Orkney Islands 2017

September 13th 2017

I wake to a wild and windy night. It is 5 am and I am still at home in Norwich. I feel an urge to get up and write, excited to think that in two weeks I’ll be going to a land of darkness and wild weather.

The rain was pouring heavily when I retired to bed and has continued throughout my night of waking sleep.

Yesterday, I contemplated a piece of stitching around the theme of light and wondered why, when light is so very important to me, I am going to a land of darkness. I research just how far North the sun still shines in winter. I learn that the Arctic Circle 66 degrees N, denotes the degree of latitude, above which no sun appears on the winter solstice, as indeed it has not for more than thirty days. The solstice just marks the middle of 67 days without sun.

I am going to 59 degrees North. This excites. I remember feeling a catch in my heart when I left the Arctic in 2002 after spending four months there, a catch as we sailed past 66 degrees North, the Arctic Circle marker. I google 59 degrees North and read ‘by the time of the winter solstice, the sun is rising in the south east after nine am and setting around six hours later in the south west. During this day of weak, grey, light, the sun barely reaches a midday altitude of ten degrees. What sun there is is dependent on the cloud cover at the time, which can make for days of near darkness.’ I look outside, it is 5.40am, there is a glimmer of light but the sun will not rise today until 6.26am. This may be the light of my winter.

Grey, grey, I am going to grey. I have lived above 66 degrees North in the Arctic Circle during spring and summertime, witnessed midnight sun, perhaps even now, I must travel further North, spend a week in search of a true Arctic Winter.

My textiles work begins to make sense. Last night I planned a ninety stripe piece starting with the equator at the bottom, a regular twelve hours of day and night working up to the North Pole with just twelve hours of night. I began to research, to find out how much light there is at which degree North. Anchorage, Alaska is 61 degrees North with five and a half hours. Fairbanks, Alaska is 64 degrees North with three hours forty two minutes of light. The internet does not relinquish such data easily.

I realise that even on the Arctic Circle, 66 degrees North, there will be stray light that comes from the sun sitting just below the horizon. Daylights starts and ends a while before and after the sun rises and sets. I must go further North than the Arctic Circle if I am to find a full day of night. Planning my textiles work I imagine a penumbra rather than a straight line demarking the hours of light but have no way of knowing if this is true. Small mirrors hang from my ceiling and rotate as blustery winds force their way through my not quite closed conservatory window and I think I might add light to my work by incorporating mirrors. I sketch a line of small, round, twirling mirrors in front of my hours of darkness. It is important to me that they are free to move as they will, and not be stitched in place.
The reality of creating this piece of work is slim. I am limited by the size of my car and the lack of knowledge about where I will live. As yet I have not even booked my first few nights accommodation nor decided which ferry route I shall take for I have three choices. Scrabster – Stromness, St Gills – St Margaret’s Hope or Aberdeen – Kirkwall but I must book my car in. It is 12 days before I leave.

I am planning another textile piece. A piece around sky, incorporating glimpses of Northern Lights. They will be there, but otherwise I think, my skies will often be grey and heavy so I am looking for interest in texture and placement. In the ruthless clearing of my house I have sifted and sorted my sewing room, have placed samples in a box and I turned to them a few days ago, extracted the blue and the grey and have been playing with arrangements, enjoying their chaos and unfitting nature but feeling the need for some structure.

This morning I woke with a new found understanding of 59 degrees North. I can place true night at the top, grading my pieces by way of their black, greyness or blueness as they descend and in the middle of the dark night I may find my Northern Lights.

i hear buckets and children’s toys tumble around my garden, crashing on brick and in bushes. I think the nights’ winds will have seen the last of this seasons beans. It is nearly time for me to say goodbye.

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