18 Aug, 2015 THE FINAL PASSAGE
It’s the morning of Aug 18th. Seven weeks of criss-crossing the Canadian Arctic finds me camped on the shore of Radstock Bay, Devon Island. Beside me is the stoic Caswell Tower, reminding me of Devils Tower in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
I am waiting. Hoping. Looking over the watery horizon into Lancaster Sound, straining to catch the form of a distant ship. Patience now. This is not like flagging a cab. I’m in the middle of the Northwest Passage, after all.
The last leg of my 9 week Into The Arctic painting expedition is here at last. The Sergey Valivov One Ocean Expedition vessel has crossed the ocean from Greenland with its 40 crew members and 90 guests. If things go according to plan, things are about to become a lot easier for me.
I’ve never travelled by ship before, usually opting to explore and paint while trekking on the land at my own pace. But this has been a long trip, and the thought of delicious food and a comfortable bed, plus new places to explore daily, has me excited about the possibilities ahead. I hear there’s even a hot tub. It will also be a nice parallel to my recent encounters with A.Y. Jackson and John Franklin history over the last few days, who also travelled the north by ship.
In the afternoon light, a form materializes, dispelling the sinking doubt about our pick up. After a parting goodbye to guide Randy Nungaq and a short Zodiak ride, cameraman Ryan Bray and I board the expedition-equipped Valivov. This is no Love Boat. A ship designed for polar scientific research, One Ocean has created a travel opportunity for clients that brings them close to nature in small group sizes. I meet the passengers, and hear tales of their journey so far. It’s wonderful to see how the Arctic is inspiring them, many whom, due to age or physical challenges, might never travel as remotely as I have.
Settling in, I fall into the rhythm of ship travel. Every day brings new landscapes, and sees me grab my pack and head to shore with everyone so I can paint another view while others hike or kayak. South into Prince Regent Inlet we pass massive cliffs, thread through Bellot Straight, and pass King William Island into lower lying landscapes. By the time we reach Cambridge Bay, I’ve started new canvases of history-rich HBC posts at Port Leopold and Fort Ross, scenes that I would never have reached any other way.
At Cambridge Bay I say goodbye again. This time it’s to Ryan and all the guests that are now heading home. Other than a handful of staff, and the ship’s crew, it seems rather empty.
The feeling doesn’t last very long. One Ocean Expedition’s second ship, the Akademik Ioffe, pulls in a day behind. I transfer over, meet new guests and staff, and again am off through the Northwest Passage, this time from west to east, all the way around Baffin Island and back to Iqaluit. For the next 12 days I am mesmerized by the north yet again. In addition to revisiting its human history, including Beechey Island, I am also treated to more Arctic wildlife than I’ve ever seen before. Polar bears by the dozens, atlantic bottlenose whales, narwhal, a bearded seal, seabirds, and much more. I witness majestic landscapes, including the granite-lined Gibbs Fiord. And to wrap up my Arctic summer, one moonlit night under the northern lights, bioluminescent “fireflies of the sea” accompany our vessel, guiding our way through Davis Straight into the wee hours of the morning.
Back in my Caledon, Ontario studio, my head continues to spin with images and experiences that will forever be a part of my memory. Some of these I’ve tried to capture in the field as sketches and small paintings which I am now finishing. Some I am endeavouring to bring to life on larger canvases. Others I will weave into my third Into The Arctic film.
When completed, this new work will join the other paintings and films from my decade-long project in an exhibition tour beginning in 2017, travelling to museums across the U.S.A. for the first two years. As comprehensive as I’d like to think this body of art is, I know there are countless Arctic vistas that I have yet to see or paint. And there always will be, no matter how hard I try. It’s one of the things I love about Canada’s North – its seemingly endless wilderness.
These have been life-changing experiences for me as a landscape painter and as a person. I hope through my brushstrokes and stories, others will be inspired to care for this fragile land, and take the time while they can to experience it for themselves.
Cory’s Into The Arctic: The Last Chapter expedition field journals were published as a series in Canadian North airline’s Up Here Magazine beginning in November 2015. Here is part 7, the final chapter of the series, published in the May 2016 issue. read previous instalments here.