Monthly Archives: March 2013

Easter on Middle Earth

Christ has arisen. This isn’t just a bit of a ghost story with a happy ending. If your imagination is rooted in the earth, or even in books, should that be your fate, it is mathematics and geometry.  Here’s the middle view of Christ’s ascension, in this stopping house, this alms house, this shelter from storm, this cloister between worlds:

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ValÞjofsstadur Church, Fljótsdalur

Note the mathematical precision of its construction. Note as well the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost of the entrance, and how one enters through the Middle Way, Christ, the Son. That’s not an accident.

The Church makes eternal order out of temporary beauty. That’s kind of its point. It is a form of intellectual activity.

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The Point

It’s not just a cross. It’s an entire intellectual tradition. All Western peoples today stand within it. It’s inescapable. Nor should it be escaped from. It is.

Gunnar Gunnarsson’s childhood farm, that guided much of his writing, faced out over the graveyard where the church now stands. Here’s how it looks today, with the old turf houses gone but the old trees remaining.

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ValÞjofsstadur

This is the week that the farmer brings the manure out by the wheelbarrow load and dumps it in his field. You can see some of it there in the centre of the image, just in front of the buildings. Sweet springtime!

Easter is a celebration of rebirth and renewal from the dead (and the stink of closed winter barns full of way too many animals). Another way of putting that is to say that the dead don’t leave the living, nor do the living leave the dead, but that they’re all travelling together on one road that leads out into the fields and the light after a long, cold winter. Here, then, is the real church, in its wild state …

ahnenValÞjofsstadur Graveyard

The ancestors lie quietly in their pews, most with a form of mathematical perfection rising from their souls. It is a joyous place, a sanctuary from the work of the world, a kind of retirement, shall we say, a waiting.

I have been writing poems about Easter, so forgive my mind for wandering like this through the trunks of these trees, but look, both churches are standing together in communion, the church among the ancient trees, the ancestral church, and the new one rising from the mind …

twochurchesChurch, Ancestors, and the Ancient Trees, ValÞjofsstadur

All travelling together into the sky, all tied to the earth, on the middle way.

When the earth and its peoples are stood with organically, as Gunnar stood with them and that farmer with his manure still does, rather than under-stood, or standing under, as a priest might put it (especially in the past), looking down from his or her pulpit and speaking the Words of God to his or her “flock”, its patterns flow like water and light and know no bounds. A boy, or a man, such as Gunnar, perhaps, could learn to write books just by walking in the world with his eyes open.

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The Church, the Cross, Chairs like Tombstones, the Mountains and the Ancient, Sacred Trees

Are all woven from light, from the inside and the outside, from reflection and what is seen through.

A window, now that’s an ancient word. Consider this, every river in Iceland has the same name. It’s an á, pronounced ‘ow’. In German, that would be an “au”, a meadow, a place of particular fruitfulness, naturally fed by wetland water — and usually the place at which Irish monks set up their missionary churches in the 9th century. That’s not far from Iceland, really, where the early farms were set up along river bottoms, which could produce the abundance of grass necessary for 10th century Norse farming practices, and these rivers were all variations on an á. One just down the road from Skriðuklaustur, for example, is the Hengifossá …

hengifossaHengifossá Mouth

And the river of the wind? Ah, here it is …

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The Four Cardinal Directions

Notice how the Wind’s Á, its meadow, opens from inside, so the outside can come in. First, though, one has to go inside.

The tradition of the church and its remarkable magical buildings constructed to ancient conceptions of mathematical balance and beauty go very deep, with roots in the world. Here’s the pulpit …

pulpitThis is a Book

But not just a paper one. The world is part of the spiritual picture. It is through it that one finds the light. And the Word. And the word.

By “world” here, I don’t mean the usual thing. I don’t mean “the community of men and women and their children” and the national and international relationships they build up between themselves, as the word is often understood, but the world as stood with, which is often called the earth. There’s an old book in Nordic tradition, called Volvens Spådom (The Prophecy”, which in one of its opening passages goes like this…

volvensThe Middle Way from Volvens Spådom

Without a world, the sun and stars have no anchor. That is to say, no tether, no home, which is to say that they are not at-home, or, to use the old word, they are not haunting. In the middle way, on Middle Earth, things haunt.

