Waterfall Semiology

13. October, 2016

They call her Gullfoss, the Golden Fall, but this morning she is ivory and pearl, moonstone and mammoth bone. This is how I imagine Asgard, home of the Norse gods. A palace of cascading columns, terraces pale and creamy as April milk, trimmed with balconies frothy with asphodel, angelica, and coquettish Queen Anne’s lace. Mists twine up the cliffs. In the right light, they would blossom into rainbows.

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Drunk on storm-rains, Skógafoss dives off a cliff in a blind rush of froth and silt. In his turbid rampage down the crag, Skógafoss pulverizes illusions of time and grammar. What tense can capture a waterfall, what temporal mode holds the overflowing chronological fullness of this cascade? The waterfall is perpetually about to fall, falling, fallen. Time telescopes as I watch a white lock of the waterfall uncurl down the cliff-face as if tumbling through a series of still photographs. Wraiths seethe up in the spray, drifting into the past tense of evanescence. The waterfall pours through temporalities. Just as it polishes rifts from raw cliffs, Skógafoss smooths the fissure between present and future.

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Before unruly night overruns the pallid day, we pay a visit to Seljalandsfoss, a fall that bridges a cliff-cut path. I follow the cliff-clinging trail up and under the waterfall, where the air is wet enough to drink. Beneath Seljalandsfoss’s arc, I see a cascade not of water but of feathers. Ice-white feathers tumble from the crag above, as if skeins of angels are falling, unraveling into white down, showering the pool with winged grace.

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When I emerge from beneath the waterfall, I am as drenched as a drowned woman, but exhilaration surges through my veins like young wine. I have been to the world behind the waterfall, where Grettir slew the troll, where heroes and outlaws win their names. I feel as if I have swallowed all my tomorrows and can live a whole incandescent Forever in this second. Spangled in icy spray, I burn with electric awe.

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