One of the first places we went in Longyearbyen is the dog kennels just outside of town. It’s a typical birder thing — go to the place where you’re most likely to find swirling rubbish, and you’ll find interesting birds. We were looking for Ivory Gull (haven’t seen any yet), but it’s where we’ve seen the nesting arctic terns and barnacle geese, mama common eiders with their chicks, rampaging glaucous gulls, a ruddy turnstone, arctic skuas, snow bunting and a few other birds.
They keep the dogs outside of town because of the howling. And presumably, because these aren’t dogs as people in the south relate to dogs. Longyearbyen is kind of a cross between Wholesome Norwegian Outdoor Living (I saw a young woman today wearing a wooly toque and honest-to-goodness braids in her blond hair) and a hardscrabble life in the edge of the land — and the relationship with huskies can feel unsavory.
In the summer, you can go out on a dog sled ride on little carts.
That seems dubious enough to me, but there is actually one enterprise that puts about 6 people on one cart, filled with furs. The dogs never look like they’re having fun.
I don’t tend to be much of an Animal Protection person (I still can’t believe I ate duck the other night after photographing ducks all day) but even I find myself tweaked by this. The pens where they/re kept, the apparently miserable mushing, the wolfen howling.
And the seal meat.
We’ve passed several kennels that have seals drying outside, waiting to be fed to the dogs. This one was the most unnerving. A pen of dogs, the usual detritus of carts and sleds, and a clutch of drying seals hung in a little gallows.
If you stumbled across this in the dark, you’d think you’d found the lair of some kind of Norwegian serial killer.
This is a settlement with some really lovely houses, with a couple of warm cafés, where people leave their bicycles lying on the ground on the edge of their property. Who would steal one, when you’d quickly enough spot Sven on Njall’s bicycle? The Skole and day care centre look cheerful, little covered tunnels protecting the kids as they herd into the town gymnasium for exercise.
Cosy. And in the straining dogs pulling people over the muddy roads, the drying seals, a fierce blast of polar realities, of the precarious business of making any kind of settlement in a place like this.