Most icebergs are white, while some are dirty grey or cobalt, and in exceptional circumstances they’re emerald green. Few are crimson though, but the one I’m looking at now is.
My tent is pitched between fingers of rounded rock, in a mossy hollow overlooking the bay. There are a lot of icebergs down there and in the setting sun they all begin to turn red, but that’s just a writer’s conceit. They turn dusky pink, or sometimes glow vermilion, but never true red, until tonight, but the sun isn’t the artist responsible.
I’ve been watching for an hour, since the small boat arrived with its catch and a man clambered out onto the iceberg, hauling the seal he’d shot and began butchering it. We like to think subsistence hunters have respect for the land and the animals they prey upon, but now he’s leaving and the seal still lies upon the ice virtually whole, the only thing taken is its skin. I’ve seen this before – intact seal carcasses left to the gulls and ravens, their pelts taken for the fur trade.
I shake my head in quite anger and despair, and stare after the boat, now just a ruddy arrowhead on the sunset water. Duty calls, and it might take my mind off things. I get on with making my evening meal as the sun trades places for the stars. I warm a tin of beans and a bag of rice as the bay echoes to the clamour of squabbling gulls. All the icebergs are now sinking into a sea of night, but before the red berg vanishes I see a patrol of ravens strutting across it like grim pallbearers, trying to drive off the gulls. I had worries about polar bears tonight (in fact every night) but at least the stench of blood down there might be more tempting to a bear than the smell of sweaty camper and baked beans. I stir the pan of rice and a starchy cloud billows up, hazing the view outside. I waft a window through it – and see an Arctic fox just ten yards away staring back at me. It’s the same fox that came to visit me last night, and just like icebergs not all Arctic foxes are white. My visitor is of the so-called ‘blue’ variety, but he’s actually more chocolate brown. Very tame, he trots closer and sits before my tent. Last night I remembered the golden rule; don’t feed wild animals, and so reluctantly I shooed him away, but that crimson iceberg out there makes a mockery of the rules, as does much I’ve seen here. ‘F**k it,’ I think, and toss over a small bread cob. It’s a case of Humans nil, Foxes one. It doesn’t really change anything, but it makes me feel better. He eats half of it right away, then squats and urinates across his dinner table before sitting down with the remaining cob sticking from his jaws like a toddler’s prized dummy. He’s staring out into the blackness towards the blood-berg, likely seeing more than I ever could. He seems vulnerable this close to town, and I breath easier when he wanders off into the darkness. I watch closely, waiting to see if he comes back, but also to begin my lone vigil waiting for the aurora to show itself. In the bay, now as dark as a sea of ink, I see tiny dots begin to glow in the waters like hundreds of pinprick eyes. Jellyfish? Algae? Fairies?! I have no idea. The gulls have settled from the sound of it. Their squabbling now reduced to long, gentle wails and sighs. I get ready, lying on these lichen encrusted rocks bundled up inside my sleeping bag, watching the heavens. It doesn’t take long. A vast arc of green begins to materialize like a veil across the stars. At first it seems sedate and shy, but soon gathers in purpose and now it’s like a billowing pennant, moving with an unearthly kind of intelligence that borders on sinister, and all of it utterly silent. A handful of shooting stars end their galactic journeys as I watch. They burn up in the atmosphere, perhaps after millions of years travelling, but what a way to go – swallowed by the aurora.
On the ridge to my right just yards from the tent, I see the proud little silhouette of my fox. Breaking the rules, I throw over my last cob and as he retrieves it I spy two small cubs outlined against the shifting aurora, before the whole family vanish into the darkness from where they came. The gulls continue to call, and the strange lights in the bay wink knowingly. Just then this place seemed like an alien world, exotic and unfathomable. On rare occasions the aurora burns red. It doesn’t tonight and I’m glad. I’ve seen enough crimson for one day.
Note – I said the fox was a ‘he’. That’s another writer’s conceit. I’ve no way of knowing if my fox was male or female, so I default to ‘he’ simply because I’m a bloke. Apologies for taking the liberty.