Postcard from the Arctic: With Love From Nancy Hensel
Thank you to Nancy for sharing her experience on the Heart of the Arctic adventure with the Wild Women community. Nancy’s story is a colourful one and her connection to the Arctic is a decades-long unfolding of a dream that began in a small shop in San Francisco. Her life has been guided by curiosity and a deep attraction to remote places and extraordinary experiences from Aconcagua in the Andes to the Tasmin Glacier in New Zealand. She embodies everything that Wild Women revolves around. This is how Nancy chased down her Arctic dream…
I have always loved to travel. My parents enjoyed sharing the story of how at age two, I packed my suitcase and wanted to go visit my uncle who was stationed at an army base in Texas during World War II. While I didn’t get to make that trip, I have been travelling as much as I can my whole life. My first flight was when I went off to college and my first experience travelling by ship was going to Antarctica. I love cities like New York and Paris and hiking in rural areas like Nepal and El Salvador. I have travelled solo and with friends and sometimes with groups. I have walked from London to Canterbury, climbed Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua as well at Mt. Whitney (California), Mt. Washington (New Hampshire), and Katahdin (Maine) in the US. I have studied chimpanzees in Uganda, cheetahs in Namibia, and owls in Arizona with Earthwatch. I helped build a home in Paraguay with Habitat for Humanity. I have stayed in a castle in Portugal (also an Earthwatch program) and slept in a tent during a blizzard in Argentina.
A $25 Inuit Art Print in San Francisco
When I first saw the announcement from Wild Women Expeditions about the Heart of the Arctic trip, I signed up immediately. It fulfilled two of my travel passions – going to Cape Dorset (now Kinngait) and Greenland. For me, this trip was a lifelong dream. As a young woman in the early sixties, I unexpectedly came across Inuit art displayed in a small store in San Francisco and fell in love. A print cost $25 and, as a college student living on $200 a month, I couldn’t afford to buy art. Later in life, however, I began collecting Inuit prints and I always wanted to go see where the prints were actually made.
This Cold Heaven
Skiing the Tasmin Glacier in New Zealand and reading Gretel Ehrlich’s book This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland, made me think about what it would be like to travel to minimally explored areas. The Heart of the Arctic itinerary met all my expectations. I loved meeting John Houston whose father, James Houston, also fell in love with Inuit art and encouraged Inuit artists to market their work through a cooperative.
During our trip, Pope Francis visited Canada’s Arctic to apologize to the Inuit people for the treatment of Inuit youth in Catholic residential schools. Hearing firsthand stories and seeing films about how Canada is taking action to sustain Inuit culture and language was inspiring. I have shared many stories with my friends and family about what I learned from visiting communities, viewing films, and listening to lectures.
What I especially loved about this trip was the sense of community. The trip leaders all cared deeply about Inuit culture and land. Our visit to Kimmirut involved tasting seal meat and a baseball game between community children and expedition members. We visited a former community where the government had relocated the residents who were living there. The abandoned homes and tools told a sad tale. The single shoe I saw made the tragedy seem human and real.
Celebrating 79 at 66°
The sense of community with the other Wild Women was a major part of my experience. Our table of seven had serious conversations about politics and life but we also enjoyed a lot of laughs over shared stories. I have always appreciated the unique openness and kindness of adventurous women who go to the less travelled places. On this trip I celebrated my 79th birthday. It’s hard to believe I am 79-years-old but what a wonderful way to celebrate a birthday–in the Arctic!
In Greenland, some of us visited a brewery and tasted Greenlandic beer. The Zodiac trip to see the fjord in Greenland was spectacular and we loved the hot chocolate with Bailey’s Irish Cream that was brought to us while we were on the water. Another time we were treated to champagne while on the Zodiac.
Image credit: Erin Stevens
Trips to remote places like Baffin Island and Greenland require travellers to be adaptable to changes in plans because of weather. We spent an extra night in Iqaluit because of ice, for example, but in turn, we were able to see the Terry Fox ice breaker lead us out. A sense of adventure and willingness to try new things and having a respectful yet curious attitude toward the people we meet is essential for a successful trip.
This trip more than met my expectations for an Arctic adventure. I am grateful for my life of travel and the people I have met along the way and hope to do another Wild Women trip in the new future.
Cheers to Nancy’s unstoppable quest for adventure and fulfillment. Where will you celebrate your 80th? We hope it will be with us!