Cold enough to visit an Eisbär

I live in a smallish, northern, German city on the Weser River. Bremerhaven has five first class museums (that I know of) and a zoo. All of these are a short walking distance from my apartment. Exciting for a suburban girl from Delaware.

This morning Andreas’ graduate student, Cassandra from New York, (so upstate she can “see” Canada from her house) and I decided to visit Zoo am Meer. (zoo next to the sea). We chose to go on an icy cold day because the zoo is home to mostly colder climate animals and creatures that live in the water, including an Eisbär (polar bear). I’m not a huge fan of zoos and I certainly did not want to see the poor polar bear in the heat of summer. Thus, a frosty November morning seemed like happy polar bear weather.

We assumed this was a duck until she decided to check us out. Zoo am Meer, Bremerhaven Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
We assumed this was a duck until she decided to check us out. Zoo am Meer, Bremerhaven Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

Before moving to Bremerhaven, I read a short chapter in a German guide book describing the city. The book suggested that Bremerhaven was good for a day visit at most, and there was a very strange zoo created out of cement to look like a giant rock.

Arctic Fox, Zoo am Meer, Bremerhaven. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Arctic Fox, Zoo am Meer, Bremerhaven. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

The zoo is strange, however, I really enjoyed my visit. It may be because Cassandra and I were the only visitors for a while. The habitats were nice and well planned around a climbing area for children in the giant rock landscape. Most of the animals seemed pretty content for being stuck in a zoo in Bremerhaven, including the polar bear.

Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Zoo am Meer Bremerhaven Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum


No match for a polar bear. Photo of the author by Cassandra Elmer.
No match for a polar bear. Photo of the author by Cassandra Elmer.

A Fishhead and a redhead walk into a cafe’ in rainy Schleswig

How do two Americans in Germany celebrate a birthday? They travel to Schleswig! Now I have my German friend’s attention. They’re all thinking, Schleswig, what the hell is so special about Schleswig? Everything and nothing, friends, it was a fun, laid-back, easy, romantic weekend away.

Schleswig, Germany from a window in Gottorf Castle
Schleswig, Germany from a window in Gottorf Castle

In July Andreas brought me to Lübeck for my birthday. So, I said that he should pick his favorite place for his birthday. Easier said than done. So many choices! One week I was told that we would travel to Spiekerroog, the next week to Föhr, every few weeks he would choose a new place. Finally, a week before his birthday I begged for a decision, so that I could Google the place, and his finger landed on the map at the town of Schleswig in northern Germany.

Andreas is born and raised a “Fishhead.” He loves fish, cold, windy, rainy weather and sitting in little cafes eating “Kuchen” listening to the locals speak “Plattdeutsch” by large bodies of water. Schleswig was all these things.

We stayed in a small hotel instead of an Airbnb which is unusual for us, but it was attached to a little restaurant, included breakfast, and was on the water. The hotel was located by Holm an old fishing village. In the center of the village is the oldest Abbey in northern Germany.

The oldest Abbey in northern Germany. Holm, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The oldest Abbey in northern Germany. Holm, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

A beautiful, idyllic place full of cafes and artisans. The people in the village are proud of the age of their homes and often have the year posted in large iron numbers.

Andreas Muenchow appreciating the glass art in front of a gallery/ studio in Holm, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Andreas Muenchow appreciating the glass art in front of a gallery/ studio in Holm, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

They and the rest of the city are also extremely fond of roses. There are two or three trained rose bushes on the front of every house and most stores. It must be amazing when the roses are in season. We were lucky enough to see some blooms in November.

A lane in Holm. Notice the rose bushes trained against the houses. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
A lane in Holm. Notice the rose bushes trained against the houses. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

The biggest surprise for me in Schleswig was the art collections. We visited an Outsider Art museum located in a poorhouse from 1630.The building was almost more interesting than the art. Next, we walked to a modern art museum located in the old stables of Gottorf Castle.

A surprisingly wonderful museum showcasing modern art by north German artists. A must see if you visit Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
A surprisingly wonderful museum showcasing modern art by north German artists. A must see if you visit Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We also viewed the art collections in the Castle as well.

