Sensory deprivation

Excerpted from my journal written during a summer spent mostly alone on an island in the Arctic Ocean, the following is a small introduction to a place most will never go.

Cooper Island Alaska

The fog

I’ve been walking since I got up this morning. And eating of course. The wind and rain of the other day passed finally. Yesterday was foggy and freezing. Everything was covered with a thin sheet of ice. It lifted briefly in the afternoon and got warm for a spell.

This morning when I awoke the air was absolutely dead calm and the fog as thick as it has ever been. And so, I walked, and took photos, and walked more. There is an absolute silence and stillness to the world that is unmatched by anything I’ve ever heard or felt. Even intensely cold days in the north woods have a feeling of motion. This is absolute.

There is sensory deprivation on two levels, sound – except for a few birds, my own footsteps and the almost imperceptible wash of water on the shore, but these things you must work to hear. And visual deprivation – the water, both the lagoon and the ocean, is so utterly calm that they perfectly mirror the sky and the fog, so all sense of a horizon or a division between land and water is gone.

All sense that you are seeing anything at all is gone. If my mind didn’t override my visual input and tell me about the fog I should think I was going blind. Visibility is very low across the land but to stand on the edge of the water and look into the great grey void created by the sky and water uniting in color and texture is to truly experience emptiness. And to feel as if I am on the edge of the world.

Now and then, on the lagoon side, a dark spot that is a loon or a long-tailed duck will break free of the fog and show itself giving a definitive life to the water and proving that there is more than one dimension to the space in front of me.

On the ocean side, there are icebergs looming in the water, moving imperceptibly across the surface. And often, they calve. The sound travels through the fog, across the water, that distorted fog sound. But to look out to the ocean there is no change, no motion, no acknowledgment by the water or the air that the balance between ice and water has shifted. Only silence once again.

Occasionally a red-throated loon gives its eerie, raspy, almost desperate call, though no loon is in sight. I know it is out among the icebergs, bill pointed up to the foggy sky and its head cocked to one side or the other, listening into the silence for an answer, or for any sound. Some proof that the rest of the world still exists and it isn’t only in the imagination that there was once wind and motion, sounds of water washing against the shore, or the persistent calls of numerous other birds.

I took many photos of this deprivation of sight. Some hard fast object in the foreground with the limitless depths of fog gray void behind. How does one record the lack of something to see with a camera? I’m not sure. If there is anything to see in my photos, any depth or contrast, any color, any motion, they will be stupendous indeed. If not, they will be flat, gray, ambiguous portraits of just what I sought to record, the lack of something to see.

Cooper Island Alaska

Take off


4 replies »

  1. Beautiful words and photos. Thank you for sharing. I long for a day at the coast, and I know it will be cold but always worth it. Where are my keys? Thank you again.

  2. Beautifully written, and the photographs reflect the quiet solitude. A meditative experience to look within as the outside is virtually unchanging.

    • Thank you. Ongoing and daily overstimulation allows us to avoid tending to the inner workings. Strip away the noise and suddenly there are words, thoughts, ideas that we never knew we had.