The Language of Ice

Here’s something I’ve learned in Iceland: use whatever you have at hand. Yes, I knew that already, because that’s how the Germans invented science along the old pilgrimage road between Paris and Minsk, but I hadn’t drawn the fullest conclusions from that, such as this:


Ghosts, Öxarárfoss, Iceland

What’s a ghost? Why, something that’s neither dead nor alive and which brings a message from deep within your story.

The lesson? A people and its land are one. If they’re not, they are a different people, and the land will suffer under their occupation. (And the Canadian Okanagan and its American sister the Okanogan are both suffering now.) The lesson is also: write with the forms of your place. Your place has a language. It is not the same as the social language that is called art or literature. This was driven home to me at the annual Okanagan Arts Awards in Kelowna a couple weeks back, a glorious gala event celebrating human social culture and the idea of creativity. What it didn’t celebrate, though, was this:

P1260717Troll People, Þingvellir

When confronted with a lake lying between continents, people start to write their story with the land. It’s messy, but it’s human.

There’s a lesson to be drawn from Iceland, that can be shifted to a confrontation with the Okanagan: start with a language, that comes from the land, the water, the light and the air. Here’s a piece of just such a language from Iceland:


Language Beginning, Öxarárfoss, Iceland

Forget about cuneiform and Linear B and language starting with bird tracks in sand. There is another way. Forget about writing for an audience and what they will pay. That idea relies on an environmental deficit. It replaces a human relationship with the earth with an interhuman one, leaving the deficit to be paid at some point in the future. That time is now.


Language Beginning as Art, Öxarárfoss, Iceland

Returning the earth to life, which is the same as returning human imagination to life on the earth, starts now. It has to. Artists know stuff like this. Writers? Well, now this one does, too.

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