Junosuando, The Torne River

Retreating to the woods–Time to look around

In a gust of elation

I realize the floor

Is a carpet of blueberries

It’s late evening, and outside the rippled glass of a 1920s window, the water of the Torne River burns orange, mirroring the northwestern sunset sky as if to suggest that here, above the arctic circle, the river will do anything it can to keep ahold of that trailing warm sky and the summer it promises. The boreal forest that humbly extends from the riverbanks far into the distance harbors a silence that I can feel all the way into my center, a silence that I nearly forgot existed while in the bustle of London. As I stood on the riverbank this evening admiring the endless redshot sky, I listened to a car, a single car, trail away to the north. I must have listened for 10 minutes, and the car didn’t seem to become any quieter, as if moving in eternity, just next to me. Then all of a sudden, silence again. 
As I walked back to the house, two swans glided in over the Torne, spreading their wings in unison and plonking into the water. They trumpeted and made screeching sounds that echoed off the village of Junosuando. I wonder if the swans were confused by their echoes. “Hey, stop copying me. Hey, stop copying me.” “MEAEAAAAAAAAA. MEAEAAAAAAAAAA.” For all the fuss about how elegant swans are, they seem to me like somewhat clumsy birds, quite fun to watch, and not living up to the expectations of tranquil eloquent beauty. Or maybe the swans in Junosuando are just glad for the low key Swedish countryside, glad that there aren’t hordes of people watching them from the pond shore in St. James Park where they have to be composed for the queen of England. The swans travel through Junosuando on their migration north to their arctic breeding grounds, and now they are passing by on the return trip south. Though it’s still August, autumn is in the air here, and some of the aspens are already quaking yellow.

Before I get on too much to Junosuando and the Torne, I’d like to say a few more things about London. 
On the last day of my stay, a man came to the flat to replace the unit that monitors use of electricity and gas. The old one was acting up, so this guy from the utility came with a new doodad to install. He did the whole thing, and I was impressed by how professional he was–also quite friendly and willing to respond to my curiosities. When I asked him if there are water monitors in London, he said no.
I thought to myself, how can a city of 20 million people, or whatever the gargantuan figure, make it by without monitoring their water? They’ll dry up the Thames! I thought of the sad sight of London with a dry riverbed, bridges standing for nothing, sub-river tunnels losing their impressive stature.
But obviously the Thames has plenty of water, wide tidal river that it is, and I suppose it rains a lot in Great Britain. Water isn’t a woe there like it is back in New Mexico where I grew up or other exceedingly dry places. Gas and electricity must be a relatively scarce and expensive resource in London, both worthy of a monitor that will tell you every instant how much you are using, while water is not valuable in the same sense, sure water is fundamental, but a set fee for Londoners and that’s enough, no need to measure. 
To learn more, I wrote a number of emails and made calls to the Water Utility asking them if I could come and tour their facilities. They finally wrote back, after I had already left London, to say that absolutely not, I couldn’t visit and that a high level of security clearance is required to enter. Quote, 
“Dear Mr Hecht
Thank you for taking the time to write to us, to enquire about a visit to one of our treatment sites this week.  
I’m sorry, but we’re unable to allow unauthorised personnel to visit our sites/premises, due to security reasons.”
It’s not Scotland Yard! I wanted to write back. 
Even when abundant Like it is in Britain, water is so valuable–a fundamental source of life, civilization fuel, the fire in the furnace making the city to work, move, live. Imagine if somebody got into the London Water treatment facility, where they clean the poo and plastic, bacteria and industrial effluents out of the Thames water to make it safe for drinking, and dumped a packet of a top-secret pathogen into the system. Out of every tap in the hundreds of thousands of homes and offices and banks and hip pizza joints and cafes would come something horrible, something that looked like water but would turn even the most stylish young handsome hep-cat into a geezer wearing worn out and smelly sweat-shorts with a combover, a wizard hat, crocks and socks, and bad breath… Some chemical…. It would turn London into zombie-geezerville in a matter of days!! This is scary, the state of water for so many people is serious business, sanitation isn’t an obvious ordeal. Hot or cold, like it or not, water is life, and what could we value more than life?
Someday, maybe even very soon, London will have nice guys in uniforms installing fancy water monitors in every house. 
At the end of London, I felt great about meeting the GangesSUP gang and connecting with lots of people over water issues there and in India. My main triumph was to have preparations in place for travelling India, and I even took my first online Hindi class with my new tutor Ruchir from Alahabad who is fantastic, and has already taught me the Devnagari script and a bit of grammar in just five skype lessons. 

