Tag Archives: East Iceland

The Shore of Life

Gunnar Gunnarsson published “The Shore of Life” in 1916, as a protest against the First World war. He had in mind the ring of surf around the Island, through which all life had to pass. All goods coming in and all goods going out, he argued, passed through the hands of Danish traders, or through the vicious surf, which easily turned life into death. He offered an unusual role as writer, but fitting to the Battle of the Somme: sniper. One by one he made us love his characters, then killed them off. It is an amazing and enraging book, as he intended. The metaphor is by no means dead. Note the red surf here facing down the aluminum city of Reyðarfjörður.

Gunnar’s world is far from past.

Getting Off the Ring Road in Iceland

Before the Ring Road, this was the highway to the East.

It is now easy to forget that Iceland is many different countries united by isolation. Sometimes the way forward is the way back.

And this is the high-tech version.

Road crew.

Watch your step.

If isolation can be connection, can connection be isolation?

Roadside Inn.

When a country becomes a road…

… what then?

Sighting The Wyrm in Lagarfljót

The lake that runs to the sea from this old monastery site in East Iceland is called the Lagarfljót. It is a long and beautiful thing that catches the light from the mountains and the sky and softens them — not that they are harsh to start with. It also has a wyrm, like the monster of Loch Ness or the “Ogopogo” of Okanagan Lake of the North America’s Pacific Northwest. Cryptozoology is good for tourism. Here in the sacred birch forests of East Iceland …

P1370240

… with the elves catching the mid-day sun …

lichen

Lichen on Birch

(I hope to have the elvish connection to lichen ready for you in a couple days.)

… and a moment to enjoy the red berries that the birds missed in the winter …

berries

… because I’m a poet and poets are easily distracted by pretty things (so are wyrms, whose stories are similar enough to the serpents of the Rhine and the Celtic Moselle and the Ring of the Nibelungs to raise a poet’s eyebrow or two), but finally things were looking up. The government was there first, helpful as Icelanders are …

P1370118 A Good Place to See The Wyrm

Shall we? Down the trail through the old, slightly mouldering but still charming early-Nationalist picnic site, and, hey, look, already we see signs of an apex predator eating the locals…

P1370116

We Must be On the Right Track

And then I lost my doubt, because I heard the birds singing…

P1370166

See the Birds?

No, I don’t either.

There weren’t any birds, that’s why. It was the lake that was singing, like a choir of angels. That was actually better than birds.

P1370184

All Winter Long the Ice Has Been Singing As the Waves Break it Up and Knock it Around

Then they do it in the spring. It is haunting. What a magical lake.

And that’s when I first saw the wyrm (well, after a few more steps) …

P1360998

Wyrm

Being a Canadian and a bit biased towards polar bears, that’s what I thought it was at first. Here’s its head, so you can have a closer look …

P1370001

Wyrm Head

Note the nice ribbing. Even the Worm in Dune has that. (Look to my upcoming posting on elves and lichen for an explanation of how forms like this are cast up by stone.)

Then I turned and saw this wyrm…

wormhead3

A Dead Ringer to Tolkein’s Smaug…

… or a crocodile. Note the hump, too.

Now, to set things straight, here’s the story of the Wyrm in Lagarfljót: Read it Here. And here’s a video that played on Icelandic TV a year ago … View it Here. And here’s my warning on reading mythic imaginations literally, with photographs of the dreamtime stone that is Canada’s “Ogopogo” — or would be if there were greater general understanding of how pre-industrial people thought. Read it here. This is important stuff. A little respect for the truth of ancient story, and how it was laid down and how it was not, goes a long way towards rebuilding human relationships to the earth. To tell those stories, I am here at Skriðuklaustur.  It has been a beautiful day. Tomorrow, images of Easter in East Iceland, and if things go well the second part of my series on Gunnar Gunnarsson, Secret Agent.