Talking about ecology – as Andri Snær Magnasson notes – needs a language that has not yet been developed. Field recordings are an increasingly visible way of documenting life. Contrary to appearances, both issues have more in common in the context of climate change. I think about it when reading “On Time and Water”.
I read it slowly because I enjoyed the language, not wanting to miss any detail. The form pleases the eye and will be appreciated by anyone who likes to swim in linguistic meanders. The content and message of the new Icelandic novel is not inferior either.
In short, it is a novel about the climate. Unique among the others, navigating between cultural nuances, connections and digressions, often being an erudite display (but not showing off). I see this book as my thoughts sometimes dance in space like acrobatic ribbons. They meet in one place, which is the core of the message: people who are born now and live up to the age of the author’s grandparents (almost a hundred years) will see with their own eyes how the glacier disappears from the face of the earth, as well as several islands or a part of Florida that will probably go under water. Magnason says: look at the kids now and imagine this. Scary? Exactly. Because talks about the climate crisis should cause fear. But more important than scaring people should be realizing that it really concerns them.
Andri rightly points out that the language used by environmentalists is often too scientific, making the phenomenon they are talking about seem distant. It also draws attention to the fact – while referring to the history of Iceland’s independence – that in relation to new, rapidly changing phenomena, a new language must be created, which does not exist yet. The approach to the issue of ecology from this point of view is fascinating, engaging and liberating – many times anyway – the so called “aha moments”. After reading “On Time and Water” something changes forever. Andri made, at least in my case, the issue of the climate crisis more personal, closer to me. Or maybe he simply made me realize: it is here, close.
I am not going to pretend I have any specialist knowledge of ecology. It is rather vague and therefore I always tried not to waste water, ride a bike wherever possible, not litter and segregate rubbish, I avoid plastic, I do not eat meat (but I eat fish, so I think it equals) and I save electricity. In a word, I live “ecologically”, while being aware that my actions are just a drop in the ocean of the planet’s needs. I have a very basic awareness of what is happening.
But I live in Iceland and record the sound of storms that are getting more frequent and more brutal. I go down to the crevice of the glacier and catch the sounds of the dripping water and I immediately start to somehow miss it. It feels like I am dealing with a living organism that regulates the amount of water on the planet. And which is already at the end of its strength. In one of the interviews, I said that I am afraid that in the future the glacier will be available only in such recordings.
Or I am recording the sound of an eruption at Fagradalsfjall bearing the features of a dyngju. It’s a kind of massive eruption that creates shield volcanoes. There hasn’t been one in Iceland since the Ice Age (with a few exceptions). It was then that the rapid melting of the glaciers released pressure from below the ground, triggering massive eruptions. I have translated an article by Snæbjörn Guðmundsson for the Natural History Museum in Iceland which cautiously suggests that it may be similar for Fagradalsfjall.
I am lying on the grass in the Heiðmörk park, a recorder is lying next to me, recording birds singing. The sun is hot, it is very warm and very dry. A day later, there is a fire in the park, one of many in Iceland due to drought.
This is not the first time I have experienced in Iceland without any rainfall. Whenever I talk to my friends, I hear: it’s nice that it’s warm and it’s not raining, but it’s a pity for these glaciers …
I wonder if field recordings can work much like Andri Snær Magnason’s book, which explains and makes people aware of climate change from a linguistic perspective. Does listening make us more sensitive to nature? Are we aware of how much we hear through our ears? After all, the pleasure of reading a book under a blanket on a rainy day is largely due to the sound of water droplets reflecting off the glass. A walk on a frosty winter morning is the squeaking of snow under your boots. Spring is the singing of birds. I think that in terms of sensations, sounds are second only to smells.
Sound, like language, brings us closer to the phenomenon and makes the contact with it more personal and intimate. A glacier or a volcano are no longer some distant, unreachable mountains, but something that is here, close.
I look for connections everywhere, just as Andri looks for them, who – for example – finds connections between Norse mythology and Tibetan Buddhism. Because “On Time and Water” is not only a book about climate and ecology, but also an exciting erudite, multi-faceted journey. Everything is related to each other because we are all related.