Tag Archives: Land

How Much Do Icelanders Love the Land They Live From?

The cliff at Ásbyrgi, in the far northeast, is full of ravens, trolls and elves. They’ve been camping out there (if you have eyes to see them) from the beginning of the world. If you don’t have such eyes, they are lovely lava flows cut by a paraglacial flood, with a birch, willow and rowan forest worth a trip across Iceland or around the world.

Or, you can just go to Reykjavik.

Now, that’s love for the land! Well done!

Don’t Be a Stranger in Iceland

Public access to beautiful things in Iceland, including stunning waterfalls like Hengifoss…

…is privately maintained and crosses private land at private expense.

The Way Back from the Falls is a Great Journey Too

So if the trail is muddy, give thanks. It was given to you as a gift. To be respectful, stay on it.

It’s a way of giving thanks and preparing the way for the next traveller.

Of Humans and Power

Most humans, unfamiliar with the Earth, try to get as close to her power as possible.


They will find each other, but will be powerless. Iceland is currently financing itself on this illusion, based on a thousand-year-old tradition of hospitality. The land’s hospitality reveals itself when you turn away and walk for, oh, ten minutes into the earth.


There are also ancient traditions of Icelanders reading this mixed landscape of water, volcanoes and wind. Keeping the tradition alive has never been so important or, under the business, so difficult.

What Are We Looking At?

Yesterday, I surmised that the Nordic eye that is neither thought nor memory, and thus not consciousness, is the body, looking out, and asked what it was that we are looking at with that eye. I suggested vision, a presence of being rendered physical.

If that is what we are looking at, it is quite foreign to the contemporary world. Today, human eyes look out to see the social, at all times.

But in a one-eyed landscape, is it really social, or is that just a contemporary, North American word placed on a far different manner of presence?

At any rate, it’s quite different from a human/non-human relationship of being, such as Iceland-outside-of-Reykjavik:

But, here’s the question: is that relationship social, too? But not “social” in terms of human-to-human interactions? 

And so, we come, as we seem to always do, to another question: if there is a non-human social relationship, what is it with, or, perhaps better put, what is a human social relationship when it includes non-peoples?

And what does that say about interhuman social relationships? Something to dream about overnight!

Sheep Don’t Forget

The farm is gone …

…but the sheep still come, hefted to the mountain …

… and to the sea. (To them, the road is nothing.)

The sheep of the sea? Ah yes, these are stone farms.

Very tasty.

Winter barely has a grip on the Reydarfjörður shore.

But… sheep of the sea? Is that correct?

No, they are oyster catchers of the land!

If we moved back, they’d still be there to receive us.



How the Land and the Sea Create Men

In the understanding of people who live off their land, water is not a substance but an expression of the live-giving quality of slopes with certain qualities: not to collect water, exactly, but to amass it, like gravity. It is this coming together of forces which is water.
watersea An ocean is a different thing altogether. It, too, is not water, but, if the expression of a water out of the land can teach anything, I think it’s that the image below is identical to the one above, with one exception: in the image above, the ocean below is transformed by the lens of the land into the concentration of energy called water.lone

This ocean, Gunnar Pointed Out, is the great sea of undifferentiated life and death. They are only sorted by passage through a shore.


In effect, this passage is the same one created by the forms of the land that created the small lake above the sea I showed you above. Here it is again, so you can compare.


The product is the same: you are looking at human life being formed by the land.

What Every Icelandic Sheep Could Tell You

I’ve been thinking about walls. What are they for? For shelter, yes, and seemingly to keep sheep in, or out, but into or out of what? I mean, look at the pastures under the Snaefells Glacier.


There’s precious little for sheep in the neighbouring pastures below, and any shepherd is likely to break a leg stomping after sheep in this stuff, and why? There’s as little grass on one side as on the other.dritvikwall

Assuming that in the past Icelandic farmers were as sensible and economical with their energy as any others, might there be a reasonable, but lost explanation? Could the walls be to direct sheep, not to make pasture but so that they herded themselves, a kind of large sheep fold, like the one at the edge of the lava (below)?


Driftwood helps. Is drifting the principle here? To reap the benefits of summer labour in the winter, when labour is just too exposed on the open earth?


Or is it to direct the snow, to bare some slopes for sheep and to bury others with snowdrifts, to provide fresh water in the spring and early summer? It could be. I don’t know.



It wasn’t a fence to guide human walkers in the fog and the dark. Cairns were used for that.


Might it have been to separate the fields by the shore from the fields by the mountain…


… to keep sheep from drifting away from survival food, winter’s seaweed…


Sheep Pasture at Dritvik

…into perilous holes in the lava?


Is it, in other words, about thinking with the land? Is this the wealth that Gunnar Gunnarsson said was at the heart of poverty? Is this an extension of the principle “when you run out of hay anything is hay, anything at all” to land itself, on the lines of “when you run out of pasture anything is pasture,” even if it is only an extension of the poverty of one man over another? Could this be love of land?


In a country in which only a landowner could wed and have children, the impetus to own any kind of land, in any kind of poverty whatsoever, must have been intense. Is that what we’re looking at here? Love?


