Students on Ice: Space, Place and Memory in Kangerlussaq Fjord
July 19 – Today we made our first landing on the oyster shell and sea stone shore of Kangerlussaq Fjord. The ground felt like a sponge beneath my rubber boots as I picked my way up along the rocky outcrops. I had the distinct feeling of walking on the bottom of the ocean, among the coral. I trailed Gary, asking him, every few steps for the name of this plant, that flower.
(C) Students on Ice
Our job today was to help students explore this vast, strange landscape through our range of expertise. Looking at layers in banks of snow, taking samples of the water, composing photographs, tasting the plants. My group used words. We started with Barry Lopez. His “Arctic Dreams” has been my primer on this journey and I find his reflections and his language a perfect springboard for our own.
“We bring our own worlds to bear in foreign landscapes in order to clarify them for ourselves,” he writes. “To inquire into the intricacies of a distant landscape is to provoke thoughts about one’s own interior landscape, and the landscapes of memory.” We talked about the difference between space and place. How experience, memory – that invisible geography – shapes our understanding and perception of where we are.
The students talked about the feeling of the air here; how it was like and not like the air at home. They talked about the imagined landscapes of video games and TV shows and how they become so familiar despite their fiction, like places in our dreams. And then they wrote beautiful, thoughtful reflections, which I hope you will read here in this blog.
For what it’s worth, I’ll share my own:
The pond is separated from the sea by a narrow stretch of land, humped like the backs of groundhogs or mossy grave mounds. “Is that a boy or a rock?” asked James, pointing up the stone face above us. Last night I saw a collection of seal heads frozen in a cove below the mountain. The willow trees here are vines. The lousewart a cousin to the orchids I carried in my wedding. The mountain avens are the buttercups I held beneath my chin to see their soft reflection against the paleness there. We are scattered out over the landscape like a Bruegel, like rainbow sprinkles against the green, gray, black hills. Like goats. When I stood against the rail of the ship last night as we arrived at this place, I put my camera down and stared, dumb. I have never seen anything like this, I said to John. I have never seen anything this beautiful except, I said quickly, remembering, my own children born.
To follow the 2013 Arctic Expedition, visit the Students on Ice site.