Sometimes adventures happen by accident, and sometimes they happen through planning. In our case, it took both.
The first time I purchased a plane ticket to Greenland, it was on a whim with no preparation beyond my tent and a Garmin GPS. I was motivated by some vague romanticization of remoteness and a desire to connect with “wilderness” — a place beyond the touch of human hands. But as it turns out, that’s not what most of Greenland really is.
Greenland's landscape is unique and beautiful.
Is it a wild place? Absolutely. It’s remote and at times dangerous, but it’s also a uniquely human landscape. A place where, in some areas, the indigenous Greenlanders live alongside nature to shape the land and the sea and all its living things. And in turn, humans are shaped as well.
I instantly fell in love and with that single, spontaneous plane ticket my whole life’s focus shifted overnight. At the time, I was a Ph.D. student studying big-picture Arctic geopolitics, but not anymore. Instead, I became captivated by the microcosm of local stories and the fascinating way the modern world blended into the daily lives of people living at the edge of the Earth. At the time, I didn’t yet know the adventure I had stumbled into, but I knew it was going to change everything.
Around the time I first visited Greenland, I also found the Instagram profile of filmmaker and photojournalist Ashlei Payne. I was mesmerized by the raw emotion of her work and her desire to tell unfiltered Indigenous stories that are too frequently drowned out in our modern world. As we chatted online, we realized our path to each other was in some ways inevitable: Her husband and my long-term partner were roommates from basic training in the Navy many years ago. Call it serendipity, but life has a way of bringing all the right elements together at the right time, and that’s exactly what happened for us.
In the years that followed, I returned to Greenland every summer and my Ph.D. work gradually solidified around the real-world issues that I saw on these trips. I shared my stories and thoughts with Ashlei, and this is where the planning began.
You see, in Greenland — in the northernmost indigenous villages on Earth — the native Inughuit people still practice subsistence hunting, much as they have for the past 4,500 years. But this lifestyle is changing fast. Globalization has meant a warming climate, the introduction of new technologies, and the imposition of Western-style regulations and quotas that all combine to make their subsistence hunting lifestyle much different and more difficult than in past generations.
The native Inughuit people still practice subsistence hunting.
After many long discussions, Ashlei and I decided this was a story the world needed to hear. Once that decision was made, the only way forward was action.
Ashlei and I worked together to build a visual arts project that would illuminate this hidden world for others to see. We decided to play to our strengths with Ashlei taking over the filming of a documentary while I would shoot stills and lead the fact-checking and research required to keep the project grounded.
And, of course, if you’re planning a massive project at the edge of the Earth, you’re going to need some support — that’s where NEMO came to the rescue. Not only did the company provide the life-saving equipment required for the adventure ahead, but their core values of sustainability perfectly aligned with our own. We were impressed to find a partner that so enthusiastically supported our project to highlight underserved Indigenous issues — they “got” it.
After two years of planning, the moment was surreal when the tires of our prop plane finally touched down on the dirt runway in Qaanaaq (77°N). Here, we met our host family that we’d be hunting with for the next 6 weeks — Qipisoq the hunter, his wife, and their four children. Within 24 hours of landing, we were on a boat weaving through icebergs en route to our first hunting destination.
The Inughuit people hunt Auk, which nest in high rocky cliffs.
Summer is the season to catch little Auk who nest on the high rocky cliffs and number in the millions. As we neared the nesting grounds, thousands of Auk danced across the water and the sound of their calls became progressively louder and louder until it formed a constant backdrop. Upon reaching shore, we set up camp. Our host family settled into a traditional hut dug into the hillside while Ashlei and I set up our Dagger OSMO™ tent for the very first time.
The locals did not know what to make of our lightweight, paper thin tent!
It’s hard to explain the first impression we gave them. The children stared at our tent with wonder and excitement while the adults looked on with incredulity. Our host mom touched the paper-thin fabric and said, “You will freeze!” Their concern was so genuine and heartfelt.
Without asking, they set up a handmade tent sewn of patchwork sailboat canvas. When we insisted we would be fine in our tent, Qipisoq brought us a tarp to cover it because they didn’t believe ours would be waterproof.
Truthfully, I don’t think we ever fully convinced them that we were actually okay in our modern NEMO contraption, but after a week or so, the adults resigned and finally quit offering to “rescue” us from our tent. The children on the other hand… Well, that’s a different story!
Instantly, our tent became the cool kids’ hangout spot. Somewhat unbelievably, our three-person backpacking tent managed to fit myself, Ashlei, and all four kids inside for endless rounds of card games. When we weren’t out hunting, our NEMO tent was the place to be.
The children LOVED playing with our camping gear.
Fascinated by these new items, the children quickly made themselves at home, cuddled up in our Forte™ sleeping bags and stealing our Fillo™ camping pillows. On one particular outing, we were netting for salmon, which is a fairly laid-back subsistence activity that involves stringing nets into the water and just waiting. Lots of waiting. During all this time, the tent and its accompanying comforts became the gathering place.
The fog was wet and dense, we escaped it by hiding out in our Dagger OSMO tent.
We sheltered inside to stay dry during dense fog, we set up our Moonlite™ chairs for round after round of Uno, and we even shared the rarest of Greenland luxuries — a campfire. In a land with no trees or large brush, it took us more than an hour to gather enough twigs and washed-up scrap to get the tiniest flame going, but it was totally worth it.
Out of all the amazing experiences in Greenland, some of my fondest memories will be gathering around that tent and the feeling of community it created even in the remotest of places under the most austere circumstances.
You see, life in northern Greenland is hard. Victories are fought for, food is hunted for, and nothing is given. Hila Kahimi — “but the nature.” This modest Inuktun phrase became the defining sentiment of our trip. In the northernmost subsistence community on Earth, nothing can ever be taken for granted. It’s a culture of opportunity that looks to nature and adapts to whatever is found in the moment.
The tent became our cozy home-away-from-home.
On long, cold days spent hunting for your next meal, little luxuries like a soft pillow and warm, dry tent are savored beyond measure. When subsisting in the rawest form of nature imaginable, having a chair to sit on after a long day is an unthinkable comfort when the only landscape for miles is boulder-strewn beaches. And having a safe, dry space to complete the hard work of creating a film and photo series that will endure for generations was truly the key to our success in this project.
We loved the time we spent in Greenland and we look forward to getting back soon.
NEMO’s support of this project has been wonderful beyond measure. It was vitally important that we work with a company whose values align with our own mission. The fact that sustainability is at the heart of NEMO’s products is a big deal! The Dagger OSMO™ and Forte™ contain recycled materials, and the Moonlite™ chair and Flyer™ sleeping pad are even bluesign® certified. These kinds of environmentally conscious efforts make Ashlei and I NEMO fans for life.
So, what’s next? Our love affair with Greenland is far from over. For me, I’ll again be spending my summer in Greenland as a guide and to complete my research about the impacts of globalization on these furthest corners of the Earth.
With the incredible support of the NEMO family, Ashlei is returning to north Greenland this winter to film in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Knowing that NEMO has her back will very literally make the difference between life and death while she’s living on the sea ice in search of polar bears.
This film is slated for completion in 2024 and it has been 100% funded by people like you. The best way to get involved and stay in the know is to back our project. You can learn more about it on Ashlei’s website; please consider making a contribution to get this film over the finish line. We couldn’t do it without your support and every little bit counts.