Seeing the Woods

A blog by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society


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Snapshot: Katrin Kleemann Takes First Prize in Photo Competition

Katrin Kleemann has been awarded the jury’s first prize in the LMU GraduateCenter’s “Mein Forschungsgegenstand/My Research Object” photography competition for her photo of the Laki fissure in Iceland. Katrin is a doctoral candidate in the Rachel Carson Center’s Doctoral Program Environment and Society and a research associate of the Environment & Society Portal. Her research project studies the impacts of the Icelandic Laki fissure eruption of 1783 on the northern hemisphere.

The GraduateCenterLMU has been organizing this photo competition every year since 2009. The winning photographs will be displayed in the offices of the LMU Graduate Center and used by the LMU Munich to promote doctoral candidates’ diverse research. All the submissions to the competition can be viewed here.

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Worldview: Watch Your Step!

“Moss Conservation in Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland”

By Katrin Kleemann

All photographs were taken by Katrin Kleemann and used here with her express permission.
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View of the southwest half of the Laki fissure from Mount Laki.

Lakagígar is a fissure volcano in Iceland’s remote highlands that erupted in 1783–84 and left behind a landscape full of lava fields, now covered in lush green moss. Tourists can travel to the Laki fissure only with a four-wheel drive because the terrain is very rough and you have to cross several rivers to reach it. Most of the year, routes to the area are impassable due to the harsh climatic conditions, so visitors can only gain access during the summer months (mid-June to mid-September). Continue reading


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Making Tracks: Karen Oslund

In the “Making Tracks” series, RCC fellows and alumni present their experiences in environmental humanities, retracing the paths that led them to the Rachel Carson Center. For more information, please click here.

Imagining the Global Arctic
By Karen Oslund

In his What W. H. Auden Can Do for You, Alexander McCall Smith calls Auden “a poet of landscape.” Many landscapes— Yorkshire, Oxford, New York, and Italy—among others, feature in Auden’s poems, but he is also a poet of the sea in his Letters from Iceland, singled out by McCall Smith as “one of Auden’s oddest books.” Letters from Iceland does, in one of its poems about the sea, contain the line which is a source of one of the classic stories about Auden’s working methods as a poet. The line which reads, “Every port has its name for the sea…and the North means to all, Reject” is the result of a printer’s error in proof. Auden wrote the line as, “each poet has a name for the sea,” but then gave into his tendency to “sacrifice meaning for sound” to the extent that he “says things which are not true just because he likes the sound of the words,” and let the error stand.

While McCall Smith might be right in general about Letters from Iceland being odd, Auden is not very remarkable in this instance for saying things which are not true about Iceland just because he liked the sound of them. This book is usually described as a “travelogue” of Auden’s journey to Iceland together with a friend, but it is actually more about his ideas about Iceland before the trip and his working out of those ideas as he traveled in the country. In this voyage, Auden was joining a tribe of European travelers to Iceland—including Joseph Banks, Richard Burton, William Morris, Konrad Maurer—and people who wrote about Iceland without ever having been there, like Jules Verne, in elevating his emotions and desires to find something in the North which he did not experience at home. For Auden, it was the idea of untouched nature and a life unspoiled by the forces of European modernity, something which surely did not exist in Iceland in 1936, if it ever truly had at all. For one group of Romantic travelers, a visit to Iceland and the North was a journey back in time, and they hoped that the landscape, nature, and language of the country would remain preserved there in an unaltered state. But for other visitors, including many members of the Danish service bureaucracy which ruled the island from the late middle ages until the end of World War II, the Iceland they imagined was malleable and transformable, a place where reindeer and musk oxen could be moved from other Arctic places and thrive in an regulated and managed landscape. Continue reading