By Elizabeth Barron, Arctic Auditories research team member.
By May 2023, we were well into Arctic Auditories. Spending all this time with colleagues focused on sound (something I have never worked on within my own scholarship) was starting to influence affect me. I was co-leading a field course in the United States for a mixed class of Norwegian and American students. The class was on conservation, sustainability, and environmental citizenship with a focus on national parks. After four months of mostly classroom-based learning, we took the students on a three-week trip to Yellowstone National Park, with stops at Teddy Roosevelt National Park and Grand Tetons National Park.
The students were well-bonded by the time we were in the field, and talked a lot! They were also a generally healthy, fit group of fast hikers. Some kind of combination of youthful energy and peer pressure to not fall behind meant I, being neither youthful nor willing to push myself way outside my comfort zone to keep up, was often hiking alone.
Was I alone in these mountains? Or was I [alone] along rivers, [alone] surrounded by volcanos, [alone] with microbes (Figure 1)?
Figure 1: Beehive Geyser at Yellowstone National Park. The geysers at Yellowstone are an amazingly diverse community of algae, fungi, and bacteria that live happily in the extreme heat and toxic-to-humans landscape of the active volcano that makes up the heart of Yellowstone National Park. It erupted just a few minutes after this photo was taken (May 20, 2023).
I wanted the students to slow down, to listen to their surroundings rather than each other for even a few minutes. In the classroom, I had taught them about different ways to engage in fieldwork, and other sensory geographies such as smellscapes and soundscapes. So, when we were in the Grand Tetons, after making it to the top and re-joining the group (who were all done with their lunch and exploring by the time I met them (Figure 2)), I asked everyone to spend at least 10 minutes of their return hike in silence, ideally hiking alone, listening.
Figure 2: Student peering over the cliff edge at wildlife below, Grand Tetons National Park with Jenny Lake in the background (May 21, 2023).
I set back down the trail at 2 pm. It was sunny, 22°C, and now I chose to walk alone. Thinking about my Arctic Auditories crew back in Norway, I chose to focus on watery sounds as I walked the Jenny Lake Wilderness Trail. This is what I heard – although actually, this is me deciding what words in my native language of English can come anywhere near trying to describe what I heard, which of course you can never read.
This exploration and play with language is something we will soon start focusing more on in Arctic Auditories, as we begin to build a multi-lingual glossary of sound words, sonic writing practices, and how we write ourselves into sound and place.
- The slap splash of my boots in a puddle on the trail
- The dull roar of the big waterfalls, and slightly gentler, higher sound of rushing rapids
- The gurgle plop of the lake edge, like an unassuming toddler talking in her sleep, loses out to the deafening motor roar of a passing speedboat, which when gone has left me the loud crashing waves on a built-up rock wall at the lake’s edge
- The gurgle on the rock wall at the lake’s edge, of water breaking on rocks, is different than the little bubbles that pop up like friends when the waves hit submerged wood
- The shush-shush of slush alternates with the slap-slap of walking across trails damp with melting snow and puddles
- A gurgling brook emerging out from under a boulder and draining into the lake reminds me spring is well underway, but here in the mountains of Wyoming, USA the snow is still melting, feeding the lake for the summer to come
Like a TV cooking show host tasting their final dish and telling you how delicious it is: the smells and textures that you only hope to experience…I can only tell you my experience of water and hope that you will know something more. Perhaps you will think about the paradoxical nature of our watery words – that water on the mountain is powerful and strong – it crashes, rushes, and roars. Water on the trail is more of a nuisance – it slaps, slushes, and plops. All this water reminds me that water is change, it is almost constantly moving, and its instantiations are ephemeral. It is like sound in this way. How can we, with writing and language, convey the fluidity of the watery sounds around us? We hope you will help us think through this in the coming months.
Water hits the sides of my water bottle like irregular drumbeats, reminding me I am on the move. I am alive in this landscape with salty water running down my face, proving that I can move, I do move, and my body takes care of me as I take care of it, at my own pace.
Figure 3: The author (me!) after just arriving at the destination for our Jenny Lake Wilderness Trail Hike – a nice lake overlook you can see in Figure 2. Students relax in the background. 😉
@ Elisabeth Barron