Sunday, May 29, 2022

Week 24: Field Work

Today, I published a short piece in the travel magazine Escape about the experience of travelling to Haukadalur in the Westfjords as part of my research for The Sorrow Stone.

I reflect on the search for a different sense of time, a task I tried to achieve in the main by walking as much as I could. I wondered if slowing my movement through the landscape might ground me a little more in its patterns. On one occasion that I describe in the travel piece, I fell asleep in a meadow high up in the Haukadalur valley, a moment that I transposed to my imagined version of Disa's life in the same place. When she wakes, it is with an altered understanding of how she will manage living in Iceland. Now that she and her family have fled from Norway, she has to try to rebuild her life, her relationship with her brothers, and she is also thinking about whether she might yet find a husband who will help her to leave them. When she wakes up, I think she feels that she will manage it.

When I woke up from my sleep, it was with an appreciation of how calm and sheltered the valley could be in its upper reaches. This was important, because it challenged my assumption that Disa and her family would have struggled with being here, that is, after their lives in the relatively wide and fertile farmlands of Surnadal in western Norway. If they'd had weather like I had that day, they might well have been relieved at what they found in their new home. It was my third or fourth visit to Haukadalur, and yet I was still learning to see the area on its terms rather than according to my assumptions.

I think learning to observe landscapes is partly about learning to slow down. Photographers and painters understand this: they wait for the right light, or they come back day after day and form a composite of viewpoints and impressions. Writing is a process of slow understanding, too, so sometimes it is an art of changed perspectives.

From The Sunday Mail (Escape), 29 May 2022

[The travel story pictured above is available online here.]