Way up the fjord. Nothing happening? Not true. You are! Stop the car. Get out. Wait.
Ah, here they come.
Like I said.
Never alone. Ever.
Even in the snow!
Sure, you can lose important stuff in the snow, because you have to negotiate snacks, camera, wallet, hat, gloves, snow, and slippery paths. Here I am after running across the bridge looking for likely nice people and finding them. Look how she takes charge. He should keep her close, I think. (It was my wife who found the wallet and sent me on my sprint across the icy bridge with no people in sight.)
Note how I keep my stuff in a little daypack now. Can you tell it’s a been-there-done-that situation?
Just another day in Iceland! I hope they’re doing well. Meanwhile, back to the light. What there is of it!
Watch your step! (And do get a daypack. Really.)
When you turn off onto Road 5001 at the head of the Havalfjörður to visit the high waterfall Glymur, make note of the gravel parking area to your left. When you come back soggy and disappointed that Glymur is unattainable because of bad weather and high water and muck, why not stop and hike a hundred metres up the stream to Paradisarfoss? She’s a pretty little one, with a fine little forest of wild birches. You need never be disappointed in Iceland.
By Icelandic standards, that’s a very good trail there.
Well worth the trip! And no, this was not sunset. And, yes, the sky was that pink. It was just November 5, that’s all, when a stroll through the rain is like a walk through laughter.
There is a special hour on Þingvallavatn. Right after darkness, it is light. Then the light extinguishes and the world begins without illusion: blue.
The soul rises early. Everything that follows is just light.
A few official Icelandic elvish sites for you. Here’s Álfaborg in Borgisfjörður Estri. After driving across the entire country to get here, I realized, duh, that I had passed hundreds of elf cities to see this one. They were everywhere, which made sense. Every fjord was isolated.
What I wanted to know was what was it that identified a place as an elf city, when other lumps of rocks weren’t? I know now that this notion of identification is essential, that spirit in rocks is a form of respect, an admission of an emotional connection, but back then I drove up the fjord to the next elf hill and climbed up it in the rain and fog and looked out at the rain and fog.
Note that it looks a lot like a turf house, with a chimney. Small versions are created by birds, who perch on top of hillocks, Icelanders will quickly point out these days, shit what they have to, and fertilize the grass, which makes a little cap for the hill. Well, maybe. Still, rocks at old turf house sites are not uncommon.
Believe me, I was drenched with rain. On the east side of the hill, there is an old sheep fold and the ruins of a house field. If I had known enough at the time, I would have found the ruins of the old turf house that accompanied them… right on the elf hill. I didn’t know enough to look. I was caught in the fog. Perhaps that was fitting.
Well, I know now it has to do with familiarity. After awhile, you become the rock. It becomes home. You haunt it. And figures appear out of another dimension of your life. At the time, though, I looked around, trying to see what and elf would see, as a clue to what a human would see that caused them to see elves.
I tracked over every trail over the mountain, reading each turn of stone as a story read in sequence, as I had learned to do with stone landforms in Indigenous country in Canada. I learned that it doesn’t help if you don’t know the underlying story. I mean, you know you are walking through a story, but what story?
And here at the old monastery at Skriðuklaustur, right behind the building, this mysterious wall, carved by lichens but most likely not entirely by lichens. I spent many, many hours, over 4 weeks, trying to read these marks in all kinds of different light. I learned a lot about lichens and their ability to make human forms!
And traffic circles in Reykjavik, even ones decorated with pipes, are there to protect elf stones more than they are there to route traffic. If you dodge traffic, and peer through the pipe you can see what someone else imagined the elves could see. It’s nice to be reaffirmed like this.
At Mosfellsbær, though, it’s pretty obvious that elfishness isn’t just a matter of smallish rocks and lichens. There’s a sense of the power of landscape that is much larger than that. The land is a body, obviously, although not a human one, and it has points of focus, or life, that are very intense.
It’s hard to tell if their mystery is from close living with elves or just from being the horses of the gods themselves, but they enjoy it if you ask. Here’s an elf hill from the southern Icelandic shore, close to the Dyrhólaey Bird Sanctuary.
You don’t have to go so far. Right in front of the Hallgrimskirkja in downtown Reykjavik, right under Lief Erickson’s statue, the elves are living happily ever after. Wander around. They’re in every schoolyard in town. But isn’t that right? Shouldn’t kids be playing with elves? Someone should tell the kid below.
And we shouldn’t get too fixated on rocks. Here on the island of Viðey in Reykjavik Harbour, a Catholic shrine has been erected on top of a famous elf hill, which consists of grass and fog, and some holes you could turn an ankle in. Women wandered out there, it is said, and went mad. I suspect that Maria knows otherwise.
In short, elves are everywhere where the world makes you lose your way and then gives it back again in its own forms. This is called madness in civilized society. It is hardly that.
Schoolyard in Reykjavik