Over five weeks, we’re featuring the story of Matthew Cicanese, a CochlearTM Baha® recipient, National Geographic Young Explorer and photographer, who went on an expedition in August 2016 to Iceland with the National Geographic Young Explorer program. Matthew shares the sounds and sights of his amazing experience with us. Read parts one, two and three of the blog; part four below:
“One of the coolest memories I have from Iceland is when I experienced the seasons change before my eyes.
When our expedition started there was still the ‘midnight sun,’ where the sun sets at 11:30 p.m. and rose at 4:30 a.m. There were late-summer wildflowers in bloom and insects buzzing about. The fields were a brilliant green and the forests dark and deep.
Throughout the course of our trip, we traveled over 1,500 miles around the entire country, and by the time we circled back around, the season and daylight had changed.
The forests once lush with flowers were now dried, and the trees were a rich golden yellow. The fields now painted with colors like yellow, orange, red and rust. The blissberries (like a blueberry) and crowberries were at their peak ripeness. The midnight sun was no more. It was almost as if someone had waved a wand over the land and transformed it into autumn.
By this time, it was the third week. We were still enjoying the expedition but beginning to grow weary. I’m bad about overworking myself when it comes to my photography and editing, and the long days were beginning to catch up with me.
I think by this point, my senses were a lot more tuned into being able to pick out extreme subtleties that I otherwise would have missed back home, due to the mysterious ‘Icelandic quietness.’ This feeling is sort of indescribable; it kind of reminded me of when I had my Baha activated.
I want to highlight two of my favorite encounters from my trip:
– One is when we returned to the southern region of Iceland near the end of the expedition. Our team scientist (who is the head of botany at the Icelandic Institute of Natural History) recommended we go to visit an ethnobotanist (the study of people and plants) who uses natural materials to dye Icelandic wool.
When we arrived at her home, she had a studio next door where she had many different pots on burners, each filled with water, plants and wool yarn. One of the coolest things besides the sound of all the pots bubbling was the different smells depending on where I stood in the room. One pot might smell musky while another smells floral a couple steps away. The woman who lived there was very nice and had some really interesting stories she told us.
– My other favorite encounter was with an older gentleman who had a rich knowledge of Iceland’s history, ranging from the settlement to ancient folklore. He invited us to hike with him one foggy morning because he wanted to show us the beauty of the Icelandic countryside that he called home.
It was a cool, damp morning and the entire cabin of his old truck bounced furiously as it slowly maneuvered across a large field dotted with sheep and horses. The fog was so thick we couldn’t see more than 15 yards ahead of us, and the air smelled like a mix between the nearby salty sea and the surrounding rain-soaked earth. Once he parked the car, the sound of the noisy old truck engine died out in an instant, and that inviting yet eerie ’Icelandic quietness’ I had come to know and love crept over the land. We stepped out of the old truck and into the tall, dew-covered grass, and our morning adventure began.
As we hiked along the wet hillsides, our movement through the grass and rocks created an entrancing rhythm in sound that caused me to reflect on my journey over the past three weeks and the experiences I had. At this point, we had traveled over 1,000 miles, and today would be our last big adventure for this trip.
We worked our way up the slopes of the Icelandic countryside, passing dew-kissed flowers, blissberries, lichens and mosses galore. The land was rich with color that morning because everything was wet from the previous night. Our foot march rhythm was accompanied by the sound of bleating sheep lost to us in the distant fog and a small creek we were using to navigate the hillside. The sun and surrounding mountains hid behind the endless fog, and we followed our newfound friend into the mysterious abyss. He showed us plants he had known his whole life, shared stories of his childhood and told us why he was proud to be an Icelander. All the while, I was documenting some of the most beautiful diversity of organisms that to many are just an afterthought.
About an hour into our hike we had traveled quite a distance, and our time was running out. The fog had cleared to reveal a lush landscape, and we made our way back to the car. Once back to his home we kicked off our soaked boots, changed our wet pants and shared tea with the man and his wife. We sat on their porch and listened to the wind whisper through the trees, the waves crash on the shores of the fjords and birds occasionally chirp as they flitted by. Some time had passed and we had to say goodbye.
We began the long drive back south to the capital, where our journey would soon come to a close.”