Another country, another currency, another language. Not just words like ‘skookum’ (big, strong) but conversations like, ‘Do you call that a truck?’ Another landscape, another blackberry bush, another pie. This time the blackberries were picked from rambling bushes on the edge of a Canadian rainforest – pine, spruce, fir trees reaching high, creating deep dark mossy places below, arbutus trees twisting thin red trunks out of craggy rocks, maples spreading wide green canopies – and the pie was made and eaten in a log cabin on the side of a still, clear lake dotted with tiny islands, looking across to a forested hillside, a short motorboat ride from the lapping ocean. The loons call, mournful trilling, burbling back and forth. Kingfishers play tag, maintaining a scolding chhhk chhhk as they divebomb each other. Creeks have to be cleared of beaver dams to make way for spawning fish.
We got to Canada from England via Iceland. The road from the airport to Reykjavik is through an 800-year-old lava flow, where lumps of weathered lava, covered with a blanket of mosses and lichens in yellows and greens, look as if the ground is still bubbling. Glimpses of clear blue sky give way to soft, wet fog that slowly covers the surrounding hills, hides the views of the sea at the end of each street, and starts to drip from the sky in icy rain. We go on a ‘Golden Circle’ tour that includes a visit to Thingvellir, site of the first Icelandic parliament; Gullfoss, a pounding waterfall falling from a glacier, thick and white behind distant black mountains; a hot springs area with steaming sulphurous pools, clouds of stinking mist that billow, and Geysir, the original geyser (which no longer gushes) and Strokkur, which does gush with sudden booming explosions, its pool pulsing like a giant’s pulse, filling the rock pool and falling back, the water becoming heavier, thicker, more forceful, more sanguine than normal water, then the push comes and the water fills with air, propelled upwards, in droplets and spitting spray. When I look up, the clouds look like someone has been knitting Icelandic patterns in the sky.
We flew to Canada over Baffin Island. You know when you’re by the sea, on a big brown rock shelf, with little perfectly round potholes, and long jagged crevices, and large areas of sharp rock that suddenly fall away? It’s like that, but from on high, and without those little red jelly-like blobs that cling to the insides of the pools, or the sound of the sea booming into caverns below your feet. Dodging my head to get a better view through my window, beyond the plane’s engine, I try to make sense of the white dots that appear in the sea along the shore, then form lines and clumps like so much flotsam and jetsam. Please don’t let them be flotsam and jetsam. Now they are joined together below us and the sea is nearly covered in lacy white, then the white stretches off into the distance until we don’t know what is ice and what is cloud. A tip of dark brown land appears then a wide blue-green channel with small streaks breaking its flat surface. Small streaks like a motorboat’s wake in a place where there is no sign of humans or motorboats. Am I seeing small streaks of a whale’s wake? Then a river claws its way through this red brown land, a blue line plaiting through a wide yellow bed, equipped for gushing snowmelt. Then the clouds cover the land.