Things haunt like the reflections in the windows above, like the trees growing from hallowed ground, and like this image that has been made from them, purified in the manner of making wine (in this case, making wine from light and the world) …

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The Eye of God and the Mountains of ValÞjofsstadur…

…seen through the wind’s oh, its á, its au, its river of ValÞjofsstadur Church. The mind streams in with it. That’s the kind of spiritual place this world is, witnessing the mathematical beauty that streams through it, because, after all, a window opens two ways. It is, in fact, not a mouth or an eye, but a passage, a path, a way.

I took those images yesterday. Today, I went out to witness the sun rise, and I discovered that on this holy morning, before the first planes started flying to Keflavik from Europe, the Middle Earth was clear for all to see who were awake and walking. In the West …

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The Moon, Setting

… and in the East, across the sky …

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The Sun, Rising

… and in between …

P1370850The Horses of the World

The horses are spiritual creatures. Here they are in the words of the scottish poet Edwin Muir, best known for translating Kafka into English. This is written after the devastating war that Gunnar had hoped to prevent by uniting all Nordic peoples on the Middle Way. Ironically, it ws Muir, who endured more directly the anguish and fear of that conflict who found, in the horses of the world, the horses of God’s Grace, his Eden, his au…

(Dear Readers, it’s a longish poem, but not a difficult one, and it is one of the best in all of human tradition. If reading poetry is not your thing, why not scroll down to the images or listen to my reading of it here. The link will take you to a new page. When done, please press the back button to continue …

The Horses.

I hope you’ll listen and read and look at the images. That would be like being together on this day.)

Here’s am image to set the scene …

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The Horses

Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
‘They’ll molder away and be like other loam.’
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning.

Edwin Muir
P1370898An Icelandic Blue in the Skriðuklaustur Pasture
Middle Earth contains not just humans and horses on their spirit paths, but, of course, our trees …
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Poplar on Easter Morning
… elves (more on that, soon) …
P1370763Easter Sunrise Through Frosted Glass
… sacred space …
P1370767The Cloister at First Light
… trolls, charmed …
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… the dead, of all kinds …
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Giant’s Skull in a Cave in the Skriðuklaustur Cliff
Turned to stone, I may point out by the rising sun … which, on this day, is Christ ascending. Accident? Coincidence? No. It is part of the sacred order of things viewed as things. After all, a “Thing” is a meeting place, in the old languages, a parliament, a place of talking and coming together, of all the people … including, I presume, the sheep which shelter in this cave in summer.
… because even though it is a Christian world, it is built upon the bones of an older one, and does not dishonour them and is not dishonoured by their presence. How could it be? If it were so, God would be made by men. It is to this world that Gunnar returned when he left Denmark in 1939. All during his time on Mainland Europe, he was walking the Middle Path, living between worlds, trying to be a broker between them, trying to be a writer, which in the pre-modern Icelandic tradition of his birth and youth meant to be a pastor, to write sacred texts and to present them to the people, to stand among them but slightly apart, and to look both ways, like a wind’s á. This is the character we meet in his 1932 novel Vivivaki, a reclusive writer in the Icelandic highlands, to whom the Dead awake on New Year’s Eve, to the sound of the Danish National Hymn on the radio, and who look to this rebirth as the Resurrection and look to him as God. Next, I’ll unravel the rest of Gunnar’s life as a Secret Agent, but first, the blessings of this day of rebirth and ascension and grace, from the blind earth …
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… to the light of the sky …
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Blessings, all, from Skriðuklaustur.

Sighting The Wyrm in Lagarfljót

The lake that runs to the sea from this old monastery site in East Iceland is called the Lagarfljót. It is a long and beautiful thing that catches the light from the mountains and the sky and softens them — not that they are harsh to start with. It also has a wyrm, like the monster of Loch Ness or the “Ogopogo” of Okanagan Lake of the North America’s Pacific Northwest. Cryptozoology is good for tourism. Here in the sacred birch forests of East Iceland …

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… with the elves catching the mid-day sun …

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Lichen on Birch

(I hope to have the elvish connection to lichen ready for you in a couple days.)

… and a moment to enjoy the red berries that the birds missed in the winter …

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… because I’m a poet and poets are easily distracted by pretty things (so are wyrms, whose stories are similar enough to the serpents of the Rhine and the Celtic Moselle and the Ring of the Nibelungs to raise a poet’s eyebrow or two), but finally things were looking up. The government was there first, helpful as Icelanders are …

P1370118 A Good Place to See The Wyrm

Shall we? Down the trail through the old, slightly mouldering but still charming early-Nationalist picnic site, and, hey, look, already we see signs of an apex predator eating the locals…

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We Must be On the Right Track

And then I lost my doubt, because I heard the birds singing…

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See the Birds?

