Think of Icelanders eking a living out of nearly bare soil in an inhospitable climate, and then think how much the world has profited by selling them useless things like fences. Think of how much land was eroded just to pay for this nonsense.
And then all those profits blown up in wars. Imagine what could have been.
Don’t be fooled by the pounding of the surf. You don’t have to be a giant to approach the sea. You can be small, and quiet and even whisper. So much Icelandic cultural advertising approaches the world as a terrible, destructive force that wears people down, yet Iceland isn’t like that. In many ways, this approach is a marketing strategy, born in the romantic travel literature of 18th century England and the perennial problem of Icelanders feeling cut off from the world. These birds are scavenging on the shores of a powerful ocean, yes.
But to them, Icelanders the lot of them, the ocean is not destructive. This concept of “destructive” comes from human attempts to live here, despite all this energy, and failing almost as often as not. That is a human problem, though, which means you can approach the sea as a human without the limitation of fear. This is the sense of fate that Gunnar tried to tell the Germans about in 1936, that “life in the present” means “to act,” because all time is present. You can’t choose between past, present and future. You can integrate them, however, into action and be your fate. That doesn’t include romanticizing your isolation or fighting against it. Those are just cultural choices, for the most part from outside the country.
The greatest wealth, Gunnar said, is poverty. It makes everything that has washed in from the sea a treasure.
For four hundred years an ogre threw travellers over the cliff trail between Bakkagerði and Njarðvík. It was awfully steep and in the fog, dark, rain, snow and whatever else the East Fjords undoubtedly threw at them. It was terrifying and very dangerous.
A bit of Christian-Norse magic took care of that, though. The rocks at the cross’s base are funereal stones, left by travellers. The road was fixed up in 2019.
Well, Grótfjall is a handsome mountain, to be sure. Viewing it from the Njardvik Beach, its easy enough to see that some of it is down here, making the valley floor, rather than up in the sky, making its hat.
But what’s that on the mountain? A dragon? And isn’t the sod collapsing over the cliff into sea, its wings? And aren’t there dragon shapes a-plenty, in the wet-dry patterning of the cliff? You tell me. I just know that walking through this fjord as a dragon story makes every relationship significant, in the way every word and sound in poetry means more than the poem’s sense.
If nothing else, it reveals the more of the mountains lies on the shore than in the air. A flat mountain. That’s a fine experience in climbing! But, wait, isn’t that a troll peeking out from the bottom of the cliff on the left? What’s his story?
It is good to remember that humans are prey. It keeps us on our toes.
We were 500 metres from a pair of geese and their chick on the shore at Njardvik, when the parents flew out over the sea in a great flapping, honking noise, while the little one slipped into the rocks and did not move. It really did not move.
Shh! Not a word!
After five minutes, the parents were floating offshore, watching us. After fifteen minutes, we left. It was the only thing for it.
Some books only have one page. Here’s a midsummer one above Njardvik. Day by day it reveals itself, like a film.
Look at how the dragon from the south (left) is giving way to grass and cliffs, while the one from the right is holding strong, with three stories opening within its long ribcage. And check out the sad faces appearing in the slo-mo approach of the dragon from the south. Will it disappear before they do? Whew! Such suspense!