When I was a child, I thought that I could see the other side of the world across the ocean.

I never believed myself to be superhuman in this endeavor; on the contrary, I believed that it was something everything but my (at that naïve age) old mother with her ‘failing eyesight’ could see. It was only just sitting on the horizon; a whole new experience just waiting to be reached. Sitting on the beach by my grandparents' house in New Hampshire, the world seemed so small—if I hopped on a boat I could be in another continent by noon, and there were no doubts in my mind that I would someday make that trek...

Sunday, June 21, 2015


One of the most profound moments in my life was found in silence. Or, rather, it was the silence itself.

Our school had just won the big game. With mere seconds left, Tommy hit the shot. A sea of blue and red clad fans flooded with the burst dam, encapsulating him in a bubble of euphoria carried on the waves. He was the sort of high you get when you are at the top of the world; your body exhausted to the point of collapse from exertion and running off pure painful adrenaline spikes and your mind beyond any capable thought aside from the singularity of nothingness and everything at once.

As reality set back down and students headed for home, Tommy remained on the court. Avid fan after game enjoyer after casual watcher shook his hand, patted him on the back, and felt themselves like doing such brought them closer to having been the star in that moment, a part of something larger than themselves. I had been in the back checking on our own supplies when I took note that the last person had left the gym--Tommy alone stood at the free throw line, the game ball in his hand, staring at the rim with a sense of loss about his being. He shuffled for a moment as though trying to grasp back time which had slipped away, before himself leaving and heading to his 95 busted pick-up truck and driving off campus with one headlight out, trying to drown thoughts with scratchy country music.

The silence that hung over him in those final seconds haunts me even still. He had been nothing short of a god in his own mind during those minutes; he had experienced an incredible high and been sent crashing back down to the icy reality of silence in quick turn. To have that enigma of fleeting glory come so unexpectedly and be tossed away never to be recovered in such a short span--this was perhaps more cruel than never having had the experience in the first place.

His story, that moment, resonates with me in the realm of travel. The thought that perhaps my years of working abroad, traveling, being high on the nomadic life are behind me, only to be viewed with a bitter nostalgia that bites with the ferocity of a thousand flames is terrifying. When I recall him looking back and realizing he was alone with nothing ahead of him except to repeat the same stories over and over to increasingly distant friends and family who care less and less with each retelling, it isn't always the 6'3 boy who stands on the court. Often, it's a shadow of myself that's left in his wake. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Northern Lights (Nuuk, Greenland)


The clock blinked, signaling another minute closer to midnight—another minute closer to turning a quarter century old. I sank lower in the Ikea-imitation blue couch provided in my apartment when I moved to the country, semi-entranced by the fact that for the first time in months, it was actually dark outside the nearby glass doors. I’d gotten so used to the sun barely dipping below the horizon during the arctic summer that when the sky turned to darker shades of blue instead of bright hues of red at the deepest hours of night, I felt a bit of fear within my soul that reminded me of being afraid of the dark as a child. How the Greenlanders made it the reverse, the months without seeing the sun, was a mystery to me despite having friends and coworkers try to explain the psychology behind it.


The bottle of champagne I had been given at breakfast had been shared with the office and finished off before the noon hour hit. With the price of alcohol sky high even compared to where I had been living in Washington, D.C. and with the only other American in the city, Sarah, in one of the northern cities for work, I could not justify buying a bottle of wine for myself. Instead I sipped on boxed milk and gnawed on an apple flown in from abroad, and wondered idly if the couple who were couch surfing at my apartment would be back before I went to bed from their excursion to experience the nightlife of one of the northernmost capitals in the world.

It had hit me that, like most other places I had lived or traveled abroad, you don’t really have time to reflect or appreciate what you’re living until you’re back at your ‘home base’ and can compare it to what you have in front of you. Again, the surreal nature of living and working in Greenland seemed more than I could put into words or even a coherent thought process—I had walked through a mountain to get to work every morning, had seen a lady wearing an 80's prom dress while dancing and singing in broken English to Mambo No. 5 at the bar, had watched whales swim by my office while working on tax data. Until you leave the aura of uncertainty and the new, you cannot fully synthesize and break it down into understanding—just collect more ‘data’ for use later.