No, I don’t either.

There weren’t any birds, that’s why. It was the lake that was singing, like a choir of angels. That was actually better than birds.

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All Winter Long the Ice Has Been Singing As the Waves Break it Up and Knock it Around

Then they do it in the spring. It is haunting. What a magical lake.

And that’s when I first saw the wyrm (well, after a few more steps) …

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Wyrm

Being a Canadian and a bit biased towards polar bears, that’s what I thought it was at first. Here’s its head, so you can have a closer look …

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Wyrm Head

Note the nice ribbing. Even the Worm in Dune has that. (Look to my upcoming posting on elves and lichen for an explanation of how forms like this are cast up by stone.)

Then I turned and saw this wyrm…

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A Dead Ringer to Tolkein’s Smaug…

… or a crocodile. Note the hump, too.

Now, to set things straight, here’s the story of the Wyrm in Lagarfljót: Read it Here. And here’s a video that played on Icelandic TV a year ago … View it Here. And here’s my warning on reading mythic imaginations literally, with photographs of the dreamtime stone that is Canada’s “Ogopogo” — or would be if there were greater general understanding of how pre-industrial people thought. Read it here. This is important stuff. A little respect for the truth of ancient story, and how it was laid down and how it was not, goes a long way towards rebuilding human relationships to the earth. To tell those stories, I am here at Skriðuklaustur.  It has been a beautiful day. Tomorrow, images of Easter in East Iceland, and if things go well the second part of my series on Gunnar Gunnarsson, Secret Agent.

The Red Leaves of Good Friday

It is a sacred day here at Skriðuklaustur. Gunnar Gunnarsson, who built it, was a Christian man who wandered from his country and his faith and returned to them. While I work through some tangled and difficult material about his life, in his honour I would like to offer this post from my Canadian blog, okanaganokanogan.com, as a meditation on the meaning of this day and the blessing I feel to be here for it. Here are the thoughts that began my day: I am rediscovering old words and worlds here in Iceland. I can’t take the country home to Canada, but I can take this…

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Spring Colours at Littlifoss, Lagarfljotsdalur

An inspiration for weavers and dyemakers.

“Take” is a word that has lost its charm to become possessive in modern English: in the most common sense, to “take” something today is to make it one’s own, to remove it from other people, and even to steal it. It is what settler culture did to the indigenous cultures of the place, the ones that understood the earth and how to work with it, and is what they are left with. The word, however, has the possibility for renewal and grace, and I think we should take that and run with it. A secondary usage of the word today is to “take” a picture — not in the sense of capturing and entrapping a soul or any other ancient alchemical bondage, but in the sense of “choosing” it, of finding the one most beautiful, directing the eye, the mind, and the heart to it, and honouring it by presenting it to others, like a posy of flowers that does not have to die in order to be presented to one’s true love. Today is Good Friday here in Iceland. In the language of Christian faith, if I may, look how the earth is bleeding and softening the thorns around Christ’s head…

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Icelandic Purslane, in its Rare Red Form

Melarett, Iceland

That is the one that has taken root here (to use a yet deeper sense of the word). I am taken by it (to use a deeper one yet.) I hope that in this sacred season, whatever your faith, you can take (!) a moment to wander out into the weaving of the world and be taken by it, for a moment, or forever. Blessings from Skriðuklaustur. Harold.

Gunnar Gunnarsson, Double Agent: Part 1

Yesterday I mused on the origins of story in lines that cut across pools of presence. Part of the story was the human response to them, that brought them together into art. (If you missed it, you can track through it right here.) Today I’d like to talk about Gunnar Gunnarsson, and how some of those lines are circles, and that they too have a story. Now, circles are very special lines. They have no beginning or end, no directionality and can can extend from every point into every conceivable shape, as long as it has no beginning and end. Circles are eternal. Their boundaries separate into inner and outer representations of … what exactly? Ah, that’s Gunnar’s game. Here’s a circle:

grassline21 Air Caught Within a Seasonal Icelandic Pond

Intersection of Highways 848 and 87

And here’s another:

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Iceland (Source)

Well, almost a circle. Sort of. If you took off the scrunchy bits. It has a circle-like edge, at any rate. Here, this might be closer:

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Three Maps of Iceland

Two for tourists and one in words to keep tourists away.