I left London through a maze of Duty Free shops and a confusing puzzle of terminals at Stansted Airport. I arrived in Sweden to a cozy hostel where I stayed the night in Stockholm. The next day I visited the travel agency responsible for providing Indian travel Visas and then set off for an overnight journey by train from the south of Sweden along the Gulf of Bothnia then inland towards the northern border with Norway. I was in a cabin with four dutch guys a and a German man, all of whom were heading off for vacations to trek in a national park called Abisko, near Tornetrask, a big lake that is the headwaters of the Torne River. They had bought a stuffed cow and beaver as camping pillows, who I also befriended. 

Sleeping in the train was surprisingly comfortable, and I got off in Kiruna, a small mining city at 67-some degrees north, ready to go. For the first time, I breathed the crisp, humid air from north of the arctic circle. 
After watching hours and hours of trees go by on the train, expecting to arrive in tundra at some point, I was surprised in Kiruna to find so many trees. It didn’t feel so arctic, even though just a month and a half ago there were three weeks of midnight sun. Were I to be in central Canada, it would surely be witness to a different scene with few trees and plenty of permafrost supporting an arctic tundra. Here the gulf stream brings warm air across the Atlantic that heats up the atmosphere of Scandinavia, so it is warmer and more forgiving here than at comparable latitudes in Alaska, Siberia, Greenland, and Canada. 
I took a bus from Kiruna to the quaint village of Junosuando where I am now, staying in the wonderful and well-set Junosuando Guest House, just 50 meters from the Torne Riverbank. 
When I arrived a kind man with a flash of blond hair and a quiet grin ushered me into the big white house right across the road from where the bus left me. We exchanged few words as he showed me around the guesthouse, but I felt welcome in the warm and cozy place. This was Mikael. He and his wife Maya run the Junosuando Guesthouse and a winter wilderness retreat. They are one of the few families here in Junosuando, a town of 350. 

Mikael took me up to meet Maya and their three daughters in the house just down the road. Sonya who is the youngest, Sita in the middle, and Uma is the oldest who just started 8th grade. Last year my friend Lily helped Mikael and Maya around the house and with their girls, and she made the connection which led to my very fortunate arrangements in Junosuando.
I explained to Mikael and Maya that the central theme of my year is to study rivers, the people who live around them and the geographies they are a part of, that I want to learn more about what the future of water might look like in the world. At first Mikael seemed skeptical. A carpenter and obviously a very practical man, my anthropocentric and slightly academic ideas might have seemed a bit unfounded, or perhaps he was wondering why I had come to one of the most water-rich areas of the planet to study such a topic. Maya was quietly supportive, and they offered any help they could give with my project. 
One of the first things I noticed when I got to Kiruna was a sticker that said, “Refugees welcome. Bring your families.” It was really touching, and as I walked around the city I saw maybe 50 of them, giving me both a sense of generosity, but also of something discomfiting. In the warmth of the welcome sticker, something much darker is suggested. I asked Maya and Mikael about the refugees, and they told me that just last year 50 refugees, mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan came to Junosuando. They arrived in November. Can you imagine? To arrive after such a journey–leaving your home and friends and place of birth, a temperate land with diurnal rhythms, making the often dangerous, gruelling, uncertain journey through unknown lands, navigating the harsh, competitive bureaucracies that confront running peoples with obstacle after obstacle, and then you arrive in a town of 350 people, north of the arctic circle just as the sun sets for winter. Some darkness.
I wondered deeply how these refugees found Junosuando, and how they were doing settling in. I learned some through Mikael and Maya and the girls. They told me that the refugees are still waiting to gain status, that the parents are trying to figure out work and so forth and that the kids are lively and learning Swedish and making well with the Junosuando community.  I learned a very small bit from watching Muhammad, a gentle and kind Afghani man who is helping Mikael with carpentry work and who went fishing with us, but because I don’t speak Swedish or any languages from Iraq and Afghanistan and I didn’t meet a refugee with any English, I didn’t get many insights. 

