Category Archives: Art

Out of the Corner of My Eye

So many photographs are posed in stillness, framed by contemplation, and drenched with light, yet light is not always about vision or seeing clearly, especially in an Icelandic winter, when it becomes a kind of water you swim through, an aether, the ancients would have called it. They meant the liquid eye that sees before the mind does and only lets the mind see a little of what touches it like a finger to a leaf.

This image of Eldborg on Snaefellsnes was made at 80 km/h on a late December dusk, out of the corner of my eye. There was no time to frame it, and before I registered it was there it was gone. What remains is the look it gave me, this drawing of my eye to it, that I had nothing to do with except trust. This watching haunts me.

Spot the Gull! A Fine Icelandic Tourist Game

See her?

Up here in North Iceland, with the cities far away, one makes one’s own fun. When you tire of the Spot the Gull game, you can start in on the spot the troll nest game, which is just as much fun.

After all, Gunnar Gunnarsson moved to Denmark and became a writer, not precisely in that order, because he was given a walnut for Christmas, and raced its shell down the parsonage stream, imagining it was a big sailing ship. So, if little Gunnar could do it, we can look more closely, too.

Hvallág

I wouldn’t play this game in Reykjavik, though. They might think it kind of country bumpkinish. As they thought Gunnar was.

Pathfinding in Iceland

If you’re going to follow the trail …

Threading through the mountain bogs on the way south from Stapavik

… the sheep won’t help you.

Yes, this poor ewe is lost.

It’s best to follow the stakes set out by the Icelandic government, to keep things safe. You’ll have to stomp around quite a bit to find them.

They’re not always even on the trail!

It’s always a happy moment to spot one.

Even if you’re at the bottom of the trail at that point! It’s just a little game Iceland plays with you. You might as well play along.

Hiding in Plain Sight

While getting boots and gloves and hat ready to go over the lip of the hill last December 24 and visit Sheep’s Falls, one of my favourite waterfalls, many tourists stopped as well: the first stop, it seems, two or three hard hours of driving from Reykjavik. Time and again, they took a few pictures over the Berserkerjahraun to the rising sun, and then posed for each others’ cameras and drove on. It was intimate and sweet.

Still, they had Kirkjufoss to get to before the rising sun was no longer behind the mountain, and they didn’t need me telling them it would be worth it to walk for ten minutes down through the drifts, because they might not have come to Iceland to see the pale, pale winter sun and to learn its nature. They had places to be getting along to, with better cameras and the hope for brighter light, and promises had been made to them, and promises, we know, should be kept.

Just imagine how many times a day any and every traveller in Iceland, myself included, encounters people who know where they are and what is worth seeing and say nothing, because that’s the way of the land itself. As Paul Theroux pointed out half a century ago while travelling by train through South America, it’s North Americans (myself included) who point to stuff.

Filming Dragons in East Iceland

Some books only have one page. Here’s a midsummer one above Njardvik. Day by day it reveals itself, like a film.

Look at how the dragon from the south (left) is giving way to grass and cliffs, while the one from the right is holding strong, with three stories opening within its long ribcage. And check out the sad faces appearing in the slo-mo approach of the dragon from the south. Will it disappear before they do? Whew! Such suspense!

Art and Nature in a Quarry: It’s an Icelandic Thing

Eldborg, the Tephra Cone that translates as Fire Mountain, in Krysuvik…is a beautiful place, rarely visited….

… is a beautiful place…

You can get close to life there.

The road’s not even busy.

Two generations ago, when it looked out over an active quarry, …
… it was a major site for native Icelandic tourism. One of Iceland Air’s original jets is named after it.

Does this look like a jet to you? No? If you’re Icelandic, it might.

It was part of a network of walking paths, where Icelanders could celebrate all things Icelandic, including the beauty of Kjarval’s paintings, which a few aging Icelandic hikers still do by lunching in Kjarvalstaðir, his gallery in Reykjavik…

… but that’s about it. Icelandic artists are too worldly now to make much of his trolls and elves and such like.

Eldborg

They’re into environmental protection and other more modern mythologies, which they have embraced with great verve, but it’s good to remember that in Icelandic culture the capacity remains to see art, nature and a gravel quarry together, as one thing. The same can be said of rivers: quarries, all.

Bessastaðaá

Yes, a quarry.