That’s a copy of the text “Unser Land” or “Our Land” that Gunnar read on his spring 1940 tour of 50 cities in Germany, immediately after the sod was laid on the roof of his house and just before the German invasion of Denmark and Norway. Here’s how Gunnar starts off:

It rises majestically out of the sea when approached from the water. It grips the heart like a heroic song, touched with eternity, sown with destiny. There is nothing small about its appearance.  Even though its face varies from place to place, it remains integral — a pure vision.

A pure (or untrammelled) vision? It’s like a shaman’s spirit stone or a statue of Mary with the Christ Child. Speaking of which, here’s one:

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The Skriðusklaustur Madonna…

… in her glass box, with reflected light, and looking very Icelandic indeed (replica).

By “pure vision” Gunnar had many things in mind, including nature in its rawest, least adapted, least, shall we say, artistically crafted, farmed, developed, urbanized or written version and the Madonna. Now, even if we accept that Gunnar idealized his mother and lost her at the age of eight, and then bought the farm next door some 45 years later and set up his writing desk where he could look up the valley and see that childhood, which he called the purest image of eternity, and even if we accept that Iceland, the land, is alive and represents human consciousness just as the consciousness of Icelanders represents the land (which, indeed, Gunnar argues in the latter part of his speech), and even if the madonna above comes from his farm in East Iceland, the Madonna and Iceland — or even Gunnar’s farm — just aren’t exactly the same thing. In his text, though, they are. The title gives us a clue as to what he means by that: “Our Land”. Whose land? Apart from raw, physical and spiritual nature, like this …

ice28here are some of the many possibilities:

ourlandThe Our Land Game

In playing this game, it’s good to remember that Gunnar was a showman and a businessman speaking to his main audience: the Germans, who had swarmed (to take a word from the German) to his books for decades. Indeed, they had done so to a whole genre of Nordic romances from Sweden, Norway and Iceland, that was fed, ultimately, into the German war machine. In other words, Gunnar was speaking to two audiences at the same time: Icelanders (himself, most specifically) and Germans who had a longing to get out of Middle Europe and to create a new centre of balance around the Baltic (somewhat removed from them by the Treaty of Versailles). If I’m right, he intended his text to be a cipher, read differently by both groups. The madonna was intended for the Germans. The pure nature for the romantics. The way of looking both ways at once, for himself. Himself, Gunnar was a boy from the fjords of East Iceland, a farm kid, from a long line of farmers. He remained so to the end. In the context of 1940, with German and Russian invasion of Poland a fait accompli and Germany reassertive along the south shore of the Baltic, “Our Land” meant several further things, which I will speak to over the following few days in this Easter season of death and rebirth, grace and forgiveness. One of them was “land to live upon,” a concept which was one of the cornerstones of Germany’s violent foreign policy, by which Germany sought to fulfill what it (or at least Hitler) saw as its “destiny” — another word that Gunnar carefully sows at the beginning of his speech. His audience would have been all ears. In my next post I will discuss the bearing this concept had on Jews and their culture and the horrific story of the Holocaust, but let’s be kind to ourselves. These things are hard and need their time and space to unfold. Until then, look at the world of Gunnar’s nature, islands of air, always different, always the same, and frozen into one picture of pure spiritual vision. Applying this boyhood observation of paradise to the divisive and self-devouring complexities of German political life in the 1930s might have been unwise on Gunnar’s part, but the boyhood observation is a thing of beauty…

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The question is: what does one, as a man, make out of that? And that cross we will carry tomorrow.

The Sculptural Path to Story: an Icelandic Saga

Today, a meditation on lines, and the art and society that sprout from them, as a branch to this…

rowan2Gunnar Gunnarsson’s Rowan Tree, Skriðuklaustur, Iceland

Bending to the earth and throwing her branches into the sky. To say that these branches and twigs were hair, or a mane, or arms and fingers would be a kenning, or a skaldic pun. She has her own dignity, though, I’d say. After all, rowans are sacred to the Goddess. Their red berries glow like drops of blood in the snow, or, if you wish, the strawberry coloured lips of the Goddess of the English celts, or, if your mind wanders so far, to the lips of your first love, or your deepest. They are also a symbol of Icelandic nationalism.

Yesterday I started this meditation by talking about elves, to suggest that the earth is very much alive with human imagination, and not in a fantastical way, either. If you missed that, it’s here. Today, I’d like to talk about lines, to show how story rises from that same imagination. A couple weeks ago, I introduced this thought on my Canadian blog, Okanaganokanogan.com, with a thought from the sculptor and painter Ken Blackburn, that all writing and imagery, indeed all artistic culture, begins with a line. Here’s that post, if you’d like to see Ken and his strawberry-coloured raven. I’ve had many joyful arguments with Ken. He represented lines with panache. I argued for knots, deep wells, pools and other points of intersection between worlds. Well, look, maybe we were both right:

bubbleline1Icelandic Pool with Line, Skutustaðir

If you take the line away, you have a field, but no story.

