Tag Archives: Nature

Mysterious, Humbling, Inhuman Iceland

Welcome to the Black Falls, Svartifoss.

I really think no words have ever been created for this, but talking around its edges for weeks would be enjoyable. I think the lichen gets it.

I know the raven does.

Don’t expect your tour operator to tell you about this. It’s not a human thing, and it’s their job to be a good host and look after your bodily comforts. Bodily discomforts, well, that’s for you to find out on your own.

It is not a human world.

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.

Yes, But is it Nature?

The sheep of Iceland, bless them, have eaten the place down to rock.

The Icelandic government pays farmers to plant trees.On farms no-one lives on anymore. Along a river diverted to a hydroelectric dam one valley over. Sturluflöt

This was the old road to the south. That was a farm to the left. Below the stone. It would support the trees growing on the scree in the back, but farmers are farmers the world over.


They just don’t trust trees. Or rivers. Sheep, they like sheep. So they herd trees, They put them out to pasture.And that’s nature in Iceland: a project made out of sheep, government subsidy and resistance, often all at once. Oh, and depopulation. Iceland is an urban country. Rather than being nature, the land is a kind of ruin. Brrr.Everyone, time to go home. You can so farm a city, just not on work days.

That nature stuff is for tourists.

Not Elves Exactly

Hey, welcome to Alfaborg, the mystical city of the elves in Borgarfjörðar Estri. The Borg in the west, was the city of men. Here, completely across the country, live the elves, in their own Borg.


Except, until the twelfth century, there were no álfar, or elves. That was an idea imported from France, which was laid on folk experience of all the varied people who came to Iceland and made up its founding lines. This would have been home to the bergbúar, the rock dwellers.  East

Not dwarves, exactly. That is a different folk lineage, into which several lines were folded over time, under the effects of European modernization and a half millenium of the consolidation of folk tale into unified stories onto which national narratives could be written. What became known as elves, in a process of consolidation, also originally held the landvættir, or nature spirits. They lived on the land itself. So, this is likely a home of rock dwellers.


This too, most likely.East

And this.


And here?


Why, landvættir. And here. West

And here, a mixed population, perhaps. No doubt, a host of others who tagged along in the heads of people in the long boats. West

No doubt, a lot from Ireland. Experiences of what was later solidified, in the same nationalizing process, as nature. North

Luckily, there is more to history than the history of nationalism, and more to living on earth than the consolidation of diverse encounters and traditions with abstraction and consolidation.


We are still bodies on earth.North

We are still the earth dreaming.

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.