The chapel in Gottorf Castle, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The chapel in Gottorf Castle, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We found the Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig (hard to miss the tallest building in town) that had its original stained glass. Most of the churches we’ve visited so far have been bombed and replaced with modern glass so this was really exciting. (for me)

An amazing 3-D wood carving. The intricate details were unreal. Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
An amazing 3-D wood carving. The intricate details were unreal. Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Beautiful, intricate, huge stained glass window in the Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Beautiful, intricate, huge stained glass window in the Cathedral of St. Peter of Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

Between museum visits and walking around town in the rain were many stops to café’s for coffee and cake.  Andreas had birthday cake many times over the weekend.

Cake at the castle. Salted caramel and marzipan. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Cake and coffee at the castle. Salted caramel and marzipan. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

In the first café we sat near a Danish girl in snow pants who also celebrated a birthday. Her family played a tiny music box and sang Happy Birthday in English.

The birthday boy, Andreas Muenchow, with his favorite gooseberry torte and hot chocolate. Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
The birthday boy, Andreas Muenchow, with his favorite gooseberry torte and hot chocolate. Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

We didn’t just eat cake in Schleswig, although it felt like it, Andreas also enjoyed many fishy dinners with local beer which made him pretty happy.

Super good, fishy birthday dinner. Holm, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum
Super good, fishy birthday dinner. Holm, Schleswig. Photo by Dragonfly Leathrum

The best indication of whether Andreas and I like a place is if we start researching housing prices, which we did on our third café morning. I recommend giving Schleswig a visit. It seems to be very popular with bicyclists during the summer months. There is also the Hedeby Viking Museum which we missed due to walking distance and time restraints. I’d like to return there someday.

Old in Art School a brief review

When I recently published a blog about my current artwork I searched WordPress out of curiosity to see what other women artists create and write. I came across Dr. Nell Painter and read that she had recently published a book titled Old in Art School. This caught my attention as I’ve considered returning to art school after 26 years to earn my MFA.

Old in Art School by Nell Painter. I recommend.
Old in Art School by Nell Painter. I recommend.

I was hoping for some tips on applying to schools, managing graduate critiques and the general atmosphere and expectations of art graduate school from the perspective of someone older than 25. The book offered this and a truly interesting memoir about Dr. Nell Painter. The full story was unexpected and I’m happy that she spoke of her life experience during her studies, not just the art school happenings. I am sad to read that women are still thought of as somewhat second-rate artists who will probably not become “real artists.” I had enough of that sentiment during the completion of my BFA.

Pages bookmarked for future reference and so many new artists (to me) to look up. Old in Art School by Nell Painter.
Pages bookmarked for future reference and so many new artists (to me) to look up. Old in Art School by Nell Painter.

I recommend this book to women artists and anyone else who is considering a career change mid-life. Also, to anyone who enjoys a beautifully written memoir.

Nell Painter and I both had/have a German sabbatical year. We also hail from Newark. Painter lives in New Jersey and I’m usually in Delaware. I hope to meet Dr. Painter someday to talk about our paintings over coffee or a beer.


Oh Helgoland..

Magical Helgoland Island in the North Sea, seals, birds, alles wunderschön! This is the recommendation from new German acquaintances. You have to go there, you will love it, they say.

Andreas’ brother and sister-in-law visited from Dietz and suggested that we explore Helgoland. We planned to suggest the same idea to them. Good company made this a fun day. Helgoland, as we might say in America is a ‘trip’, unique, strange, and a little overwhelming.

Burkhard and Carina enjoying the sunny side of the ship on the way to Helgoland via Cuxhaven
Andreas’ brother and sister-in-law, Burkhard and Carina enjoying the sunny side of the ship on the way to Helgoland via Cuxhaven

We drove from Bremerhaven north to Cuxhaven on the Elbe Estuary, our first time in a car since the taxi ride back in Iceland two months ago. My first time on the Autobahn, oh boy! In Cuxhaven we boarded a ship for Helgoland. Andreas and I were happy to be on a ship again.

