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Jun 18, 2018
An Exploration in the Northern Reach

We received this transmission from our voyager stationed in the Northern Reach. It has been reproduced here in full, though we cannot confirm its authenticity or take responsibility for the contents there-of. Read it at your own discretion, a regularly scheduled newsletter about “art” will follow next month. 

Explorers Log #134226
Mission: Jurmo 

The vessel dropped me on the rocky shore of the island, with no clear destination in mind and a meager stash of provisions and equipment. Merciless sunlight hammered down from the mirrored-sea, so close to the equinox even now at the end of the day, it had no intention of letting up for hours yet to come. Jurmo is a barren outer island in the Suomi archipelago, pushed from the Baltic Sea by slipping glaciers and time and wind. It’s colorful rock strata are bounded by gravel, distinguishing it from its outlying brothers and sisters.

The mission began peacefully enough - a humble dinner on a driftwood pyre, walking along the beach collecting sweet pea vines and wild violets. In the reeds, sprawled among the moss and pebbles lay the weathered remains of a swan, it’s rib cage jutting open. I draped wildflowers over her bones like a summer blanket, and took a photographic record as the sun melted into the pine trees. 

By the time I reached a little church with its weathered graveyard, the sun was spilling rhubarb-jam rays across the edges of sky, casting the landscape into a dazzling carmine glow. Along the rock formations by the sea, each stone was outlined in the most brilliant crimson, the cracks of the earth aglow with sun rays, pouring ruby light across the ground. Each granite pebble here is adorned with the language of lichen, hieroglyphic organic forms spelling out a truth I could almost make out in the dizzying twilight. 

As the sun died on the horizon I climbed past worn obelisks and over ice-formed boulders through violet heather, onto the highest peak of the island. On the majestic cliffs the discarded mast of a tall ship has come to rest, land-wrecked bones bleaching in the vast expanse of sky. In the distance, tiny lights blink on and off on other distant islands; lighthouses, passing cargo ships. Up here on the summit, blue exo-suit glimmering in the darkness, I am a lighthouse too. In the west scattered elf-light still plays on the horizon, but now the moon slowly rises from the night-bound edge, huge and heavy like a fiery flower.

I’m tide-pulled back toward the water’s edge for a better view of the reflection of the dancing red orb in the surf. But here in the gloaming, an uneasy feeling settles on my shoulders. What if I wronged the beachside swan somehow, with my photographs and floral invasion? What if its jangling bones rise up, trailing dried feathers and sea-scattered plastic bags and sweet pea vines, and it pulls me down with it into the darkness? Night bird screeches punctuate my unease. Under the glow of the sanguine moon, the giant skeletal ghost bird could rise up at any moment from that midnight grove of black pines. I pause at the shrine-like boulders strewn across the hills, listening to the eerie cacophony of night. 

A year ago, there was another beach where a universal moment washed over me, and I have been trying to name it ever since. The strand there was a strip of pitch by an ink-dark ocean, cut off from the highway by sparse dunes and withered sea grass. I was standing in the wind, unmoored in time, trying to make sense of the vast expanse around me. A distant plane skipped across the sky like a broken record needle, the labyrinth of stars beyond unfathomable and unreachable. Each car whizzing by on the lost highway was a starship, long beams of head-lights suspended in the briny air. I was a voyager marooned in this dim purgatory space. Around my neck, a tiny prick of light glowed from a captured star which rested on my collar bone. This bead of light was the essence of me, the life force that flowed, the moment in time that made up my life. Facing the chaotic eddies of the ocean, the thunder of the waves was overpowering but there was no light to give them form. A single step forward into those waves would be enough to blink my star out forever. The spaceships passing by would never know, the stars above would never notice one missing from their number, and one day at the end of time the black waves would erase all them all.

But here in the solitary night on Jurmo, like a calm current washing over me, that feeling shifts in my bones. There is a sudden complete clarity that nothing ever ends. Nothing can be lost, and the darkness is where seeds grow, and who can guess what strange blossoms will grow from them. Even in death, even in the oblivion of the ghost-swan, some essential truth remains as we are filled with unexpected flowers, borne up by the sea, turned into star carbon once more. Perhaps the huge avian specter I feared before is a good omen, a guardian of this land. Shrouding the little cove beneath its tattered wings, watching for danger with beams of light pouring from vacant eyes. I thank the spirit and the Rowan trees, and dare to venture down to the beach to soak up as many of the moonbeams as I may. 

As the light slowly returns to the sky, I am transformed into a sentinel, keeping watch from the ruins on the mountaintop. Eons rise and fall, I forget my name, I forget how I was stranded on this planet. Once I had a home, and a place, and a mission, and then the moon and the wind and the placid sea eroded them away. The ghost-swan claimed the rest as its price for protection. But there on the rock face, a faint phosphorescence shimmers among the sickly yellow lichen. Nameless in the dark shines a beacon — a tiny rainbow glimmer waiting to be unearthed. Holding it in my hands, it reminds me of my mission, slowly fills me with the knowledge that was lost, and the strength to carry on. 

There is such relief in the soft pink ripples of dawn that roll across the mirror-slick waters. A millennia has passed by in the night, each exploration an age of the earth, now fading from memory. The Eivor appears on the distant horizon, slowly weaving her way around outer crags and buoys, to collect a small group of island dwellers and bird-watchers now gathered on the pier. As she ebbs towards us, mundanity returns to the world once more in talk of ferry schedules, breakfasts, tasks for the day ahead. Worn from a night of restless wandering, I sit on my pack, spacesuit gleaming in the brilliant morning sunlight. A small old man approaches me as we wait for the ship, reaches his hand forth to shake mine, “We don’t get many visitors from Mars here!” 

Final Photograph by Renja Leino