Going home from a cliff walk I start at a sound. Stop and listen, cock my head, like a tern about to dive. It’s a big sound. Rocks falling? Or was there enough extra snowfall to create an avalanche? I stare and stare at the white bits of mountain but nothing moves.
There again, something nearer than mountain. The fjord is breathing: whales, lots of them, are exhaling. Similar to the sound of a human blowing down a big plastic drainpipe; a rounded tone, almost pitched. They are far away but the water and the still air carry the sound over to me as if they are right here, just over the cliff edge below me and the fulmars.
We were visiting my cousins in London, I was ten or eleven years of age and there were four of us siblings and my parents. I was intrigued when my mother told us about the Whispering Gallery in St Paul’s Cathedral, though this was twinged with scepticism as I was old enough to understand about ‘white lies’ and that she often exaggerated things, sometimes to entice us to do something or go somewhere, sometimes just to inspire us to think more imaginatively. When we came out of an endless dark claustrophobic staircase into the blindingly bright gallery we discovered she wasn’t lying: the most intimate of words are transported seemingly across a vast space, in actuality around the cold circular wall, from one person’s mouth to another’s ear. Like magic.
In the 1990s streets were quieter. It was a Saturday and the footpath was clear, clear enough for a physics demonstration. My father told me to run up the street to where the bend in the road began. I watched as he knelt down and banged a hammer onto the pavement. And a split second later the sound reached me, a weird kind of echo that wasn’t an echo.
I bathe in the delayed sonic spectacle of five whales breathing.
Snapshot of life during an artist residency in Gamli Skóli, Hrísey Island, North Iceland during the month of June 2018.