While thinking so much about the dynamics of watersheds, I was struck with the intimacy of another movement: the river of people moving out of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria, and so much of North Africa, a humanshed of immensity that I have not begun to understand that demands a global effort to handle, and the patient, accommodating generosity of countries, cultures, and families everywhere.
From a headwater in the center of civilization

From the heart of the valleys that gave life

To the first modern humans

Comes a tidal wave of runners– people fleeing

Escaping a reality that my imagination cannot recreate

A river 65% oxygen, 18% carbon, 10% hydrogen, 3% nitrogen,

70% water

100% human

I spent quite a bit of time studying while in Junosuando, reading the international agreement signed by Sweden, Finland, and Norway that ensures the Torne will remain undammed unless all the nations agree to develop hydropower on it. That the nations must routinely check the water quality to ensure that a minimal amount of mine tailings and other harmful effluents remain in extremely low concentration in the waters. This agreement seems very proactive, and in a general context it is… Few places on earth have enough flowing freshwater and few enough people that such a large river can have a straightforward bilateral agreement to remain undammed and to be conserved on the grounds of ecological health. The Scandinavian arctic is a water-privileged place with a very small population, and they clearly value the rich and diverse arctic environment that the free Torne river supports for fish, birds, and many terrestrial mammals. 
Of course, I didn’t spend all my time cooped up reading. I went on many walks in the woods and along the river, and Mikael made it a point to get out onto the land and onto the river with me during my stay. 

Peaking out of the rushes

I saw the transom of a wooden boat

A long dark-stained riverboat

Sharp against the water illuminated with sunset
I sat mid-keel as Mikael pushed us over the glassy river
I watched the ducks fishing easy by shore

Swans casting snowy waves

Their plumage feflected in the river

As though balanced on the fold

between two worlds
Following the line of the river, 

Weaving in and out of forest,

The boat resembled a needle
Threading ripples over the surface

Binding us to the waters

A part of the slow parade

Floating onwards

In a free river

Towards the sea

The days in Junosuando were punctuated with fishing trips, blueberry gathering, foraging mushrooms. I learned that Junosuando is located right after a major bifurcation in the river, the second largest river bifurcation in the world. At the point where the river splits nearly perfectly in half, extends a triad of three enormously wide rivers, each large enough to stretch the imagination and believe that this massive pool is really a lake with divergent and confusing currents. The capacity of the earth to hold so much water amazed me here, and I imagined the intense weight if the water, what if it just broke through? I watched Mikael take a sup right out of the Torne over the gunwhale of the boat.

Off the boat, I continued to be impressed by the load of water the land supports. Everywhere are bogs, and where the earth isn’t blanketed in spagnum, it is host to other mosses and liverwarts and blueberries, cloudberries, crowberries, winterberries. 
From Junosuando I got to engage with the arctic nature in an intimate way, learning about the species that live here and trying to come to grips with the fact that for a better part of 8 months, this place is in what most anybody would call winter. 
I am reading Barry Lopez’s book, Arctic Dreams, a stunning and engaging look into the northern part of earth. The emphasis on natural history and wildlife biology is stoking my already deep appetite to learn more about the north, how the creatures and plants and people of these high reaches live and adapt to a climate so unfamiliar to me, to spend a winter in the north someday, to take a while to do as the ice bears do: “Gathering ground to themselves. Navigating. Wandering with purpose.”
Unfortunately, but not regrettably, this journey into the arctic is the shortest of my Watson wanderings across the broad earth. I am soon to be back in Stockholm at World Water Week, before making my way to the headwaters of the Ganga River at the foot of the Himalayas. I have every intention of returning to the far north. Next time I want to feel the breadth of 24 hours of summer sun, to watch the migrations of myriad creatures south, to feel packice shift under my feet, and to ski through the forest or across the tundra on moonlit winter days. 