These images slowly, quickly passed through my mind as I watched the clock. The luck and experiences I had both worked hard for and been blessed with over the past years weighed heavy on my mind, though I couldn't put a finger on what emotion I was feeling. Apprehension for the coming months of leaving Greenland, backpacking through Europe and returning to the US unemployed perhaps, or just the gravity of the last few months and trying to make sense of something that made none.

23:58, 23:59.

I raised the glass of milk to the black television in a salute. From outside in the distance I heard some slight commotion, and seconds later a loud banging on the apartment door behind me. Josh and Laura came barreling into the common area, and wordlessly Josh had thrown open the door to the porch and jumped outside. Noticing me out of the corner of her eye staring blankly at the two excitable Canadians; Laura, half short of breath from racing up the stairs, said I need to get outside that second, right now, they were here.
The realization of what she meant and the hope I hadn’t misunderstood her melded into one as I leapt from the couch and briskly walked to the door, stopping only to turn around my first step outside and note in an ironic disbelief that, despite this being reality (or some variation thereof, Greenland tends to make you question that), the clock had just with my eyes on it, turned to midnight—it was my 25th birthday, the same second as I first saw it. 

Above us, in a very faint green hue, were the Northern Lights dancing in the sky.

There was little to say in those first few minutes. Josh kept repeating the word ‘amazing’, Laura said a number of soft ‘oh, my God’s, and I’m sure I let out a few sighs of disbelief with ‘wows’ of my own. On the rocks below us some locals had stopped to watch the lights as well, and I noticed in the far distance that a car had even stopped in the road for the passengers to get out and watch the sky. Tourist, transient, and locals alike were frozen with our eyes to the sky, all resolved to speechless and smiling humans, watching something beyond our comprehension.

Even knowing the science behind them, the reaction that people have experiencing them cannot be explained.
After a while, Laura began to snap photographs and Josh took off to the nearby rock face to try and get a better vantage point. I watched the lights and recalled back to my few weeks in Denmark, when I had provided voice for one of the short promotional videos for Greenland—a two minute spot showcasing the Northern Lights, with my voice providing the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ when the camera spanned upwards to the glowing green sky. I had felt silly sitting in a windowless white room in (hot) central Copenhagen with an Australian-Danish producer, shoving a fluffy microphone into my mouth and mimicking for me to sound more excited, be more audible. After all, I was ‘seeing the walruses play football in the sky from a cabin in Kangerlussuaq with the Inuit people hosting me’, not sweating in a cosmopolitan European capital city trying to block out the sound of construction equipment building a bridge across the harbor outside. When the spot had been developed and sent to our office as a test run a few months later, I was already in Greenland and felt foolish when I heard myself. It worked for the video perhaps, but my voice had always sounded forced or odd to me in that clip.

It wasn't until those minutes standing outside with only the sound of Laura’s camera snapping beside me and a far off Josh’s loud and constant exclamations that I understood, even then, that experiencing something like this couldn't be faked. The soft, breathless sighs from my couch surfers next to me on the porch earlier seemed so much more full of life and understanding than my terse ‘it’s so beautiful’ in the video.

To this day I don’t know why I became (and still am) obsessed with the Northern Lights. Until my last day in Greenland I would sit outside from midnight on during any clear nights, hoping to catch a glimpse of the increasingly brighter green through the wisps of clouds. I even slept in the living room of the apartment with all the blinds drawn so I could watch the sky as I slept through the glass doors, and wake up from dreams of the lights to seeing them softly turning above me.

Even now, nearly a year later and living in one of the world’s capitals, I dream of them above me; of glancing up above, only to notice that the sky was on fire.

