Iceland is a society of cairns. Cairns are artificial humans made out of stacked-up skulls, which allow the living to find their way in the footsteps of those who came before. Here’s one in the Berserker Lava Fields.
Here’s one in Borg.
And an artful one in Reykjavik.
And back to the Berserker Lava Field, where a modern cairn, a 4×4, moves as the driver anticipates where you are going to be, but you have to show up there to find it. Unlike the others, it isn’t a visual cairn. It’s more like one or the whole body.
Skull training starts young. Here’s a pretty standard kid’s playground, with a build-it-yourself dragon.
The dragon you make yourself is not the one that’s going to hurt you.
Here at the head of the Hvalfjörður the old trails leap off across country. The old cairns remain, to still mark the way in bad weather, or good. As you can see, there’s a chasm between cairns. No amount of scrambling is going to make that worthwhile. You’re likely to break a fetlock, or worse.
Reading these cairns is not a matter of following straight lines. Obviously, the rock, the cleft and the sky are part of the trail, too, and the reading is a way of orienting oneself in multi-dimensional space, not map space. If you’ve ever read an Icelandic novel, you’ll recognize the pattern!
When you are caught by a veið, or a plane of gaping energy, that can devour you without a trace…
… where everything (and soon you too) is thrown, or strewn, around without sense…
… it’s best to create memory, and sense, or you will be lost, literally. Cairns like the one below are the Parthenons of Iceland. Don’t touch.
And don’t make more! That would be like destroying Shakespeare.
Even if the highway-building crew starts it, please resist translating cairns, energy gathered from throws to make wide space close, into an image of yourself as witness. This isn’t magic or art. It’s architecture and language. The path to history through them should remain open. If not, why go to Iceland?
Images from between Hafragilsfoss and Dettifoss, as well as on Highway 85 to Vopnafjörður.
In Iceland, the major architectural monuments from the past are also way-finding cairns of stones passing across inhospitable terrain. They were essential for commerce and the maintaining of a low technology culture in a harsh environment. They are now essential links to the past, as important to Icelanders as, say, the pyramids in Egypt or the Strasbourg Cathedral in France. In other words, they led somewhere, and still lead somewhere important, even as people continue to try to read them.
Aimlessness at Þingvellirvatn
Unfortunately, many contemporary visitors to Iceland, being humans and liking to make their own presence into lasting magical gestures, a signature of their kind, obscure the landscapes with their mark-making. Please don’t. It’s ugly and aimless. They don’t let you do it in Paris. Respect goes a long way towards creating beauty.
Welcome to the wilderness of the mind.When confronted with the absence of words for the mirror that is the world, people often fill the space where they have never had a chance to build a self with their body.It is an expression of rapid, long-distance transportation of the body from its living environment to one only its ancestors had words for, if even them.
It turns the living earth, and her people, into a maze in a desert. Not all are at home in the world. These new sculptures, echoes of tourism, threaten the environment of the cairns the first settlers laid down, to find their way to each other.