No ordinary seals

During my first week in Blönduós, I had a dream. One of the most vivid dreams I’d had in awhile.

I was standing on what our field school cohort has dubbed “the secret beach”, on the north side of town, past the end of Hafnarbraut (a name I have only just learned from Google maps: I know it as the long nameless road that flanks the ocean and winds past the slaughter house and soup factory). I knew it was the same beach because of the black sand, the craggy rock formation to my right curving into a crescent shore, and the stones threatening to become boulders underfoot.

But the beach was so much larger than the one I’d visited in my body earlier that day. In my mind, asleep in bed, the beach was W-I-D-E, the waves HIGH and relentless, the rocks barriers as much as buoys to brace myself on. The air was blue, heavy with grey. And when I looked around, suddenly there emerged 12-16 or so slick forms from the black waters. They were seals. Glossy and blubberous, awkward yet graceful. All watching me. It felt like they were there for protection but also to communicate some kind of warning. Or maybe just to watch. Should I put on some kind of show for them? I knew one thing for sure: they were no ordinary seals. They were selkies. Their thick skins hiding the faint outline of coats that could be shrugged off at will to take another form.

All of a sudden, the ocean became AN OCEAN and I was flat on my stomach on a bare mattress headed for a waterfall. Being sucked away towards the horizon behind me, l cried out, looking beseechingly to the selkies for help, but they just stared; their eyes empty hollows, equal parts curiosity and sorrow, stuck between worlds.

In my drawing of the dream, the selkies came out looking more like moles than seals. Something cartoonish always seems to happen when you try to convey something mysterious in drawing form (or maybe that’s just me and what my hand does). It’s also hard to capture the ambiguity of a feeling or an aesthetic experience with something as concrete as a conté stick. But there’s something about their eyes, or lack thereof, that I got right, especially in the main figure. She knows something that I don’t. A secret about Blönduós that can’t be learned in a month long residency at the Textile Center here. A secret that probably can’t even be learned in a lifetime of living here. A secret held by the land and water for itself. A secret held by and for the selkies.