The world is bigger at dusk, the farther away it is.
It is good, I think, to go to bed when one is as small as a stone.
As the sun sets over the Skagafjörður and the peninsular pillar of Þorðarhöfði, the waves bring it onto the black sand beach of Gardssanður with a promise of dawn.
And not just of dawn but of eternity. Maybe it’s not definable otherwise, but it sure is here: Eilíifð, roughly translated as “eternity,” better as the “living on”, in the sense of survivors (such as settlers in Iceland, in the midst of such a sea.) Such is the haunting pleasure of islands.
Here is a social space in Reykjavik that’s not a park, a street, a building or a yard full of old rowan trees and mystery. It’s more mysterious yet. This is what the people of the north of the world call The Sea Room.
Note that the Sea Room has few boundaries. It has a sense of being open, with a free flow out to the open ocean, which it is nonetheless separated from by a sense of space. Compare that to a lagoon in the East.
Nope, a Sea Room is special. You can live there, in a world within the world. So, let’s try it again… Sea Room?
Nope. River mouth. And below, what of it? Sea Room?
Nope, a river flow through a lagoon, with the open Atlantic trying to get in. Now, that’s fun. Ok, what about the view below at Dritvik?
Nope, that’s just the sea. You enter it when you leave the sea room. And below?
Nope, sad to say. That’s a field in Breiðafjörður. This is Iceland. it’s tricky. And below, in Skagafjörður?Yes! You got it! And below, at Buðir?
Atlantic again? Yup. And here’s Dritvik? Is that a Sea Room? No, it’s an ogre and her ogre whale pet in a bay at dusk, in the rain, looking out to sea. But here’s the thing, in Iceland men rowed way out there in little wooden boats and hauled in cod, far from land in storm. They made a room of the sea, a portable one, centred on their boat, just as their island is centred in the sea. That flexibility remains in the country.
The water swirls, and the wind swirls in the water, and under the effects of a kind of spiritual gravity, they congeal.If humans could move at their speed, they would still be swirling, but we are so fast that they appear still. We are light flickering on the surface of these flows.
The sea and the land have teeth.
For human beasts, life and death are a series of crossings. For earth, water and wind, three living forces humans wade through, it is a great mixing together.
In a country in which the social lives of humans, and all they have built together, appear less substantial than the forces they live among …
Barely. With a lot of improvisation.
It is enough. In this land, lighthouses are not just about visible light.
In a country in which a beach is the sound of the keel of a ship being hauled by men on pebbles up out of the surf (strand) or of men walking through the dunes (sand), houses and lights are all shores.
What you wash up as is not always your choice. Every landing is also a strand-ing. You might live or you might die. For centuries, Icelandic men went to sea in wooden boats, and came in through the surf to land, not always well.
Your fate is not whether you make it alive or dead, but how you face it. That’s grim, but then some things are. Gunnar Gunnarsson wrote about this fateful beach surrounding Iceland during the devastation of World War I. The book was Livets Strand. In German, it was translated as Strand des Lebens.
In English, the title would be The Shore of Life, but it has never been translated into English. It is an allegory of that war, set in a remote Icelandic fjord. It is the unique, life-affirming, and devastating story of a pastor wrestling with his faith in terrible circumstances, tried by the beauty and horror of life and the often-times inability to distinguish it from death. It is a writer wrestling with how to tell the difference. In an Icelandic context, it is a shore. In this time in which we need it, in many languages. We are at sea.