9 Oct 2015

Meet the North

Post by Helaine Becker

Paddling North
I recently had the good fortune to meet author Jennifer Kingsley at the Lakefield Literary Festival. I was completely taken with her, and with her story of her current project: circumnavigating the Arctic via word of mouth. She'd talk to someone, who would tell her about someone else in the north she should meet, go see that person, talk to them and get another recommendation, and so on. How fabulous, I thought! How brilliant a demo of the science of communication, in action!

Jennifer Kingsley
I asked Jennifer if she'd talk to Sci-Why, and she very graciously agreed. She sent me her answers to my questions from Greenland, where she is now deep in her project.

Here is the interview:

1. Tell us a little bit about who you are, what you do and how you get started on the Meet the North Project.

I'm a Canadian who loves the outdoors, and I express that in two different ways. One: I'm a guide and naturalist, and I work on sailboats and ships in different parts of the world, primarily the Arctic. Two: I'm a writer and radio producer always looking for ways to bring stories and sounds out of remote regions and into the imaginations of my audience.
My first book is called Paddlenorth: Adventure, Resilience, and Renewal in the Arctic Wild, and it's about a 54-day canoe expedition across the Canadian Arctic.

2. Paddlenorth  is terrific. I was so intrigued by your presentation at the Lakefield Festival, I got the book right away! It's full of adventure, of course. But also heart. And there's some serious drama and mystery too. Heart-thumping, page-turning mystery.

Now, you've embarked on a new adventure! Can you describe the Meet the North project for Sci/Why readers?

Meet the North is my personal journey from WHAT is the Arctic to WHO is the Arctic. It's a project I created, and it's sponsored by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic.
Here's the skinny about Meet the North from the project web site www.meetthenorth.org:

#meetthenorth is a project about the lives of northerners from
Svalbard to Greenland, Iceland, the Canadian Arctic, and beyond.
These are among the most remarkable places on Earth, and the
best way to understand them is to ask those who know them best.
This project gets its direction from the people of the north.
Their ideas set our path; we listen, and we follow their lead.
By meeting one person at a time, and by asking that person to
introduce us to someone new, we are getting to know the
Arctic community, and we are sharing our journey with you.

Join the adventure on Instagram at #meetthenorth 

and by following @meetthenorth. Follow the
stories on this website too.

3. Sooooo coool! To my mind, your project is science in action, in that through your project, you are demonstrating and investigating human communication. Do you agree? Can you elaborate?

Meet the North is absolutely about human communication. It's about having a strong vision . . . but not much of a plan. I let the people that I meet set my path, so it's not until they introduce me to someone new that I know where I am going next. I think you could call it social science; it's similar to Snowball Sampling, which is used by some anthropologists.
I think what makes this project valuable and different is that it values the contribution of each individual. It's not about mapping the entire fabric; it's about finding one true thread.

4. It seems to me your project will provide valuable scientific data for use in other fields. Can you elaborate on that?

I believe that this project, and it's method, will help to uncover ideas and topics that would not be discovered otherwise. If I really want to know what is important to someone, I have to be very open. It doesn't serve me to come in with preconceived ideas, nor can I open with directive questions.
In this way, I think Meet the North could help fill out the picture painted by other work in other fields. It gives a human face to the data others are collecting.

5. Can you describe one encounter you have already had, and what it revealed/meant to you?

I just got home from Iceland, and at the beginning of my time there, I had one meeting set up. That one meeting led me, through a series of introductions, to the far east corner of the country which has been, perhaps, the least impacted by the recent tourism boom. By making personal connections to a very out of the way place, I discovered a project I would never have heard about otherwise.

Way out there, in a municipality of 500 people, there is a movement afoot to turn a fjord into a container port. This will only make sense more than a decade from now, if sea ice melts in a certain way and if global politics take a certain turn. It's an attempt to involve Iceland in the evolving Arctic economy, when many Icelanders are opening guest houses and selling souvenirs. It was a whiff of the change in the air - still faint but indicative of big changes ahead. So we interviewed the man spearheading this initiative, out in the middle of the heath. Who knows what will be there 10 years from now.

 Thanks, Jennifer! Good luck with your project, and please keep us posted!

1 comment:

Melissa Stewart said...

Wow, this is fantastic. Thanks for the great post Helaine.