They are famous, these ship-stealing trolls of South Iceland. You can see them off the point in the distance below, looking east…
But it’s the few from the north, from their lair, that shows how close they came to dragging those fishing boats in for dinner, and how alive they still are.
Never think a troll is dead. That would be a big mistake for your subconscious life, indeed.
Elf farms and villages are craggy things to spot, but major cities hover inside the light. You can reach through the sun and… almost grasp them.
Evening is the best time for the sea to mix the Sun and the Earth and turn everything to salt dust in the air. Prepare for tears… of joy? of anguish? Ah, the elves are telling no secrets.
But they are one thing, together.
Even when they have no name!
Even with blood-red birches. Everything you add becomes the fall. It ceases to be separate.
Even sky can become a river.
Even underground rivers entering the sky from the mouth of the earth.
Even falls held within the Earth!
They are all falls, not water, light, stone, air, water, grass or trees. They are always once thing together, all at once.
This is a great mystery, not because it is unknown, but because it is vital.
This teaching, and this view deep into human-earth relationships in Iceland, continually inspires me. The land is alive, as is the water, and any words that are hanging around start there first.
It’s beautiful on Snaefellsnes, isn’t it, when the gales blow in and the light pulls the mountains out of another world at year’s end.
And the glacier, Snaefellsjökull, is very fine when hurricane gusts lift off its fog and the sun shines from within the ice, lighting up the sea mist, and you have to brace yourself just to stand up.
You can pick up lumps of the lava bed and make a fence, and there are ponds for your sheep and horses and the family cow, plus a little bit of Siberian driftwood.
Also pieces of shipwreck you can use to build a shelter for your cow.
And if you shift enough stones, you can even have a field out of the wind!
And if you lived here, this would be your view. You don’t have a “front yard”, a street, a flower bed, nothing. You step out into the North Atlantic.
And this is the modern house, and it has been abandoned. You could only pull this off at a certain stage of technological development, when there was enough economy and technology to bring in supplies but not enough to kill off the need for people to live here and catch fish in small boats, plus not enough opportunity elsewhere to replace this fierce independence with a greater comfort. Notice how even this modern concrete house is built just like a turf house, with incredible amounts of hand labour, too: small rooms connected with odd passages, most of them through the outside air, as they were built one at a time according to time, energy and need.
And always the roar of the sea.
And then the children leave for the modern world that technology has made possible, and this particular modernity, brought to this fierce, remote land at the end of the Earth, is abandoned when the old people are gone.
But it is out of such stubborn independence that modernity was made in Iceland.
The thing to remember as a traveller is that in Icelandic culture you only need to know what you need to know. It is also a proud culture, and if that means selling you an image of vikings donated by Americans, who really like this kind of thing …
… and pride, which is real enough, instead of one of 1100 years of terrible struggle…
… really terrible struggle in more than a human world …
… or selling an image of bold adventure …
…instead of one in which there is nowhere to go to get in from the cold, well, they’ll do that. They are very genial hosts, the Icelanders. Just remember that even if comfort comes from each other …
… and the images the city presents are of funkiness and crazy happiness …
… and everyone around you knows this. With nothing else except each other you must begin.