The far edge of the world / by Leigh McCarthy

  The Great Escape  (2010), graphite on paper 

The Great Escape (2010), graphite on paper 

Today, the inimitable author and activist, Rebecca Solnit, releases the paperback edition of her book, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. The book begins with a dispatch from an arctic expedition she embarked upon in 2011 from Svalbard: 

"Far. That first morning, there was out the porthole of my cabin a little blue iceberg. We were in Magdalenafjord, the bay at the end of the earth, the northwest corner of Svalbard in the high Arctic, more than a dozen degrees north of the Arctic Circle. Beyond it were stony gray hills with glaciers curving down the valleys in between most of them. The idea of being so far north was exciting enough, and then there were all those things I always wanted to see: icebergs, reindeer, polar bears, along with all the things I’m always happy to see: water, sky, spaciousness, land forms, light, scale. More than anyplace I’ve ever been, this one imposed a dependency: there was no way out except by this boat, and no way to communicate with the outside world except by this boat. Which was also an independency, from the rest of the world. Times when the view went all the way to the horizon and no land was visible on that side of the boat, when the sea was a delicate blue-gray and the sky was the same color, the sea smooth with billowing ripples that did not break into waves, the sky smooth, and only seabirds coasting along the surface of the sea, coming close to their own reflections, bending but not breaking the smoothness and vastness. The far edge of the world, at the back of the North Wind, east of the sun and west of the moon, as far as far, at the back of beyond, out of reach, out of touch, out of the ordinary, beyond the Arctic Circle, beyond so many things. Far. "

Solnit headed to the Arctic to witness a disaster in slow motion -- the disappearance of the ice pack as it melts. I will follow her in October of 2016, but have meditated on the weight of that symbolic loss for years as depicted in the drawing (posted above), The Great Escape (2010).  Solnit's words resonate with me, "I see disaster everywhere; I also [...] see generosity and resistance everywhere." Solnit's resistance is her story. My resistance is my art.