Along Came Thames

Walking along the castiron fence

Laden with flowers and topped in gold

I listen to a lecture on Greek History

I wonder about what the stream was like

At the headwaters of western civilization
The royal guards protecting the queen

Redcoat tall-capped and comic watch

A pool of power trailing the black suits

Striding down London avenues

The Thames admiring the scene
A river in continuity – fluid as time

Flowing to and fro with the tides

Witness to the aging kingdom

Senescent is the city

Ageless, the waters
Bridging then and now

An artery to culture

A force of life 

In this Britain

Blood of Londontown

Here I am in London. It’s quite a place. There is a peculiar sensation that comes when one at last visits a place seen all through childhood, an iconic scape: land or city; water, sound, or river. It’s like suddenly realizing a dream. “Oh, this is it,” I thought, running over the westminster bridge towards the Big Ben Bell Tower, “Hm, that’s where she lives,” weaving in and out of the tourists at Buckingham Palace. 

After a short stay in the water-rich city of Bergen, Norway, which served mostly as a planning stop, I arrived in London. I came here to meet a group of wild-sides with a plan to Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) the Ganges River, source to sea. This is a fantastical plan, in many ways absurd, but possible. 

Shilpika is the strong face and founder of the expedition. She is from New Delhi and worked as an investment banker in London for years. She had a change of mind a year ago and decided to start a new intentional life. She is returning to her roots with a purpose. Spike brings adventure into the picture as an experienced mountain guide. With loads of expeditions under his belt he has the expertise necessary for such an ambitious undertaking. Pascal is an aspiring environmentalist who is writing his dissertation now in Environmental Policy, focused on the role that plastic pollution, specifically microplastics have in riverine and oceanic environments and how to improve the situation.
The three call themselves Ganges SUP, and together they are planning the trip and working out the masses of logistics required to undertake a gruelling, dangerous, and ambitious journey. At the center they are undertaking the trip to raise awareness about the tremendous pollution that is severely impacting the Ganges, from untreated sewage to industrial effluents including heavy metals to partially cremated bodies. Their ideal is to bring a positive dialogue to the issues and to encourage the sort of positive changes that will make life around the Ganges more sustainable long into the future. 

Shipli, Spike, and Pascal under Kew Bridge

I decided to come and visit this group for two reasons; one is that I plan on travelling down the Ganges myself, both by water and land as an exercise in poetic cartography. I wanted to see if Ganges SUP and I could partner in some ways to support one another on our respective adventures. Second I wanted to get to know them and learn more about their mission to promote a more sustainable future for the river. Is this really a crew I want to get on with? Are they just loonies (I’m getting my British vocab on) or is this really an authentic trip?
Having been here some days now, I admire Ganges SUP very much. The three come from very diverse backgrounds and they all seem genuinely dedicated to this project. I attended a variety of events with them over the last few days including a YES tribe presentation, where adventure enthusiasts present on adventures they have said YES to and gone for it. It was an inspiring story.
A tangent there – after hearing from a couple of runners, one who ran some 1500 miles of the coast of New Zealand and her partner who ran across Canada (the rockies in the winter!!!!), I was inspired to take a fun trip of my own. A much more humble but entertaining morning adventure. I decided to run from the flat where I am staying into london along the Thames crossing every bridge to really get a sense for the urban river. I had some fun and took a few selfies… I guess I’m on that train now… The lone traveler with his iPhone. 

Highlights from the adventure… I was still getting used to the selfie thing…
Westminster Bridge :O

On Wednesday we spent the whole day filming a video for their crowdfunding website. Their friend Ross Fairgrieve, an aspiring environmental filmmaker, did the directing, and it was great for me (a novice moviemaker) to see a more professional person in action. I learned a lot and felt helpful. I also got to see just how dedicated these folks are to their project. It’s an impressive undertaking.

Yesterday, Thursday, I got to go with Shilpi and Spike to Wateraid, and enormous non-profit that is working to encourage freshwater access and development all over the world including in India. This is a big organization. They work in over 30 countries and have a really wide variety of projects adapted to local issues. As charities run, this is one of the big ones. If you google, “India Water NGO,” Wateraid is usually first.
We met with a high-up in the organization and he gave a soundbite on video for the crowdfunding video. I was really impressed with how candid, informed, and friendly he was, and he seems to have a real passion for the issues. 

