Just a few years in the past I spent a winter on Upernavik, a rocky island of 1,000 inhabitants off the north-west coast of Greenland. I’d been invited to Baffin Bay as a part of a programme for worldwide writers and artists to create new work about local weather at one of the northerly museums on the earth. The museum director emailed a warning upfront: the winter was higher for introspection than exploration. Certain sufficient, I discovered I couldn’t go away the island, nor – with waist-high snowdrifts and steady darkness – may I stroll far round it. My day by day excursions have been restricted to the trail I dug from my cabin to the grocery retailer, or to the museum, the place there was all the time espresso and a heat welcome.I roamed the museum taking a look at conventional artefacts created for survival on this harsh surroundings: sleds to hurry throughout the snow, bone knives for constructing igloos, and sealskin clothes. I used to be in awe of the fortitude and creativeness with which earlier island inhabitants had embraced the challenges of the chilly. Then I ransacked the museum’s library.Upernavik, Greenland. {Photograph}: AlamyI turned to maps for a chicken’s-eye view of the huge ice sheet, pitted with blue soften swimming pools, for the reason that climate was too stormy for the propeller aircraft to take me there. As an alternative of kayaking the archipelago as I might have completed in summer season, I learn accounts by earlier explorers, and let my creativeness drift all the way in which from Cape Farewell within the south, up the west coast the place glaciers calve into the fjords, to the north pole. I lined extra floor in a couple of months on these paper journeys than I may have completed in actual life.Books have all the time been as important to polar explorations because the maps that guided travellers. Expedition vessels have been geared up with libraries to stave off boredom – and the hazard of mutiny – amongst sailors. Many crew members realized to learn on these voyages. I used to be moved by the story of Robert Bartlett, captain of the Karluk, flagship of the Canadian Arctic Expedition. He discovered comfort in an illustrated encyclopedia of roses whereas trapped in pack ice within the Arctic Ocean in 1913. (The guide can be misplaced, with all the opposite volumes on board, when the ship sank, crushed by the ice.)Nancy Campbell’s artist’s residence in Upernavik. {Photograph}: Nancy CampbellMy polar lockdown got here to an finish with the spring, however I’ve typically tried to recreate the extraordinary working ambiance I skilled on the island. I carried out analysis in different Arctic museums, surrounded by archives harking back to the multilayered histories held in glacial ice. This coaching in solitude and stillness seems to be helpful now, as I keep dwelling and discover the world by studying about it. Even in a pandemic, it’s nonetheless potential to voyage the world via books.This coaching in solitude and stillness seems to be helpful, as I keep dwelling and discover the world by studying about itThe languages I heard spoken round me had so typically been my manner into understanding new locations. Lacking the wild areas which were my working surroundings for a decade, I made a decision to take a voyage via world languages following only one linguistic unit: the phrase for snow.The snow crystals that fell final week in my Oxford backyard are a part of an infinite cycle: the water molecules in every snowflake journey freely via altering states. They might have lain on the glaciers of the Rwenzori peaks in east Africa, and should soften and evaporate and later freeze once more and fall as snow on the apple orchards of Kashmir.A tour information makes snowballs in a courtyard of Gyeongbokgung palace, Seoul, South Korea in February 2020. The Korean phrase for snow is nun. {Photograph}: Ed Jones/Getty ImagesI found linguistic connections between distant continents, too: a lightweight snow in spring is sparrow batch in Newfoundland English and cīruļputenis or blizzard of skylarks in Latvian, each references to the months when migratory birds return. In Patagonia, homesick Nineteenth-century Welsh emigrants discovered considerably extra eira (snow) within the Andes than in Snowdonia.Typically, phrases for snow supplied clues to tradition extra typically: within the excessive mountain rainforests of Papua New Guinea, uncommon orchids are extra widespread than snow, which is described elliptically within the Tok Pisin dialect as ais i pundaun olsem kapok (the ice it falls down like cotton). The phrase for snow in Korean, nun, is similar because the phrase for eye; in the event you expertise the primary snowfall of the yr – cheotnun or 첫눈 – with somebody you will have eyes for, it’s mentioned that real love will drift into your arms.Some phrases have been already acquainted, corresponding to sastrugi, a Russian time period now used internationally for the sharp ridges that wind sculpts because it blows throughout a snowy plateau. Even with an empty horizon forward, polar explorers may practise the artwork of pathfinding by studying wind and compass course from these traces carved within the ice.Wilderness cabin in Finland. {Photograph}: AlamySnow is used for prediction in different methods, too. I recall a New 12 months celebration with Finnish buddies at their forest cabin. I used to be as intoxicated by the panorama as JRR Tolkien had been by the Finnish language; he described discovering it as like “a wine-cellar full of bottles of wonderful wine of a sort and flavour by no means tasted earlier than”.The bushes encircling us have been white with tykky, a crisp coat of ice crystals on their bark. The thick snow shaped enigmatic clumps on the branches, the slender crowns slumped downward and within the lengthy twilight the bushes appeared virtually animate. After a sauna and dinner, we performed a conventional recreation to foretell the longer term: drops of molten tin are tossed into the snow, and as they all of the sudden cool they tackle a brand new kind. We rescued our tin relics, and scrutinised them like tea leaves, to spell the yr forward. A wave form signifies that adjustments are on the way in which; an anchor means stability. I saved the tin memento as an indication of religion sooner or later, lengthy after the snow had melted away.Nancy Campbell is the creator of The Library of Ice (Simon & Schuster £9.99). Her newest guide is Fifty Phrases for Snow (Elliott and Thompson, £12.99). To purchase a duplicate on-line for £11.30 go to The Guardian Bookshop