Monday, September 20, 2010


Today I saw my first iceberg. Maybe yesterday I saw an iceberg but it did not have the emotional and aesthetic impact of this one, my first. This iceberg loomed large, and we rode around it very slowly in the Zodiac, and examined closely its shape, contours and colors, and imagined what it would be like to touch it, to stand upon it, to slide down its slides or climb up its cliffs.
The first thing you notice is either the whiteness or its size. It seems necessary to think about one or the other. Of course it is big, bigger than a VW bug, bigger than my house, bigger than the whole field now tangled with jewelweed, bamboo, milkweed, porcelain berries and Virginia creepers. Once we are close enough it is bigger than I can see all at once; it is bigger than my eyeball.And I am only seeing one tenth or one eighth, depending on whom you speak with.
After the whiteness, I see every color that is not white.
And sure, we know white is the absence of color
This is anything but absent. My first iceberg is doubly present, no, octally or decadally present. The mountain and valley and ridges,the dell, the beetling cliffs, and the knobby tower above the water line, barely suggestive of the scape below.
Submarine is all conjecture.
And if supramarine stops your breath imagine the long inhale of all you are not seeing in color.

For weeks now I have been carrying around a postcard of "Icebergs" by Frederic Church from the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, CT (otherwise famous for its button collection). I've been gazing at it longingly and wondering when this painter - whom I know for his Hudson River landscapes, quirky Persian style villa and grand vision of the tropics - visited the Arctic. It turns out he did not, not exactly. Like so many others, he was mesmerized by the story of Franklin's lost expedition,and in 1859 Church and his friend, Louis Legrand Noble, spent a month aboard a schooner sketching icebergs and the sky off Newfoundland and Labrador.
The paintings are a riot of color.

1 comment:

Rebecca Rice said...

Of course my own association with icebergs is with the one that hit the Titanic.

I love the image of you circling the iceberg in The Zodiac!