… there is dust …
There are tall, soaring birch forests, like these in Ásbyrgi, some five metres tall, that shelter sheep…
…and their are small, intimate forests you have to lie down in a pasture to see, which shelter flies. The forest below in Neskaupstaðir might be short, and might fade and rise annually with the sun, but its trees are surely exotic and wondrous. Some of the trees are even copses of flowers.
They offer different kinds of intimacy and bring you differently into the land. In both cases, when you look up again, or step out, you are a different person. That’s because forests are persons. You become them.
They stretch hauntingly into the distance, almost unwalked by human feet.
Pretty fine on a calm day!
The sand is so black, every little thing on it is a revelation from a spirit world.
But! But! But! Not on a windy day. It would be ghastly out there, as the drifts show.
A blizzard of black sand! Enjoy the good days, I say.
Take your time.
Watch the water and the sand tell its stories, like a good visitor.
Even climb high for a view.
And then go home. You are small.
Here’s a stone marked by human tools in Neskaupstaðir. It is broken from the old sea cliff behind me, and lying on the old underwater shelf below. Note, too that it sits in a hollow.
That’s not a given. Here’s a sister rock, showing a more natural face to the world.
The thing is, in a country without trees, people burned peat to try to get a little warmth. Peat came from mountain bogs, such as the one that surrounded this rock…
… or this untouched one, in Njardvik, a few fjords to the North.
These bogs are lush, exotic environments. You could say they are the life of the mountain.
When you dig them, though, you are left with a hole and a simplified ecosystem.
They do have the potential to rebuild, however. Here’s one in Neskaupstaðir, hard at it. A photographer could do worse than peer into holes where the Earth is healing the wounds of limited human technology and understanding.
When these bogs run with water, it is often red with iron. It’s hard not to think of them as the blood of the land.
They’re quite wondrous when they spill their blood over the old sea cliffs.
And harder yet, when you see them give birth to fantastical creatures.
These now-rare environments are the survivors of a time in which they gave life to humans in the cold. You could say, easily enough, without the long, long life and sacrifice made by these bogs, there would be no Iceland today.
That’s why the mined-out bogs in Neskaupstaðir have been a nature preserve for nearly fifty years now. It is a way of giving thanks for life.
There’s an art to it.
When I first went to Iceland nine years ago, the Icelanders told stories of how they lived on a new land, in the process of being made. You can see how that works, here in Njardvik, where with each storm the fjord grows smaller. It’s quite the problem, really, if you’re on one of the two farms in the fjord.
Now, Icelanders tell stories of how climate change caused Vikings (not Icelanders but Vikings yet [who were Icelanders!]) to cut down all the trees, and continues to victimize Iceland, making it pay for industrial decisions taken elsewhere. I miss the old story of hope, of rolling up the sleeves, doing something, and getting on with it. After all…
… either way, you still have to fix your fence. Might as well give your neighbour, the sea, a piece of your mind while you’re at it.
It is, after all, not a new story.
Water or vatn, these are just words.
A trip out to Njardvik and Ytri-Hvannagil is the thing to put those behind you.
The secret of writing books in Iceland is to stop writing them.
Here, one is written.
Note, as Gunnar did, the chain-linked rhymes of Icelandic epic verse rising from the stone itself. Atlantis, he called it.
Fair enough. Iceland, too, is only a name.
This is more.