I was reminded there that the Ganges waters 450,000,000 peoples and also has over 150x the amount of acceptable fecal coliform in the river. I am very glad to be meeting these informed and converned people and seeing what this sliver in the world of water development looks like. 

After the meeting, Shilpi, Spike, and I sat down and hashed out my involvement a bit. I had been up and down about whether or not I wanted to join, because I don’t want to commit too heavily to an expedition when my intent is to live and learn in an immersive environment. The Watson Foundation encourages me to maintain my independence and to avoid travelling much with other travellers and expats. 
I told them that my ideal would be to spend limited time actually with them on the river, but to travel more independently, sometimes on land in their support vehicle, sometimes by water, and perhaps take offshoots from the route to do my own fieldwork. I also said that I need to have flexibility and that I might not continue past Varanasi. This way I could support them by making water, food, and gear deliveries with the support vehicle, while also engaging with the local communities along the way. Since travelling by land can be quicker, I want to have ample time to do interviews with laypeople and officials along the way and to make time to be immersed and learn Hindi and so on. 
After the journey with them, I will be a much more savvy traveller in India, and that is the ideal.
Shilpi and Spike liked the sound of this, and I got the feeling that we could have a really reciprocal relationship along the river. I was encouraged by their openess to my own plans and, YES, in a tough circumstance, it’s good to have friends around for support, on the river, or above the bank. I think we all feel good.

Thank you dearly for reading and following the adventures. I am heading back up north to Sweden and the Torne river in a weeks time and then it’s down to Stockholm’s World Water Week starting on August 28. 
I stare at the worldmap

Each geography

A microcosm of life

Tectonic mountaintops

Meandering river valleys

Pilgrims to paddlers
Movement, it defines us

Spheres of life intersecting
Waves lapping the riverbank

Silt unravelling upstream

Part of the mountains

Will soon be here

Pushed by the river

Pushing the river

Beginnings – Iceland

A day begun

Afloat Atlantic air

Ocean hid 

Beneath arctic sunrise

Tangerine cloud
A volcanic island

Nestled in the open sea

Rises up

Vaulted landscapes

Arrayed in all directions
Once viking outland

A church of nature

Woven of fire and ice

Born of water

Time to get my feet wet

The mid-atlantic rift juts out above the sea at 63 degrees north. There from the freezing ocean lifts the land of ice and fire. A swell of black rock, blanketed in bryophites and glaciers. A land of stark North Atlantic scenery decorated on the surface with the vibrant mosses and liverworts of temperate rainforest, capped with white arctic alpine, resting upon a sea of molten lava. 
The landscape is one of cracks, crags, canyons, fjords, ice, lavafields, fiissures, volcanic cones, and braided river valleys. Dark lavarock of a varying ages extends for miles from volcanos all around Iceland, mosses colonize the young rocks, and the navy Atlantic laps upon the black shores. 

Just 4 days brought an endless supply of wonder to my wandering mind And body. This island stopover between Greenland and Northern Europe provided a most wonderful gateway to this year of intentional travel. 
As I boarded the Icelandair flight out of Chicago, all the other passengers and I were given a small bottle of Iclandic water. This is a place that prides itself on water. It is surrounded by it, the island itself is woven together by crystal gray and blue rivers, the majority clean enough to dunk one’s head under and pull a deep drink, soothing the body with an elixir of glacial melt and midatlantic rain.

Day 1 I wanted to make it southeast, towards, get ready, Kirkjubaejarklauster. Yes, Kirkjubaejarklauster. One more time, Kirk ju bae jar klau ster. Pronounced Kierk-you-bay-yaar-klow-ster. It was easier than I thought to get to a place whose six syllabled I couldn’t pronounce for three days… I suppose in Iceland they are used totourists’ clumbsy directions with placenames like Sudureyri, Eyjafjallajokull, Snaefellsjokull….

