Jul 22, 2008

back to the land of snows

laura mcphee (daughter, incidentally, of john) was at the ranch a few weeks back. for her guest lecture, she showed her quite beautiful photographs of idaho (part of the series river of no return).

she also mentioned, quite offhand, that her epiphanic photographic expedition, the one that made her a landscape photographer, was to iceland.



i sat down with her at breakfast the last day she was here and discovered that she went to iceland with her father in the '90s as he was writing the heimaey story in the control of nature, about the vestmann islanders arresting the flow of lava from surtsey by continuous application of cold seawater. she also saw the deeply surreal and fantastic nature of iceland -- broad expanses of snow and rock, heights that warp perspective, clear light, and (in her case), the birth of a new island.

when i went to iceland in march, our last night in the field was at myvatn, a geothermal area in north-central iceland. it was the fifth consecutive day of rising with the sun, cutting ice, snow, and rock deep into the night, and of meals hastily made and eaten. the day after, we went to the myvatn hot pools to wash off the week's accumulated dirt, then hit the ring road westbound for reykjavik. for hours, we drove on empty roads through mountains covered in ice. one truck, a sixteen-wheeler, passed in the opposite direction. the stereo in the car would not relinquish the tape of chopin's nocturnes we'd put in. we stopped several times to take leaks in freshly-blown snowdrifts and into gravelly rivers. lunch was a salami, gouda, and cucumber sandwich eaten in the parking lot of the graduate dorm of the university of bifrost. a bright pink and orange playset took two spots in the parking lot, and was separated from an enormous field of lichen-covered volcanic rocks by an icy rivulet. several hours later, as we drove into reykjavik, we passed into a tunnel that dove under the hvalfjörður -- 5.7km long, and 165m deep, there was a noticeable declination. in our work-mazed state, listening to vladimir ashkenazy on repeat, it all made us wonder a little what kind of visual sense a child growing up in iceland develops, surrounded by such scale and landscape.

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