Tag Archives: Ice

Two Speed Iceland

The water swirls, and the wind swirls in the water, and under the effects of a kind of spiritual gravity, they congeal.If humans could move at their speed, they would still be swirling, but we are so fast that they appear still. We are light flickering on the surface of these flows.

And that’s beautiful, too.  That’s Iceland: a country that lives at two speeds, at once.

Beautiful Ice on the Glacial Lagoon

The sun is bright inside the ancient ice of the glacial lagoon.p1320729

As the ice melts away, the sun inside is slowly revealed.p1320793

This is an artwork written with the stone the glaciers cut out of the mountains many centuries ago.p1320726

They have come together again, in beauty.


In mystery.p1320457

And in wonder.p1320459

This is the glory of the world.p1320458

Its moods are 50,000 years in the making.


They are not human moods.

Even the darkness is light.


Even the light is darkness.p1320449

You can see by it.


You have only a few minutes.





The Language of Birds

I was thinking of lines and circles and how all stories start there, when I noticed these circles of ice, each with a yolk, leading in a line to this little fall below a long-abandoned turf house at the end of the valley. Next stop the glacier.P1430219


I thought they were very nice indeed and stopped all my rushing around for a moment just to breathe in the same place as them, and then the whole world kind of stopped and fell into focus …


Long stories of birds tracks, leading everywhere, even …


… onto the ice floes! In this kind of talking, birds definitely have the advantage. For a while I followed the lines and sentences and song lines and line dancs of this story…


The birds were writing a beautiful music. I felt I could almost read it …


… and I knew it wasn’t random. There were too many stanzas and too much fine drawing work centred on stones, and I thought, well, isn’t that a beautiful thing: the delicate footsteps and the cold, hard stone …


Somehow, it made the stone a lot more like air… really fascinating air. All this time, I was meditating on lines, of course, because Ken Blackburn, sculptor, put me up to that, and circles, so I thought, in my human way, that it would be a fine thing to follow those lines and learn the dance steps, so to speak. Who needed a mind. Let the body do the dancing, I thought. Well …


… I could have paid more attention to this, I guess. But I was happy and out by the falls, with the water singing away, so I pulled my ball of wool out of my pocket, that I have been using as a very slow walking image-making tool — not a camera; something more physical and human than that, and I dipped it into the water …


… and starting unwinding off of its bobbin. If you’ll remember, when I wound it there, I pulled the energy out of the Skriðuklaustur well, through the monastery garden, around and around the axle of the earth, through the church, and up to the carving of Mary (?) on the hill. Now I was unwinding that energy among the birds …


… ah, yes, as you can see, the spiral of the first winding stayed with the wool. That made me realize I knew close to nothing. Then …


… the wind demonstrated that I wasn’t going to follow the birds, no how, no when. The birds, for all their, I dunno, 90 grams of weight, could outgust the wind better than I. Maybe that randomness …


… was a way of harnessing the wind. So, I thought, OK, I’ll be the human here, and let whatever lines I can make by pulling on the string, and whatever lines the wind teases out of it, lie against the lines of the birds and see what that’s all about. Well,


… my line was awfully straight at times …


… and retained a lot of memory at other times, and …


… ooops!. But eventually my rather straight but colourful line seemed to frame the bird tracks nicely enough …


… and sometimes even followed the birds …


… even improvised …


… and soared on flights of fancy …


… in its own conversation with the rocks. Up into the rocks I led the string as it led me …


… and when I looked back, I thought, well, I’m going quiet all over again, and I thought I had gone quiet before…


Onward, up onto the sand …


… and the grasses …


… I went. Now, the thing about having 70 metres of Norwegian wool is that it has an end, and when you’re unwinding it off of the axle of the earth and get near that end, you start looking for a place to land, a place that has some physical meaning. The little birch trees, I thought, just like the spindle, but living, not dead! Well, I thought it, but the string ended here …

P1430290Wool, Spindle and Moss

at the end … or the beginning … of the line of blood and fire?

Yeah, which? Should I wind the spindle back from the water to the sky, or from the sky to the water, I wondered? Should I bring the well, through Mary, to the mountain stream, or the mountain stream, with Mary and the well, up to new life? Well, that was a no-brainer: to life! This story, I felt was not one that repeated itself three times to make a tight spell. It was going somewhere, although I did not know where. I had to trust it. So, I did, and I rolled that yarn up, slowly walking the path of the birds among the stones, over the thin ice, with the thinner creek below, and this time, I noticed this …


… I didn’t make the first line in this place.

P1430388Or the second! Well, not counting the lines of the birds, but I think they were making more than a line, or a series of lines, but that’s skipping ahead in the story. For the moment…

P1430395Life! Richer than it was before.

The well in the Garden of Eden, the Monastery Church, the Baptismal Font, the Axle of the World, Mary (?) and now a flock of unseen birds, all right there, burning. 