-View from my apartment in early September 2012

Thursday, September 27, 2012

9/27/2012- The Concept of Time while Traveling (Copenhagen, Denmark)

The concept of time is always fleeting to travelers—where any time spent ‘away’ seems both like it was an eternity ago that they stepped out their door, and just yesterday, a cliché to be sure. And yet; yet it’s so completely and absolutely true. So long ago I sat atop the mountains above the Ilulissat Icefjord, falling asleep to the gentle sounds of calving ice and powerful waves; how short a time ago I worked in the Copenhagen office above Noma, savoring the scents of the world’s top ranked restaurant and laughing at their staff’s choice in prep music. I haven’t been in a town with more than 15,000 people in four months; yet having seen that many from my current bench in Hejbro Plads over the last half hour seems as natural and daily to me as seeing perhaps 75 people a day while in Kulusuk. Greenland was, and is, both yesterday and forever ago; both comforting and frightening me. It’s comparable to a dream perhaps; when you wake it’s truth—no going back.

I just hope it doesn’t fade in time as well. 

                                                     *Just outside my office in Copenhagen, a floor above Noma 

9/27/2012- Reflecting on the Definition of Peace (Copenhagen, Denmark)

The definition of peace. Should be simply—I’ve lived it the last four months. Nothing says peace more than the absolute silence which stems from being in Kangerlussuaq after the Copenhagen flight for the day leaves—being in a fjord, mountains on all sides, no more than 400 people living in town all inside, the midnight sun softly cast down. I knew leaving there I was going to back to a different world; trading snowcapped mountains and only hearing your breath & the wind & the water for the commotion and bustle of crowds and traffic in both Copenhagen and all else.

                -and yet-

-seeing the first city lights below our plane was strange as seeing the vastness of nothing, but-

-walking and driving through Christianshavn stuck in traffic with Malik was unnerving, yet-

-sitting now in one of the city Plads, watching as more people pass by in ten minutes than are in half the country I’ve been living, hearing different languages and cars across cobblestone than a flute bard, smelling not the nothingness in Greenland I’ve become accustomed to but garbage and crisp leaves, sweat and caramelized almonds; but-

-but with the warm air on my neck a sensory overload lashing at me, and jet lag fighting at my head-

                                                             -and yet this is peace, in its own way. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

8/20/2012- Hardest Part of Living Abroad (Nuuk, Greenland)

In 2007 before I boarded the MV Explorer and embarked on Semester at Sea, I made an agreement with my family; if anything were to happen to anyone, under no circumstances was I to leave or return home. Although unspoken, each of us knew that it was in reference to my grandfather, who had been suffering from Parkinson's for years and had come to the edge of death a number of times. How would it be when that time came?, I wondered as I boarded. Would it come? Would I keep my word or want to be there for my family?

Throughout the subsequent months I faced these moral questions in a number of forums, though luckily never outright. A cliche'd cry on the top deck during a storm after discovering a friend's father had passed and receiving a call from my mother that dropped and having to wait ten minutes in silence at 2am knowing someone had died and not whom were two of the most poignant (it was our dog, Sailor, in the second). However none were as moving as a story went around the ship during the voyage-that a girl had found out only a week into the journey that her brother had been killed in an automobile accident, and although she returned home for the funeral, her family pushed her to fly to the next port and meet the ship, continuing her journey in her brother's memory. It wasn't until one of the final nights that this story hit home for everyone; the majority of the ship gathered for kareoke in the main hall, and she stood up to tell her story and sing 'You Raise Me Up' in front of the entire ship. Not a dry eye in the house became a literal expression that night, not just a saying.

Given the buildup five years ago and how much I had come to prepare myself and expect the inevitable death of my grandfather while abroad on the Explorer, it came as a glancing blow yesterday morning when, upon waking up at 0645 to speak to a friend overseas, I logged onto Facebook and saw a single note from one of my uncles:

sends heartfelt sympathies out to the Paterson clan....we'll miss you Mampa.....:(

I blinked a few times, staring at the screen. There was a confusion; Mampa? Paterson clan? That was my grandfather, of course, but...

