Tag Archives: nature photography

Trolls and Troll Sheep in Iceland

A trained eye will see trolls In Iceland by looking past the rock. A world of appearances is a world of doors. The country is a folktale. That is not a metaphor.

Some trolls, such as the one at Kirkjubærjarklaustur below, are less retiring, but look more closely. More trolls appear the longer you look.

Here too, to the east, along the South Coast.

And farther to the east. Here you can clearly see the bones from a previous troll meal, that have been tossed below them. Folklore holds that when the sun comes up, trolls are turned into stone. No, that’s not it. They are still there, behind the appearances, which is to say, in the darkness, behind the light.

And yes, trolls keep troll sheep, such as the one below at Dimmuborgir.

The one below at Skriðuklaustur may not appear to do so at first …

… but do turn around. Ah, there they are.

Here’s one at Litlafoss, carrying a sheep on its back.

Are these really “trolls” and “troll sheep”? Well, are the meanings of these words really “things”? We live in a world of appearances, and use language to navigate between them, but the appearances are separate from the language.

To date, there is no other language for these appearances, such as here at Stekkalækur:

And calling this view of the troll environment at Litlafoss geology doesn’t help much, except to produce awe, which is to say, to drive you away, when you might need to learn how to get close.

Truth is, volcanic rock breaks in patterns that matches the patterning of the human mind. This is our environment. The alternative would be to call the appearances an error, which is just too tidy and elitist.

Behaviour like that is enough to make you imagine cartoon trolls …

… above a waterfall full of real ones.

Fossatún

That is a betrayal of the appearances. It makes the world safe. It isn’t.

Stekkalækur

If not honoured, trolls prey on us.

Iceland’s Stones of History

It is the horizon that marks the way across Iceland. It is there, where soft rock broken apart by fast-moving glaciers shows itself against the low, high-latitude snow, that one sees the difference between the impossible jumble of the near and the impossible formlessness of the distant.

It is the most basic cultural act to set up a human marker in that spot, in the most recognizable shape: a human guide. The jumble and the white-out become intimately more human, as a deep, psychological break between darkness and light. It clears the mind …

… and you find the way, exactly at the point, the ridges, where the wind blows the snow away. For most of Iceland’s history, these cairns were the difference between life and death as one travelled across country. Here at Litlafoss, it guides herdsmen out of the canyon pastures and away from the cliff where the raven nests and waits for you to slip and break your head. You can see some of these cairns on the left of the image below, although the one above was on the right and out of the image.

For Icelanders, these cairns are some of the deepest history in the land, and one of the historical markers of the creation of Icelandic culture.

They are to be approached with the reverence with which one approaches the caves at Lascaux or the Sphinx, and so are the glacial rubble fields that inspired them. Walk lightly in Iceland. Nature here is historical space.

You pass through history to get to the falls.

Litlafoss

To find the falls, you must go deep into the earth.

Icelandic Austerity is Beautiful

Time and again, Gunnar wrote that poverty is the greatest wealth. Here’s an example from his childhood fjord. Here, every farm i needed a source of fresh water. The smaller the farm, the more precarious the source. Here’s the water source of a small croft near Bringubakki.

Look how the water flows with life within the remains of winter’s cold, just as the life flows through the family that brings it into their house. This small, austere pleasure of this correspondence is a great richness.

What You Missed on Your Summer Trip to Iceland

So, you came in the summer. The grass was awfully nice. So pretty. And you were bathed in light and danced.


Here are the deeps of the island, that you missed:

Look how the light has a left the sky and gone into the things of the world. The sun shines from there. You’ll have to come back. There’s no way around it.

Magical Icelandic Light

In mid-November, there is no break between sunrise and sunset, just a switch in the spectrum. Here’s the pink morning light at Hafnarskógar, looking up to Hafnarfell.

As you can see, when you live in such light, you become inspired.

And the moon shines all day. Here it is around 2 pm, looking out Rauðanes way. Enough to inspire anyone.

At this time of day, the blue and pink start mixing it up.

An hour later, over on Rauðanes, it gives a last splash…

And then darkens …

… and both deepens and thins at the same time …

Tungokollur over Borgarnes

… until the next morning when it begins again, later yet.

It’s a wonder every Icelander isn’t a painter.

 

The Thing About an Island

Where there are waves, there is a shore.

They are all different shores.

Some are within you.

You are within some.

Some are bits of drag from the sky moving off the sea and over the island.

Others are the sky taking the island to sea.

These are the shores of life. Gunnar used them as a symbol of Christianity and the hard choices of ethics.

He refused to accept that they were in our control, as strongly as he knew we must cross them.

But that’s why you go to Iceland, right?

To learn your place?

The Language of Iceland Herself

“A volcanic wasteland”? Hardly. Here are some terms to help you navigate the intricate environment of Iceland.

Pile or hillock:

Tussock, or Mound:

Note that on this island, those are both islands. Here’s another eyeland on an island, aye.

Mess, heap or scatter:

Makes you thankful for eye lids! Here’s a nice variation on the tussock and island theme:

Tuft:

And here is a…

Drift:

Note that it’s in the lee of an artificial pile called a wall. Here’s a variation on the wall, made not of stone but of sod and a couple flowers (in the lower left below):

 

And as for drifts, well they can be of stone, too, not just of life. When that’s the case, they are alive and are called a flow, as in a lava flow:

Now, put them together in the so-called volcanic wasteland, and you get…

Islands within islands within islands in a sea of sand.