Gerduberg in Winter

This old farm building below the famous basalt cliff Gerduberg is a good reminder of a changing climate, for even here, in a remote farming district, the wind is taking the soil away. Look at how it is staining the drifts on the hilltop brown.

It means there is no plant life holding it down. No-one needs a farm shelter here any more. Touring Iceland is often a trip through ruins. It’s like a winter trip itself: one freezes terribly in the wind, but can enjoy it because one will soon go in to a cozy room in Borgarnes, with all the lights blazing. It’s a romantic image, though. This is Iceland. Here you can’t go in.

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.

Snaefellsjökull, The Watcher

The volcano was an island-volcano off the coast, before a completely separate volcanic event raised a ridge of volcanoes out to meet it and then past it into the Atlantic. It watched them come.

It watched humans come, too. Some go there now to watch it. Others go to be watched by it. It measures the distance between those two points of view.

What to Wear When Hunting Trolls and Ogres

If you’re hunting for ogres and trolls, pick your rock carefully, seek around waterfalls, and come in winter, when the world approaches their state. They’re shy. They won’t come all at once. Bring warm gloves and boots. Those are the first parts of your body to leave you for their world.

A rich narrative of non human life forms at Sheep’s Falls. December 24, 2019.

A Culture of Settlement

One thing that makes Iceland dramatically beautiful is that its culture and landscape look like they were just plunked there recently and haven’t really taken yet.

Looking North from Meidavellir

That’s what you get after 1100 years of cultural replacement in response to environmental erosion. With very few exceptions, the buildings are less than a century old. With very few exceptions, the living landscapes are far younger. A century ago, the scrub above would have looked much like the outwash plain below it. The people, whose memory is longer, are in a constant state of change, unsettlement and resettlement, just as it was when they first arrived, a little over 1100 years ago. Settlement was the originating impulse, but it was driven by men, who felt unsettled in Norway. These tensions are still written in every moment of the land.

Old Red Nose, a North Icelandic Tale

In the North East of Iceland, there is a cape with Eidars and puffins, called Raudanes, or Red Cape. “Nes” is an old term for a nes, or nose, of land, in the same way that mountains have shoulders, backs and arms, continents have icecaps, mountains have jökulls, as the Icelanders say, little jackets of ice, little land-based icebergs, or glaciers, and seacoasts, like mountains, have caps, or heads. On the coast, these caps are capes, in English, and they often have noses.

This is the nose of Red Nose itself. One notes that it is a dragon. Now, how fine is that!