She is not absent from it. Every ledge on the mountain has a name. Each is a separate sheep pasture. Talk about trusting ancient forces with one’s sheep (the “hidden people” just seems wrong, given how visible she is), or what.
Here is Gunnar’s corner of Iceland. Snæfell in the distance calls the water out of the air, then sheds it and fills the valley floor with its watery self. The lake is the mountain.
And it is here in the spring, when you stand on the shore, you can hear the mountain talk to you through the ice as it is lifted and set down by the waves lifted and set down by the breath of the mountain. It sounds like a flock of joyous birds. Really. You should go. It’s worth the trip to hear it through the birch trees, to keep walking as it grows louder and louder, and then, well, to be right inside it.
Snæfell, the great mountain of East Iceland (not to be confused with Snæfell, the great mountain of West Iceland), is rarely seen. She cloaks herself in weather.
Gunnar’s House is just above lake level (and just past the lake), pretty much in the centre of the image.
She is always present, however, not just in the cloud she gathers to herself out of the living air but also in the Lagarfljót, the lake that fills the valley below her. There you can walk along the shore of the water she collects out of the sky. Snæfell is one of the great transformers — much like a great white raven, really.
Well, it’s freezing in Hallormstaðir, and the Lagarfljót isn’t, shall we say, a great place for swimming today, but while the weather stations are warning of heavy snow and ice ahead, let’s remember the ice of April, as it breaks on the shore with the music of a flock of 100,000 tiny birds. The ice is the birds, as it shatters and lifts, and refreezes and tilts and falls, and washes in on the waves, all written with the record of a year.
And if you can’t, well, there’s April, when the ice plays its recording, just once, in birdsong.
In West Iceland, the aluminum plant in Hvalfjörður, which draws power from the dammed highlands, is watched over by the abandoned World War II fighter base that guarded the British Fleet, and which is now gone to the birds.
In East Iceland, the aluminum plant in Reydarfjörður draws power from Skaftafell, in the cloud at the height of the Lagarfljót, watched over by an abandoned horse-drawn manure spreader on the farm Gunnar bought to avoid the Second World War.
These too are the faces of war. In Iceland, which won its independence during the Second World War while its colonial masters in Denmark were occupied by the Germans, that war is honoured by double-edged memorials such as these.
After a long time between languages, it’s time to go down to the shore.
And put them down.
And the lair of dragons.
Give one last glance to the lake.
And begin again.