Not elephants. Bigger. You can spot one in the distance, looming down on Höfn.
We call them glaciers now, but, come on. Look at it! The Icelanders call them Jöklar. It’s an interesting word. Kayak is the same word. So is a jacket. So is, believe it or not, an ice floe, or even a little iceberg floating in the fjord. A white-capped wave is also the same word. Perhaps you can see the commonality. For a sea-going people, these are waves on the land, and what is a wave but a swell, a well or a welling, and, when it approaches land, a breaker. Look at it break up there! The Germans put it very well. To them, the line of waves breaking on a shore is a Brandung, a “burning.” If you wonder why, just light a fire then throw a bucket of water on it. That’s the spirit of these big spirit animals that haunt Iceland. Humans eke out an existence at their feet, always with a view into the other world. it is never far.
It’s not just in Snæfellsnes. It’s everywhere, really: clods of earth like curds in whey on the ground, glopped out of volcanoes, more made with a plow and seeded with pasture grass, and glops of earth in the sky, called clouds, that shade the earth like stone and make you pull a sweater around your shoulders and look up to the fields of the air.
Clods of Earth Falling from the Sky
The old saying, mocked by the Christian parable Chicken Little, which laughs at a chicken who imagines that the sky is falling, of all things, is given its original context if you stop driving around in Iceland and stand still long enough to become the wind, where the old words aren’t old. Iceland is always full of surprises like this.
This is the original world of the islands of the north that gave us the capacity of speech, and if we call only tilled soil clods now, while the ones from volcanoes are called lava and the ones in the air are called condensations of water under pressure regimes, we still draw a sweater over our shoulders when a cloud obscures the sun.
First the beam, then the body, then the man. First the birch, and then the bone.
Like these birches in Hvalfjörður, we are not metaphors. We are all the original Huldufolk, the people of the earth. The lovely stories of elves are memories startling us awake out of sleep.
A veit is a vein. It is a space of the blood pounding in your ears, the loneliness you feel when you are alone, and the connectivity bound to that. If you are alone in the earth and connected to it, you are the earth. You are huge, and walk through yourself. Welcome to Myvatnsveit.This is the most beautiful Iceland of all, a place between other places, a place that is, in other words, not a place but a spreading expanse of time, which does not exist, between places, where humans can settle. You can’t settle in a vein. You can only walk, or drive, or die. A vein is the same space within your body: a place between, where travel takes place. We need veits (wide-ness, vistas, and their winds. Only here …… can you find yourself.
Or get lost. Although it follows the land, the road is not the map.