National Geographic Explorer and Lindblad Expeditions Field Correspondent Jennifer Kingsley is a naturalist and journalist who has traveled for hundreds of days through some of the planet’s last great wildernesses. In 2015, she founded Meet the North to share stories from some of the four million people who live at the top of the world — from Svalbard and Greenland to the Canadian Arctic and, most recently, Arctic Alaska and the Russian Far East. By meeting one person at a time, and listening to their stories, the project takes you beyond the news headlines to discover a deeper, more diverse picture of modern Arctic culture.
We caught up with Jenny upon her return to learn more about her adventures, some of her favorite things, and where she’s going next.
Aerial view of the Bering Strait. Photo: Shutterstock
What’s your all-time favorite Meet the North moment?
Flying across the Bering Sea and over the mountains near Provideniya in Russia’s Far East. As a National Geographic Explorer and Field Correspondent for Lindblad Expeditions, I spent a year planning a 50-day voyage into the Russian north. To see those mountains and then touch down on that remote runway was a kind of joy I will never forget. More importantly, it was the first of many lessons in other ways of living.
What is the strangest food you’ve tried on your travels?
Boiled walrus (cold), jellied whale salad, horse blood sausage, narwhal skin…. these are all straight from the land and only strange to foreigners. I’ve also had braided lingonberry cake, cloudberry preserves, fresh prawns, halibut, and reindeer. The strangeness is all about what you are used to. On Baffin Island, my Inuk landlord hated most of the foods I like including Swiss cheese and veggie curry.
What is one thing guests can look forward to on our new Russian Far East itineraries?
Changing their understanding of the world. Accessing this part of the globe, which is the subject of so much misunderstanding, permanently changed my perspective and opened my eyes to themes of resilience and beauty. For me, the Russian Far East is a lesson in survival and resourcefulness. Its beauty is borne of both hardship and plenty in equal measure.
What is the most cherished memento from your travels?
I once picked out a small wooden carving made by a Greenlandic artist in Ilulissat. He didn’t speak English, and I tried to explain that I would have to come back later with my money. I returned and paid, but as I was turning to leave he handed me a second package and motioned that I should keep it. It was a gift. I opened the wrapping to find a smooth black heart carved from the baleen of a bowhead whale. It was glossy and gorgeous and now sits on my bedroom dresser as an emblem of kindness and a reminder of how small gestures can bring people together.
What is your favorite Arctic animal and why?
Arctic foxes because they are so sassy. I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but I see them as curious, creative, and VERY tough. They have big family dens, but they also explore on solo missions, and they can cover incredible distances. Whenever you see one, you know she’s up to something. Plus, they are so darn beautiful. I think if arctic foxes had human professions, they would be journalists. Or ultra-marathoners.
What is the best travel advice you’ve ever received?
Your plan will not survive, and that’s okay.
When we travel to understand the world in new ways, it’s critical to be open to the experiences that come our way. It’s almost always the things we don’t expect that teach us the most. So yeah, make a plan, but don’t worry when it falls apart.
What destination tops your travel list?
The South Pacific, specifically the Marquesas. I have spent so much time learning about isolated communities in really cold places, I can’t wait to learn about life where it’s warm! I will love the Arctic forever…but it’s time for stories from French Polynesia.
Favorite book about the Arctic? (besides yours!)
The book that had the biggest impact on me when I started traveling the Arctic as a 25-year-old canoeist was The Truth About Stories by Thomas King. “The truth about stories,” says King, “is that that’s all we are.” This idea has informed my work ever since.