Quickly learning how expensive it is to pay for anything in Iceland, including public busses, I decided to try my hand at hitchhiking, which I was assured would be fairly easy out of Reykjavik and could get me at least half way to… K-klauster. I bussed to the edge of the city and then quickly got a ride with a mechanic whose name I cannot muster. As we passed a geothermal power plant, I learned that Iceland gets much of its energy from the volcanic earth of the island, and the homes and buildings are heated with hot water pumped into the walls. 
Just before accompanying the mechanic to tow a rental bus, I learned that Iceland’s rivers flood on ocassion. The floods occur when volcanic heat melts the underbelly of the glaciers forming subglacial reservoirs. When these become large enough, they will actually lift up the glacier allowing the excess water to burst forth into riverbeds where it will flow in a mad silty rush towards the sea. He told me as we drove over a roiling, cloudy gray river that when the waters are opaque, this kind of activity is going on.  

I arrived hitching to Skogar, a town known for a view of one of iceland’s smaller glacial mountains, Eyjafjallajokull, and a beautiful waterfall, Skogarfoss. Waterfalls are everywhere in Iceland, in one photo I captured three big ones, it’s hard to see, look closely…

Three waterfalls, ZOOM IN
From Skogar, I had a hard time hitching further, and I thought I had missed the bus. I was exhausted and thinking about going to camp in Skogar when a bus drove by towards the stop near the waterfall, 1Km away. I started running after it, hoping to catch it to K-klauster. Two dudes pulled up and drove alongside me cheering me along, and then sped off to hold the bus for me. Next I know they are back and loading me into the car urgently. They sped me to the bus, and I barely made it. Finally in the 9:30 PM light, I got to Klauster and set up camp in front of a beautiful waterfall. 

My hope was to make it to Laki, a volcanic fissure in Iceland’s largest national park. Laki erupted in 1783, causing havoc in this region. My friend Marc who is working there asked me to bring him some gear he needed from the States, I said I would and I also wanted to take the opportunity to learn about the Skafta River, flowing out of Laki by Klauster. 
In the morning I learned that Laki is up a 45Km 4×4 road, and the bus tour there was out of my pricerange. I decided to take Marc’s gear to the rangers in town, and ask them to bring it to him or give me a ride. They said they would bring it to him, but couldn’t bring me, so I spent the morning looking around a small museum that the rangers run with an exibit that taught me that in many parts of Iceland the earth is 90% covered in bryophites. This fauna is a green filter for water, which then flows into a bed of pummus, further filtering the water. This is part of the reason that so many people claim Iceland’s water to be the purest in the world. I know well that purity is a topic I will fixate on often this year. 

I downloaded an app from the museum that would provide me with a gps guided tour, for free, of a section of the Skafta River. what a great thing. The tour soothed my appetite for knowledge about the river. I learned that during the 1783 eruption of Laki, the residents of Klauster were panicked and in grave danger of death. All the livestock had perished and harvest, and all the ground was poisoned. 

One of the Laki craters that erupted in 1783
Klauster residents gathered in church for what they thought would be their last service as the lava from Laki poured down the Skafta river basin towards the town. The preist (NAME) gave a sermon praying for god to stop this Magma. When the people left church, they found the lavaflow stopped right upriver. A miracle perhaps, and a good story, though less faithful observers say that the lava stopped at the point where a tributary meets the Skafta, cooled on either side by the magma. 

The point where the Skafta River stopped the lava flow from Laki

The cliffs above the river Skafta

Reveal that its water

Stopped lava in its track

At the whim of Klauster’s villagers

Who prayed for it

And believe that it was god
The interactions of fire, water, earth, and air are potent and pervasive in Iceland. This is a country of the elements, a place revered for its nature since it’s settlement by vikings 1000 years ago. 
After my long hike, I received a surprise message from Marc saying he was coming to pick me up and bring me to Laki. He arrived with a colleague, Jo from the UK. The two work for the government building trails in the park, and Jo is working on her dissertation in Physical Geography. She explained that she is studying rootless cones, a formation that looks like a mini volcanic cone tand is formed when hot lava flows over wetlands. The heat of the lava causes the water to sublimate, and with a great expulsion of pressure, steam explodes through the lava forming cones. These cones are all over Laki and its surrounding areas. I was fascinated by the reversal of roles, ater this time becoming volatile as a micro-volcano. Rootless cones also exist on Mars and are a clue in our search for water there. 

