Seals swim from one to the other effortlessly. What a great seeing that is!
At Raudanes, they are free to do as they wish. As you can see below, the result is quite different.
There are fewer puffins, but they are wilder. Ain’t that the thing, eh.
The foundational principle of Iceland is “settlement.” after 1100 years of it, we see that nothing has changed. In Olafsfjörður (for example), everything still comes from away.
And buildings are larger than they need to be. They too are settlements.
Even the driftwood, even the art, even the temporary housing made from shipping containers, comes from away.
Or so it seems to someone from away. However, to an Icelander, I think it comes from the world, which is synonymous with the sea.
And you can’t see it.
The result is Reykjavik.
Lóndrangar looks out over the Atlantic at mid-day, in the dim light when the darkness shines as brightly as the sun. It is a time for going inside things, for going in the deep intimacy of a human bodily connection with the Earth. Everything is hushed, and the world is full of memories and future plans.
It is those you walk through, and they look like heather and rock and snow and they feel like wind and cold, and yet you are warm. You are a fire, cupped in a sheltered spot. You make yourself. When summer comes, you walk out into what you have made, and the fire is everywhere. It is now, too, but you must walk very softly. You are inside the sleep of the world.
At a certain point, you see with your chest, not with your eyes. Here with the tide rushing out at Kolgrafarfjörður at sundown around 2:30 pm on the shortest day, the light might be in the air, but it’s really in the water, which you “see” with its substance.
In other words, light is a substance as well, which this photograph, which can only capture the energy within it, can only hint at. You have to be there, because only a body can experience this. However, renting a car at Harpa at 10 a.m. and rushing out to Snæfellsnes, and back to Reykjavik in time for a quick snack and the 8 pm. Northern Lights Bus Tour will only keep you in the light’s energy. You won’t become the sea. There’s not just one Iceland in the same place at the same time. And it’s not just the sea. It’s the Earth as well, here from Ríf four days later, looking up to the glacier.
I think this is what Gunnar Gunnarsson meant in his 1936 essay “Thoughts on Nordic Fate” (Nordische Schicksalsgedanke), when he spoke of salvation — not in the modern sense of rescue through Christ but in an older sense, of the healing of separation. His answer was to go home to Iceland, but I’m not sure it has accepted him yet.
The road along the coast behind the farm Borg races on past the Cross on the cape that keeps the ogre at bay, on to the puffins in Borgarfjörður Eystri, and back.
Few stop anymore to walk in this emerald, or to see the path this water makes as it hides itself, as all creatures from the other world do, on to test the walls of the houses of men. It is the greenest fjord in Iceland. This image is made from the old Stapavik trail, the right way to come upon it, unless you come by boat, of course. Imagine the first long boat that touched this beach, and the people that stepped ashore in wonder. They are your ancestors as soon as you get out of the car. And then what? Well, friend, then you are lost. And then you are found.
When I first went to Iceland nine years ago, the Icelanders told stories of how they lived on a new land, in the process of being made. You can see how that works, here in Njardvik, where with each storm the fjord grows smaller. It’s quite the problem, really, if you’re on one of the two farms in the fjord.
Now, Icelanders tell stories of how climate change caused Vikings (not Icelanders but Vikings yet [who were Icelanders!]) to cut down all the trees, and continues to victimize Iceland, making it pay for industrial decisions taken elsewhere. I miss the old story of hope, of rolling up the sleeves, doing something, and getting on with it. After all…
… either way, you still have to fix your fence. Might as well give your neighbour, the sea, a piece of your mind while you’re at it.
It is, after all, not a new story.