Before there was Egilsstaðir, the service and shopping hub for East Iceland, there was Óshöfn in Krosshöfði. Alas, the harbour filled in. That’s it in the centre of the image below.
But back in the day, it was a h happening place. Men would travel perhaps a week with their horses to pick up the shopping here.
1904: Those people of Hérað who so wish, can have any sort of groceries delivered to Öshöfn next March-April, providing that they deliver their orders to the store in Bakkagerði, Borgarfjörður before the New Year.
Bakkagerði is in the second fjörd to the south. Hérað is a vast district in the East, including Gunnar Gunnarsson’s childhood home at ValÞjófsstaðir, a long five days’ ride to the East. Chances are, the walnut he received for Christmas as a boy, which he broke in half and made into a boat, which he sailed down the pastorage stream, dreaming of going to sea, came from here.
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.
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.
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.
Well, Grótfjall is a handsome mountain, to be sure. Viewing it from the Njardvik Beach, its easy enough to see that some of it is down here, making the valley floor, rather than up in the sky, making its hat.
But what’s that on the mountain? A dragon? And isn’t the sod collapsing over the cliff into sea, its wings? And aren’t there dragon shapes a-plenty, in the wet-dry patterning of the cliff? You tell me. I just know that walking through this fjord as a dragon story makes every relationship significant, in the way every word and sound in poetry means more than the poem’s sense.
If nothing else, it reveals the more of the mountains lies on the shore than in the air. A flat mountain. That’s a fine experience in climbing! But, wait, isn’t that a troll peeking out from the bottom of the cliff on the left? What’s his story?
It is good to remember that humans are prey. It keeps us on our toes.