The physicality of this method of slow photography charmed me: the wet wool on my fingers, the feel of the sheep’s hair on my fingertips, the cold, and the repetitive, meditative motion of winding it, and matching my footsteps to the winding had helped me to see this valley, and my place in it, intensely. And then, just when I thought I had been as quiet as I could be …

P1430418 … the birds came!


They came by the hundreds, on and on, in a fast river, winding with the river upstream, weaving in the air, landing briefly, lifting, an tumbling on…

P1430425… and I went so silent that I just put my camera down and raised my arms into the stream of birds, as they came at me, materializing out of the water and the light, and laughed out loud. And then, as quickly as they came …

flyaway… they flew away over the fields. And that’s why it took me two days to get to the falls.


Strutafoss, Iceland

And that’s partly why they left me wordless with wonder.


The story of the wool comes to a powerful climax tomorrow. 


The Sculptural Path to Story: an Icelandic Saga

Today, a meditation on lines, and the art and society that sprout from them, as a branch to this…

rowan2Gunnar Gunnarsson’s Rowan Tree, Skriðuklaustur, Iceland

Bending to the earth and throwing her branches into the sky. To say that these branches and twigs were hair, or a mane, or arms and fingers would be a kenning, or a skaldic pun. She has her own dignity, though, I’d say. After all, rowans are sacred to the Goddess. Their red berries glow like drops of blood in the snow, or, if you wish, the strawberry coloured lips of the Goddess of the English celts, or, if your mind wanders so far, to the lips of your first love, or your deepest. They are also a symbol of Icelandic nationalism.

Yesterday I started this meditation by talking about elves, to suggest that the earth is very much alive with human imagination, and not in a fantastical way, either. If you missed that, it’s here. Today, I’d like to talk about lines, to show how story rises from that same imagination. A couple weeks ago, I introduced this thought on my Canadian blog, Okanaganokanogan.com, with a thought from the sculptor and painter Ken Blackburn, that all writing and imagery, indeed all artistic culture, begins with a line. Here’s that post, if you’d like to see Ken and his strawberry-coloured raven. I’ve had many joyful arguments with Ken. He represented lines with panache. I argued for knots, deep wells, pools and other points of intersection between worlds. Well, look, maybe we were both right:

bubbleline1Icelandic Pool with Line, Skutustaðir

If you take the line away, you have a field, but no story.

I learned the skills for that kind of erasure by pruning fruit trees by starlight (I do not exaggerate) in the German Nordic Canadian dream that was my childhood, and learned to adapt it to the crafting of objects made out of words, which I thought for decades was writing, although it was really a form of sculpture. The addition of a line to a field, however complex, creates a tension, which human minds, structured to track game across grass and sand and to recognize the nuance and significance of the tiniest of plant forms and deviations, naturally follow. In terms of the craft which I track as a sculptor and many others lay down somewhat differently as trail makers, or writers, this is the root of story.


Footsteps on Lake Mývatn, Iceland

With the late afternoon sun rolling around on the horizon, like an eye. A writer looks forward here, into empty snow. A sculptor looks back into its story.

Before the line, there is indeed a pool (or a lake, a pond, a puddle, a sky, a moon, a well, a field, a face, or a room, and so on). It is endlessly fascinating but engages only one half of the split human mind. In storytelling, this is called a situation. To create story out of a situation, there must be two characters, who exchange powers at a point of transfer. That point of interchange transforms them.


Lines of Cosmic Energy Entering and Departing a Vortex …

… or rising from it. Driveway Puddle in the Early Morning, Skutustaðir

This kind of tension (and this unresolvable paradox), will continue to generate story as long as humans last on earth. This ability to read story into the earth’s processes is the signature of humans. It is the same tension that creates a poem within the boundaries of metre, or the balance that humans call beauty, which is a coming together in complex relationship to lines…



Driveway Puddle at 9:30 a.m. on a March Morning, Skutustaðir

Lines, of course, don’t always have to be simple. The one above, for instance, was taken while men with orange vests were fussing over the lone gas pump a few metres away, a woman was driving around crouching me on her way to take her kids to school, and the hotel cook was banging the snow off his boots after sucking the fire out of his morning cigarette before work. Lines, or story, shall we say, can be as complex as this…


… or this …


… or this …


… or this (you can probably surmise that a number of people had to drive around excited me) …


… or this…


Icelandic Horse Held in Its Field by a Line of Human Will …

… and continually at tension, between running free and being led (and fed). Notice the line in the foreground that humans have built in order to move past at speed, without stopping.

Sculptors stop. They get out of their narratives and find their stories telling themselves. The imagination that reads the human body into the sculptural forms of the land, also reads, and indeed creates, story, not as narrative but as something complete and whole in the world, that one can follow without moving at all. Pretty beautiful, I’d say. What does all this have to do with Gunnar Gunnarsson? Ah, I was getting to that. That is where you’ll find me tomorrow: in that story.