When the wind blows at hurricane force, it lifts the cloud from Snæfellsjökull. The glacier on the volcano’s peak captures the sun and beams it up to the clouds.
This is one of the central images from my new book: Landings: Poems from Iceland. It contains poems written on a trip across Iceland. Many were written in Grundarfjörður, after this glorious day trying to stay vertical in the lava fields.
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.
At the edge of night in December, at mid-afternoon, Snæfellsjökull reveals one of the depths of the interaction between Earth and the Sun: light is not the illumination that humans “see” but a glow set up within objects, with differing intensities. Some of these intensities are what humans call “dark.” Well, by that standard, it’s all dark.
Snæfellsjökull from Ingjaldshóllkirkja
Everything in the image above is receiving the same radiation from the sun, but all are speaking it differently. Here you can see how they are sorted out by the human eye, and how the mountain glows with no more intensity and no less mystery than the dark foreground lava hills. Mountains have an inside. You can see that here, at the point at which the light and dark meet.
Pattern, volume, mass, surface, light, line and shade. These expressions make up art. They are also representations of the human body.
(Home of ravens, too.)
Which is a creation of the earth’s body. Iceland feels like home because it is: whether on the veldt of Africa, the steppes of Asia, the prairies of North America or the glaciers of Europe, Asia and Canada, these basic forms, of our bodies laid out for us to walk through under the sky, are our oldest map. Wherever we are going, we are already there.
So, here it is, Gulfoss, translated as “Golden Falls.”
The water, as you can see from its colour, comes from the glacier. No gold there.
And the gold? Well, at settlement 55% of Icelanders were Irish women dragged along against their will and making the most of it. I suspect a leprechaun or two came along, because leprechauns like to hide a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and, well…
You are virtually promised to see a rainbow at Gulfoss. Don’t try for the pot of gold, though. It’s dangerous down there where the river disappears into the earth. Fairyland, they call that.
Maybe a trip to the glacier? Much safer.
And what is a glacier? Why, just look at it: white gold, of course.