Fishing boat on the North Sea between Cuxhaven and Helgoland. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Fishing boat on the North Sea between Cuxhaven and Helgoland. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

After a two-hour passage we approached Helgoland and I spied upon it with my long camera lens looking for seals on the beaches. No seals, just people. We docked in the harbor with a few other ships like ours, disembarked and walked with the other tourists towards town. Actually, we had no idea where we were going, we just followed the herd. At one point some of the tourists broke off and started up a hill. We followed this unending, string of humanity to a well-maintained, brick path winding its way along the top of the hill, ‘mountain’ with an incredible view of the sea.

Helgoland in October 2018. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Helgoland in October 2018. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

There were so many people on this path on this tiny island in October. Lucky for me a woman in the throng was traveling with an English-speaking boyfriend and was explaining the historical placards along the way. What really struck me along this path; the total lack of garbage. No trash in the weeds, no cigarette butts, no doggie bombs anywhere to be stepped on. This would be a different scene in America.

Lange Anna as seen from our crowded walking path on Helgoland. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Lange Anna as seen from our crowded walking path on Helgoland. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

The path ended in a tiny town with a noticeable lack of cars and bicycles. What?! Germans love both. They are not allowed here. The only vehicles were tiny electric city trucks (the firetruck and ambulance are gas powered) and what I call Amish scooters. Adult size scooters with small bicycle wheels. Andreas read somewhere that children under the age of 16 can use a bike after 5:00 pm between October and March. The town doesn’t want to add street signs.

Electric truck in Helgoland. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Electric truck in Helgoland. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

The island has been inhabited since 697, but the first and second world wars messed that up. Helgoland was bombed heavily during the second world war and then the British used it as a bombing range after the war ended. In 1947 the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tons of explosives creating the biggest single non-nuclear detonations in history. (The island was evacuated during these times.) The explosion shook the main island down to its base, changing its shape.

The wildlife we saw on Helgoland. He says, "Cake not bombs!" Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
The wildlife we saw on Helgoland. He says, “Cake not bombs!” Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Today there is a small population living year-round. It enjoys value added tax-exempt status if you’re looking for cigarettes, booze or perfume. You can also buy rocks. We chose coffee and pastries.

At the end of the day we joined the tourist march back to the ships. A great white migration of tired families. The voyage back was subdued as the travelers sought sunny spots on deck out of the wind or sheltered their families inside. The sunset was magnificent and unusual.

Sunset from the ship on the Elbe Estuary between Helgoland and Cuxhaven. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
Sunset from the ship on the Elbe Estuary between Helgoland and Cuxhaven. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Andreas’ co-worker recommends experiencing the island for a few days staying over night after the migration departs. Maybe you can see seals and birds then.

Escape to Bremen

It was a rough week emotionally watching, listening to and reading about the situation with Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford in America. It brought up a lot of bad memories for me and it was heart wrenching to read about the memories of my friends and acquaintances online. Andreas and I had a unused train ticket from the summer and he wisely suggested a change of scenery. We choose Bremen because we’ve heard good things, we wanted to explore and it’s very close.

At the Marktplatz in Bremen, next to the statue of Roland, in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Photo by: Andreas Muenchow

We began our day at the Kunsthalle, (art museum) fairly close to the train station. The current exhibit of the museum is about Love. I found the images interesting, but not extraordinary. Andreas, who can read the descriptions, stories and the themes of the exhibit in German was able to decipher its deeper intentions. The museum has an impressive collection of paintings from the late 19th and 20th century including some of my favorite German Expressionists.

I love portraits. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum
A woman artist at work painting. You don’t see this too often in a museum.

A couple of days before our trip I went on long walks around Bremerhaven and developed blisters on my feet from my shoes. So, I didn’t have happy exploring feet for Bremen. This made me grumpy going place to place, but when I took breaks and just sat watching the crowds I had some surprising photo opportunities that I would have ignored or walked by otherwise. For instance, I didn’t realize that there were song lyrics written on the walls in the Love exhibit until I took a break to rest my feet.

