17 October 2010 – Monacobreen

101017pic1Floating silent in the zodiac with three sound recordists, Wendy, Eva and Aimee. All of them artists of other disciplines, kitted out with recorders – Wendy has a submersible mic. I join them for the silence, while they record the sounds of slushy ice, clinking and popping bitty-bergs. The glacier, Monacobreen, is huge; its front 80 metres high and some five kilometres across. Enormous chunks of ice dislodging and rumbling across the fjord from time to time. We’re a few hundred metres from the front, and have to move away at one point so as not to get caught in the floating slush.

101017pic2I close my eyes and listen to the clicks, slushy waves, and popping of the clear ice. The blue ice is quieter and older, containing fewer compressed air bubbles. The mountains recede under mist, which vignettes the glacier and the grey-green fjord. The mist and the sky and the mountain tops are faded out white into nothingness.

Last night I went back to reading Christiane Ritter, and now that I’m here I know up close the landscape she describes as nothing but mountains and rocks. I know the mist she walks through, and the feel of the rocks under her feet as she negotiates her way, both physically and perhaps by bargaining with the landscape, to the lagoon where she finds water. She speaks of graves along the way – and I love the sense of burial, of final resting place, the idea of being forever frozen into this earth to be slowly undone by the processes of the land. But here, burials were merely the laying of coffins onto the tundra weighted with stones. Eventually, the bears and foxes found the bodies and did away with them.


Later, I sit out on the deck, watching and listening. The sound at the base of the glacier is busy, continual lapping and chattering and a constant snap crackle and pop of ice and air. The glacier itself seems silent from distance, except when another iceberg calves. Sometimes the crackling and popping gets more intense, loud as a healthy fire crackling. Snowflakes fall utterly perfect onto my clothes and lie there without melting, like tiny Christmas decorations.

A bird stands black against the sky, wheeling quietly, and I wonder what brings it here: only food, I suppose. People are busy; I can see my own footprints in their careful path across the aft deck. Looking up the valley, the glacier itself is a chasmed blue expanse from mountain to mountain, a surreal array of rolling turquoise hills – chillingly, icily pastoral. The snow lying on top looks like frost over paddocks: early morning in a mysterious blue land.

Wet flakes fall on my pages; the coiled lines are packed against the deck under crunchy layers of snow, and small slurries and valleys fill the pockets of the folded sail. A heat haze from the ship’s small vents creates a patch of warping air even clearer and glassier than the rest.

There is something brittle under my jacket, as though my bones are glass. I’m too cold: I don’t want to be here. But I also want to make myself be here longer. My breath comes out in a hot cloud, my life force leaving me mouthful by mouthful.