I learned the skills for that kind of erasure by pruning fruit trees by starlight (I do not exaggerate) in the German Nordic Canadian dream that was my childhood, and learned to adapt it to the crafting of objects made out of words, which I thought for decades was writing, although it was really a form of sculpture. The addition of a line to a field, however complex, creates a tension, which human minds, structured to track game across grass and sand and to recognize the nuance and significance of the tiniest of plant forms and deviations, naturally follow. In terms of the craft which I track as a sculptor and many others lay down somewhat differently as trail makers, or writers, this is the root of story.

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Footsteps on Lake Mývatn, Iceland

With the late afternoon sun rolling around on the horizon, like an eye. A writer looks forward here, into empty snow. A sculptor looks back into its story.

Before the line, there is indeed a pool (or a lake, a pond, a puddle, a sky, a moon, a well, a field, a face, or a room, and so on). It is endlessly fascinating but engages only one half of the split human mind. In storytelling, this is called a situation. To create story out of a situation, there must be two characters, who exchange powers at a point of transfer. That point of interchange transforms them.

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Lines of Cosmic Energy Entering and Departing a Vortex …

… or rising from it. Driveway Puddle in the Early Morning, Skutustaðir

This kind of tension (and this unresolvable paradox), will continue to generate story as long as humans last on earth. This ability to read story into the earth’s processes is the signature of humans. It is the same tension that creates a poem within the boundaries of metre, or the balance that humans call beauty, which is a coming together in complex relationship to lines…

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Beauty

Driveway Puddle at 9:30 a.m. on a March Morning, Skutustaðir

Lines, of course, don’t always have to be simple. The one above, for instance, was taken while men with orange vests were fussing over the lone gas pump a few metres away, a woman was driving around crouching me on her way to take her kids to school, and the hotel cook was banging the snow off his boots after sucking the fire out of his morning cigarette before work. Lines, or story, shall we say, can be as complex as this…

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… or this …

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… or this …

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… or this (you can probably surmise that a number of people had to drive around excited me) …

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… or this…

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Icelandic Horse Held in Its Field by a Line of Human Will …

… and continually at tension, between running free and being led (and fed). Notice the line in the foreground that humans have built in order to move past at speed, without stopping.

Sculptors stop. They get out of their narratives and find their stories telling themselves. The imagination that reads the human body into the sculptural forms of the land, also reads, and indeed creates, story, not as narrative but as something complete and whole in the world, that one can follow without moving at all. Pretty beautiful, I’d say. What does all this have to do with Gunnar Gunnarsson? Ah, I was getting to that. That is where you’ll find me tomorrow: in that story.

Elves and Men in Iceland

In his Book Livet’s Strand (The Shore of Life), written in 1915 during the height of the Great War that destroyed Western Civilization and left us all trying to make sense of the ruins, Gunnar Gunnarsson explored the idea (to heartbreaking length) that the earth is a shore on which life crashes again and again and again. On this shore, life is rescued and lost, celebrated and lost again, and in the end only endured. Today, 98 years later, I’d like to rescue that earth from this apocalyptic image — without denying its truth and the very real anguish which gave birth to it. To set the scene, two posts ago I gave this image of the living sea in the Skaga Fjord, in which I suggested that the sea was life itself and all other life is only a replication of it …

aliveThe Greenland Sea

Very much alive in Skagafjörður

Today I’d like to modify Gunnar’s rather black and white statement with the observation that the land has its own life. For evidence of it, a journey to Skudustaðir on Myvatn (The Lake of the Midges), is well advised. There is life within the stone there — life intimately connected with human consciousness, too. Here, for example …

P1320873House and Barn

That’s Elf House and Human Barn, actually, and the road going north and south. Folk wisdom holds that elves are more beautiful than people and reveal themselves only when they wish. No argument there.

Sure, Tolkein dreamed of his elves and so did the Victorian fabulists, but these are not those elves. Those ones are social and linguistic constructs and physical animations rising from the literalism of Christian civilization. I have deep respect for Christian tradition, but would like to show that in the North it has a very specific and illuminating context. These “elves” or “other people” are bodily perceptions that humans brought here from older continental traditions stretching back into the deep stone age. Here’s some charmed rock …

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The Other World

Or, to give life to an old phrase that now is a name for bedrock: the living rock. It is not a metaphor, but neither is it one of Tolkein’s stories.