20180929_122202 Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

When we had seen and experienced all that the museum had to offer we went to a little café that Andreas read about online. We were following google maps on his phone and got turned around in the wrong direction trying to follow the blue dots. We walked for a couple of blocks only to reverse directions a couple of times. My feet weren’t happy and wanted to stop walking. We noticed between two buildings a little alley with a café, a bar and few shops. I asked to walk there because it looked much more interesting than the street we were on. The area turned out to be the Schnoor Quarter, one of the oldest areas of the Altstadt or old town. There were winding cobblestone streets, little shops in medieval buildings full of “typical German” things that you might find at the Christmas market and a TON of tourists. Tiny streets with piles of tourists, the worst kind with strollers, small children and dogs. If it wasn’t for the tourists it would have looked very Diagon Alley. Andreas’ graduate student, Cassandra and I are introducing Andreas to Harry Potter movies this month.

Andreas did not enjoy this path and asked that we leave those streets as soon as possible. As we were weaving our way through we accidentally happened upon our café destination. The café was also quite crowded and ancient, we found ourselves sitting in a cubby hole in a back room with seven ladies we had never met before. Our waitress was an attentive elven goth who brought us wonderful pastries and coffee. Andreas and I had a good time recounting the paintings we had seen at the museum and what made them special to us. Since we were conversing in English we didn’t bother the ladies too much.

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Old, new, now. Finding St. Peter’s Cathedral in Bremen. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Re-caffeinated we proceeded to our next destination on the list; a fancy restaurant for dinner. Again, Google maps twisted our sense of direction but we had hours until dinner to get lost and explore. This would have been fun if my feet had been in better shape. On our wanderings we found the Marktplatz and main square that you see in the photos of what to do in Bremen. St. Peter’s Cathedral, the statue of Roland and the statue, Town Musicians (A bronze statue with a rooster standing on a cat that’s standing on a dog that’s standing on a donkey from a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale) were all there. The tourists were gathered around to rub the donkey’s hooves. We took some photos and continued our quest.

At one point, walking through a residential neighborhood, my feet had had enough and we sat in a clothing designer’s red doorway. After we sat a dirty, friendly cat greeted and walked on us, then we noticed a wedding walking toward us down the opposite street making their way to a restaurant on the corner for their reception. Again, we would have missed this if we weren’t having a sit down.

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Here comes the bride. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

Blocks later we found the little restaurant and then still needing to fill an hour or two we walked to a busy street nearby in a neighborhood full of graffiti and murals to look for a place to hang out and grab a beer. We found a little table in the window of an empty bar with mid-century furniture and foosball tables. As we were drinking our beer Andreas said, “I think I just watched a drug deal.” Ok I said, not too unusual in a city. Then I noticed a very nervous looking man walking slowly down the sidewalk and three men following him in the street. I said, “I’ll bet that’s going to be another one.” It was…then another. What to do? Andreas took some photos. I asked him not to do anything while we were sitting there. It was a nice neighborhood, lots of families and kids walking by.

I really like this mural but a mural grade acrylic applied with brushes would have looked better to me than spray paint. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

We walked back to the restaurant a little nervous because Andreas made it known to one of the guys dealing the drugs that he was watching him. Dinner was an event. The restaurant was very small with just a couple of tables on the lower level, a little below the street, of a corner house. As soon as the tables were filled a red velvet curtain was drawn in front of the door letting those passing by know that the restaurant was full for the evening. We had a choice between two fixed menus and between three to seven courses. The food was tiny, artsy and tasty. I didn’t take photos because cell phones were discouraged in the establishment. On their page is a good example of a tiny, artsy dish. A fancy place with a comical touch in the bathroom. The toilet was the old style with the tank near the ceiling and a chain. The handle of the chain was a wooden banana. Real towels at the sink, fancy, smelly soaps and a wooden banana. Same in the gents too.

After our sweet, tiny dinner we ran for the late train and returned to Bremerhaven.




