. It is August after all, the height of summer with 20 hours of sunlight. My favorite feature, besides the distinct layers of sediment, were the many small and steep glaciers that had found their way to the Sound and the paths they create by carving the mountains. The passage of time is easily read here.
A tidewater glacier making its way around an obstacle shaping the landscape. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
I’m intrigued by the changing colors of the ocean from almost black to bright blue. The color morphs each day and even during the day as we change our location and clouds filter the light. About 200 miles into Scoresby Sound we entered into the Nordvest Fjord. One day the water was still, almost glassy. The ocean reflected mountains and icebergs alike which created an image of peace, tranquility, and awe. The next moment winds picked up, creating waves that smashed into icebergs. Another day the water looked a deep turquoise and later changed with the sun to a bright turquoise I have not seen before. Pictures taken this day look like we were in the Tropics instead of the Arctic.
A bright day aboard the ship in the Nordvest Fjord with a turquoise sea. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
Despite the distracting, dramatic landscape serious work was to be done. Mapping the rugged seafloor, Ellen’s instrument revealed a new science to me. She discovered that many of the islands in front of us were in the wrong place on the maps we had. I learnt a new word, “bathymetry” for this science that Ellen Werner of the University of Munich explains in daily meetings. I always look forward to her segment and watch her slowly evolving maps with new discoveries. Also, in our nightly meetings the scientists give short talks about their current work at home, because not all students work on Greenland Oceanography. They even let me give a talk about my artwork. No graphs or charts in my power point, folks.
Ellen Werner discusses newly mapped bottom topography near the Denmark Strait. We call the Sea Hill, Ellen’s Hill. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum
My seasickness retreated and I feel more surefooted on the ship. I am conquering my fear of heights as I get more comfortable standing closer to the ship’s railings when taking photos. Calmer seas also allowed me to paint again:
Watercolor and colored pencil of an iceberg in the Scoresby Sound. 24cm x 17 cm by Dragonfly Leathrum
Sort of ready for the safety drill. Photo by Andreas Muenchow
Seasickness comes and goes. I was hoping to be okay after five days in, and most of the time I am, but I’m still reliant on the seasick pills. There is nothing in my adult life that can describe what this feels like, but there are two experiences from my childhood that match it well. The first is riding backwards in the way back seat of a full-size station wagon in West Virginia. West Virginia is full of roads with sharp turns in the mountains where the road will also “drop” you for a second if you drive too fast over a rise. The second is swinging on a swing. The particular swing I’m thinking of was connected to my babysitter’s swing set. It was two benches connected to each other by a metal frame that you could pile a lot of kids on. We would pretend that we were either pirates at sea or for more drama, escaping the pirates. Of course, there were always alligators, sharks or both underneath, so you couldn’t just jump off when the swing got too high and the poles started to pull out of the ground.
Rock and roll childhood
This is what being on the ship feels like to me only besides swinging from side to side the ship can swing in any direction, sometimes all directions so you feel a bit stirred up. Imagine that you’re swinging high on this swing but there is nothing to hold on to. Now imagine that you are doing this taking a shower, carrying a tray of food, reading, typing or doing anything that you need to do in a day. I thought that it would be a nice motion for sleeping, and sometimes it is. When it’s not, like last night, it reminds me of the scene in the early surfer movies where a girl would be thrown up in the air on a blanket on the beach, caught falling and then thrown up again. Okay, I didn’t mean to write thrown up, but you get the picture. The movement of the ship never stops. You can’t get out of the car, jump off the swing or ask the hunky surfers to please, for Christ sake, put you down. This morning was a rough one, I saw spray at my window over four stories above the ocean and the ship is moving quite a lot. This very green Dragonfly stayed in bed hoping that sleep, dreams and a seasickness pill might make it better, it did. Knitting, staring at the horizon when it’s visible and peppermint tea help as well.
View from the galley porthole.
Not everything about the ship being in constant motion is bad as I discovered watching a Star Wars movie the other night. The ship was rocking in the same motion as the land speeders racing through the forest. It was really cool. People pay money to have this experience in theatres. I’m going to watch the Phantom Menace tonight for the pod race, unless it makes me sick.
Dragonfly Leathrum on the main deck of the R/V Maria S. Merian in Scoresby Sound, Greenland. Photo by Simon Wett UHH
I am neither scientist nor sailor but an American artist living in Bremerhaven, Germany looking at Greenland beyond the rails of R/V Maria S. Merian. How I got here is another story, but my purpose is to convey work at sea to a broader audience with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation. Dr. Torsten Kanzow of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute is leading scientists from Germany, England, Greece, India, and the USA in their various projects. We are all collecting ocean data in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland and in Scoresby Sound in Greenland. Even though I have been seasick on and off this first week of four, observing students, technicians, engineers, and crew working together is an eye-opening adventure.
