Tag Archives: Ásbyrgi

The Path Through the Trees, Before and After the Pandemic

Once, these birch forests were burned to smelt iron, then they were nibbled to naught by sheep.

A thousand years of erosion later, they became symbols of Iceland’s independence, and were carefully grown up from their sheep-nibbled stubs.

Ásbyrgi, 2011

Then Iceland got to work hosting tourists. The north, and its tourists, were left behind, so tourists were brought on busses as late as 2019. They had 30 minutes to walk through the trails, without history, and then were off to think whatever they might think.

The Icelanders weren’t going there themselves in 2019. They were going here, upriver, by horse expedition:

Now what? The forests wait.

A Thrush in Ásbyrgi

This fledgling thrush last summer was, like all thrushes, social and curious. I had one at Skriðuklaustur that  perched on the window daily:  a small house god, eating insects that came to the glass and knock knock knock knocking on the pane. It’s best to consider thrushes, like trees, as magical creatures from the world of the Huldúfolk, visiting his with messages. Their bodies are doorways. In this case, the bird was caught between fear, and defensive freezing, and curiosity.

Intriguingly, its mother was nearby, keeping an eye out. Like its relative, the American Robin, these little guys get to spend some time alone with the world. I had a robin nest in my apricot tree here in Canada for about five years. Every year, when her hatchlings got too big for the nest and fell out, she would leave them for an entire day and night, and only if they survived that would she return to feed them.

I hiked once out to the Easter Cave in Neskaupstaðir, with a thrush leading the way along the path. Thrushes make good guides. The Earth is strong in them. When you meet one, pay attention. They come with a message.

A Trip Through Fairyland

If we can set aside the re-creation of European indigenous life

as fairytale during the romantic period, in which elves and dwarves, trolls, ogres,

witches and other organic understandings of human-Earth relationships took on sentimental human form,

and life was removed from the Earth

and given to biology,

we should still be able to read the rock as something more than mineral. It is the nature of being indigenous to be of a place.

This does not mean that one inhabits it solely as an isolated biological body,

but that the place and you are also one. One of the consequences is that you will see your mind and body around you and read your thoughts out of the land

By moving across the land, you really move through it, and really are moving through yourself.


You can stop sometimes and have a look at what you, as the Earth, are thinking.

 

The simplest way is to read the stone, such as the cliffs at Ásbyrgi. It’s easiest if you remember that before a troll was a mythical, romantic being…

… it was a stone, or a person, anchored to a place and defining it. The understanding was that place has power.

And not just as a romantic artform called “nature”.

That is beautiful enough, but it has a lot in common with romanticized, humanized elves and looks, most of the time, like fairyland.

 

It is, of course, but not literally. What is literal is the rock, and how you can read your thoughts there.


Complex thoughts of many kinds.

Once you have seen through the romantic veil to that, you can relax and read the trees.

Such observations are usually called pre-modern thinking, but it would be both more fair and more generous, more respective of human nature, to call it non-individualized consciousness, or even earth consciousness.

Not a spruce tree and not fairyland. This is your body being conscious. You can learn to speak this.

And we need that.

What Do You Call the Birches of Ásbyrgi?

I wouldn’t exactly call these birches a forest, and “wood”, or “copse” or “grove” or “thicket” are also plain wrong. Even the Icelandic, “skogur”, can’t be right, because it applies to any kind of group of trees at all, and, well, these are very special. They’re more like people.

“Community” seems rather generalized, and “congregation” is too churchy. What about “band”? That’s more like a line, isn’t it, and not this spreading out and appearing. We could say it is a “bosk,” though. That’s an old word for a kind of thicket, with the old proto-Indoeuropean sense of “appearing.”

Any celt would have been happy with that, and there’s a lot of celtic memory in Iceland. The French are happy with it, too, and would just call this a “bois.” A gathering together, and what is a gather but a clump, or a thickening, that is held by an external force, in this case, the cliffs of Ásbyrgi.

Look how they are alive with this sense of “peopling” as well: a busk, or bois, or gather of stone. There is an energy leading all these forms to come together in this pattern, and it is this energy that is Iceland. Just ask a puffin.