The stubbornness not to disappear of a people from whom the benefits of community were continually removed, often by foreign traders?


Is drift a way of holding on by bending the way a path goes? I don’t know. Is it still going on?


Is this the principle of drift? Are some fences made of the mind and duty?p1330714

Is this how 1,500,000 tourists are safely guided through the cold every year by a few hundred front line Icelanders?


I bet the sheep know.


The Sea is A Living Thing

aliveMeeting Life Itself, Skagafjörður

All the rest? The trees, the horses, the humans, the cod, the arctic terns, the chickens? They are all carrying a replica of life within them, but the sea is life itself. Instead of saying “life”, we could just say “sea”. And the land? Ah, now, now that is a story of humans and other people. I’ll tell it tomorrow. Here’s a hint to haunt your dreams while the night falls and the sun rises again …

e1Elf Stone, Goðafoss




Gunnar’s Warning to the Germans

Look at the riddle Gunnar Gunnarsson told the Germans in 1940, just a few weeks before the invasion of Denmark and Norway and the resulting invasion of Iceland by the British and then the Americans:

It is far better for a man to recognize true inner human nature without touching it than through the words and behaviours people dress it in. Such a view into truth is far more vital than casual thought would have it. And certainly it’s no great sacrifice to hold to good taste and respect in all things. And since the talk is about sacrifice, our land has at least fully earned that, and our joy at its beauty will never be complete until these issues are ordered in such a way that gives no more ground for reprimand.

The text it is from a speech called “Our Land.” It can be read many ways. Here’s one:


Turf Sheepfold, Reyðarfjörður

Here’s another, referencing each sentence of the passage quoted above to the argument Gunnar built up in the pages preceding it:

1. It is far better for a man to recognize true inner human nature without touching it than through the words and behaviours people dress it in.

Translation: Iceland has no history, except nature. Elsewhere (Germany included), nature is interpreted through the habits and clothing of people — in other words, through the changeability of time. In Iceland, however, nature is naked, and so are people: they are dressed in nothing, except each other. They do not exist in time — only in place. When one builds a bridge in Iceland (it is an example that Gunnar uses), one has to build it out of Iceland and not out of imported ideas, which sit within foreign customs and gardens rather than within nature itself, no matter how successful they were in other places. In Iceland, they won’t work. The land is not forgiving of any departure from its forms.


Workers’ Housing, Aluminum Smelter, Reyðarfjörður

Gunnar would not have liked this.

2.  Such a view into truth is far more vital than such casual thought would have it.

Translation: Truth is untouched nature. It can be approached (and dismissed) casually, but it is not in itself dismissable. Nature is not the contemporary idea of “all things green”, nor the idea of “landscape art”, nor the notion of a goddess of nature called Natura. It is God: wordless, idea-less, unrepresentable and uncontainable. God is Iceland is Nature — or they would be, except God and Iceland and Nature have no names, and no words or ideas can be given to them, only drawn from them.

P1010427Streambed Near Njardhvik

3. And certainly it’s no great sacrifice to hold to good taste and respect in all things.

Translation: Just as with the sacrifice of Christ, good taste and respect (based on an underlying devotion to God) are not sacrifices but a practical good in their own right. Life flows in patterns. On earth (that is to say on “Our Land”), one lives within them. Land is this shore of life, which other people call a planet, and which yet others call countries. “Our Land” is a changeable idea. It really means, “Who we are.” That’s not a modern idea.


Ryolite Streambed Near Njardhvik

4. And since the talk is about sacrifice, our land has at least fully earned that, and our joy at its beauty will never be complete until these issues are ordered in such a way that gives no more ground for reprimand.

Translation: Iceland has earned the sacrifice of human desire to its eternal forms; all those wishing to speak of sacrifice must learn to do so in a way consistent with the forms of the shore, in the way water finds its path through the grasses yet still moves with great power. Societies can be repurposed. Land cannot. Any attempts to do so will destroy the society of humans on earth. The joy of Icelanders at the beauty of those forms will not be complete until human temporal constructions are ordered in a way no longer out of touch with the streambeds of nature. The bonds between humans and God — a bond called “Our Land” — must be respected, not with words or ideas or customs, but with bodies and with rock. Only the people of a place can build there. All else will fail.bird

Ptarmigan Waiting for Me to Go Away

It’s a remarkable thing to say, especially to a country in the throes of praise for the sacrifice of thousands of its young men in capturing Poland to provide, in the language of the times, land for nordic people, especially when Finland is falling and talk of Scandinavia’s strategic importance is in the air. Invasion plans have already been drawn up, by both the British and the Germans. It’s an especially remarkable thing from a man like Gunnar, who spent decades advocating for a pan-Scandinavian state and who earned his income writing Scandinavian books for a German audience enamoured with the idea of becoming Scandinavian rather than Mediterranean. It’s an especially pointed statement to a Germany that has just united with Italy, on the Mediterranean, especially when Italy, Norway and Iceland are the three poles of the world given in Gunnar’s speech. Did I say ‘speech’? I meant sermon.


Two Security Systems Hard at Work and Ready to Embrace You. Strandakirkja

Choose the one that works for you.

Next: Gunnarsson as a Lutheran.