There is, for one thing, a world within the rock, with faces frozen into stone. Now, I will be following up on those faces in the next few days, but today I’m laying down words about the rock as the sculpture that it is …

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Rock Entrails in Skutustaðir

Open up a human body and you get much the same thing.

In the 18th Century, the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder wrote a vital book on aesthetics that shows light on this kind of art. It has been impeccably translated in a new edition from the University of Chicago.

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The Publisher’s Page on this Book is Here.

In this book, Herder argues that sculpture is a representation of the human body, seen at the intersection of time and space — that three-dimensionality is just this intersection. Intriguingly, to observe this form of mirror, a human must walk around the sculpture, to see it unfold in time. It is a way of movement that anyone knows who has gone walking in the hills and seen their story unfold with each footstep, and sensed them moving behind one’s back. And what does a human see when his or her body is glimpsed within the earth, rather than within the sea, or on Gunnar’s shore?

elfin4Elves in the Their Kingdom

One also sees their sheep…

elfinElvin Ram

These effects are not just observable in the intestines of the stone, mind you. Even the surface stone, it’s skin, the shape it takes on exposure to the sun and human sight, is alive …

elfin6Elvin Sheep Skull with A Halo of LIchen

What do I mean by “alive” in this context? I mean that the stone has the power to cast forth shapes within the observing mind. It is a kind of template. The mind I’m talking about is a point of intersection between humans, earth …

lakeelves1 Lake Elf in the Spring Sun

Skutustaðir, Iceland

 … and with other wanderers from the sea, like these lichens …

head2Lake Elf with Jewels of Lichen

The orange lichen blooms in the faeces of birds. Cool!

Even more dramatically …

elfsnow2Lake Elf Replicated in Lichen

Sometimes the patterns laid down by the stone allow for these type of human readings to rise directly from the lichens themselves, as the stone is read in time …

elflichen3Lichen Elf

Skutustaðir, Iceland

This is the way the human mind reads the earth. In contemporary terms, ‘reading’ refers to decoding marks on paper, which spell out words, which encapsulate ideas and signify the things of the world, all coloured by human “spells”, traditions, conventions, and cognitive biases. Reading the earth operates on the same principle, with the difference that it came long before spells and words, and is a way of “reading” or participating in the earth with the body, rather than with the mind. Gunnar’s anguish during the Great War was that the link to God had been lost, and that God cared nothing for his people, and was remorseless — as remorseless as nature. That is, in itself, a very modern reading, but in no way does it negate the physical context in which it stands, in which humans stand upon and within the earth, bring forth children upon it, and tell this most ancient story, not of earth as a shore of death on which life, or God, shall we say, crashes and breaks again and again like waves of untrained and disastrously led soldiers marching into the machine guns of the Somme, but is alive. Who are the other people? The question is absurd. They are our selves, built upon the forms of the earth, continually springing to life, indominatable, and enduring.

elfsnow

Tomorrow I will continue this discussion by extending it into the forms of human sight, the line, and the basics of art. Now, I’m going out to walk among the horses of Iceland. Bless bless!

Home in Skriðuklaustur

The residency begins. Gunnar Gunnarson was there to greet me. The tree growing out of his head, that’s my wish for growth and spirit here. gunnarGunnar Gunnarson at Skriðuklaustur

Gunnar came here when there was nowhere else to go but to go back home. It was 1939. The war he had dreaded was on the horizon, and some of its shadow stuck to him. He resolved to go back farming.

reddoor

Skriðuklaustur Chicken Coop

The farming didn’t pan out all that well. My father and grandfather came to Canada from Germany with the same dream, and under very similar pressures, one after the first half of the Twentieth Century War and one after the second half of it. I am the dream they made, and so when I see things like this …

rustMy Father’s and Grandfather’s Tools at the Top of the World

The remains of Gunnar’s dream, Skriðuklaustur

… I know it is time to roll up my sleeves and get back farming. Tomorrow my work at Skriðuklaustur begins. I intend to farm here, but in words, and at a very deep level. Look for my discussion of the life in rock, as the first words from this new and old ground. It feels great here. I am here to honour Gunnar and my own ancestors, and to bring their stories together in the living ground of words. As I came close to the Klaustur, this is who saw me first …

horsesHorses in Fljotsdalur

What a great welcome!