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.
When I first went to Iceland nine years ago, the Icelanders told stories of how they lived on a new land, in the process of being made. You can see how that works, here in Njardvik, where with each storm the fjord grows smaller. It’s quite the problem, really, if you’re on one of the two farms in the fjord.
Now, Icelanders tell stories of how climate change caused Vikings (not Icelanders but Vikings yet [who were Icelanders!]) to cut down all the trees, and continues to victimize Iceland, making it pay for industrial decisions taken elsewhere. I miss the old story of hope, of rolling up the sleeves, doing something, and getting on with it. After all…
… either way, you still have to fix your fence. Might as well give your neighbour, the sea, a piece of your mind while you’re at it.
From a little patch of dried clay the size of an average bedroom, the wind howling off of Þorsjökull did a pretty great job of stripping the land down to its bones last week.
Wind speeds were a mere 45 km/h, which, by Icelandic standards, is a brisk afternoon breeze. Remarkably, a pair of swans and a few shorebirds were hanging on, even though the lake and the river flowing from it have almost vanished. If you’re in þingvellir these days, a trip over behind Thor’s Shield certainly won’t disappoint!