Rootless cone

The following day I got a ride down from Laki and, nearly missing the bus again, I bussed back to Reykjavik. I learned so much in these 4 days, and the volcanic-glaical-mossy-watershed Iceland remains one of the most magnificent places I have ever been.

Icelandic church and statue of Leif Erikson


1:15 AM, early morning of July 30. The lamplight in my bedroom and in the room down the hall illuminate the wood floor and carpets and a bed, homey things, at last free of clutter and trash from the many days that it served as packing station/work of contemporary travel art.

Six days prior I scattered gear about the room–a sleeping bag & mat, a new tent, layers for warmth, first aid supplies, water purification, a small stove, so on. All the things I imagined I would need for a year of travel including some lucky charms… Actual charms, not mini-marshmallows shaped like leprechauns, although those are a mean snack. I was and am intent on being ready for anything–sleeping in the Boreal forest near a herd of Caribou, wandering slowly about in a summer feast of blueberries, making tea atop a plateau overlooking a craggy himalayan mountainside, dancing half naked beneath a full moon by the ganges river, paddling whitewater through a Chilean desert canyon. 

The week brought some mental strain as I was preparing for a year on the road, on the yak, on the burro, on the boat, the SUP. But most of all, it brought a lot of warmth. While in Santa Fe, where I grew up, my family invited loads of friends over for an evening of conversation and a screening of a film I recently finished. Despite my own insecurity showing a personal piece I was overwhelmed by the support and integrity of our friends. I got to have heartfelt conversations with both of my parents, and I felt their love. I saw highshool friends and spent time stomping through the country where I learned about the world.

This is the country that taught me about earth and colored my life as a kid, the country that taught me about water, a topic on which I am now fixated, a foundation to take to the road, and learn a lot about, well, anything. 

The last stop of the week in Santa Fe was a film about YoYo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. This is a project that brings musicians together from all walks of culture, all walks of practice and experience, all strains of class and education, a project meant to unify cultures distinct from one another in myriad ways, and to weave a sound that has never been heard before on earth. This is the sound of diversity, a sound allows difference, violence, history, curiosity to sing, to be beautiful. I could not have asked for a more fitting send off into my Watson year.

During one scene of the movie, YoYo has just brought about 20 musicians from across the world together for the first time in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. He is clearly anxious about what will happen. Will the experiment work? There is a vail between him and the other musicians and a curtain between them and the future, so many unknows. Anything could happen. 
I identified whole heartedly with YoYo. I am preparing to drop myself into a winged cylinder labelled ICELANDAIR and fly into a world I know so little about. 21 years of life is insubstantial. To put it into numerical perspective, the average age of humans on the earth is 30 and say there are 7.5 billion people, that’s 2,250,000,000,000 years of human experience on earth right now. That doesn’t account for all our dear creatures, the earth itself, and the water. 

My intent is to learn about water in three distinct places and to explore as much as I can how humans connect to that H2O. This is basic and simultaneously reveals a universe of complication.
The words of the poet John Brandi breeze through my mind.. “Go out into the world, observe keely, take notes, make drawings, go home, put it together, write about it, make a book, and over again.”

Where does one begin to ask questions? I have to remind myself over and over to keep it simple, that we are made of water, that water is life, el agua es la vida.

1:30 AM and all this stuff was beginning to slow down, the boil of curiosity coming to a simmer in my head, preparing for a short sleep before departure in the morning for Chicago for a very quick layover visit to my grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins before heading across the pond. The pile of gear that was strewn about the rooms of my house was packed and I drifted to sleep.

Now I am sitting in the Chicago airport waiting for a flight to Iceland and then on to Norway in 4 days. I. have just a wink of an idea of what’s ahead. I am thinking graciously of all that the land and people I love here in North America that have made this this life possible, and looking forward to seeing my friends around the world and meeting new ones. 

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