For Cecilia Blomdahl, the first time she looked out of the window at the Arctic Ocean on a winter night seems like yesterday: “The darkness was so thick that I couldn’t tell where the sea ended and the land began.”
At the time, it was 2015. It was the first time Blomdahl had set foot on Svalbard, an archipelago in Norway near the North Pole.
The polar night, which would last for nearly six months, had begun a few days earlier; the sun would not rise until February. But it was the silence that affected Blomdahl the most, and still does.
Speaking to The New York Times recently, Blomdahl said, “I guess I didn’t realize at the time that this was going to be my home. I was only planning to stay for three months.”
TELLS THE WORLD ABOUT LIFE IN A TOWN OF 2,400 PEOPLE
Now 34, Blomdahl lives in a cabin overlooking the fjords with her husband Christoffer and their dog Grim. The town of Longyearbyen has a population of just 2,400, and Blomdahl shares his life north of the 78th parallel with his 1 million followers on Instagram, 2.8 million on TikTok and 759,000 on YouTube.
Blomdahl describes his posts as “a warm corner of the internet”. The photos feature unique views of the Northern Lights, coffee at the top of a fjord, close encounters with polar bears, dogs with lamps on their heads to light their way, and snowmobiling in the deep Arctic.
“WINTER WAS NEVER TALKED ABOUT AS SOMETHING NEGATIVE”
Blomdahl, who always expresses his love for winter, was born in Gothenburg, a coastal city in Sweden. So he was not a stranger to these conditions. Because the winter months in Gothenburg are also quite dark, the sun sets around 15.00.
“They would encourage me and my two sisters to go outside,” Blomdahl said, adding that he inherited his love of winter from his parents:
“We would be outside in winter as much as in summer. When winter came, it was never talked about as a negative thing. Winter was just another season. I maintain this point of view now.”
“IF YOU ARE NOT AFRAID, YOU CAN BECOME RECKLESS”
But it’s not all sunshine and roses. Blomdahl often highlights the natural beauty of Svalbard in his videos, but he never neglects to mention potential dangers such as white blindness and wild animals.
Blomdahl also said that he had nightmares before the polar nights that would last for months, “I think it means that I respect nature. Yes, it’s scary, but I think it’s good to be scared. If you’re not a little bit scared, you can become reckless.”
Blomdahl said that she often exercises, takes vitamin D supplements, uses body oils and colored nail polish to avoid getting depressed during the winter months, and added, “Planning the day is very important not to get depressed. When I feel that the darkness is starting to suffocate me, I go for a walk and watch the sky full of stars.”
“EVERYTHING IS EXTRAORDINARY HERE, BUT THIS IS OUR ORDINARY LIFE”
People from more than 50 countries live in Longyearbyen, the center of the Svalbard archipelago.
Anja Nordvalen, marketing coordinator for the Svalbard Tourism Council, said that Blomdahl’s “responsible promotion” had led to an increase in the island’s recognition, especially among tourists from the US.
“Everything is extraordinary here, but this is our ordinary life. I think people are curious about daily life here. Words like ‘you should take precautions against polar bears when you leave your cabin’ attract attention,” Nordvalen said.
NO LIFE FURTHER NORTH
Svalbard is the northernmost point on Earth where humans can live. Longyearbyen is named after John Munro Longyear, a US mining company owner.
The islands, where Longyear founded the Arctic Coal Company after visiting, have a university campus, a satellite research station, a global seed bank and a small but vibrant tourism industry catering to nature-loving adventurers.
It is also where a significant portion of Russia’s coal needs were once met.
Svalbard is slowly phasing out coal production and switching to diesel as an energy source. The last coal-fired power plant in the region is also planned to be shut down. However, Blomdahl said that he did not want to comment on these issues, “There are a lot of dark views in the world, so I like my page to be a warm corner. I think people benefit from that,” he said.
“WE CHOSE TO BE HERE”
Grim, a Finnish Lapphund, is Blomdahl’s go-to dog no matter how dark it gets. Blomdahl said he feels safe with Grim by his side, but still carries his rifle in case he encounters a polar bear.
Blomdahl also stated that the polar winter forced him to turn inward and said, “Winter is something we experience, not something we endure. We all chose to be here.”
The real darkness of the Arctic winter falls in January. Then one day, unexpectedly, a thin beam of light appears over the fjord and the black sky turns dark blue. March is called the “blue hour”. As winter comes to an end, the sun slowly returns. Then begins the polar day, when the sun doesn’t set for months. Blomdahl summarized this cycle as “like a rebirth”.
Compiled from The New York Times article titled “How an Arctic Influencer Embraces Months of Darkness”.