It was one of those days that the Norwegian poet Tor Obrestad called white days. I’m sure he’s not the only one to have called them that. But translating his work, it was the first time I’d run across the phrase. I found “white days” much more beautiful than “overcast”. More sensual. And therefore more meaningful.
Usually, when my translation work comes up in conversation, Norwegians comment on how rich the English language is compared to Norwegian. Then I spend ten minutes trying to convince them otherwise.
Yes, the English dictionary is thicker, unwieldy at times for even a native speaker. And I suppose that is the point. More does not necessarily mean better–even when it comes to vocabulary. Throwing more words at an experience doesn’t guarantee better communication.
I find a lot of the English words to be analytical. A self-conscious step removed from sensual experience. And it is my impression that, when it comes to self-conscious descriptors, English can’t touch German.
Take the word angst, for example. One cure for which is Norwegian nature.
This weekend’s hike (2 hours) began as a walk along a tractor road. Then a steep hike, stepping stone to tuft to stone to avoid the gaps that can clamp down suddenly around your ankle to jerk you into stillness. Down again, and over the moorland (giving up being prissy about wet socks). As we climbed again, balancing on the sharp edges of quartz-lined rocks, we could hear an underground brook. The Norwegian word is pipler. Not babbling, not bubbling, not popping.
It’s times like this that I wonder over what I have gained and what I have lost settling here. How tied is the landscape to the language? What does it mean to be tied to the land and still not tied to the language? I suppose it leaves me still searching always to describe; leaves me picking apart the experience, and comparing it to what went before–what might be transferable as a kind of metaphor, because I have never heard that sound anywhere but on the moorland here, or along the shore where the water and air tangle between the stones.
Then again, I can recall so easily the hot, gritty sidewalk-dust air of Bakersfield. I don’t know of a specific word for that either.
At the peak, the wind blew my phone from the selfie stick and it landed face-first on a rock that shattered the glass. So much for the Survivor case.
I knew there would be some kind of divine punishment for getting a selfie stick.