Tag Archives: Icelandic forest

It’s Not the Size that Matters

Who cares if the forest is only 40 centimetres high.

Nothing beats an Icelandic willow forest for beauty and delight. Oh, the birches and the rowans have their mysteries and dreams, but the willows are just pools of delight making the world a better place. I hope you get to sit down beside one some day and chat!

Iceland’s Himalayas

Himalaya Blue Poppies in the Lystigarðurinn Akureyrar

Above the cliff in Akureyri, there’s a fine place to see the world, just a few kilometres below the Arctic Circle. Coming on these beauties on a July Evening is inspiring. In 1912, nine years after men began to plant trees in Iceland to reclaim their male Viking ancestors…

A Hawthorn in Hallormstaður (Hawthorn Farmstead) in the Great Icelandic National Forest

…the women of Akureyri started planting pretty things, bringing embroidery to life. Talk about writing on the land!

Jewelry for Iceland Herself to Wear

It’s time for the Christmas tree right now outside the Akureyri Art Gallery, but the spring tree waits, covered in blizzard stuff.

Look how it springs up as a decoration across a treeless Icelandic landscape (which is also an artwork.) A fine reminder in the snow that everything other than the ice is art, whether human made or not, and that both kinds of trees are botanical treasures imported from another world.



Iceland, Land of Mighty Forests

Iceland is renowned for being barren of trees. This popular image of Kirkjufell, for instance, shows this characteristic of the country well.

See? No trees. Here is is again:

Got that? Horses, but no trees. Trouble is, it’s a plot. Iceland has forests galore. That you don’t see them is just plain weird, because, well, look:

Looks good, right? So the next time, you see this…

…just realize you’ve been put into a script. The Icelanders hang out in the trees.


What You Need Right Now Might Just Be an Icelandic Rock

After a long time between languages, it’s time to go down to the shore.


And pick up magic rocks and hold them in. your hand.

And put them down.

And leave them there to talk to the sun in their nonhuman tongues.

And walk back up through the library of the birch forest.

And the lair of dragons.

Give one last glance to the lake.

And go back to the skáldverk in silence.

And begin again.

Two Views of Nature in Iceland

Nature today is the process of waiting around for a moment of surprise. This hour at Geysir, is a good example.

The jolt of excitement it gives (essentially the breaking of your self-imposed exile from self in the act of waiting) especially if viewed in a crowd against which you can measure your response, is then called the power of the natural world. It is the age of advertising, psychology and science.

Half a century ago, nature was much closer. You lived in it.

It was an age of art. As a result, nature was conceived as a painting, which would then influence its observers in both spiritual and practical ways.

Well, it has grown now, as these tree plantations show. This shaping can still continue and is one of the reasons why art must be defended and continually reinvented in conversation with the earth. It is always waiting. Sometimes you just have to turn around.

An Icelandic Forest

If the trees you’re used to seeing are willows scooting down behind rocks the size of golf balls for a bit of shelter from sheep and wind, or maybe the occasional lone birch in a canyon somewhere, like this …




Hengifoss Canyon

Flótsðalur, Iceland

… imagine what trees must look like when a valley of stone and grass is turned into a forest. Would they not look like the most exotic things?

pinePines from Alaska…

…planted in the 1960s.

Now, in Canada, trees are so everyday that it often seems like a good idea to cut some down to get a view of something other than their gloomy shadows, but in Iceland, where there’s a view everywhere, from every house, farm or corner in the road or path or even just some lonesome straight length of road across a volcanic wasteland that looks like the face of a planet circling a star in space, it’s not like that. In Canada this would be, well, a nice bit of a tree plantation starting to come in nicely…

P1420236The Forest of Hallórmstaður

… but in Iceland, where the next size of tree is often like this …

fungus1The Old Ones of the Grasslands

There before the grass, and still there after it, blooming under the trees.

… a forest is a magical place, planted by human hand in a pasture, in a way like any other agricultural crop (forestry is under the aegis of the Ministry of Agriculture in Iceland), and in a way like pure poetry.

P1410975Seeing Pines for the First Time, Ever

It doesn’t matter if they’re alive or dead, because either way they are among the most exotic creatures going, ancient ones compared to the grasses …

twignet… that never cease to astound …

P1420033… and never cease to delight …

starcones2Larches from Archangelsk

When all you’ve seen in the sky are birds and stars, then that’s what you see in the trees.

And if you should ever, somehow, get tired of looking up and seeing the delight of art that people have made out of the pastures of a country they clearcut a long, long time ago, look down …

funguslargeThen, hey, look around a bit …


…and a bit more …


Why, you might almost forget the waterfall you hiked uphill through the snow to find …


I love those Icelandic birches. Here are some Canadian aspens, in contrast…

tom-thomson-in-the-northland1Tom Thomson’s In the Northland

It was the years when Thomson was making paintings like this in Northern Ontario that Icelanders started planting trees in the Fljótsðalur. Canada and Iceland were very similar then. Both legacies remain, a century on, to haunt.





Sighting The Wyrm in Lagarfljót

The lake that runs to the sea from this old monastery site in East Iceland is called the Lagarfljót. It is a long and beautiful thing that catches the light from the mountains and the sky and softens them — not that they are harsh to start with. It also has a wyrm, like the monster of Loch Ness or the “Ogopogo” of Okanagan Lake of the North America’s Pacific Northwest. Cryptozoology is good for tourism. Here in the sacred birch forests of East Iceland …


… with the elves catching the mid-day sun …


Lichen on Birch

(I hope to have the elvish connection to lichen ready for you in a couple days.)

… and a moment to enjoy the red berries that the birds missed in the winter …


… because I’m a poet and poets are easily distracted by pretty things (so are wyrms, whose stories are similar enough to the serpents of the Rhine and the Celtic Moselle and the Ring of the Nibelungs to raise a poet’s eyebrow or two), but finally things were looking up. The government was there first, helpful as Icelanders are …

P1370118 A Good Place to See The Wyrm

Shall we? Down the trail through the old, slightly mouldering but still charming early-Nationalist picnic site, and, hey, look, already we see signs of an apex predator eating the locals…


We Must be On the Right Track

And then I lost my doubt, because I heard the birds singing…


See the Birds?

No, I don’t either.

There weren’t any birds, that’s why. It was the lake that was singing, like a choir of angels. That was actually better than birds.


All Winter Long the Ice Has Been Singing As the Waves Break it Up and Knock it Around

Then they do it in the spring. It is haunting. What a magical lake.

And that’s when I first saw the wyrm (well, after a few more steps) …



Being a Canadian and a bit biased towards polar bears, that’s what I thought it was at first. Here’s its head, so you can have a closer look …


Wyrm Head

Note the nice ribbing. Even the Worm in Dune has that. (Look to my upcoming posting on elves and lichen for an explanation of how forms like this are cast up by stone.)

Then I turned and saw this wyrm…


A Dead Ringer to Tolkein’s Smaug…

… or a crocodile. Note the hump, too.

Now, to set things straight, here’s the story of the Wyrm in Lagarfljót: Read it Here. And here’s a video that played on Icelandic TV a year ago … View it Here. And here’s my warning on reading mythic imaginations literally, with photographs of the dreamtime stone that is Canada’s “Ogopogo” — or would be if there were greater general understanding of how pre-industrial people thought. Read it here. This is important stuff. A little respect for the truth of ancient story, and how it was laid down and how it was not, goes a long way towards rebuilding human relationships to the earth. To tell those stories, I am here at Skriðuklaustur.  It has been a beautiful day. Tomorrow, images of Easter in East Iceland, and if things go well the second part of my series on Gunnar Gunnarsson, Secret Agent.