The Maria S. Merian docked in Reykjavik Harbor. Photo by Dr. Andreas Muenchow UDEL
The research vessel R/V Maria S. Merian is all work all the time. Different groups fill every minute of twenty-four-hour work days. They collect and process data, prepare instruments for year-long deployments into the ocean, and recover instruments placed in the water in prior years. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I document what is happening from an artist’s perspective using photographs, drawings, paintings, and blogs. My first assignment was to photograph all members of the science party so a large poster could be made to help everyone get to know each other. Two days later I was seasick and missed a good photo opportunity when scientists, technicians and crew recovered a first mooring from the Denmark Strait. Dr. Andreas Muenchow from the University of Delaware covered for me and probably took better photos because as a seasoned sailing scientist he is more comfortable with deck operations.
The next day we saw an iceberg: My First Iceberg! Little did I know there were thousands of icebergs just beyond my horizon that I will write about next week.
Iceberg in the Denmark Strait. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
We sailed back and forth across the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland to map a massive plume of dense water cascading cold Arctic water down the sloping bottom into the Atlantic Ocean. The ship stops every hour or so to lower a metal frame called a CTD that has many sensors and bottles strapped to it. This measures temperature, salinity, velocity, and oxygen levels. The scientists and crew also deployed and recovered moorings which measure similar things. The moorings are weighted down at the bottom with old train wheels. A nice bit of upcycling. All scientists meet every evening after dinner to compare new data and ideas that were collected and processed during the prior day and night. They organize all this in graphs and charts. It is fascinating to see the information visually. As a lucky artist I receive somewhat unexpectedly an advanced tutorial in physical oceanography without taking a single class in mathematics or physics.
Mooring deployments in the Denmark Strait August 2018 from aboard R/V Maria S. Merian. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
It was a good first week even though my sea sickness pills are all gone. The scientists, mostly students, are extremely bright, nice, and working hard at their stations. The weather has been fair during the week. We enjoyed some unexpected sunshine and we huddled through a few cold and foggy days. I photographed sunsets, moon rises, whales, dolphins, and many of the different sensors, scientists, and science work. Calmer seas here and there allowed me to complete two paintings of Iceland as well.
I never dreamed that I would be sailing off Greenland starring at an iceberg. To quote the Talking Heads, “This is once in a lifetime.”
First iceberg sighting.
Traveling is never easy in Germany for us Americans abroad: Andreas and I left Bremerhaven, Germany for Reykjavik, Iceland, but upon arrival at the station we learned that our train had been cancelled. Stress, panic, can we catch another train to catch our plane to catch the ship? Or would we be, “Letting the days go by” incognito in Bremerhaven? Have a month offline to ourselves to work on other projects and maybe show some of Andreas’ old iceberg photos at the end of the month? It didn’t sound like a bad plan.
Bremerhaven train station. Andreas took this shot to prove to the conductor that our train was cancelled.
Alas, our replacement, slow, and very local train delivered us in the nick of time to Hamburg airport although much later than we hoped. This put us at the end of an hour-long check-in line for Iceland Air. No quick kiosks here. We queued up behind two giant backpacks which were hiding two German Physics students from Berlin. Here we met a laidback, cynical Canadian Professor who studies birds somewhere in California. The hour-long chatting about Iceland, ships, politics, and philosophies of life and traveling was the highlight of our travels. We all made it to Iceland with no time or sweat to spare. This is our second experience with Iceland Air in a month: we know how to work their video on the headrest, we have their introductory video, and we have their Iceland advertisements memorized. Yet, both Andreas and I forgot headphones and we had to read lips watching in-flight movies.
Three hours later we landed in Keflavik, Iceland where the captain announced that he was dropping us off at the front door and that we had to watch our step. He wasn’t kidding. In Iceland they let you off the plane parking on the tarmac and everyone walks to buses ferrying you to the terminal. In contrast, we were blown by the welcomed cold wind towards the terminal. [It was unseasonably hot in Germany.] A taxi was waiting for us, because the ship’s agent had arranged this transport to the ship docked in Reykjavik.
The Harbor where the ship was docked in Reykjavik. Top: Photo from the ship. Bottom Watercolor and colored pencil.
The forty-minute taxi ride included background music of Joy Division on the radio and a landscape of rocks. Iceland is like no other landscape I’ve seen. I kept pointing out the window exclaiming, “Ooh look at this and did you see that?” We saw a lot and I mean A-LOT-OF-ROCKS. We saw rock sculptures, rock gardens, random rocks, rocks to divide parking lots … We also saw a sign for Dunkin’ Donuts, cold people on bicycles, beautiful mountains in the distance, and empty plains with more rocks.
Rocks! Watercolor and colored pencil of the landscape near Keflavik. 6.5”x9.5”
Iceland, wow. Where am I? David Byrne to the rescue:
“How did I get here?”
“This is not my beautiful house.”
“How do I work this?”
“Under the water, carry the water
Remove the water from the bottom of the ocean,” and measure the salinity and oxygen levels, please.