Planes, Trains and Zodiacs


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

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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.


Nykobing Falster, Denmark. Photo by: Dragonfly Leathrum

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.

Written by Dragonfly Leathrum 9/26/2018

Coldest Labor Day Ever!

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Sea ice on the Northeast Greenland Shelf. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

BERGFEST! celebrated the midway point of our expedition. The cooks outdid themselves last Bergfest Sunday with incredible meals that I can’t describe without upsetting my vegan friends. All on board contributed to a seriously eclectic, playlist with almost three hundred songs of dance music from around the world. I think it went on until three or four in the morning. What a great beginning to week four.

This was the coldest, iciest week as R/V Maria S. Merian sailed beyond 80̊ North latitude. The goal was to recover a mooring in front of the 79̊ N Glacier on the east coast of Greenland. Unfortunately, the Merian is not an icebreaker and there was too much sea ice to get close enough to the glacier and mooring. The scientists were able to take CTD measurements in the area, though.

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Scientist Ellen Werner points to our location just about 500 miles from the North Pole. Photo: Mubashshir Ali

Labor Day morning there was snow and ice on the ship. No pool parties and bar-b-que for us Americans on board this year, but who misses those things when sailing among icebergs along a coastline with snowy mountains. Yes, it did SNOW, on Labor Day, how cool, literally! At sunset the glassy sea mirrored the moon’s reflection in front of Greenland’s glaciers. The temperature was below freezing and you could hear the deep booming sound of the icebergs crashing around in the distance.


SNOWING! Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum


The moon’s reflection. Photo: Mubashshir Ali

That was the good news, unfortunately this northern location prevented us from receiving internet or satellite signals. That made ice navigation difficult. Visually you can see about twelve miles ahead, if it’s not foggy. It was foggy.

The next morning Scientists Mubi and Luisa spotted a polar bear swimming near the ship and I missed it! I was disappointed, but happy that others were on watch and shared a few images.

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Polar bear looking for ice and seals. Photo: Luisa von Albedyll, enhanced by the 4:00 am CTD shift

Midweek, moving east away from the coast, we encountered larger waves and swells again which did not make me feel so great. The sea eventually settled down when we sailed up to bands of sea ice. The Arctic sea ice flows with the cold, fresh East Greenland Current from north to south and we had to cross it to get back home. The band is made up of very old ice. It’s an interesting change from the more scattered sea ice near the coast as thin bands of dense thick ice stretch out for many miles along a sharp drop of bottom depth. After watching ice float by all day and getting cold doing so, I warmed up at an evening birthday party for two of the crew.


A band of Arctic sea ice moving south. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

As the week drew to a close there was much work to be completed for the end of the voyage. Some people were busy deploying and recovering moorings and others processing final data and composing expedition reports. The cooks surprised us again with an awesome Bavarian meal which included a Bavarian white beer. A welcomed change from the Jever Pilsener that my cabinmate likes. Also, Dr. Andreas Muenchow won the ping pong tournament in a smashing final match, the winner of foosball is still to be determined.

These weeks aboard the R/V Maria S. Merian (the original Maria S. Merian was a famous botanical artist) have been an unforgettable experience. Not just because I have taken over two thousand photos to remind me, but because of the friends I’ve made and everything I’ve learned about Oceanography and living on a ship. I’ve been to places and seen things that most people won’t have the chance to experience and I’m extremely grateful to those that asked me to be a part of the voyage.


Dr. Andreas Muenchow winner of the MSM 76 Ping pong tournament. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

Mostly loving every minute

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.IMG_4561 (2)

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.

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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.

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Foosball (Kicker) and table tennis tournaments below deck. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

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.

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Sunset behind fog and mountains on Greenland’s eastern coast. Photo: Dragonfly Leathrum

So much beauty in the world

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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.

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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.

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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:

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Watercolor and colored pencil of an iceberg in the Scoresby Sound. 24cm x 17 cm by Dragonfly Leathrum


Written by Dragonfly Leathrum 8/28/18