Oh, he must have passed away last night, my mind calmly replied. You should probably text your mother, or is calling better? Does she know? If she doesn't how is it best to break the news? He wouldn't put it online unless he was sure, I suppose. I should log onto the Air Greenland site and see if there are any flights which would get me back to the US in the next few days; I don't think the Reyjkavik flights leave for another few days though, so will probably need to look into going back to Copenhagen then Boston? Do they have direct flights on that route? Do I have enough money to buy a ticket in my account, or should I contact Dad first to see? I really should call Mom...

I texted my mother with a simple 'I love you' to see if she was awake, or if she knew. Moments later she called my US phone, and I answered as best I knew how; instead of a hello, with love, and an awkward 'how are you' which was responded to with a like 'Im alright' or something equally false and devoid. In that second we each knew the other was aware of what had transpired, and fell into tears of emotion from saying it (in my case) for the first time.

After assuring her I was fine (damning the fact that no matter how calm I actually am and how accepting of something I can be inside, I still cry when saying things for the first time, which did nothing except to worry her) I promised to try and get ahold of Lee, who was refusing to answer his US phone and had not yet given anyone his Australian phone number so that she could try to sleep a few more hours.

The next few hours were a whirlwind; getting ahold of Lee online and needing to tell him through Gchat (still better than Facebook?), speaking to my father about how Mom would handle everything, fielding two more calls from my grandmother and mother later in the day, writing an email to them about my favorite memory of Mampa, and taking a few trips into town to get air and walk all blended together as the hours stretched on.

I thought back, once again and so many times, to the conversation I'd had with all of them five and a half years ago; that no matter what happened, where I was, how bad it could be, that I would not come home. The circumstances were different now; I wasn't in the middle of the ocean or enrolled in classes this time around, for one. Lee is living in Australia now, meaning that Mom needs to handle this without either of her children even in the same country. Despite my grandmother's initial comment to me that I'd 'better damn well not even think about coming back for the funeral' when she picked up the phone, all of this ran though my head.

In the final call of the night, Mom repeatedly asked me if I was okay, being alone in a foreign country dealing with everything. Despite my trying, it was impossible to reassure her that I was really okay; that it comes almost as a comfort knowing he's passed on after fighting so hard for so long against a disease for which there is no cure. He beat the odds so many times that having Mampa around this long is a miracle in itself. That after a few seconds of the initial emotional outburst of losing the only grandfather I ever knew, all that was on my mind was concern for THEM, for my family, when I couldn't be there for them and to be a rock.

The hardest part about losing someone you love while being so far from home isn't being alone, or not being there. It's not being able to be there for your family, at least for me. Knowing that even if I were to return it would be over $2500 for plane tickets, require me to have the very least two to three layovers (there are no Iceland or Canada flights left before the funeral as they run from Nuuk only twice a week, and no direct flights to the US, so it would need to be through Kangerlussuaq and Copenhagen) and take me at least 24 hours (though days is a better estimate).

It comes down to trust; trusting that my family will be there for my grandmother and for my mother when I cannot be.

I suppose this is the hardest part about living abroad...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

8/7/2012- Defining Home (Tasiilaq, East Greenland)


                The hardest question I’ve been asked living in Greenland is the one everyone first asks— “where is home for you?”

Luckily the Danish to English translation puts it is ‘where are you from’, which is easier to answer, though not by much. Were I to give the long answer to a non-American—I was born in Connecticut (then have to clarify by saying the area between New York and Boston when the inevitable blank stares follow), moved to Washington, DC for university and the first few years of my career, moved to Copenhagen, Denmark for work in April and now am residing in Nuuk—they would be confused.

However, this discounts a few facts; namely, that I’ve lived in Virginia the past 3 years, and DC the 2 before that. That even my permanent residence is a big question mark—with my passport based in and my mail forwarded to my parents’ address in Connecticut, my driver’s license and voter registration at an occupied house I once rented in Virginia, and my visa paperwork for Greenland and Denmark claiming I reside at my work address in Nuuk, there is no actual legal answer.

