I like to think of this monolith in Reykjavik’s old harbour, near the Viðey Ferry and the industrial docks, as the mother of the city. Look at the sand she has drawn out of the sea’s currents and sheltered here… … sand perfect for Ingólfur’s long boat in 870. In a country in which most beaches are stretches of surf or keel-ripping rock, that is no small thing. Here is the mother of the city. And look at her, isn’t she gorgeous? Wouldn’t you put into shore for her?
It used to have trees, and it is eaten by sheep. A little bit of replanting has been done. Here are some Siberian larches in East iceland, placed in like a quilting block.
One works with what one knows. Everything else is a compromise. Spiritually, as I showed you yesterday, the compromise is between paganism and Christianity. Environmentally, it is between earth before and after settlement. Below is an image of Iceland flowing to sea, which is called the force of wild nature.
Well, yes… wild nature with sheep and shivering humans. Iceland is not an indigenous nation. It is a nation of settlers. Settlement is an ongoing process. It is at the root of the country’s past and future. This is what it looks like.
It also looks like this:
The point is, when you live on a sub-arctic island, and keep sheep, everything is hay, as the Icelanders say, meaning that when the hay runs out in the middle of the winter you will feed your sheep anything — anything — to survive. Even this:
Yes, in Reykjavik even John, Paul, George and Ringo are hay. And danish beer is hay, too.
In the 9th century, long, long before Nicola Tesla, the vikings of Iceland changed the course of the Öxá, to create a waterfall in þingvellir. The sagas tell that it was named after a troll that used to chop up early parliamentarians with an axe — surely a witty reference to early spiritual struggles in Iceland, which was grounded simultaneously by at least three spiritual traditions: Norse, Irish and Christian. Wikipedia tells how the waterfall was used to provision campers with water.I will merely point out a couple things. First, the Icelandic killing fields were in this river, either by the drowning of witches, ie reunion with the troll, or by beheading on a rock in the water, ie the cancellation of Christian belonging, as a form of organic justice. This was hydro power before the industrial age. We now call it “nature” and “beauty.” Those are only industrial terms. Beware.
When the Norse and their female Irish slaves arrived in Iceland in 870, there was already a colony of Irish monks on the south coast, living in caves and living in splendid isolation with their God. There are accounts of them living in what became known much later as the monastery site of Kirkjubaerjarklaustur. There is just something about the place. First, a look around in the summer sun.
Here’s the “Church Floor”, basalt columns eroded by ancient waves.
And the rumoured centre of Irish life.
And now in the summer rain. Note the change of light!
Here’s the “Nun’s Falls”, from a much later catholicism.
And now some late Autumn (2016) pics, with the sun barely making it above the sea.
A splendid place for meditation and prayer!
Unwilling to share the purity of God with heathens, the monks left in their skin boats. Their ghosts remain. I wonder if the women were sad to see them go.
Some farms in Iceland are in the most marginal patches of grass in the midst of lava fields. Here’s Thor’s Shield, the mother of all shield volcanoes, at the peak of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where it crashes into land underfoot. There’s a little bit of grass here in Thingveillir, but not much.
Lots of wind, though, which makes it a great place to take some of that grass and build a house.
Beautiful, isn’t it. Every farm in the country has ruins of turf houses like this. That’s the thing about Icelandic views: it’s the fact that people live on this land that makes it beautiful. The hard work of warming the land has been done. After all, the story here is one of settlement, not of conquest.