Tag Archives: rett

Iceland’s Economy: a View from the Rustbelt

Shocking. Discarded iron in Iceland. This stuff is usually stacked up at the side of a driveway, waiting to be banged into something new, but this is the Rett at Kirkjubær, so maybe it was some relatives from the big city, come out to the countryside to help with the winter roundup at the sheepfold, and there was, like snow or something, and when the shovel broke, well, nuts, and they drove away.

Of course, it could also be that the shovel was cheap, because it’s not always the best stuff that gets imported to Iceland, because it’s frightfully expensive when you have to pay for it in Kronur with codfish on them, and each of those coins is worth less than a penny in a real currency. At that rate, even the cheapest shovel costs you, like, a few thousand dollars, or something.

Whew! And what do the sheep think of that, pray tell? (I mean, given the mangled state of that shovel, I think we can guess at just what the human take on it is, but the sheep?)

Ah, they’re leaving the shovels to the humans. Just one of those mysteries. Makes sense. But why was this perfectly good chain left behind? Because of the snow? In Canada, let’s say, this would have been liberated long ago, but in Iceland, it seems, a man’s craziness is his own business, and if the chain has to rust before he comes to his senses, it’s respectful to give him the time and space he needs.

OK, that’s my guess. Either that or laziness is as much an Icelandic trait as it is anywhere else in the world and does as much to shape a country than industriousness.

Someone has to pile the rocks up before someone else can let them fall down. But without this, the crazy beauty of the place would be dampened.

After 1100 years, humans are starting to get the knack of the place.

When you arrive here, the rest of the world loses value — not all at once, but with time.


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.