An Old Story Telling its Knot on the Road West of Sælingsdal
Over eleven hundred years, men can cut down all the trees, keep their horses for memory, erode the soil with sheep, battle frost heaves, put in a jeep track, buy a German tractor and some good American haying equipment, and strew nitrogen fertilizer around to stay alive, but the Cross that a woman ordered hammered into a stone to hold back the elves who lived inside it remains, and you will likely think of it as a children’s story. Still, your tractor can’t do a thing with it, nor your sheep, nor your beautiful horses.
It’s not just in Snæfellsnes. It’s everywhere, really: clods of earth like curds in whey on the ground, glopped out of volcanoes, more made with a plow and seeded with pasture grass, and glops of earth in the sky, called clouds, that shade the earth like stone and make you pull a sweater around your shoulders and look up to the fields of the air.
Clods of Earth Falling from the Sky
The old saying, mocked by the Christian parable Chicken Little, which laughs at a chicken who imagines that the sky is falling, of all things, is given its original context if you stop driving around in Iceland and stand still long enough to become the wind, where the old words aren’t old. Iceland is always full of surprises like this.
This is the original world of the islands of the north that gave us the capacity of speech, and if we call only tilled soil clods now, while the ones from volcanoes are called lava and the ones in the air are called condensations of water under pressure regimes, we still draw a sweater over our shoulders when a cloud obscures the sun.
When the seabed takes to the air as volcanic stone, the sea takes to the air as cloud to wash over it.
It seems a lot of effort, but it’s obviously worth it.
This is the fun one can have out on Snæfellsnes.
Oh, how time changes things. There are people on Earth, such as Canadians and Icelanders, whose social lives are profoundly shaped by the culture of the United States and its exported industry, wars, culture and technologies. For three generations, we have accepted these intrusions as business arrangements, for the mutual benefit of all. The image of Hvalfjörður below illustrates the principle well: the airfield that protected the Allied Fleet during the Battle of the Atlantic in the foreground, when Iceland was occupied by the US Army, and the American aluminum plant in the background, which has brought a certain level of industrial economy to Iceland, although dominating the fjord and depressing its possibilities as a residential suburb of Reykjavik, adding to the pressure to expand Reykjavik upon unstable volcanic terrane. Both speak of a long, although not always willing, partnership that not only lead to Iceland’s independence but to Iceland’s freedom from poverty and to world peace.
We can only hope that some beneficial partnership can continue, now that the aluminum from this American plant is subject to a penalizing tax if it were to be shipped to the United States or bought by another American corporation, on the grounds that it is contributing to the military vulnerability of the United States. That this is essentially a tax on the freedom brought to Iceland by the USA under the guise of a beneficent occupation (first military and then economic) is ironic, as it will strengthen Iceland’s ties with nations other than the United States, including China, the main target of the US tax. In other words, the image above is of two ruins: the old airfield, now a bird sanctuary, and the aluminum plant across the fjord. Iceland will continue, in its resilient ways, but this is an image of a lost world. Best to see it before it’s gone, like the colonial Danish sulfur mines above Lake Myvatn, now a major tourist site, with nary a sign to say these are the slag heaps.
Romantic display holds great power here, but masks a harsh social reality of a proud people who must actively trade with the world to maintain their independence from it. The balance is difficult.
In a land of many stones at the top of the world, where it can, shh don’t tell anyone from the Icelandic Tourism Office, get cold…
… rocks contract from the flatness to stay warm.
Going flat is a sure way to lose all your heat, and it’s a long way to the merino wool shops at the mall in Reykjavik, and how are you going to walk there when you’re a rock? Nope, rounding up it is. Plants, being more evolved, follow suit, because they’re smart.
Now you know too. Shh. Don’t tell anyone from the clothing shops of Reykjavik or they might open a branch up north. Here’s an ad for one geared for humans, that endearing lot. They started up north, then moved south where the humans are. A flag for everyone, to make everyone feel at home.
Here’s a version from half-ways to the north. This ewe has donated half her fleece to a stone, by the looks of it.
But what would a stone make of this?
And what would a stone make of this?
No, when you’re a rock, it’s better to clump up with your friends.
No, not like this:
There is a richness in the North that the lush green of the South can’t touch.
Somewhere North of Dettifoss
(Even the Icelandic map doesn’t name this place.)
It’s stark, and “stark”, we know, is “strong.” You feel your strength here. And clambering over all this broken stone let’s you feel your tendons too!
They’re all winding when wended on foot.
That’s because they wind you in and, wound up, you look behind and what is there? Only the wind. And when you turn you step into the wind in that direction too.