One Morning in Nuuk


Despite our clean COVID-19 tests in Copenhagen, we were barred from official meetings in Greenland pending a five-day quarantine. Fortunately, we were allowed to go outside, so we booked a little yellow boat for a tour up one of the small fjords off Davis Strait.

With our experienced Inuit captain, we weaved between ice floes at high speeds.

We stopped to study icebergs, search for seals and follow a cresting humpback whale.

An hour later we arrived in Qoornoq. In the 1950s, it had been a thriving fishing town with 1,400 workers. But now it was largely abandoned, reduced to a cluster of seasonal cabins.

We walked the decrepit buildings where fish once hung in nets to dry, as icebergs floated by. A child’s doll sat naked—inexplicably—in a rusted chair, watching our every move.

Here is my rendering of Nuuk in watercolor.

Back on the water, we fished for cod with rope and a spindle. My colleagues lowered four bare hooks and hauled up four fat fish. An underachiever, I only got three.

On the way back, we got a little too close to an iceberg as it imploded, leaving us bobbing in the waves. The locals on shore were only too happy to take a hundred pounds of fish off our hands. The next day we passed our second COVID test—free at last to do some work!

James P. DeHart, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service with the rank of Minister Counselor, is the U.S. coordinator for the Arctic region at the State Department. He served previously as senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, assistant chief of mission in Kabul and deputy chief of mission in Oslo, among many other assignments. He took the photos during a September 2020 trip to Greenland. He is a former chair of the FSJ Editorial Board.