Arctic adventure of a lifetime

June 10, 2014

IMAGE-story-JButler-arcticTwenty-four hours of sunlight, temperatures dipping to minus 20 degrees Celsius and no internet connection for two weeks – that’s how Jenna Butler is spending her summer on top of the world.

On June 11, Jenna began her journey to Longyearbyen, Norway, where she will set sail on a three-masted sailing vessel as part of the Writer in Residence on the Arctic Circle Expedition. The residency is a twice-yearly expedition that takes a small group of artists, scientists and educators from around the world to explore the Svalbard Archipelago.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Arctic,” says Jenna, whose primary academic research is eco-criticism and eco-poetics. “My work as a writer looks at landscapes, and so it was perfect because so many of us have these dreams about the north.”

Jenna, a faculty member in MacEwan University’s Department of English, says the Arctic is an incredible yet endangered landscape, and one that’s too often romanticized as the “last frontier” – which often entices even inexperienced adventurers.

One particular example that she cites involves an Italian aircraft designer who fell in love with the north and decided to fly over the Arctic. In 1928, he flew in too low over the ice near the Svalbard Archipelago and crashed. It became known as one of the worst accidents in aviation history due to the number of people and countries involved in the rescue effort, which ended up taking more lives.

“That story epitomizes what happens when we fall in love with the mystery of the north, or the mystery of fringe landscapes,” says Jenna.

The same aircraft disaster is inspiring Jenna to write a book of poems titled Magnetic North – the project she is working as part of her residency. “One of the things I would love to do while I’m in Longyearbyen is talk to the people in the area and find out their connections to the landscape and their history there.”

If you worry that Jenna’s about to embark on a dangerous journey, fear not. The Arctic Circle expeditionary residency program has been running annually since 2009 – and Jenna is fully kitted out for the adventure, courtesy of the mstore.

“I’ve got my MacEwan wear and my little stuffed griffin that’s going to photobomb all my pictures,” she says.

In addition to the mstore wear, Jenna is grateful for president David Atkinson’s glowing letter of recommendation in her residency application and for the university’s Research, Scholarly Activity and Creative Achievement Fund grant that’s helping her get to the Arctic and take part in the program.

The night before she left for the Arctic, Jenna won an Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artists Award. The award is presented to promising artists at an early stage of their careers.

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