While traveling in Greenland, I answer that my home is in Nuuk, as that lends credibility to my working for another country’s representation, particularly while surveying visitors from around the world who may not be as open to Americans representing another country’s boards and interests. Technically, this is true, as I am paying taxes built into my salary here and have a residence within the city.

Home, though, to me? Home is tangible. If I had to choose a place, it would be DC and the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia) area as a whole as it is where my friends are. Yet, at least for now, home is in the Arctic where I don’t speak the official language and my residence card is still held up by embassy paperwork. 

-Small house in Tasiilaq, East Greenland

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

8/01/2012- Failed Attempt to Fly (Kulusuk?, Greenland)

Greenland is dictated by the weather—and in over two months living here, I have seen many examples of this firsthand. Sure, you can cite examples of going on the sledges when the ice is thickest or good shipments to the settlements and towns being contingent on the ice situation in the fjords. Even working in tourism it's evident as there are a lot of peoblems with operators cancelling excursions on days with good fishing, or cruise ships changing calls or berthing due to icebergs in the harbors year round.

So I'm writing this, not surprised in the least, on a flight from Kulusuk in East Greenland to Nuuk—except we left Nuuk at 0600 this morning.

After waking up at 0430 to be at the airport by 0515 to check into my flight (without even needing to show an ID or receipt to get my boarding pass this time, just provide my name), taking off at 0600 and arriving to the edge of the east coast by 0730, the 20 of so of us on the flight realized the odds were not in our favor. As we descended below the cloud cover and East Greenland's signature snowcapped mountains came into view, so did a solid layer of white fog just below the peaks. Although a stunning visual to see mountains fighting through a flowing sea of white, it did not bode well for landing.

As expected, the pilot announced a few minutes later (although I'm not sure why he didn't simply turn around and tell us as the door to the cockpit had been open the entire flight) to tell us in Greenlandic and Danish (and a quick version in English after the flight attendent made note there was an 'English talker' onboard) that we were in (admittedly the world's most beautiful) holding pattern.

((Yes, I just broke the world record for using the most parenthesis in a single sentence))

The calm I was feeling promptly broke when, a moment later, the pilot told us 'we are going to try and land through it, and will pull up if we see something that shouldn't be there' and put he wheels of our Dash-8 down. All the while, we couldn't see more than five feet through the fog.

At this point I should mention that just this week I sat in on an interview a German journalist was conducting with an Air Greenland pilot—who did not seem to grasp the idea of too much information and happily told us not only about why there had been accidents in the past, but how he 'longed for a challenge while flying' because the routes here apparently bore the pilots. The comments seemed amusing at the time—but not while attempting to land in no visibility while replaying his comments about landing in no visibility in Greenland being vastly more difficult than anywhere else in the world as the angles and mountains leave a smaller margin of error than the instruments allow for.

Luckily (though not so much for my nerves and stomach), the pilots decided last second to pull up hard, giving me a great sideways view of a mountaintop. They then let us know they weren't going to try again and that we needed to go to the nearest airport in the country with an airstrip to land—which happened to be back to Nuuk, on the other side of the country, as all other towns and settlements on the east coast only have heliports.

Strangely (to me as an American), the 20 or so other passengers (17 native Greenlandic and a 3 person Danish party) all smiled and laughed, before simply asking the flight attendent for more coffee. She wasn't asked about alternate flights or times or compensation—and she seemed genuinely surprised when I asked her how often our flight ran weeky (twice). 'They'll arrange something for you all; maybe tonight, or tomorrow possibly' she said calmly before walking back to the front to take pictures out one of the windows herself.


After landing two hours later, I was informed by the agents at the desk that they would call me at 1900 that night and they had booked me a hotel, sending me on my way back to my apartment in a taxi (with, I kid you not, a piece of paper from the airline to give to the driver saying 'we owe you ___' for him to fill in later and collect from them) after finding out I lived in Nuuk. Hours later, I got a call from operations letting me know they couldn't arrange another flight until Friday morning—two days after my original flight.

That flight, however, made it in record time.